Monday, November 20, 2017

Artist Interview: Russ Hitt

With his new 2017 release "The Longing for Home: Songs for the Holidays", Nashville musician Russ Hitt complements his 2014 release "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing" (reviewed here) with another visionary exploration of Christmas music coupled to an emotional spectrum.  This time, Russ moves from the fragile partnership of darkness and hope that was the thematic foundation of "Longest Night" to a multi-faceted journey through the dimensions of "home" with "The Longing for Home".

With five original songs and five interpretations of classic carols, Russ brings forth feelings of wistful nostalgia, wishing for a home faraway or perhaps simply hoping for a place to call home, and the gentle comforts of one's own home, complete with a crackling fire and the sounds of the wind blowing snow outside in the cold Winter night.

As a musician, Russ has a special talent for expressing emotion in his music.  His work is not highly-produced pop, as is so prevalent in each Christmas season's new releases.  Instead, it is created with intent, as an artisan craftsman hand-makes each individual piece.  For me, Russ' two albums occupy a special and unique place in my personal Christmas music collection.

Russ very graciously gave Merry and Bright a very thoughtful interview about "The Longing for Home", his musical influences, and some hints about what might be yet to come.


Merry and Bright Interview with Russ Hitt

Merry & Bright:  Hello Russ!  Thank you for taking time to share some insights about your music with Merry and Bright.

Russ Hitt:  Absolutely...thank you for the opportunity!

MB:  This year you’re releasing your second album of Christmas music, The Longing for Home: Songs for the Holidays, following your excellent 2014 release The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing.  Share with us the story of these two albums – where does your artistic drive toward Christmas music come from?

RH: Well as long as I can remember I've always appreciated the different seasons of the year.  As a kid I especially loved the Christmas and holiday season's “feel” with all of the decorations, colors, smells...the whole sensory part of it all.  But there's also another reality to the holidays which isn't idealistic or warm & fuzzy that gets overlooked.  These aren't mutually exclusive for most people so I feel it's important to acknowledge both in my music.

MB:  Both of these albums are very thematically strong, focusing in on defined aspects of the holiday season that are outside of the bright colors and sleigh bells that we normally associate with Christmas music.  The Longest Night focused on the sadness and loneliness that can accompany the season, symbolized by the long, dark nights of Winter, but wrapped in hope.  With The Longing for Home you aim toward our emotions about “home” – nostalgia, the missing comforts when away - that are at their strongest during the Christmas season.  Tell us about your artistic vision for The Longing for Home, and how the album came about.

RH:  The Longest Night felt really out of the box and a very important work to pursue.  It was pretty vulnerable for me to put out there.  And I may come back to more of that in the future because it wasn't something I just did to get out of my system, so to speak.  But for the new project that became The Longing for Home, I wanted to explore the idea of “home,” especially around the holidays, and what it may look and feel like at different points in life through different perpsectives, ages, and circumstances.  It was definitely challenging to cover the range of emotions and feelings I wanted to capture.

MB:  Why do you feel that exploring the full spectrum of our feelings and emotions through Christmas music is important?

RH: I think people bury and suppress a lot of their feelings, especially during the holidays.  With so many illusions of idealism, it can be fraught with opportunity for anxiety, stuffed feelings, and a loss of self which is obviously the exact opposite of what the season's supposed to be about!  I want my music to help us be more honest and hopefully recapture the child-like wonder.  And maybe that can help us offer ourselves some kindess and compassion during the Christmas season...then hopefully extend the same to others.

MB:  Both of your albums have original songs as well as your arrangements of some standards.  How did you select the classic Christmas songs to include on these albums so that they become part of the spirit and flow of each record?  And, what is your process to interpret and arrange the standards so that they are a thematic fit in the album?

RH:  That's a fantastic question!  I look through a variety of songs and sit with the music...just the lyrics for messages I may have previously overlooked.  If you get still you can often find a hidden gem or poignant phrase in a lesser known verse of a carol that sticks out and speaks to you.  Then I study the chord structure and look for progressions around the original melody that feel right for what I want to convey.  I never want to veer too far from the original melody so it's always recognizable but the chords around the melody can go wherever.

MB:  As a fan of many musical genres, especially (and obviously) Christmas music, I sometimes hear an album that, to me, sounds like it is exactly what the artist envisioned, a perfect representation of what they imagined as they worked through the production.  David Bowie was brilliant in this respect – delivering albums of amazing cohesion and message that welcomed the listener into the music.  I felt this way after listening to The Longest Night for the first time.  And now, The Longing for Home delivers a similar musical experience.  Now that The Longing for Home is ready for release, do you feel that the final product is an album consistent with your vision?

RH:  I'm very humbled and grateful you were able to hear that in my albums.  It means a lot to me.  Thankfully, I really do feel the album stays true to the original vision.  Throughout the process it's important to keep coming back to check in and make sure the integrity of the vision is still there.  But I do feel like every song in this project does its part to contribute to the collective vision.

MB:  “Refugee”, with the crackling of the fire and the sounds of the wind, is one of my favorites from The Longing for Home .  Tell us the story of “Refugee”.

RH:  Yes, I incorporated ambient sounds on both Refugee and also Finding My Way Home to help listeners go somewhere in their imaginations.  For “Refugee” I couldn't help but consider stories and images of the Syrian and Rohingya people (Myanmar) crises. 

Then there's also a “refugee of the heart”, so to speak, where a person may appear to have everything externally but is lost, lonely and isolated inside. 

I would like to add that a portion of this album's proceeds will go to UMCOR (link added by MB) where 100% of all donations go to various natural and humanitarian disasters that have left people without a home here in the United  States and abroad.

MB: That's very generous of you, and I hope it will inspire our readers to give back during this holiday season.  I've included a link to UMCOR following this interview.  So Russ, who are some of your musical influences?

RH:  A few of my better known influences over the years include Sting, Bruce Hornsby, Tom Petty and John Mayer.  I've recently been listening to Bill Evans...a fantastic jazz pianist from back in the 60's and 70's.

MB:  Here’s one of my standard interview questions:  Do you have a favorite Christmas song or album? 

RH:  That's a tough one but if I had to choose it would be The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.  I never tire of it.  To me, nothing sounds more like Christmas than that!

MB:  I know that after all the work to create and release a new album you’re probably ready for a breather.  But, is there another Christmas record in store in the future?  Do you have other themes you want to explore with a future Christmas album?

RH:  Yes, I feel confident there is another Christmas record in store.  I'm just not sure whether I want to go deeper with either theme of my first two albums or explore a new area...or maybe a combination of all three.  But I can say I'm already itching to write again as I had an idea just last week that I need to log so I don't forget!

I'm definitely going to need a break as I've been been juggling everything that has to happen to successfully launch a project as well as post-launch for over a year.  I also have to say I'm thankful and grateful for my family as they have been very patient and supportive along the journey.

MB:  To wrap things up, is there a message you’d like to share with our readers about your new album?

RH:  Yes, I think this album is very versatile, almost chameleon-like, in that it can be everything from great dinner party background music to a calming companion in rush hour traffic to helping someone get in touch with their feelings and emotions throughout the holidays.

MB:  Russ, thank you so much for your time.  You’ve given us Christmas music fans two deeply thoughtful albums of wonderful music.  Have a very Merry Christmas, and best wishes to you and your family!

RH:  Thank you so much for featuring my music and the opportunity to go deeper with some great questions!  Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!!

 UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) website
"The Longing for Home" on Bandcamp
Russ Hitt Music website
Russ Hitt on Facebook
Russ Hitt Bandcamp Site

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sofia Talvik: When Winter Comes

Ah, Sofia Talvik.  What can one say about Sofia Talvik?  Y'know, I could make a great blog post with just pictures of Sofia.


But that would be unfair and an injustice, as Sofia Talvik's talent as a complete musician - singer, songwriter, guitarist -  exceeds even her beauty.

Sofia has long been a darling of Christmas music fans around the world.  Oh, Sofia has not limited herself to Christmas music, oh no.  She has an extensive catalog of records, a songstress of the highest caliber. One could classify her as 'folk', and one wouldn't be wrong.  One could say "Americana", and it's there, though you must add Swedish-tinged to it, as Sofia hails from Sweden.  Really, just say "she sings her songs".

Over the years Sofia has graced us many times with Christmas songs, original compositions, many free, as Christmas gifts to her fans.  This year Sofia has collected her songs, re-worked and re-recorded them, added a new original and, for the first time, a standard, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".  She has arranged these into a true album, a representation of her relationship with Christmas, and the joy and sorrow that can come with the holiday.

The result is beautiful.  The dues she has paid as a traveling, touring, working musician pay off in a truly special musical maturity.  She sings and plays with unprecedented confidence and control, and shares her Christmas music from her heart and soul.  Her voice has a purity, with just a hint of Scandinavian inflection that adds a touch of exoticism, that is stirring.  "When Winter Comes" is undoubtedly one of the top Christmas albums of 2017.

My good friend Stubby has long been a champion of Sofia Talvik and her music.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that it was via Stubby that I first learned of Sofia.  Many of you know that Stubby is putting his House of Christmas on indefinite pause.  As a (possibly) last post, Stubby has written an in-depth review of "When Winter Comes" over at his place, and I can't touch the eloquence and love for her music that comes through in his review.  If this is Stubby's swan song, then there can be no more fitting way to exit the scene for a Christmas blogger we all heartily admire.  So, please visit Stubby's for his review.  Well done, my friend.

So. hopefully I've piqued your curiosity, and Stubby has delivered the whole message:  support Sofia Talvik, buy her music, love it this season and for many seasons to come.

Sofia Talvik website
Sofia Talvik music
Follow Sofia on Facebook

A CD of "When Winter Comes" was provided by the artist to Merry and Bright for review.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Christmas Reading: "The Triple Dog Dare" by Joanna Wilson

Each year when Halloween passes and November 1 comes, several things happen in the Bingle house.  I start playing Christmas music on the record player when the rest of the family is around (instead of listening privately, as I do every year in the months of January-October).  I more diligently begin detailed planning for my annual Christmas compilation CD (yes, I still burn CDs).  I start looking for the necessary fixins for the annual fruitcake baking later in November.  And I start my Christmas reading.

I love Christmas reading as much as anything during the holidays. Novels, stories, poetry, and works of non-fiction all make my reading list in a given year.  There are a few annual traditions I've settled into, such as reading Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" every year on Thanksgiving morning, accompanied by the peace of the sleeping household and a cup of freshly brewed coffee with a touch of cream.

Most of my reading, though, is new to me, be it a classic Christmas story or a new work.  This year, I chose "The Triple Dog Dare: Watching - & Surviving - the 24-House Marathon of A Christmas Story" by Christmas TV journalist extraordinaire Joanna Wilson to kick off my holiday reading season.

In "The Triple Dog Dare", author Joanna tells her account of watching the modern classic film A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, simulating the annual broadcast on TBS that has become a part of so many of our Christmas Eves and Days.  Twelve straight viewings.  Twelve showdowns with Scut Farkus.  Twelve times Flick stuck his tongue on the pole.  Twelve "Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra"s at the Chop Suey Palace.  Twelve "Oh Fuuuuuuudge"s (but he didn't say "fudge").  What would happen after the marathon?  Would she love the movie even more?  Would she never want to see it ever again?  Would she still be sane? 

These questions and many more are answered in this delightful and completely engaging book. Joanna explores the reasons why this movie has become so beloved, and why it is uniquely suitable for the 24 hour marathon broadcast year after year, which plays in to the reason so many major advertisers buy commercial time during the event.  She gives us many details about the cast, including connections beyond the film and some "where are they now" info.  We are treated to a cornucopia of tidbits about the film, production, location, and other miscellany.  Perhaps I knew, but had forgotten, that Bob Clark also directed "Black Christmas" the 1974 film.  I did not know until reading this book that Mr. Clark has a cameo in the film.  It's things like this, the details surrounding the film, that make the book such a joy.

But that's not all.  Joanna tells about her staging of the marathon - a re-creation done in February with a VHS tape of the movie recorded from television in 1989.  (We understand that viewing the entire marathon as it's broadcast live would be a serious detriment to enjoying the holiday, and really just not feasible for a Christmas lover).  An unexpected bonus of traveling back in time to television circa 1989 was the neo-vintage commercials that were fortunately not excised from the recording.  Joanna's accounts of these commercials, many for products and services that have ceased to exist, added significant joy to the reading experience.

Christmas Television History Expert Joanna Wilson
There is no unnecessary play-by-play of the movie.  Many scenes are referenced and used as inertia to explore an angle, a nook, or a cranny about the film, the viewing experience, the social and collective tradition that has developed since the marathon began, or other tangents and fascinating offshoots.  If you, like me, love the movie, you'll find much to love in Joanna's book.  It's a guarantee that you'll relate to some or many of Joanna's observations and experiences, and you will assuredly learn something new about A Christmas Story.  

While I'm at it, let me give a thumbs-up to Joanna's other Christmas-related books, "The Christmas TV Companion", "Tis the Season TV", and "Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1".  The first two of these have suddenly become enablers for me to spend way too much time in front of the TV, looking up previously unknown (to me) TV episodes, film shorts, cartoons, and so on.  Thanks to Joanna I'm discovering Christmas entertainment that I didn't know existed, and it's wonderful.  Thanks Joanna!

Joanna Wilson, in addition to publishing books about Christmas visual entertainment, also runs the excellent blog Christmas TV History and keeps an active social media presence via Tis the Season TV and Triple Dog Dare on Facebook, as well as on other social media platforms.

1701 Press website
The Triple Dog Dare on 1701 Press
Christmas TV History

Monday, November 6, 2017

2017 Preview and Thisbe Vos Kickstarter

Hello and Happy November everyone!  Welcome back to another season of Christmas nerdery here at ye old Merrie and Bright blogg.  This post is to welcome you all back, to give you a little preview of what's in store this season, to share a quick news tidbit, and most importantly to encourage you to help crowdfund a new record from one of our absolute favorite musicians.

So, welcome back!  (check - done)

For long-time readers of Merry and Bright you'll see similar Christmas goodies in 2017 as in years past.  I'll be doing some reviews of Christmas albums and introducing you to artists that aren't in the mainstream but produce some darned fine music.  I have two artist interviews lined up already, a third pending, and perhaps a couple more will come along in the next month.  And, as always, I have a great set of vintage, out-of-print music to share out for you to enjoy.  I managed to get way ahead of the album-ripping game this year (whew!).  I have all of the records ripped, almost all of the audio processing done, and a good start on the cover scanning and stitching.  And it's only November 6th!

Beyond that, who knows what you'll find here.  You can guarantee it'll be in the holiday spirit, that's for sure.  I hope you like what you read, and if you do, leave a comment! 

Quick news tidbit:  I'm returning to the radio again this year.  Believe it or not, the hosts of River Trade Radio on KKFI in Kansas City invited me back for a special hour of Christmas music from my collection.  And,  the FCC was ok with that  :-)  So on Sunday December 3rd at about 9:15AM Central Time you can hear a little of me and a lot of great Christmas songs.  I'll post more info about that closer the day.

Ok, now for the important message.  You may recall Thisbe Vos from previous posts here.  The first was a review of her amazing Christmas record in 2015, and then her interview with Der Bingle last season.  Now, Thisbe has a new project, and she needs crowdfunding support via Kickstarter to achieve her goal.  Thisbe is making a "Romantic Valentine's Day Jazz Album", with her renditions of jazz standards fitting the occasion, plus several original songs.  Now, Thisbe is not only an amazing jazz singer, she is a truly gifted songwriter.  I've been endlessly impressed with her ability to write a new song and have it sound like a standard.  If you haven't heard Thisbe, visit her at one of the links below and listen to this talented young jazz artist.

On her Kickstarter page, Thisbe details her plans for the albums and describes the costs to make the record, including the breakdown of the funds.  She has quite a chunk of the funds allocated to the musicians that will be recording with her, which makes me want to support her even more.  Earning a steady, decent wage can be challenging for those who dedicate their lives to making music, so I was very glad to see that the Kickstarter will support not only Thisbe, but also her band and collaborators. I pledged to support her new record right away, and I hope you will consider signing on as a supporter. Even if jazz music isn't your thing, maybe you know someone who would love a CD from Thisbe.

So, please take a minute to check out her Kickstarter page.  Der Bingle thanks you.

Thisbe Vos Kickstarter Site
Thisbe Vos website
Thisbe on Facebook

Well, that's it for tonight - I hope you visit Merry and Bright many times this season.  Happy holidays!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Vintage Recipes!

I found an old Betty Crocker recipe booklet while sifting through my Mom's many, many collected recipes (I found about 9 different variants of fruitcake, one of which is a no-bake version held together with graham cracker crumbs, orange juice, and melted marshmallows, then frozen in a tube) and thought you might enjoy the seasonal ones.  There isn't a date on the booklet, but I'm guessing it's from the 1960s.  


Sugar Plum Dreams:

And two Dickens-inspired recipes:


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Feelin' like Christmas...

Hello all!  Yawn, stretch, jingle, jingle, jingle...  it's starting to feel just a tad like Christmas.  There's not really a nip in the air yet, but there's a Fall-like feel here in Kansas City today, and it is of course officially Autumn now (why do we have two name for this season, but only one for the rest?  Ever wonder that?) so around my place Fall means that we start listening to some Christmas tunes, sorting through the new/old records and CDs, and planning the annual Christmas comp.  I know, I know, many of my collector friends have been planning their comp for months already.  I always have a running list and jot potential songs to it from time to time, but the real planning doesn't start until Octoberish each year.  Just my M.O.

So, I'm encountering a new phenomenon here recently, one that's quite welcome.  A few days ago, and old buddy pulled up at my house to pick me up to go to a Wilco concert, and he came bearing a sackful of old Christmas records he got from his mother.  Quite a nice selection, too.  Some may be shared out here later in the season.  Then, the next day, I traveled to my sister's place down in Tennessee, and upon arrival she had a stack of old Christmas records for me, finds from estate sales.  What a thing - people giving me stacks of Christmas records!  I guess all that incessant posting on Facebook about Christmas music is paying off :-)  Anyway, it's a cool thing.  Add in my Omaha daughter scouting the used record haunts up there looking for Christmas records and my Kansas City kids letting me know about albums they've spotted, and I have quite a network going.  Maybe it'll turn into inventory for that Christmas music store I'll open up when I retire.  Won't make a dime in profit but the in-store music will be great!

Well, stay tuned here folks.  The blog is warming up for another season.  I have some artist interviews already lined up, and will be talking up some new album releases, including (I hope) one from a fantastic local band.  Plus, all the usual stuff you find here at Merry and Bright.  It's Beginning To Look a Little Like Christmas! 

I decided to include a few album pics too, just to jolly up the place a bit.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


My house in Kansas City was within the path of totality ("totality" - the Word of the Year 2017), so I got to enjoy the event from my deck.  Here are a couple pictures, taken with my iPhone, of the eclipse during totality.  The pics aren't great, but do show the light-ringed black ball in the sky.  I was trying to take the pics quickly and then just enjoy the view for as long as it lasted.  Anyway, here's the view of the great eclipse of 2017 from my backyard!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Just Some Seasonal Pictures

I felt like updating the blog with some seasonal pictures, so here they are!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Is it Christmas Music Season yet?

Ha!  What a silly question!  Stop that!  Stop that!  You're being silly!  (please comment, those who pick up that reference).

It's always Christmas Music season in the House of Bingle, though sometimes not with quite the same intensity, as, say, the months of September - January.  And, as it's pushing 100 degrees here in Kansas City today, we're not feeling a bit Wintry.

But, Christmas music season is starting to emerge on the internet, slowly but surely.  Good friend Stubby has semi-un-retired from the Christmas music internet scene, which is reason for rejoicing.

Good friend Ernie has a mega-celebration of Christmas in July going on over at his place, with loads of Christmas songs shared out from non-Christmas albums.  The dude has a superpower of being able to find these treasures.

And, our favorite Facebook group 200 Days of Christmas is already at day 45 this year, posting a Christmas song every day, many of which will be new to you (no matter who you are).  If you haven't followed 200 Days yet, you need to. Right now.  Then come back here, please.

And what about the plans for Merry and Bright this season?  Well, I'm not sure yet.  I know of a couple artist/album features I want to write up.  I'm, hoping to do some more artist interviews this year.  I'll dig into my vinyl and see what I can share out - hope to have at least a few of those again this year.  I guess I see Merry and Bright as a variety platter in the world of Christmas Music blogs - a little of this, a little of that, not all exclusively music related.  We'll see what happens.

So for now - Merry Christmas in July!  I'll be back in a couple months...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Planet Comicon 2017: "Black Buttons" and Magnificent Cowlick Media

For my last post about Planet Comicon 2017, I want to feature "Black Buttons Vol. I", a collection of macabre stories by midwest writers, and Magnificent Cowlick Media, publisher of the anthology.

Mark Groves is the owner, writer, and pretty much doer of everything for Magnificent Cowlick Media. Included in his list of jobs is one-who-mans-the-table at Comicon.  I visited his table and chatted with Mark at length about the books his publishing company has to offer.  Mark is very energetic, friendly, talkative, and is passionately proud of the books he has published.  Mark is a contributing writer to his anthologies, but talks about the other authors' contributions more than his own.  Mark clearly loves this writing and publishing business, and effusively supports his collaborating writers.  

I picked up a copy of "Black Buttons Vol. 1", a collection of stories set in and around the Kansas City area. The setting makes reading it a little more special for area residents, but won't damper the experience for others.  The stories range from just a few pages to longer, near-novella length explorations of darkness.  Some favorites:

"Harry" by J.E. Peterson - you could call this "The Sandlot Gone Evil"
"Pray for Rain" by Mark Groves - a deeply complex tale of second sight set in Kansas City, 
"A Stake in the Heart" by Andrew Rambo - ok, based on the title you can probably guess it's a vampire story, but it's one of the funniest vampire stories I've ever read
"Checkmate" by Mark Groves - superbly paced, excellently executed story of revenge gone wrong
"Bring May Flowers" by Marissa Pelot.  Mark Groves calls this the best story in the book, one of a young girl's internal struggles and resolution.

What about the title, "Black Buttons"?  Well, as Mark explains in the forward, the title comes from a rural Missouri legend about cursed persons or families.  If you were cursed and you left a black button on the road, when someone else picked it up, the curse was transitioned to them. 

Do pick up "Black Buttons" from Magnificent Cowlick Media, but don't pick up any black buttons you see lying on the road....

Magnificent Cowlick Media has also published:
Black Buttons Vol. 2
Route 666: Four on the Floor
HELLZAPALOOZA: The Best Damned Rock Show Ever

Magnificent Cowlick Media on Facebook

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Planet Comicon 2017: TimeBangers

Now, this here is a family-friendly blog.  You know, Christmas Music, and tinsel, and ho ho ho and all that.  So it's with that consideration, and the ever-watching eye of Mrs. Santa, that I'll share with you some info about "TimeBangers" subtitled "One Does Not Simply Walk Into Tudor".

"TimeBangers" is about Beth and Tawny, old college friends now in their early 30's who reunite after several years and begin to reminisce about their particular brand of, ahem, research from their college days.  Jobless, single-parent Beth and her daughter move in with super-rich scientist Tawny, who has invented a time machine.  Beth and Tawny travel into the past to the court of King Henry the Eighth, with intentions to perform some field research experiments on the men of Olde England, including King Henry himself.  But, the best-laid plans, well, you know.....

I visited with the authors, Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague, at their Planet Comicon booth.  Ivery was not there initially, so I spent most of my time chatting with Luna (who also was a contributor to a story anthology I purchased at another booth - more on that in an upcoming post).  Luna is an effervescent bundle of energy, always smiling, and engaging to the fullest with visitors to her booth.  She told me about the book, and we chatted about many other things, including Christmas Music (!).  Of course, TimeBangers was available for sale, so I bought a copy.

I read TimeBangers over the course of just a few days.  It's a marvelously engaging book.  It's quick-paced, fun, a bit naughty here and there (and there, and over there too), and just pure escapist entertainment - you can't take it too seriously as you read it.  Set your Suspension of Disbelief Meter to "Fun" and just enjoy this literary ride.  I'm hoping that TimeBangers Book 2 is published soon.

TimeBangers website
Reve de Vie Publishers website
Amazon link
Interview with Ivery and Luna on The Fussy Librarian:  link
Luna Teague website
Ivery Kirk website

Monday, May 8, 2017

Planet Comicon 2017: Bictori

Bictori is the team of comic artists/authors Taylor Carlson and Stefanie Dao aka Fujiyosky, and "Knocking on the Sky" is their comic book creation.  I met the Bictori team at Planet Comicon and had a very nice chat with them about their comics.  Y'know, that's the best thing about these events - talking to these wonderful artists, learning about their work and their personal artistic journey.  And, supporting them with a purchase or two.  I've bought a few comics and books from the authors and artists at these events, and so far everything has been just splendid!

So, "Knocking on the Sky".  Taylor and Fujiyosky had the first two comics in a planned series of 6, plus (free with purchase of 1 and 2) the standalone pilot issue.  So I picked up all three, added them to my bag o' stuff, and brought them home.  A few days later, I picked them up out of the stack and read them while sitting outside on a lovely Spring Kansas City evening.  And, well, now I'm hooked.  The story involves a group of exquisitely developed characters, each with their own unique idiosyncrasy (or two).  The characters spring to life through the dialogue (a little salty at times), the artwork, and the visual story composition.  There are little arty additions throughout, such as a little, teeny word "point" when one of the characters points.  Persons who are dead are thusly indicated.  There are little visual style changes every now and then that really serve to keep a sense of motion and maintain the reader's high interest.  These are outstanding comics.

And, like I said, I'm hooked on the story.  Book 3 is supposed to be out in the Summer of '17.  I will have to keep up with Team Bictori so I can get books 3-6, whenever they are published.

I'm not going to give away any story or character spoilers.  It's much more fun to experience it all with your first (and subsequent) read(s).  One thing, though - check out this character's right arm:

Yeah...  It's metal...

Keep up with Bictori and "Knocking on the Sky" at the following websites,

Taylor Carlson:

Stefanie Dao:

Fujiyosky on Facebook:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Planet Comicon 2017: Artist Chelsea Mann

Artist and comic author Chelsea Mann was one of my stops at Planet Comicon 2017 in Kansas City. Chelsea had many of her art prints available, as well as two of her comic books, "St. Martin Song" and "Let Me Live".

Chelsea's artwork is extraordinary.  If you browse though the artwork on her website you'll see a wide spectrum of work.  All of it is recognizable as being comic-style, but within that artistic domain Chelsea experiments and explores through color, detail, expanse, precision, energy, and subtlety.  In her Gallery section, I'm drawn to the middle image on the third row, the old home on a snowy hill at night.  There is a sense of peace in this work, and to me it evokes a feeling of a quiet Christmas night.

I bought Chelsea's two comics while at Comicon.  Both of these are excellent stories brought to life by Chelsea's artwork.  The storytelling is vivid through her detailed, flowing, exacting composition. Both stories are tales of imagination and spirituality.  "Let Me Live" is especially beautiful throughout its 42 pages in its use of changing color schemas as the story moves along.

Last year I found a wonderful comic artist, Megan Fitts, at Planet Comicon who would up designing the artwork for my annual Christmas comps.  Chelsea's web page has information about commissions, so if anyone is needing something extra special for your annual comps, maybe Chelsea can work up something great!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Planet Comicon 2017

Hello there good readers!  It's time for a Springtime sojourn into the world of Planet Comicon, the 3-day extravaganza of comics, art, nerdery, sci-fi, fantasy, and high-priced celebrity autographs that was in Kansas City April 28-30.  I once again visited Planet Comicon for a day, spending many hours wandering the exhibit hall, talking to authors and artists, viewing many fine works of art, and marveling at the sheer magnitude of the event.  I'll write up a few posts about some of the artists that I met during the 'Con in the next few days.  Long time readers know that I like to support local artists, so giving them a little press and directing some attention to their work is my way of support (in addition to, in most cases, purchasing their wares).

Best Win:  I'm a life long Abbott and Costello fan, especially (duh) their "Who's On First" routine.  Comic strip artists Bill Amend (Fox Trot) and Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) have both done strips paying homage to "Who's On First".  Well, both of these artists were at Planet Comicon, so I found the strips, printed them on a single page, and was successful in getting them to sign it!  What a one-of-a-kind piece!

A Miss:  I had hoped to have Felicia Day sign my copy of her book "You're Never Weird on the Internet", as she was one of many celebrity guests meeting, greeting, and signing (for a not-really-nominal fee).  Alas, Felicia's line was 90-120 minutes long all day.  I'm not one to invest that amount of time just for an autograph, so my copy of the book remains unsigned.  And I had such a witty dialogue all ready for Ms. Day too....

Another Win:  With Felicia Day a no-go, I stopped by DMC's booth instead.  Last year, I had Mr. McDaniels sign a copy of "Christmas in Hollis" (awesome!).  This year I bought his comic, got an autograph, and posed with him for a pic.  Pretty cool.

Authors and Artists:  Here are some of the authors and artists I met during the day.  Look for more details about these fine folks in some upcoming posts:

Chelsea Mann - comics and artwork

Kerrts Kazuka - artwork -

Taylor Carlson - comics -

Mark Groves - author -

and finally, Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague, authors of this fine tome:

Interesting stuff at Planet Comicon, my friends.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Best of 2016, part 2, and Signing Off for the Season

Here are a few more 'Best of 2016' thoughts before I sign off for the season.

Katey Laurel - "This is Christmas"

My biggest regret this season is not finding time to cover Katey Laurel's 2-CD Christmas album "This is Christmas".  Katey's album was funded over a year ago through a very successful Kickstarter campaign, so successful that it allowed her to produce a double-disc Christmas album this year.  Katey is a Denver, CO singer with a strikingly beautiful voice.  Her album was one of my favorites this year, and bumped may others out of the rotation, as I listened to Katey over and over.  I'm going to come back to Katey's album early in the 2017 season to do it justice, and maybe snag an interview too.  If you missed out on this album in 2016, add it to your 2017 'must have' list.

Katey Laurel website

Hot Breakfast! - "The Holiday Shift"

Hot Breakfast! is Matt Casarino (of "200 Days of Christmas" on Facebook) and Jill Knapp, a Christmas-loving duo that writes and performs some of the best original Christmas rock-and-roll around.  Their music is awesome, their songwriting amazing, and the energy they put into Christmas deserves a standing ovation.  Love their music and what they give the world at Christmas.  Check 'em out.

Hot Breakfast!  website

The Shenanigans - "Decidely Simple Christmas"

This one is going to be tougher on all of you Christmas music fanatics.  The Kansas City Repertory Theatre has produced "Santaland Diaries", based on the stories by David Sedaris, for a few years running now.  Throughout the play, the two performers have several musical interludes, mostly Christmas standards, but also a few rewritten and updated to the spirit of the play.  Meaning, they are PG-13 if not mildly R-rated.  And very, very funny.  The two performers, Claybourne Elder and Shanna Jones, recorded the songs from the show, plus a few more, and had them for sale after the show, using the band name "The Shenanigans".  It's a treat.  If you're one of the lucky ones that receive Der Bingle's Christmas comp every year, you'll probably find an updated "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" on the 2017 edition, featuring the line "I hid a body in a trunk - somebody snitched on me".  Not available commercially - maybe I can convince Claybourne and Shanna to let me share a song next year.

KC Rep Facebook page

And finally, in the spirit of the Best of 2016, one of the best things this season for Der Bingle was being invited to guest DJ on KKFI, a Kansas City public radio station.  The hosts of one of the weekly shows invited me to come in and play some Christmas songs from my collection.  The original date, Dec 18th, was postponed due to ice, so we kicked off New Year's Day 2017 with a half hour of Christmas music.  Being able to share some songs and talk about Christmas music was fun, exciting and a real treat for me.  I'm hoping to be able to return again next season.  Thanks to Kasey, Scotty, and Mikal for inviting me - you're all such good people.

KKFI website
River Trade Radio Facebook page

And so, that about wraps it up for the 2016 season.  I hope you all have enjoyed the interviews, music info, contests, and shared music.  I'll be back again next year, doing many of the same things.  I'm pretty sure that the blog will lean more toward the artist interviews and features about new music and drift away from music sharing.  It's getting tougher all the time to find music that isn't available digitally already, so I imagine that will be de-emphasized, though if I find some real shareable gems I'll make sure to post them here.   I'd love to know what you think about the interviews and contests, and the blog in general, so please comment or send me an e-mail.

Check back in from time to time - I may write some off-season posts.  The Folk Alliance International Conference is in Kansas City again this year, so I may post some articles after that event in February.  And there's Planet Comicon in April(?).  Holy smokes, those will both be here before I know it..

So, signing off for now, and hope to see  you all next season!