Congrats to Combat Flip Flops on ‘Shark Tank’: Interview With CEO Matthew Griffin

Former Rangers Donald Lee, left, and Matthew Griffin pitch their company Combat Flip Flops on "Shark Tank." (Photo: ABC/Tyler Golden)

Former Rangers Donald Lee, left, and Matthew Griffin pitch their company Combat Flip Flops on “Shark Tank.” (Photo: ABC/Tyler Golden)

Fans of “Shark Tank” got to see an impressive three shark win this Friday night for the founders of Combat Flip Flops, Matthew ‘Griff’ Griffin, CEO, and fellow Ranger Donald Lee. Combat Flip Flops are uniquely made with combat boot rubber and have a special charitable connection to Afghanistan and other war-torn regions. At the end of the day, Combat Flip Flops proved to be a superior product that got the financial backing of three wealthy investors on the popular show on ABC.

Matthew "Griff" Griffin models The Cashmagh

Matthew “Griff” Griffin models The Cashmagh

I had the honor of interviewing Matthew Griffin, back in March of last year, prior to the Shark Tank notoriety. Listen to my interview by clicking the link below:

As with any impressive appearance on Shark Tank, all eyes are on where to learn more. Go visit our friends at Combat Flip Flops right here.

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Review: ‘Fante Bukowski’ by Noah Van Sciver

Fante-Bukowski-Noah-Van-Sciver

I’d been meaning to read Noah Van Sciver’s latest graphic novel, “Fante Bukowski,” and I guess I was waiting for a good time to do it. I thought I had it figured out: a silly little satire about a ne’er-do-well. It is that, in a nutshell. But, after reading it, I wasn’t totally sure of what to say about it. Well, actually, I had some idea. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Steve Martin in his film debut, 1979’s “The Jerk.” It is both subversively offbeat and totally hilarious.

“Fante Bukowski,” is worthy of your attention in all its irreverent splendor. Part of the humor is that it is quite obvious that Van Sciver has no real axe to grind within the literary community and yet he seems to manage to provide some quite effective biting satire. The bite is not aimed at anyone in particular. It’s more like the Marx Brothers poking fun at the absurdity of life in general. And, it’s safe to say that the pomposity and pretentiousness that Groucho ridiculed a century ago has not changed much for Millennials.

And lest you think this book has anything meaningful to say about Charles Bukowski, think again! Our main character decided to have his name legally changed from Kelly Perkins to Fante Bukowski to honor his childhood idol. It’s, by far, the saddest thing, Audrey, another unpromising writer, has ever heard! Fante meets, or stumbles upon, Audrey during a reading Fante gives of an incredibly brief and ill-conceived bit of his so-called poetry. It is Fante’s dumb luck that Audrey finds him attractive and decides to spend the night with him. To her dismay, she discovers that Fante slaves away on an actual typewriter.

While Van Sciver seems to favor light humor, it also seems that he doesn’t suffer fools lightly either. The following scene can’t help but sound familiar to many an aspiring writer: there is much chit chat over a certain literary magazine at a party and it results in Fante pleading with the editor for the chance to submit some work. After some back and forth, the editor accepts Fante’s half-baked drivel. After more small talk, Fante asks how big the magazine’s circulation is. The editor, without a hint of irony, says it’s a dozen. Brilliant. That, and the fact that Fante is obsessed with using a typewriter does seem to say something about a new generation allowing itself to walk into walls it could have easily avoided.

Van Sciver’s latest subject, and what he does with it, is a prime example of a cartoonist who understands why he keeps going back to his drawing board to toil away. He has made certain choices like keeping the artwork within reasonable limits and cranking the humor just right. This is all in the service of telling the tale of a terribly delusional young man. It’s an absurd story. When it’s all said and done, it is a silly satire about a ne’er-do-well. But it’s an impressive silly little satire too.

Fante Bukowski

“Fante Bukowski” is an 80-page trade paperback published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Charles Bukowski, Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noah Van Sciver

Review: PRISON ISLAND by Colleen Frakes

Colleen Frakes Prison Island

“Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir” is quite a pleasant surprise coming from indie cartoonist Colleen Frakes. I have kept up with her work which gravitates towards ethereal terrain full of whimsical creatures and mythical themes. So, to have her share about her own childhood is a treat. Frakes is another cartoonist who I can say knows her stuff. Cartooning, I think I’ve said before in one form or another, is a harsh and fickle mistress. You cannot rush the process unless you want to end up aping the current trends; and you cannot sit on something for too long. I think Frakes has cultivated a distinctive style and knows when it’s time to push the work out the door.

As the title suggests, our story takes place on a prison island. This is where the Frakes family found employment. After a number of years where careers led to a lot of moving around the Pacific Northwest, it was a welcome change to have mom and dad both finding work in the same location with a long-lasting future. Well, everything is relative. This facility no longer exists. McNeil Island in Washington state had the distinction of being the last prison island in the U.S. accessible only by sea or air. There was Alcatraz Island but that’s another story. Come to think of it, Riker’s Island is still around but it has a bridge connecting it. Hmm, San Quentin? No, that’s not even an island. Okay then, all said and done, an usual place to grow up.

Prison Island Colleen Frakes

Frakes weaves a fascinating look at everyday life on an island dependent upon a prison economy as it were. We observe Frakes just trying to be a kid. But you can’t even take ordering a pizza for granted. As we find out, that is just too complicated to make happen when you live on an isolated prison island! Frakes does a great job of alternating recollections from the past with a more recent family visit to the now virtually deserted island. All in all, this is a charming story that just goes to show that, no matter where you live, a family is a family. I think that Frakes has an endearing drawing style and great enthusiasm for sharing some slice-of-life observations. And she provides a positive and realistic portrait of living in close vicinity to a prison. As Frakes makes clear, the typical prisoner in a relatively low-security prison is someone paying their debt and attempting to rebuild a life.

PRISON ISLAND is a 192-page trade paperback published by Zest Books. For more details, visit Zest Books right here.

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Filed under Colleen Frakes, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Zest Books

Review: ROSALIE LIGHTNING: A Graphic Memoir by Tom Hart

St-Martins-Press-Tom-Hart

A basic truth about good art is that it comes from an artist who is compelled to create it. I have followed the work of cartoonist Tom Hart for many years and I consider him a friend. I can see that his latest book, the graphic memoir, “Rosalie Lightning,” brings out the best in him and what he can do as an artist. This is a story about grieving. Tom and his wife, the cartoonist Leela Corman, suffered the loss of their daughter, Rosalie Lightning, a few years ago. She was nearly two years old. The process of grieving has no set amount of time. It can very well go on forever. However, for the sake of one’s own life, and one’s loved ones, there is also a process of acceptance and renewal. In his book, Hart explores all of this with great insight.

The comics medium can offer the reader entry into the mind of a cartoonist in a very distinct way. This often happens with a work from an independent creator who both writes and draws the work. If it is a personal work, and the creator is up to the task, the reader will be swept into a myriad of observations made all the more tangible by the elastic and concise nature of comics. The words must be more condensed, providing a sharper impact. And then you add the immediacy and the intimacy of the drawings coming from the very same author’s hand. Tom Hart is in a unique position, as an experienced storyteller with a highly expressive style, to tell this story.

Tom Hart Rosalie Lightning

One thing I’ve always admired about Tom Hart is his ability and willingness to open himself up to his readers. He is alright with presenting himself as a regular guy struggling with life in much the same way as we all do. Now, imagine a gifted storyteller like Hart dealing with the death of his baby girl. Is this a story he can even begin to tell? Is it one he wants to tell? You sense right from the beginning that he followed his instincts and chose to continue to share about his life through his comics. There was no set plan. The observations were intermittent posts on his blog. Organically, a narrative took root. And, I believe, the theme of exploring grieving naturally emerged. You find it throughout the book, first in moving recollections and later in greater detail as two parents walk in the wilderness and search for answers.

Aside from the medical reasons, are there any answers as to why a beautiful toddler would die? That is the question that Tom and Leela struggle with. Was it somehow preordained? Both parents torment themselves by repeatedly posing that question. The thing about Hart’s comics is, by their very nature, they are direct and are brimming with immediacy. There’s an interesting tension created by a story following a circuitous and ambiguous path which is punctuated with sharp and forceful drawings. Hart combats a need to contemplate, and recede into the background, with a strong will to tell his story and keep moving forward in his life. Of course, the goal was never to forget but to find balance. Hart’s book proves to be an excellent work of self-discovery and of keeping the memory alive of a dear soul.

Rosalie Lightning Tom Hart

“Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir” is a 272-page hardcover published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. For more details, visit our friends at Macmillan Publishers right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Macmillan Publishers, Tom Hart

Cartoonist Jim Toomey Promotes Saving Ocean Life in CARTOON CRASH COURSE

Cartoonist Jim Toomey

Cartoonist Jim Toomey

It’s pretty simple, we need a healthy planet in order to sustain healthy life all around. Take our oceans, they seem vast and mighty but they’re also vulnerable. As cartoonist and conservationist Jim Toomey points out, there’s a delicate ecosystem we need to protect. For example, consider forage fish. These little guys, such as herring, menhaden, and sardines, play an essential role as food for an array of sealife: sharks, whales, seabirds, tuna, seals, and sea lions. But, you guessed it, humans have managed to muck up the system.

And there is so much to say on marine topics! With Jim Toomey, the cartoonist for the popular comic strip, “Sherman’s Lagoon,” as your guide, you can learn a lot in only a few minutes. The Pew Charitable Trusts has joined forces with Jim Toomey to present a lively and fun look at our vital ocean life in “Cartoon Crash Course.” You can see all 10 new short films right here!

The Vital Role of Forage Fish

The Vital Role of Forage Fish

Watch these humorous cartoons and come away with a better, and more animated, understanding of what it means to take care of our oceans! Learn more and get involved by visiting our friends at The Pew Charitable Trusts right here.

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Filed under Comics, Environment, Jim Toomey

Oscars 2016: THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short

“The Big Short” is a movie that has earned its place among a unique set of movies that can really make a difference. Who knew that the more arcane details of the housing crisis and subsequent financial meltdown of 2008 could be rendered in an accessible and entertaining fashion? And with some of the best talent around to boot. I actually went to see this with my 19-year-old daughter. The roster of leading men and the offbeat intent of the movie made it very promising. So, it was about derivative swaps, well, okay then.

For anyone who has seen it, “The Big Short” not only delivers but leaves you feeling encouraged about the state of filmmaking today. I had assumed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would have heaped praise, and awards, upon it without giving it a second thought. It just goes to show what a heated race it is this year as we approach the Oscars on February 28th. It’s a hot race in the Best Picture category, and “The Big Short” is up against some stiff competition with the leading favorite, “The Revenant.” “The Big Short” is just the sort of significant movie that should win big on the big night.

The Big Short Adam McKay

Much has been said about this movie. Consider the spirited New York Times review here. I’ll give you my take on it. First off, it’s been a long time since the media has focused on the housing market and the major banks–almost as if nothing had happened at all. Sure, the news runs in odd cycles but it does leave one wondering. In fact, one of the points made in this film is the fact that the issues surrounding the financial crisis are far from resolved. How we got here, and why we don’t seem to learn, is at the heart of this story. The movie faithfully plumbs the depths of the famously entertaining nonfiction book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” by Michael Lewis.

Prior to 2008, there were only a few key players in a position to read the handwriting on the wall. Their anticipation of an impending financial collapse, had something to do with insider knowledge and everything to do with seeing what would someday become the obvious. Their collective response was to use specialized hedge funds to bet against Wall Street! And so we see our story play out. Among these special key players who could see what lay ahead, there is genius fund manager Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) who is willing to take his position of authority at the firm he works for to bet the farm. As the pressure mounts on Burry from his bosses to retreat, we see a study in rebellion with other people’s money.

The point was, and remains, that money is not as abstract as some would like to believe. It is ultimately other people’s money that gets manipulated, stolen, and outright lost. The powers that be, the major banks, continue to take those sort of gambles that present little, if any, consequence.

But it’s not just consequences that those in power manage to sidestep. As this film repeatedly points out, the corruption is deeply entrenched and the major banks are masters of deflecting blame. Mirroring the activist spirit of the book, the message here goes above and beyond buyer beware.

We have had a few exceptional films dealing with the housing crisis. What makes this film remarkable is its fierce vision, its commitment to keep you engaged. And its timing, in an election year, is perfect. To have a film of this caliber is such a great opportunity to further the discussion. An Oscar win for Best Picture would seem to be most appropriate. In fact, in some circles, this film is considered a front-runner for Best Picture. With “The Big Short” taking the Producers Guild of America’s top prize this last weekend, the odds could very well be in favor of this film taking the top prize at the Oscars.

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Filed under Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, The Oscars, Wall Street

THE X-FILES 2016: Scully and Mulder are back!

Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) are back on "The X-Files!"

Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) are back on “The X-Files!”

THE X-FILES are back! I really didn’t know what to expect. The spoof on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on ABC was actually a good place to start. If you saw it, you know that Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were good sports to let themselves be done up as lame updates of their characters. They looked old and tired and the ongoing joke was how out of touch they were to such things as smartphones and the internet.

A lighter side to Mulder and Scully on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on ABC

A lighter side to Mulder and Scully on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on ABC

While the show began in 1993, when AOL ruled the young internet, it did go on for nine seasons, well into 2002! Anyway, stereotypes are good for an easy laugh. In fact, Kimmel got it wrong on the skit in a more significant way. These two characters were hardly as naive as depicted. Yes, they had done more than consummated their relationship. As any true fan knows, the two had a child, one they chose to give up for adoption due to all the complications of their field work into aliens from outer space.

THE X-FILES in 2016 appears to be everything that a fan or casual observer would want. The opening scenes quickly get you up to speed on Mulder’s personal obsession to find out the truth of aliens from outer space. As an ironic twist, given that this is a FOX show, the catalyst for this story is a right-wing talk show host. Tad O’Malley (played by Joel McHale) is the host of “Truth Squad,” that believes in false flag conspiracies. We steadily discover that Tad O’Malley may be onto something.

With this reboot, you get the two stars of the show looking and acting far more on point than the Kimmel satire. However, who knows if perhaps the satire isn’t totally off the mark in some respects. Is the reboot more a curiosity than a legitimate heir to the original? Here’s the deal, the original show created by Chris Carter was ahead of its time taking its cues from only a few predecessors like, “The Twilight Zone.” And it got pretty complex. There was the whole deal with Mulder’s sister who was abducted by aliens and part of quite a web of intrigue.

Now, this reboot dabbles in a number of adjustments to a post-9/11 world, which is all good. What bodes well is the title of the first episode, “My Struggle,” a nod to cult writer Karl Ove Knausgaard who covers such themes as the history of angels on Earth. This new version of the classic show is back for a special six-episode run. While there are no plans to continue, perhaps the success of the new X-Files will lead to even more. For more details, visit FOX right here.

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Filed under Fox, Television, The Twilight Zone, The X-Files

Review: POP PAINTING by Camilla d’Errico

Pop Painting Watson-Guptill

“Pop Painting,” published by Watson-Guptill, is an essential guide for artists and anyone interested in contemporary art. The art world can seem like a murky and mysterious place depending upon where you look. However, some things about art are pretty straightforward: successful art requires a focus on theme coupled with a dedication to craft. I know this as an artist and art lover. As a working artist, I juggle a number of tasks. And, at those times when I could use some inspiration, I’m always pleased to find great art books from Watson-Guptill that demystify and enlighten.

Pop Painting Watson-Guptill 2016

Camilla d’Errico is a professional artist who follows a certain routine and way of seeing the world. She presents a highly engaging collection of work that falls within the category of Pop Surrealism. This is an art movement that, in a nutshell, takes various elements in pop culture and places them in a dream-like environment. The results can be quite stunning. In her new 248-page full color book, “Pop Painting,” d’enrico shares with the reader her views and her methods. She takes an honest step-by-step approach providing real examples with real solutions.

Pop Painting Camilla dErrico

In the world of art and art-making, there are many things that remain constant and always will be: art training still involves life drawing, perspective, and actual hands-on work. As we bring in other disciplines, we still respect, and need, traditional methods. In the last twenty years, right alongside digital art, we have seen an explosion in interest in art-making stemming from the basic sources of drawing and painting. This had led to the comics medium being acknowledged as an art form in its own right. And this is something that Watson-Guptill has whole-heartedly embraced with books specifically on all aspects of comics from drawing to writing. So, it is no surprise to see this latest book, “Pop Painting,” with its unique focus on Pop Surrealism. It will be of interest to anyone, from the generalist to the specific fan. For more details, visit our friends at Watson-Guptill right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Drawing, Painting, Pop Surrealism, Watson-Guptill Publications

Book Review: DISPLACEMENT by Anne Stormont

Anne Stormont Displacement

“Displacement,” the recent novel by Anne Stormont, brings us close to a woman in crisis. Rachel’s son has died in combat in Afghanistan. That tragedy has spun her life out of control. She is recently divorced. Her daughter, Sophie, is estranged from her. And, now, with her own mother’s death, Rachel feels cast adrift with a loss of self and purpose. She feels utterly displaced. Perhaps one negative form of displacement can be countered with a positive form of displacement. And so Rachel decides to awaken her Jewish roots and make a pilgrimage to Israel. But not before she’s put her affairs in order at the small family sheep farm in rural Scotland. And not before her she meets an intriguing new man, Jack. So much going on in the life of someone who felt at the end of her rope!

I love fiction that brings me into the lives of vivid characters, especially from different backgrounds and cultures. That is what drew me into Stormont’s novel. It is on that first night back on the family farm that Rachel nearly drowns during a torrential storm and flood. And it is Jack who saves her. If Rachel’s life had been more in balance, this could have been the start of a new relationship for her. However, Rachel is in dire need of meaning in her life. And so off she goes to Israel. It wasn’t as if Jack was exactly available either but, whatever the case, Rachel is following an internal flood of turmoil that won’t release her anytime soon. And, in Israel, Rachel will find many opportunities to be out of her element and test herself.

Stormont has an assured way of rendering scenes and creating engaging exchanges between characters. It is easy to get swept up in Rachel’s journey. I share here with you a scene midway deep into the novel as Rachel navigates Israel and a potential new beau:

“Now, come and see the view.” Eitan, grabbed me by the hand. He led me first to the western edge of the crag’s flat summit. There below was the Judean Desert with its terraced golden hills. Then we looked east out to the Dead Sea and I was surprised at the water’s colourful beauty. To the south, Eitan pointed out how the crag’s tail led eventually to the Syrian edge of the African rift valley.

“Enough!” I said, laughing. “I can’t take in any more. This place is amazing!”

“Better than home?”

“Hmm, I don’t know about that. We have some ancient and very bloody sites too, even just in my tiny patch.”

“Ah, yes, your island–Skye?”

“Yes, Skye.” I was caught by a sudden twinge of emotion. Was it homesickness? But homesickness for what exactly? I wasn’t sure. I pushed it away.

Stormont favors a straightforward naturalism to her narrative that she handles quite well. One layer builds upon another. We get to see our protagonist Rachel Campbell at her worst, at her best, and everything in between. It is a pleasure to see where she goes and what she makes of it. All things considered, I would welcome another book on the next journey that Rachel takes.

“Displacement” is a 352-page novel available in print or on Kindle at Amazon right here.

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Review: BERNIE by Ted Rall

Bernie Sanders Ted Rall 2016

“Bernie,” the new graphic biography by Ted Rall, published by Seven Stories Press, is a brilliant portrait of the celebrated iconoclast. Following up on his graphic biography of Edward Snowden, Ted Rall has found a kindred spirit in Bernie Sanders. Something broke in the American political system at the end of the Sixties and we have been grappling with that ever since: the demise of liberal activism and the ascent of corporate influence. We see that debate raging in this year’s presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton represents the centrist Democrat; Bernie Sanders represents a way back to progressive values. Rall not only makes a case for Sanders but, in the process, shows us how far afield the American political system has gone and why it is vital to regain balance.

Bernie Sanders Rall 2016

Ted Rall and Bernie Sanders both do not mince words and get to the point: the American middle class is being shrunken out of existence. The American political system is out of whack. Billionaires rule. The common man is left out in the cold. So, where do we go from here? Whatever your political affiliation, it is hard to make a case for the established way of doing things. Rall begins by looking back at how we got where we are. Rall points to the death of American mainstream liberalism with the stunning and utter defeat of Democrat George McGovern to Republican Richard Nixon in 1972. From that point forward, Democrats made a decided turn to the center right. Not only did Democrats abandon pursuit of social programs and saving the environment, they found themselves scrambling to hold onto past accomplishments. In the meantime, the right-wing of the Republican party became toxic.

Bernie Seven Stories Press

In the spirit of America’s robust liberal history, there emerges a voice that finds many ears, Bernie Sanders. Rall makes the case that with the Great Recession, Bernie Sanders and his vision, is more relevant than ever. Rall’s simple drawing style is quite effective in keeping to a steady pace. As always, he cuts to the chase and provides numerous examples to make his point. Rall speaks eloquently to anything an Occupy Wall Street protestor might want to share with the public.

In the end, as divisive and distracting as politics is, there are some humbling facts to consider. Does anyone really want to see their government in the hip pocket of big business and needlessly avoiding investing in its citizens and infrastructure?

Sanders Teddy Roosevelt

Rall makes a strong case for a Bernie Sanders candidacy and what it means. Even if establishment Democrats are resistant, Sanders is paving the way for a return to progressive values. Sanders isn’t planning to change the Democratic Party but his involvement now, in 2016, is the start of a new wave of involvement. Whatever the outcome, the rise of Bernie Sanders is significant.

“Bernie” is a 205-page paperback available now. For more details, visit our friends at Seven Stories Press right here.

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Filed under Bernie Sanders, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hillary Clinton, politics, Seven Stories Press