Monday, April 17, 2006 

Projects in Progress: Pages from XL, RIPPED, and THE NETWORK

Here's a big art dump from the three projects I've got almost ready to go out the door. Check out what'll be on your shelves later this year:

First off, XL--a giant-monsters story--art and colors by Jeremy Bennison. This is a scene early in the book; with the giant-monsters premise, it should be pretty obvious what's going on here:

Next up, we've got RIPPED, a time-travel/conspiracy tale, with Jason Flowers on art and Sonny Leader on colors. This is the first page of the book; see if you can figure where Fitz, our time-traveling protagonist, has awakened to find himself:

...and finally, we have THE NETWORK, about life at a network devoted entirely to superheroes, a la ESPN and sports. Art by Martin Morazzo and Carolina Cesare; colors by Kevin Volo; letters by Jason Arthur. This is midway through the pitch, as our hero Ethan (the kid in the bottom right) is being given a tour of the Network studios by reporter Cassidy Page (the lady)--and, of course, violence ensues:

Enjoy! I'll update as events warrant.

Friday, April 14, 2006 

Homers, Hank, and Honesty--A Blog-Only Braves Column

(The following is a column I wrote for ChopTalk on Bonds and 'roids. My editor rejected it because it wasn't enough about the Braves. So here it is for your consideration.)

One of the most memorable moments of my sports journalism career came in 1999, when I had the good fortune to stand six feet behind Mark McGwire as he took batting practice at Turner Field. This was when baseball was still basking in the glow of the great Home Run Chase of 1998, and there were well over 10,000 people there in the park two hours early to watch McGwire send balls into the stratosphere. (Next time you’re at Turner Field, take a look at the red-and-white Southern Company sign up above the Chop House in left field. McGwire was hitting that. Unimpeded, those balls might’ve cleared Hank Aaron Drive.)

I still recall the feeling I had that day. It’s the feeling you get three bites into a Super-Sized Big Mac meal, savoring the unhealthy goodness and not thinking about what it’s doing to you inside. I knew there was something not quite right about a ballplayer hitting balls that traveled so far they needed a stewardess, to paraphrase Crash Davis. I knew, but—like almost every other baseball fan of the late ‘90s—I was reveling in the thrill of watching balls sail out of parks.

But now, at long last, the guilt—and the stomachache—of that Big Mac meal is settling in for all of us. This spring, with the United States suffering an early flameout in the World Baseball Classic—should’ve given Frenchy more at-bats!—the baseball topic du jour was “the Barry Bonds book.” As anyone who’s followed baseball in the last few months knows, Game of Shadows is an exhaustively detailed book convincingly demonstrating how Barry Bonds—heir to McGwire’s home run champion crown—willfully, knowingly, and consistently used performance-enhancing drugs to hit more homers in a shorter period of time than anybody, ever.

And as a result, fans once again had to face the fact that their beloved game and its most cherished records might be irredeemably stained by performance-enhancing drugs. Not the way we wanted to kick off a wide-open 2006 season.

The Braves intersect with the whole steroid debacle in several direct ways. Fortunately for Atlanta’s fans, none of the Braves’ long-term stars have ever even been mentioned in connection with the steroid scandals. It’s dangerous to speculate why anyone would or wouldn’t decide to gain an unethical edge on the competition, but knowing you’re part of an organization that’s the class of baseball certainly doesn’t tempt one to cut corners. Plus, as Braves GM John Schuerholz has documented in his recent autobiography, the Braves value character in a player—the kind of character that doesn’t resort to shortcuts or outright cheating in order to bolster stats or keep the division-winning streak alive.

Inside the clubhouse, John Smoltz has been one of the game’s most outspoken players in challenging baseball’s approach to steroids. Smoltz has repeatedly affirmed that baseball needs a firm steroid policy to allay public suspicion—and he’s also suggested that several players hitting far deeper than expected are using some less-than-ethical means of strengthening their game.

On a more personal level, it’s a Brave who holds the most cherished record in all of sports, and Atlanta fans view Hank Aaron’s 755 homers with something of a proprietary love. Aaron’s record will almost certainly fall one day, but when it does, shouldn’t the record fall to a player untainted by controversy about his performance?

For his part, Aaron has been exceedingly gracious and diplomatic about Bonds’ pursuit of the record, noting in a March Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that “No matter what happens with Barry or anybody else, my 755 is going to be there next year, the one after that and the one after that.”

There’s the potential for irony here. The Giants pay their only visit to Turner Field in late August, and if Bonds—47 short of the record as the season began—hits at anything approaching his former levels, he could be on target to break Aaron’s record in Aaron’s hometown. So how should the fans in Atlanta—or, for that matter, any town—react? With silence? By turning their backs? Me, I’d be there to watch—history is history, for good or ill—but I’m not standing, and I’m not applauding.

The title of this column is “Painting the Corners,” but let’s wrap up with one right down the middle: what do you think should baseball do about performance enhancers and the players who use them? This isn’t a survey, just a question that every baseball fan ought to be asking him- or herself these days. As Bonds’ date with baseball destiny nears, it’s high time for all of us to decide once and for all where we stand on the steroid issue.

Are we going to pine for the cheap glory of moonshots, or are we going to expect ballplayers be held to a higher standard of integrity? Shouldn’t we expect more—even if, in statistical terms, that means “less”—from our heroes and our game?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 

Syndication Now!

Okay, so I finally got the RSS/Atom/XML/whatever-the-hell-it-is syndication function working on this website. (Naturally, it took me four months to figure out a solution that took four seconds to implement.) Anyway, if you're one of the growing legions of Internetters savvy enough to have an RSS feeder, you can now get this site delivered to your favorite feed reader.

(For those not in the know, RSS feeds compile the latest news and stories from all over the web into one easy-to-view program. I recommend SharpReader.)

Anyway, cut-and-paste this link--

--into your RSS reader and you're set.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

A Literary Happy Meal

Last week while on vacation, I picked up a copy of Stephen King's new novella The Colorado Kid in a Gulf Coast Winn-Dixie, and merrily plowed through all 160-plus pages in less than a day. It's a good little read--the literary equivalent of a Happy Meal, as this post's title notes, and I don't mean that in any condescending way. It's easy reading, familiar territory with a slight twist, and even a prize at the end--a short, fascinating meditation on the nature of mystery. It's a self-contained whodunit that--thank heaven--appears to have nothing whatsoever to do with King's Dark Tower mythos, though I'm sure I missed the connection somewhere.

Of course, it's got some stereotypical King traditions--it's set in rural Maine, with the "ayuh"s ping-ponging back and forth every page. It's got characters who are far too aware that they're characters, if you get what I mean. And it could've used an editor--the freakin' dead body doesn't even show up until a third of the way through the book.

Still, it's Stephen King, and that means it's damn fine beach reading. King's like a pair of sneakers--most folks give up sneakers after the age of, say, 22 except for weekends. (Not me; I'm shoes-optional most of the week. But the rest of you...) But you never miss a chance to slip back into those old sneakers--and, for me and plenty of other readers, King's the same way.

I first read King during a high school trip--'Salem's Lot, I think it was--and I remember thinking, Holy shit--this guy has done it, blended the everyday and the fantastic in a way that my dumbass teenaged brain could understand. King was the first writer who pulled literature off the shelf for me, who showed me that it could be both thematically bold and as mundane as--to tie it in a bow--a McDonald's meal.

After that first book, I devoured King book by book--Christine, Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, It--every month or so, I'd hit the used bookstore and grab another well-worn paperback for two bucks. I was entranced, drawn into the world of Derry, Maine and its surrounding regions. Even though I didn't know a standpipe from a standing eight count, I felt like I knew King's Maine--knew it well enough that I felt at home there during the eighteen hours I spent there during a quick camping trip a few years back.

Alas, King and I drifted apart--his proclivity toward ever-more-bloated books with correspondingly less heft and punch (Rose Madder, Gerald's Game, Needful Things), and his increasing obsession with tying everything into his Dark Tower series--plus the fact that I didn't need pop culture references to sweeten the taste of literature any longer--meant that I just didn't need King that much anymore. I still picked up his short story collections the day they came out, but the novels--eh. They didn't do it for me anymore.

Of course, somewhere around this time I had the chance to meet King twice. Once was when he was playing with his rock band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. I saw him play in a Georgetown club, and during a brief lull between songs, I shouted "I'm your Number One fan!" King responded by leaning into the microphone and telling me to shut the hell up.

The next time went a little smoother. King was speaking at a book conference at Ole Miss along with John Grisham, a meeting of the bestselling superpowers that sent a capacity audience at a university theater into fits of ecstasy. Afterward, I worked my way over toward King and--with a whole crowd of similarly starstruck people around me--asked him how his rock band was coming along. Not exactly an incisive question, but I think he was so glad to have someone who wasn't trying to push their novel on him that he actually stopped and gave me some good info on what was shaking with the band. (He didn't recognize me as the jackass from a couple years before in D.C.)

So where was this going? Oh, yeah--the latest Stephen King book. Like I said above, it's a mystery--a man alive in Denver one morning shows up dead off the coast of Maine the next. The entire story is told through the perspective of two newspapermen, and the ending--well, obviously I won't spoil it, but King works for it, then justifies it.

Go ahead; pick it up. It's well worth your time. And King's got me for another year.


Baseball's Back, And I'm Smeared All Over The Newsstands

Baseball's back. As I write this, I'm back in the pressbox at Turner Field, watching the Braves make fewer mistakes than the Phillies in Atlanta's home opener. It's a perfect spring evening, the kind that makes you want to wax rhapsodic about the green cathedrals of baseball and all that other romantic hoo-hah spewed forth by the kind of people who couldn't hit a beach ball with a two-by-four.

Anyway, it's been a good last couple weeks. Got back from a vacation in Destin, Florida during which I stuffed myself with barbecue and Turbo Dog beer, took the kids out in the Gulf on a canoe, and spent some fine time in one of the finest bookstores in the South. (Sun Dog Books in Seaside--here's a picture somebody took.)

And lately, I've enjoyed the fruits of my January labor, with multiple stories hitting the stands all over the country. Here in Atlanta, Atlanta magazine published my profile of local sports radio station 790 The Zone--you can read the piece here. (The gang at 790 apparently dug the article so much they compared me on-air to Hemingway and Faulkner. Hey, they know sports AND literature. Good cats.)

Also, in response to my mother's requests to write an article she could show her friends, I published a piece in Richmond magazine on several former Richmond Braves. (It's not online; I'll post a copy here once the issue's off the stands.) And this month, the Chicago Sports Review is running my cover story on the legacy of Sammy Sosa. Next month, I'll make my debut in Bluff magazine with a story on pro ballplayers who play poker.

Got a few other projects on tap, including a whopping four comics series--RIPPED (time travel/conspiracy), THE NETWORK (superheroes), SUNSHINE STATE (Florida crime), and XL (giant monsters)--all are lumbering toward completion of the pitch packages, and I'll be posting samples here in the near future.

So, yeah--there's a lot of JB goodness out there and en route. Enjoy, eh?


Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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