A NICE TALK WITH THE DO-DADS

My good friend Jeff Elden (and company) invited me to jump on the Do-Dads podcast. We talked about life, pop culture, family, writing, and inane dinner party conversations. I promise I tried my darnedest to be entertaining and insightful. Do-Dadsart2

"On a very special Do-Dads David Hopkins (Emily Edison, Karma Inc., Short Story of the Month Club, The Wild and Wayward Tales of Tammi True) teaches us how having a good work ethic can make all of our dreams come true." Listen here.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ART AND LITERATURE DURING A TRAGEDY

monsieur_jeanDuring a tragedy, I try to stay away from Facebook. Some of my friends (who are wonderful, kind, and intelligent people) just start posting stuff that puts me on edge. Then I try to figure out why I'm on edge, and then I start playing the game Who-I-Most-Agree-With-and-Why, and it really distracts me from the actually tragedy. Finally, it ends with a blog post. Like this one.

On Friday, Paris was attacked by terrorists. Before that, terrorists also attacked Beirut. Horrible. Terrible. Heartbreaking.

Then, I see people on Facebook complaining that more people are upset about Paris and didn't even know (or care) about Beirut. The implicit judgment: You hypocrite. And some astute people are able to point out tragedies that have taken place all over the world — Peshawar, Qasoor, Karachi, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Serbia, Croatia, Boko Haram, Darfur, Palestine, and Israel. Let's also not forget the atrocities happening in Central and South America. The implicit judgment: Do your homework, you hypocrite.

It's true. The tragedy in Paris hit me the hardest. Is it because I think French lives are more important than the lives of people elsewhere? Not at all. I want to care about all tragedies in equal measure, but I don't, and I don't think you do either. I think it comes down to how close we are to the tragedy.

I haven't done a lot of international traveling in my life. I've been to Russia, and I've been to Mexico, and that's about it. But I've watched movies by Francois Truffaut. And I adore them. I've seen Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie and A Very Long Engagement several times, not to mention other great French films. I've read Monsieur Jean by Dupuy and Berberian — and countless other French graphic novels. Art and literature put me in closer proximity to that place. Paris, a place I've never visited, feels alive through decades worth of exposure to great French artists.

Why do I care about Iran? I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Why do I care about Palestine? I read Palestine by Joe Sacco. Why do I care about Israel? I read Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan.

Let's not make this about us. You aren't a horrible person because you're fond of the places closest to you. And for someone who hasn't had the means to travel as much as he'd like, the only way I can connect to these places is through art and literature. On some level, my view of England has been shaped by Doctor Who and Harry Potter. Japan? Lots and lots of manga, Kurosawa, and Miyazaki. Just as I'm sure that the world sees New York City as the place where Marvel super heroes live, and Texas will always be the home of westerns and John Wayne.

Instead of telling others how they are supposed to feel about a tragedy, how about sharing with them some of your favorite art and literature from those other countries? The ones we habitually and shamefully skip over. I know there's something I'm missing out on, and you have an opportunity to let me in on the treasures of those other cultures. Then it becomes a real place.

As you might guess, I think the best place to start is with translated works. I'm fond of comic books and graphic novels from other countries. First Second has a good collection. And if you like prose novels, Deep Vellum is doing some great work.

Yes, I realize the issue is bigger and more substantial than "I haven't seen any great movies about Syria recently." Does the U.S. news media do a good job covering international events fairly and in equal measure? Of course not. However, let's save that frustration for where and when it's due. If we want to keep the conversation positive and productive, it starts with introducing people to new places and new people, not by policing how we respond to tragedy.

(For further reading: "Tragedy hipsters" and the #alllivesmatter-ification of grief https://storify.com/JamilesLartey/on-fff)

A FEW THOUGHTS ON MOBY DICK

MOBY-DICKThis weekend, I finished Moby Dick (Or, the Whale). D.H. Lawrence called it "one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world." And I'd have to agree. It is truly strange, even by today's standards. At first, I liked the book, then I hated it, and then finally I loved it. The book has an odd charm that isn't fully realized until you get to those last chapters. The premise is absurd: A captain seeks revenge against one particular whale. The intermingled drama and comedy is positively Shakespearean. Certain scenes are terrifying and surreal, such as Captain Ahab's speech after his harpoon glows from the lightning strike. The tension between Starbuck and Ahab is fascinating. Like a classic tragedy, the ending is both inevitable, predictable, and still shocking. And yet, the novel is wrapped in the tedious journalistic details of the whaling industry in the 1800s.

Moby Dick would be an easy novel to abridge. Simply take out all those chapters that go into explaining everything you never wanted to know about the genus and species of whales, the anatomy of whales, how different countries hunt whales, maritime whaling law, the mythic and symbolic role of the color "white," and how whale oil is stored and shipped. However, there's something about these chapters that contribute vitally to the whole.

One of the greatest treasures within Moby Dick is the hidden wisdom--thoughts on life and death, faith and disillusion, love and loss. My favorite passage, which captures all of it in one heartbreaking bundle, might be:

There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: - through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.

Which ties beautifully to the very last sentence of the epilogue:

It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

Note the connection to the words "retracing" and "orphan," separated by several chapters but absolutely not an accident.

Somewhere in the middle of this novel, I swore I would read Moby Dick only once--and then be done with the stupid thing. Now, I'm a little anxious to return to the beginning and read again. Maybe next year.

[Tweet "A few thoughts on one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world"]

FANTASTIC FOUR TRAILER: CHANGE IS COMING

Some thoughts on the release (finally) of the Fantastic Four teaser trailer:

  • I'm digging the Philip Glass score.
  • Not digging the obligatory light shooting in sky to open a portal.
  • The official website describes it as a "contemporary reimagining." I'm conflicted. I don't want this movie to tread the same ground as the other movies (3, including Roger Corman's). But would I prefer to see what Marvel Studios would do with the FF in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Yeah.

  • Josh Trank is capable of making a good movie. (Exhibit A: Chronicle) I'll take a good movie that works from the same genetic ooze as the real FF (Exhibit B: The Incredibles). But it's not as satisfying as seeing a good FF movie that looks like what I read in the comics.
  • By "looks like what I read in the comics," I'm not talking about Johnny Storm as played by Michael B. Jordan. I'm really excited about the casting of Michael. I'm still a little confused by Billy Elliot (aka Jamie Bell) playing Ben. We'll have to see how the CG works with him. In the teaser commentary video, Trank said that Bell's blue eyes will remain untouched by effects--which is interesting.
  • Oh yeah, here's the teaser commentary video: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/the-fantastic-four-teaser-trailer-with-commentary-109246554892.html
  • Watching the commentary trailer, Trank needs to stop calling it "The Ultimates." The Ultimates is the Avengers. You mean, Ultimate Fantastic Four. It's confusing. I know.
  • Tagline: "Change is coming." Is this a shot at the fans who complained about... everything?
  • Trank: "This was the first, most important superhero group in the history of modern comics."
  • The trailer didn’t give us any of the actors interacting or talking. More of a mood piece.
  • I could take the moral high ground and say, “If nothing else, maybe it’ll drive more people to the comic.” But in truth, if it’s wildly popular, it may change the direction of the FF comic in the rapidly changing Marvel universe. (Whenever FF returns...) A hit could change how Marvel does FF going forward.
  • You should read this interview with Josh Trank and Simon Kinberg over at Collider. The whole interview reads like some serious damage control. However, kudos to Trank for this moment...WEINTRAUB: I have to ask, so Marvel cancels The Fantastic Four…. TRANK: What? What?! WEINTRAUB: When did you guys hear that Marvel was canceling the Fantastic Four comic book, and what was the first reaction? TRANK: Do you remember when Jay-Z said he retired from rapping? WEINTRAUB: Yes. TRANK: I almost forgot that too.

ANTIGONE AND POWER

Antigone confronts CreonA few months ago, a student from the University of Rochester in New York contacted me. She was taking an English class on adaptations. Part of her research paper included the adaptation of Antigone that I created along with Tom Kurzanski. (The comic is available online in its entirety. Go to my published work page and scroll down. It’s there, all 32 pages.) From her email:

I love your adaptation; I especially love seeing Antigone's power shown so blatantly. In looking at your other works, it seems that female characters take a large role. In your Antigone, female power seems to be a very central part of how you tell the story. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about this. Was portraying feminism in Antigone your intention? Was this theme of power used in order to strengthen the plot in any way, or was it more of a message in itself?

My response:

Obviously, debating the definition of what makes something "feminist" is almost as old as the movement itself. I consider myself a feminist, and I try to incorporate ideas about gender and power into my work. I see Antigone as a powerful character -- in part -- as a function of Greek dualism. The obvious counter example would be her sister Ismene. However, I see Creon as the true weak one. His desperation to hold onto his political power has weakened him. He pretends to not care about the will of the people, but it's clear that he does care. He's a bully who hides behind his authority, whereas Antigone's power comes from her own conviction of right and wrong and the will of the gods. I see Antigone as a character who, through no fault of her own, is constantly challenging people on their own convictions. That's why I had Antigone kiss her sister in the opening scene. It was her way of forcing the issue of their incest origins. It was a power play, and a rather cruel one.

The concept of "power" is omnipresent in the play, and hopefully in the comic as well. Military power. Political power. The influence of family. Love. Power of fate. Violence. As a woman, Antigone feels physically weak compared to her uncle. So she has to find other ways to exert her power. Through disobedience to his law. And then, when Creon's wife commits suicide, that's the ultimate loss of power, isn't it? In the final scene, Creon acknowledges that he is powerless before the fate of the gods.

My other comics (Karma Incorporated, Emily Edison, Astronaut Dad) all touch on feminism and power, just in different ways. For instance, Karma Incorporated, ultimately, is about domestic violence. It's just disguised as a con artist/caper story.

[tweet "I consider myself a feminist. I try to incorporate ideas about gender and power into my work."]

BIG FELLA? FUCK YOU TOO.

oddfellowsYesterday, I had dinner by myself at Oddfellows. I wanted to get a quick bite before going to a book signing. (Rough life, huh?) Oddfellows is perhaps my favorite place in Dallas to eat. The place isn't too crowded--except for brunch. It's a cool restaurant in a great neighborhood, relaxed environment, lots of natural light, and good food. Now you have my two-sentence Yelp review. I was sitting there, reading a book (because that's how I roll). And this server walked up to me. He was probably in his early twenties. He had red hair and a camp counselor smile. He looked like the kind of attractive guy who no one could imagine having sex with, because it'd feel like you were befouling a muppet. The guy cheerfully approached.

"Hey there, big fella, can I get you something to drink?"

Cue the record scratch. Big fella? Big. Fella. What grown-ass adult calls another grown-ass adult "big fella," who? Big fella is what you call a tubby kid when he's at Disneyland. ("Hi, big fella, are you excited to meet Mickey Mouse?") Do not ever call me "big fella."

This casual, faux familiarity has to stop at some point. These diminutive, hypocoristic names -- honey, sweetie, sugar, champ, sport, boss, bro, buddy, pal, chief -- are ridiculous. Unless your name is Peggy and you work at a small diner, in a small town, then feel free to call me "honey" or "sweetie." Otherwise, I seriously have no problem with "sir" or learn my damn name.

I like the casual vibe, but let's not get too snugly with the pet names. M'kay? Of course, I did not flip out at Oddfellows, because then I would look like an asshole. Instead, I decided to blog about it and be a prick. Fortunately, another person took over as my server, and she did not speak to me like I was in the hospital about to get my tonsils removed with ice cream to follow.

No, I did not flip out. I smiled. Tipped 20 percent. And acted like a normal, happy customer.

But to the camp counselor muppet who called me "big fella," at that moment, I wanted to drag you into the street and beat you senseless with my hardcover. Obviously, I didn't, because who does that? And you'd probably kick my ass. I bet you go to the gym. But in my mind, in the wonderful playground of my twisted imagination, you are broken and crying in the street, while some valet guy is honking at you, demanding that you crawl to the sidewalk so he can park the car. No, wait. He just ran you over. Totally not my fault.

Okay. I feel better now.

If you do go to Oddfellows, I would suggest the Buffalo Mac. It is delightful. Or take a few friends for brunch, arrive early. You won't be disappointed.

THE QUOTABLE TACTICS TIME NEWSLETTER

hopkins_chessI really enjoy (and highly recommend) the Tactics Time newsletter by Tim Brennan. A few times each week, he sends an email with a tactical conundrum from a real game, something that you might actually see over the board--not just tactical compositions. He also includes a little bit of interesting commentary on the game itself. Each newsletter features an inspirational quote. I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

"In chess, attention is more important than concentration." - Frank J. Marshall

"When you strike at a king, you must kill him" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"All great achievements require time." ― Maya Angelou

"Tactics are it. People under 2000 shouldn't study anything else. You need to work on the ability to count and calculate." - Mig Greengard

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." - Calvin Coolidge

"The weaker the player the more terrible the Knight is to him, but as a player increases in strength the value of the Bishop becomes more evident to him, and of course there is, or should be, a corresponding decrease in his estimation of the value of the Knight as compared to the bishop." - Jose Capablanca

"I give 98 percent of my mental energy to Chess. Others give only 2 percent."  -  Bobby Fischer

"The pleasure to be derived from a chess combination lie in the feeling that a human mind is behind the game, dominating the inanimate pieces ...and giving them breath of life." - Richard Reti

"No matter how much theory progresses, how radically styles change, chess play is inconceivable without tactics." -  Samuel Reshevsky

"When you see a good move, look for a better one." - Emanuel Lasker

"The player who plays best in a tournament never wins first. He finishes second behind the guy with the most luck." - Saviely Tartakower

"There are only two kinds of moves in the opening: moves which are wrong and moves which could be wrong." - Saviely Tartakower

"Improvise. Adapt. Overcome." - Clint Eastwood (Heartbreak Ridge)

MY 20 FAVORITE ALBUMS

Doolittle by PixiesBack in the old days, you'd invite a friend over and they could peruse your CD shelf, quietly nodding to your choices. I guess people still have CD (and record) collections, but almost everything I have is now stored within the near-infinite, intangible bytes of my iPod. If I could pull my favorites and put them on the shelf, here they are. I made one of these lists for Facebook a few years ago. And I think another such list is hiding in the vast archives of this blog.

My mood changes, so do my preferences, but some albums stay at number 1. Hello again, Doolittle, my old friend.

Feel free to post your own list or debate my impeccable musical tastes in the comments section.

All links go to Spotify--unless I couldn't find the album.

20. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case Favorite song: "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

For me, this is Neko Case at her best -- wistful, haunting, melodic.

19. From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith Favorite song: "King's Crossing"

This album hit me hard. Like all great works, it holds together by a string, but it still holds.

18. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Favorite song: "Details of the War"

Some people lament the decline of Clap Your Hands, once heralded with the "most likely to succeed" curse, the new indie darling. Regardless of their future missteps, this album stands on its own merit.

17. Sailing the Seas of Cheese by Primus Favorite song: "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver"

I've come back around to Primus. There's something delightfully immature about this band.

16. Flood by They Might Be Giants Favorite song: "Birdhouse In Your Soul"

This album establishes the TMBG gold standard for fun, silly songs with deceptive depth and melancholy.

15. Firecracker by Lisa Loeb Favorite song: "Wishing Heart"

It's my guilty pleasure on the list. And I will defend its charm and virtue. I know this album by heart.

14. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear Favorite song: "Two Weeks"

I'm a sucker for eighth notes on a piano. I don't know why. It's a great album for zoning out and losing yourself.

13. Automatic for the People by R.E.M. Favorite song: "Sweetness Follows"

At one time, R.E.M. was my favorite band. I burnt myself out listening to this album. Which I guess is a good thing?

12. Hunky Dory by David Bowie Favorite song: "Life on Mars"

Bowie's best album.

11. Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes Favorite song: "Gone Daddy Gone"

When I first heard this album, I threw away all my thrash and speed metal. Yes, the Violent Femmes ruined Anthrax for me.

10. Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins Favorite song: "Disarm"

The opening to "Cherub Rock" is one of my favorite album introductions. It says, "This is what you came for." And the album never disappoints.

9. Rubberneck by Toadies Favorite song: "Quitter"

I admit some regional bias.

8. Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair Favorite song: “Divorce Song” or "Fuck and Run"

Most underrated album ever? Not kidding. This album should be required listening for anyone who cares about good music. It's such a raw, vulnerable, powerful, and complete work.

7. Bone Machine by Tom Waits Favorite song: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"

This album was my gateway into the much wider world of Tom Waits.

6. Apologies to the Queen by Wolf Parade Favorite song: "I'll Believe in Anything"

A powerfully cathartic album, yes, I used the word "cathartic."

5. Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles Favorite song: "I Am the Walrus"

The Beatles' most solid album from beginning to end? Let the debate begin.

4. Love this Giant by David Byrne and St. Vincent Favorite song: "I Should Watch TV"

A little too new to be this far up on the list? Maybe. But there's something about Byrne that brings out the best in Annie Clark and vice versa.

3. In a Bar, Under the Sea by dEUS Favorite song: "Roses"

The Belgium band dEUS never found its audience in the U.S., except me. So, here I am--basking in the knowledge that everyone else is wrong.

2. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan Favorite song: "Girl from the North Country"

In the Bob Dylan v. Beatles debate, I'll side with Bob. One could argue without the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the Beatles would've never evolved beyond being a teen-bop phenomena. This album challenged them to be something more substantial. And it does that to almost everyone who listens to it.

1. Doolittle by Pixies Favorite song: "Wave of Mutilation"

Nothing is wasted on this concise folky masterpiece of distortion and surf rock. This album is weird and wonderful.

SPEAKING AT THE SMU WOMEN'S SYMPOSIUM

Wonder Woman taller than SupermanTomorrow, I'm speaking at SMU's 49th Annual Women’s Symposium. My 30-minute talk will be about the historical and social impact of women superheroes, from Wonder Woman to Emily Edison. In particular, my jumping off point is this letter to Lego from 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin. What I will try to say in 30-minutes, she says much more concisely (and eloquently) in just a few words: "Let them go on adventures and have fun. OK!?! Thank you."

Comic book writers, take note. It's all right there. Let them go on adventures and have fun.

In honor of Wonder Woman and my presentation, I want to share something I wrote that never got published. Smart Pop Books, a few years ago, was considering a Wonder Woman anthology to accompany a possible Joss Whedon helmed Wonder Woman movie. Of course, we all know what happened there. I wrote the first part of my essay, working title: "Wonder Woman and Superman in Conversation: The Gender Gap in DC’s New Frontier," and then stopped when the DC movie fell through. So, the excerpt below is unpolished and unfinished, but some good ideas exist in there somewhere. Feel free to read and look for them.

***

Why do fans always want Wonder Woman and Superman to hook up? After all, Wonder Woman has had a long running relationship with Army officer Steve Trevor, and Superman will always been associated with the intrepid reporter Lois Lane. Yet the thought of these two Super Friends becoming more than friends is too tempting. From one perspective, Wonder Woman represents a greater conquest than Lois Lane. Diana is the Amazonian Princess, an immortal – and for Wonder Woman’s creators William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman is meant to represent the ultimate woman. She is to be the greatest ambassador for her gender. Superman, if he deserves the best, it’s Wonder Woman.

From another perspective, this super-union is not about a conquest, but compatibility. These two people are godlike. How could they ever find someone they truly relate to among everyday people? As Brodie in the film Mallrats so eloquently explains, Superman is too power to even have sex with Lois Lane, nor would her womb be able to contain the super child of their union.

“He's an alien, for Christ sake. His Kyrptonian biological makeup is enhanced by earth's yellow sun. If Lois gets a tan the kid could kick right through her stomach. Only someone like Wonder Woman has a strong enough uterus to carry his kid.”

Only someone like Wonder Woman. Also, we should consider Wonder Woman and Superman do not age as normal humans. Steve Trevor and Lois Lane will be shipped to a nursing home, while Wonder Woman and Superman are still stopping powerful locomotives and leaping tall buildings.

The desire for this hypothetical union is rooted in our most primitive mythological concepts. Wonder Woman, the Amazonian, comes from the earth. Literally. Queen Hippolyta created her out of clay, and the Greek gods brought Wonder Woman to life by granting Hippolyta’s wish for motherhood. Thus, Wonder Woman is representative of the earth. Superman comes from the sky, rocketing to this planet from the devastated planet of Krypton. He takes to the air, up in the sky; it’s Superman. Their relationship satisfies a symbolic union of the feminine nature of the earth, the Earth Mother, and the masculine sky god. No wonder fans are begging for Superman and Wonder Woman. They are only asking for the most ancient of mythic norms.

Despite all this, readers shouldn’t expect too much between the two Titans. Lois Lane has been connected with Superman since Action Comics No. 1, and in every radio drama, television series, cartoon, and movie since. Likewise, Wonder Woman meeting Steve Trevor crash landing on Paradise Island is central to her origin story. Still, when comic book readers see Wonder Woman and Superman, we instinctively see them as the ideals of woman and man, as representatives to their gender. DC Comics should be keenly aware that when Wonder Woman and Superman share the page, they make a statement about the nature and roles of men and women, our values – similarly, how we relate to each other, how we communicate. While limiting the male or female experience to a sole representative may seem to reinforce harmful stereotypes, to ignore how men and women are presenting in popular culture might be more damaging. We can find gender typecasting as far back as Adam and Eve. Such insights should inform our perspective and not diminish it.

Numerous comic book writers have explored the Wonder Woman/Superman relationship. Each contributes a slightly different (and sometimes contradictory) piece to their continuity. If the Wonder Woman fan is searching for something definitive, they may be greatly disappointed. However, Darwyn Cooke offers the most compelling look at their relationship, with a touch of complexity and understanding to their symbolic role as ambassadors to their gender.

The New Frontier

In 2004, writer and artist Darwyn Cooke began his ambitious award-winning six issue miniseries called DC: The New Frontier. This epic storyline bridges the gap between the Golden Age of Comics and the Silver Age, moving from the America of the 1950s to the 1960s. This series also bridged other gaps — looking at the gap between hero and superhero, the gap between races, socio-economic levels, and the gap between men and women. In many regards, the mid-20th century could be summarized as a convergence of these gaps. After World War II, the United States was seeking to redefine itself from its long-standing Monroe Doctrine of isolationism to a great responsibility as a Cold War Super Power, playing the tenuous role of global superhero. DC: The New Frontier is such an impressive achievement, because Darwyn Cooke balances numerous plot lines, involving almost the entire pantheon of DC characters, while carefully examining America’s identity in the Atomic Age. These plot lines are unified through a common threat.

Wonder Woman’s story arc deals primarily with her relationship to Superman who she respects, but ultimately disagrees with on national politics and personal responsibility. This arc covers two different scenes with a third scene of reconciliation.

[And that's all I wrote on the subject. See you tomorrow at the symposium.]

ME AND HUFFINGTON POST

Last year, I wrote and performed a story as part of the Oral Fixation series. Now it's available on Huffington Post. For those of you who want "all the dirt" on my divorce, it's here. Kinda. Original title was "One Request Before You Leave: How a road trip, the Beatles, and a motel in Missouri made me a better ex-husband." But long titles are pretentious and don't work for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes, so it's been shortened to a more respectable "How a Road Trip Set to a Beatles Soundtrack Made Me a Better Ex-Husband." Either way.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oral-fixation/how-a-road-trip-set-to-a_b_4747794.html

I've received a lot of positive responses from people, both friends and strangers. I'm glad that my story (mine and Melissa's, actually) has been able to connect with others and their own experiences. What more could a writer want? I believe in good divorces--amicable partings, where parents can remain not just "friendly" but friends, and they can work together in the best interest of their child. Thank you Melissa for your blessing on this story and, the one thing that wasn't really mentioned, how you played such a huge role in supporting me with your patience and kindness during that difficult time.

And thank you to Oral Fixation creator/director/editor Nicole Stewart for the opportunity. Between this and Lyndsay Knecht's behind the scenes story for KERA's Art&Seek, we've gotten about as much mileage (pun intended) as one could ever hope for from a single performance. Now that it's on YouTube, I wish I wouldn't have shaved my beard at that time. Yes, I look strange to myself without a beard. That's my only complaint. I should have grabbed a fake beard from the prop room.

"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle." -- Ernest Hemingway

REVIEW OF MOVIE, MAN OF STEEL

I saw MAN OF STEEL last night. This was the summer movie I was most looking forward to (more than THOR, WOLVERINE, or IRON MAN), and I really enjoyed it. Yes, Richard Donner made a better "Superman movie" that was more faithful to the original mythos. With Donner, we get Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis, Lois and Lex and Jimmy Olsen. We get gags with glasses and alter egos. But if you treat MAN OF STEEL like an "Ultimate universe" (an edgier, reimagined and updated version of a superhero universe... with more goatees), then you can set your checklist aside and just enjoy the film. And I did. SPOILERS abound.

* I saw people complaining that it's not the joyful, fun adventure of other superhero movies (or even the previous Superman movies). However, it's about "saving the world" and I think the tone matched the theme. It opens with the destruction of his old home, and ends with him saving Earth. And you really get the sense that "these assholes are going to freakin' destroy the world." I'm okay with it being dark.

* Loved the elemental imagery: lots of water and fire throughout.

* Loved the use of colors: After Krypton's fall, scenes are accented with pops of yellow, red, and blue. Very clever.

* I don't know if they will ever find the perfect Lois Lane. Amy Adams was serviceable, much better than Kate Bosworth in SUPERMAN RETURNS. I like how they completely throw away the hiding-his-identity-from-Lois bit. She's smart. She's intrepid. She figures it out before everyone else. It worked, and it set up the last line of the film perfectly. Which...

* I loved the last scene: Clark's first day at the Daily Planet ("Welcome to the Planet"). And it resolves his father-induced dilemma of how to be a hero and remain hidden. I love that the secret identity is something he discovers at the end, not the beginning.

* The goofy line after Superman and Lois first kiss, "They say it all goes downhill after the first kiss" (or something like that). I wanted Superman to respond, "No one says that." Because I have NEVER heard anyone say that.

* Henry Cavill has muscles.

* General Zod was great.

* The music was great. It was time to retire the John Williams score. (It wouldn't have worked in this movie anyway.) Hans Zimmer gave us a perfectly moody replacement.

* I loved Pa's response to "should I have let them die?" "Maybe." So many layers in that delivery and the silence that followed.

* Pa Kent's death felt forced--as if the tornado should have been classified "plot device." Just save your freakin' dad, who will believe the bystanders anyway? Mark Waid does a good job defending the scene. And I agree with Waid: "It was a very brave story choice, but it worked. It worked largely on the shoulders of Cavill, who sold it."

* You should read Mark Waid's Man of Steel review. We agree on a lot of it. However, where he gets disgusted, I was still onboard.

* [UPDATE 6/19] Another interesting MAN OF STEEL review/defense from Craveonline.com.

* If you're going to nitpick the logical consistency of MAN OF STEEL, then remember that the Richard Donner SUPERMAN (while great) was not the gold standard of logical consistency either.

* I love how Superman gets his name, as if it were a military designator, "Air Force One" etc.

* On Rotten Tomatoes, Man of Steel's 56% with critics/82% with the audience perfectly illustrates the error with the rating system. Roughly half the critics disliked it, but that doesn't indicate how little or how much they disliked it. And there's no way this is a worse film than Superman Returns--75% with critics and 67% with the audience.

* Great fight scenes. 100% punchier than any other Superman movie.

* Holy crap, the collateral damage! I would hate to be an insurance auditor in Metropolis. Was any building left standing? I wouldn't call this a victory. Not really.

* The scene with the girl trapped under the rubble was intense.

* Acting was a little "eh" in places. However, I think it was more a director problem than an actor problem. Snyder needed a few more takes for some scenes or needed to better guide the scene. For instance, the scene between Clark and his Mom, the whole "I found my parents" conversation.

* And I'm out of notes. Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

FIVE CRAZY SUGGESTIONS FOR THE 12TH DOCTOR

Dear BBC and Steve Moffat, do not take me too seriously. Now that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who, fans are making their suggestions/predictions for a new Doctor. My daughter is in the camp that wants the first girl Doctor. She is also adamant that if it's "someone old" she will stop watching. I explained to her that she loved Chris Eccleston, and then David Tennant, and then Matt Smith--and she will come to like the 12th Doctor as well, whoever it may be. Give 'em a chance. All the same, she's still saying "no geezers allowed."

Doctor Who is a great show because it is fearlessly odd and imaginative. I want to be surprised, and confused, and amazed every time I watch. Whovians don't think outside the box; they envision the box as being infinitely bigger on the inside. So if anything is possible, I have a few thoughts on the next Doctor to surprise, confuse, and amaze fans who have come to expect anything.

1. Alex Kingston. As River Song, she was a divisive character, but I've always enjoyed watching her. River Song gave the Doctor all her regenerations (episode: "Let's Kill Hitler"). I think he owes her. Wouldn't it be wonderfully bizarre if the Doctor could rescue River from the library's computer by allowing his wife to embody his next regeneration? (Two shall become one?) Let's tone down the catchphrases. I think we're done with "sweetie" and "spoilers" for a while. Instead, the new Doctor will be an amalgam of both personas. Others may want this character to finally be put to rest; I'd love to see more.

2. Paul McGann. Yes, he already played the 8th Doctor in the 1996 television movie. But why not return to the past? After all, the story is about time travel. Let's revisit the unseen adventures of the 8th Doctor for a season--a wonderful detour before returning to the actual 12th Doctor.

3. Saoirse Ronan. My daughter wants a girl Doctor. Let's also make her Irish and really young while we're at it. Ronan was such a bad ass in Hanna, an alien of sorts. I have no clue how she would play the Doctor. And it would drive some fans insane. I'm all for it.

4. Idris Elba. His name has been floated around quite a bit for the role. Actually, this one would not be too crazy. He is the kind of actor who could do anything, play anything, and I would watch it. Many would expect him to play up his strong build and tough presence, a sexy action-hero Doctor (?), which makes me want him to go in the other direction. Bookish, peaceful, gentle.

5. No Doctor. You heard it here first. The Doctor stepped into his own timestream and is lost forever. Goodbye. Now Strax, Madame Vastra, and Jenny pilot the TARDIS, trying to fill his shoes. Maybe by season nine, the Doctor will return.

FANTASTIC FOUR SKETCHBOOK

Happy birthday to me! Since 2004, I've been collecting art at the various conventions I've attended--all for my Fantastic Four sketchbook. It's about time I uploaded everything. Here it is: thatdavidhopkins.com/fantastic-four-sketchbook/

I have some great pieces in here from Josh Howard, J.E. Smith, Cal Slayton, Christine Norrie, Nick Derington, Andy MacDonald, Alejandro Garza, Christopher Mitten, Steve Rolston, Paul Chadwick, Kazu Kibuishi, Chuck Wojtkiewicz, George Perez, Robbi Rodriguez, Brock Rizy, Scott Kurtz, Kevin Steele, Chris Medellin, Tone Rodriguez, Chris Moreno, Michael Lark, Skottie Young, Chad Thomas, Benjamin Hall, Lea Hernandez, Brent Schoonover, Paul Milligan, Jake Ekiss, and Robert Wilson IV.

Thank you for offering your time and talent.

CLAPPING AT THE END OF SONGS

I want to expand on something I said to April two nights ago. We drove to Lafayette, Louisiana, for our friend Leah's we-totally-got-married party (weekend via Instagram). Last November, Leah and Josh were married in a civil ceremony. I saw photographic evidence. It was simple, elegant, and beautiful. Then this past weekend, they hosted a Cajun dance party at the Blue Moon Saloon, inviting friends and family to celebrate the happy union. There was crawfish. There was beer. There was an incredible band Feufollet.

At one point in the evening, April and I sat on a bench, watching everyone dance. One older couple, who clearly took dance lessons, glided around the floor. Leah's sister and brother-in-law bopped around in a way that reminded me of this. Leah and Josh spun around in the center. It was a sweet moment.

I thought about Mark Twain's "The Lowest Animal," a scathing critique on the human condition, where he lists all the unique atrocities no other animal except humans commit. (Yes, I think about Twain in random places.) Then I leaned over to April and said:

"Some may say that humans are the only animals that commit murder and terrorist acts, that we're the only animals that torture our own kind. But I think it's worth mentioning that we're also the only animal that throws parties, that takes dance lessons, that places chocolate in small glass jars as wedding favors, that has art walks, and that claps at the end of songs."

The next day, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, a horrific act that leaves us all angry and heartbroken. Whoever was behind it is a sick human being. But I hope we don't forget that the idiots and psychopaths don't get to define us as a species. There are so many more good people in this world. I saw some of them dancing at the Blue Moon Saloon, celebrating a wedding. It's a small but necessary comfort when confronted with a cruel, senseless world.

THE DOCTOR VS THE OTHER TWO

"Nobody important? Blimey, that's amazing. Did you know in nine hundred years of time and space, I've never met anyone who wasn't important before?" -- the 11th Doctor, A Christmas Carol (as seen on Vimeo)

On Fanboy Radio last Sunday, the subject of DOCTOR WHO came up and I mentioned that I actually love DOCTOR WHO more than STAR WARS or STAR TREK. It's one of those things that you say and you realize it's true after you say it. Of course, I just started watching the BBC series a few months ago. I came late to the party. But yes, I can honesty say that I care more about it than the other two sci-fi/fantasy franchises that loom so large in geek culture.

I'm not trying to sway you from your own personal favorite. It's all very subjective. I mean, with the promise of new STAR WARS films and the reboot of STAR TREK, there's a lot for fans to get excited about. All three of these franchises do a good job of mixing the genres--adventure, fantasy, comedy, romance, and social commentary. At their best, they offer a complete dramatic experience.

I grew up on STAR WARS. I've always enjoyed it, a wonderfully imaginative melodrama. But I'll admit with the prequels and the animated series, STAR WARS lost a lot of its luster. Wildly fun when I was younger, I always had a hard time appreciating the deeper themes: "Be good?" "A hero sacrifices himself/herself for the greater good?" "Power corrupts?" Yawn. Not to knock the Star Wars fans, but I felt like George Lucas was pandering to simple minds. Lucas never seemed to trust his audience. Then at other times, I completely lost what Lucas was trying to say. Blame the trade federations, midichlorians, and too much philosophizing prior to a light saber duel on a lava planet ("Only a Sith deals in absolutes." Really? I have about six feature films that show evidence to the contrary.). Let's hope for a little redemption with these new films.

I've never been a huge STAR TREK fan, but I've seen all the movies and I've watched enough of the original series, Next Generation, and a smattering of the other shows. I like STAR TREK, but I never connected with the characters. Sorry. I think it does a better job than STAR WARS in exploring fundamental ethical and social issues. "What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be part of a noble society?" There's more to ponder on the Enterprise's bridge than in George Lucas' world.

DOCTOR WHO. It's sillier at times, funnier, scarier, definitely stranger than STAR WARS or STAR TREK. And while these other two have a vast cast of characters to work from, a DOCTOR WHO episode keeps things small and intimate. The Doctor is playful, reckless, and yet always in control (sort of). The more bizarre and backwards it gets, the more I love it. I just watched "A Christmas Carol," the in-between 5th and 6th season special. There's an eerie moment when a beautiful ice princess sings to a sleeping shark as a young boy and the Doctor approach through the fog, among a frosted grave yard of suspended-animation metal caskets. It's weird, but haunting and memorable... and fun. A good DOCTOR WHO episode will hurt my brain, and I usually have to pause at least once to keep up with what the Doctor is saying. Most of all, I appreciate the series because of its unyielding humanity. Every life is precious, every life is fleeting. You save one, you can save the world. These ideas come back again and again. That's not to say DOCTOR WHO doesn't have its flaws, but I don't care. That may be how it is with you and STAR TREK or STAR WARS. And for the first time in a long time, I'm truly excited about attending a convention as a fan and not just as a comic book creator, next year's WhoFest. Expect me to completely geek out.

Want to defend your franchise? Post in the comments.

FIVE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD DATE A READER

the-big-read-logoOriginally posted on the Big Read Dallas blog:

I must confess. I’ve always wanted to write for a women’s magazine, something where I get to make a list, overuse the second person “you,” and offer crazy relationship advice. (Also on my bucket list: I’d like to write about abs for Men’s Health. This is especially humorous if you’ve seen me in person.) These women’s magazines are so intriguing and mysterious to me. As long as I’ve been married, I’ve seen these suspicious periodicals around the house—promising better relationships and a better life. Many of the articles are conveniently organized as numbered lists, 23 reasons, 42 ways, 6 secrets, 59 tips, 200 hints, and so on. Something about listing gives the advice an air of false authority. Plus, the writer speaks directly to YOU, like a friend. (You know?) It’s a sneaky game they play, and I want to join in on the fun.

What relationship advice could I possibly offer? Like my abs, my interpersonal wisdom is mostly non-existent. That’s not to say I don’t have a bit of keen insight. I do, and here it is: As a final criterion in finding that special someone, you should exclusively date readers. You should only consider long-term relationships with a reader. And if you must procreate, do so with a reader. Continue Reading…

LUNCH WITH THE DOCTOR

SPOILERS. You've been warned. Now that I'm a full-time freelance writer, lunchtime means Doctor Who! I've been working my way through the Doctor Who (2005) TV series. I heat up some leftovers and sit down for a single episode--relax, enjoy, and then I get back to work. I'm hooked, call me a fan. Much thanks to Paul Milligan who has been pushing the BBC franchise and explaining decades worth of continuity.

I'm still about six seasons behind, but here's an observation for the fans...

You know that scene in "The Parting of the Ways" (season 1, episode 13) where the Doctor rushes into the TARDIS with Rose Tyler, convincing her they can travel back in time a few days and work on the D-wave to destroy the invading Daleks. He then rushes back outside and sends her home. Remember that scene? To me, it felt like when you pretend to play catch with your dog. You make the throwing motion, the dog goes running, and you walk off in the other direction. Rose is a great companion, a time lord's best friend, and a little too earnest. Of course, then she goes all "Dark Phoenix" on the Daleks, and it seems like you planned it that way all along.

THE WISDOM OF SIX GREAT MOVIES ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

I hate love stories for the same reason that I hate poetry and theater. In that, I really LOVE poetry and theater, but I've seen so many pedestrian displays that I just want people to leave it alone. I would rather have no poetry than bad poetry. My standard is impossibly high. (I've taught over a thousand students in twelve years. I had ONE good poet. Sorry to any of the "999" reading this. Um, you're young; you'll get better?) And I love love stories. A good love story makes sense of a world that is often cynical and filled with catastrophe. However, the movie industry has abused the genre, transforming it into demographic pandering, i.e. add a bit of romance to get the ladies interested in this film. Coincidentally, most love stories feature a woman who deserves better but settles for a lesser man, and this is exactly what happens with the movie industry. We're settling for a bunch of crap stories. They reveal no greater truth. The plot crawls on the merit of eye-rolling misunderstandings and grand gestures. As a favor to the movie industry, I'd like to share my list of SIX GREAT MOVIES ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. You probably already know these movies are great, because my readers are smart and classy. It's everyone else we need to convert. To the list...

6. RUBY SPARKS (trailer) -- For a silly premise, this one is surprisingly deep. A gifted writer creates the great love of his life by typing her into existence. Like all great creations, Ruby moves beyond his control. Without spoiling anything, the third act is disturbing. However, the movie will not disappoint. Kudos to Zoe Kazan for great writing and great acting. Fiction turns into a metaphor for the fictions and expectations bring to our own relationships.

Nugget of wisdom: You can't control or manipulate the people you love. They have to have their own life.

5. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (trailer) -- Not technically a love story, but it is. And it's not. The film is so honest about one of the most overlooked realities: sometimes, people don't feel the same way. This film plays off the audience's expectation of the genre to stunning effect. The "You Make My Dreams Come True" dance sequence is marvelous. Plus: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He does not make bad movies.

Nugget of wisdom: We bring our myths about love with us.

4. AWAY WE GO (trailer) -- I've confessed this before, but I cried when I first watched the trailer. Tears and everything. How this movie (written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, directed by Sam Mendes) flew under the radar in 2009 is beyond me. It's a great film. A couple, long-term and committed but unmarried, take a journey to find a new home before their child is born. The trip is an exploration into the world of relationships. Each stop reveals a new dimension of long-term monogamy: the challenges, the tragedies, and the happiness. The film is heavy with meaning without being mean-spirited. The film, in some respects, is the opposite of a romantic comedy, while still being loving and humorous.

Nugget of wisdom: A long-term commitment (and/or marriage) is incredibly hard, and comes with a lot of baggage, but the journey is worth it.

3. LOVE ACTUALLY (trailer) -- I might get some crap about this one. AWAY WE GO is the anti-romcom; LOVE ACTUALLY is essentially every romcom trope thrown into a single film. I'll admit it's very saccharin. And lately, the LOVE ACTUALLY structure has been mercilessly scavenged by Hollywood. However, when this film debuted, it was something special. It's an anthology of interconnected short stories. The Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman story is the most heartbreaking. The Laura Linney story is the most poignant. The Bill Nighy story is most surprising (in a good way). The Colin Firth story has the best payoff. You know the scene. And I learned that "table" is the same in England and in the U.S.

Nugget of wisdom: Love is all around. They literally spell out the theme on the screen. Who am I to improve on it?

2. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (trailer) -- Joel attempts to have a bad relationship erased from his memory, then meets her again--unaware of their previous encounter. This movie has my favorite last line, but I won't spoil it. Okay? The final conversation between Joel and Clementine says so much about the transitions in relationships, the early electricity to the deeper acceptance of people, including their faults. The final image is haunting. This Michel Gondry/Charlie Kaufman collaboration is offbeat, and I would expect no less. You get a real glimpse at the life cycle of this self-destructive couple. His desire is tangible, to recover from the pain and hold on to the better moments.

Nugget of wisdom: We take the bitter with the sweet.

1. ANNIE HALL (trailer) -- I'll sneak one in that wasn't made in the past ten years. Alvy Singer is too neurotic to make any relationship last, and yet he continues to jump headlong into them. This one takes all the "nuggets" and places them into one flawless Woody Allen film. It's one of my favorite movies. It's one of April's favorite movies too. I took this as a sign that the universe wanted us together. Some people cringe at Woody Allen films. They aren't romantic; they're honest in their own way and uniquely melancholy.

Nugget of wisdom: Relationships can be totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, but we need them.

Any relationship movies you would recommend? Post in the comments.

DALLAS SYMPHONY: WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS

Let's start with the disclaimer. I like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I do. I wish them the best, and I hope they continue to be a strong presence in the Dallas arts and music scene. But stop calling me.

About two years ago, I took April to the symphony for Valentine's Day. We purchased nice seats and had a good time. To buy the tickets online, I gave them my contact information. Later, I received a call from one of their volunteers. Donate $50? Sure why not. I like the Dallas Symphony (see first paragraph). They wanted more money, but that's all I could part with at the time. And then the phone calls began.

I was getting calls throughout the year. I had to save their number, so I knew not to answer it. Then they started calling from different numbers. Tricky. After my intial donation, I turned them down numerous times. "Sorry, dude. I don't have any money to give." That rarely worked though, because they'd keep at it during the call. The callers were far too insistent. Clearly, I have SOME money I can give. My regular donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Heart Association do not incur the same sort of obsessive hounding that $50 to the DSO invited.

After a particularly annoying phone call: "No, I don't have any money." "No, thank you." "No, really." "Please, I'm hanging up now." "Okay, seriously, bye." I decided life was too short to live in fear of phone calls. On July 19th, I wrote an email to the Dallas Symphany Orhcestra's customer serivce: Stop calling me. I gave them my phone number, and they assured me "we have removed your phone number from our list." Less than a month later, I received two more phone calls. Today, I emailed again to remind them that I'm off their list.

If I knew this was going to happen, I never would have donated money to DSO in the first place. Now I'm afraid to buy tickets to another DSO event, because I worry it will start the cycle all over again.

Dallas Symphony needs to raise money to do awesome stuff. I understand how it all works. And if I remember Non-Profit Fundraising 101, phone calls are fairly effective. It worked on me... once. But you don't want to gain a buck and lose a supporter.

My advice to Dallas Symphony Orchestra: Be cool. Slow your roll.

I realize the rejection hurts, but we can still be friends. And maybe if you respect my boundaries, and take "no" for an answer, maybe someday, I'll donate again. However, at this moment, I feel like we have some trust issues to work through. There will be other donors, other people in your life who will give you what you need, and make you happy. But right now, I'm just not in a place to be that person for you. I'm sorry.