Monday, April 28, 2008

Scooter Gear: Part 2, Textile Jackets; Subsection A, Hi-Viz

It's taken me longer than I'd hoped to get back to my ongoing series on safety gear for scooterists.
Since the news of impending paternity came in the middle of this series on safety gear, my priorities have changed. I don't have any plans to quit riding. Since $4, or even $5 a gallon gas seems likely by the end of the year, I hope to be using the Vespa even more for low-load trips. Plus I have no illusions that my life as I know it is over, and my 16 mile round-trip commute, may just become the lions share of my free / recreational time. The Vespa will help me maximize fun and minimize spending.

Suddenly, safety gear seems like an even more important topic than ever. I mean, I certainly want to be around to advocate for what I feel to be appropriate personal transportation for some time. But even more so, I want to be around to embarrass my spawn with my choice my choice in personal transportation.

One of the most important skills a scooterist or motorcyclist can have is analyzing risks and weighing those risks with a realistic assessment of one's skills. For many sport riders who like to push the envelope of speed and technical ability, this can be a pretty complex task. For me, not so much. About the most dangerous thing I do is get on the bike. I've taken classes, I read books on safe riding, and I am content cruising along with traffic speed, and taking scenic routes. I like taking breaks every hour or two, when on a long ride, and don't push my endurance too far. The biggest risk to me, is most likely, other drivers.

And in motorcycle / automobile collisions where the cager is at fault, what are the most common reasons / excuses from car drivers? "He came out of nowhere," and "I didn't see him."

Visibility of cyclists and scooterists is like the weather, everybody complains about it, but few folks do anything about it. "Start seeing Motorcyclists" stickers are all well and good, and I hope more cagers remember them when making left turns. Still, anything you can do to get the attention of that cell-phone chatting SUV driver, is a good idea.

Hi-Viz Lime Yellow ‘jumps out’ on a primal level because it is not naturally occurring, and because the human eye is most sensitive to light in this part of the spectrum. (The eye is least receptive to red & black). The brightest color possible under visible light, Hi-Viz Lime Yellow is more effective than fluorescent colors which, because of their chemical makeup are dependent on the uv radiation in sunlight to ‘glow’, making them less effective at night and in vehicle headlights. The piercing Hi-Viz Lime Yellow carries plenty of visual ‘punch’ even under incandescent and low-light conditions. The well-known Hurt report contains data indicating that most drivers colliding with motorcyclists list “not seeing the rider” as a primary cause of car/motorcycle accidents. As another weapon in the arsenal of the urban commuter, these garments are unmatched.
From Aerostich's page on their Hi-Viz products.

A study of motorcycle accidents in New Zealand found that:

... drivers wearing any reflective or fluorescent clothing had a 37% lower risk ... than other drivers. Compared with wearing a black helmet, use of a white helmet was associated with a 24% lower risk ... Self reported light coloured helmet versus dark coloured helmet was associated with a 19% lower risk.

The radioactive shade of lime-yellow, also called hi-viz yellow, and slime-yellow, was originally developed for fire-trucks, and some studies have shown that it has had significant impact on reducing accidents involving these emergency vehicles.

During the four years of the study, red or red/white pumpers responded to fire calls 153,348 times, and lime-yellow/white pumpers responded 135,035 times. Those runs (responses to fire emergencies) resulted in twenty-eight accidents involving fire pumpers. Since eight accidents were not visibility-related, study results included only 20 accidents. Of the 20 accidents, red or red/white fire pumpers accounted for 16, while lime-yellow/white pumpers accounted for only 4. Red or red/white fire vehicles resulted in 10 towaway accidents and 7 injury accidents compared to 2 towaways and 1 injury accident for lime-yellow/white vehicles.
-- From Solomon and King's study of accidents involving emergency vehicles in Dallas, Texas.

These are some pretty compelling statistics.
Even more compelling is the visual evidence on the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center's website. They have a whole sub-site,, devoted to tools and techniques for making sure that other drivers see you. Their pages on reflective vests and brightly colored jackets feature photographs showing the difference between a rider in a traditional black jacket, and one in a hi-viz jacket with ample reflective material. Check it out, it's pretty convincing.

So, what's available in hi-viz from high quality protective gear manufacturers?
Well, I'm glad you asked...

One of the granddaddies of textile gear for motorcyclists, Aerostich is also one of the originators of hi-viz gear. Hi-viz versions are available in both their Roadcrafter and Darien lines.
is one of the few riding garments out there available in Hi-Viz colors. Above you see the Roadcrafter jacket in hi-viz yellow with black ballistic patches. The roadcrafter also features some generous patches of 3M ScotchLite material, for extra visibility. The Roadcrafter features full-armor for the elbows, shoulders and back. The bulk of the construction is of 500 denier Cordura, which has been treated for water-proofing. Potential impact zones on the shoulders and elbows are 1050 denier Cordura.
The Roadcrafter comes as a separate jacket and pants or as a one-piece suit, which is famous for the speed with which it can be put on and taken off. There are a slew of stories of riders who have walked away unintentional dismounts in Roadcrafters which they still wear. Google "Aerostich Roadcrafter Reviews" and you'll get some idea. Aerostich has a stellar reputation, their products are available only from them, and they do custom orders. In fact on their website, you can use a web interface to build the color combination of your preference.
With a little dinking around, I generated this version of the one-piece suit, which I call Kid-Flash.
I've been playing around with the concept of doing a Flash or Kid Flash themed custom Vespa for sometime, and if I ever get around to it, I'll probably have to get the above one-piece suit.

Man, if that don't make the youngster go "Aw, Daaaaad!" nuthin' will.

Also available from Aerostich is the Darien Jacket (and pants of course) Like the Roadcrafter, this is a classic choice for BMW riders and other long range tourers. It is likewise well regarded for bullet-proof performance, and top-notch waterproofing. Aerostich prides themselves in the fact that their gear is frequently used by riders making transcontintenal voyages. It IS that good. It's priced accordingly. The one-piece Roadcrafter runs $797, the Roadcrafter Jacket is $467, and the Darien jacket is $517. Of course Aerostich also takes these garments back for repairs, and as I said earlier, it's not unusual for riders wear one of these for more than ten years of heavy use and abuse.

Aerostich has a devoted following, especially among BMW riders (who can afford the premium which 'stich's reputation seems to add to the bottom line). But they have been selling the same basic design for many years, and some folks seem to believe they have been resting on laurels for too long. So of course, there are other manufacturers nipping at their heels.
Another company who is really committed to hi-viz riding gear is Olympia Moto Sports. Above is their Bushwhacker jacket, which is a mesh jacket that includes a removable water-proof thermal liner for three-season riding. Of course the solid panels are made of 500 denier cordura, the mesh is ballistic, it has CE armor in the elbows, shoulders and articulated back armor. Nice if you're looking for the Summer convenience of mesh, but with a little more versatility. Still, though this jacket should perform well for one crash, but I don't think you'd be using it much after that. The Bushwhacker costs $250.

The real competition to Aerostich though, are the next two garments. Above is the Olympia AST (for All Seasons Touring,) Like the Aerostich offerings, this is a dang fine piece of protective gear, in hi-viz or no. The bulk of the jacket of the jacket is 500 denier Cordura, and the panels on the elbows and shoulders are 2000 denier Cordura. Serious stuff.
Like the Bushwhacker, it has a waterproof and thermal liner, unlike the Bushwhacker it has bonded breathable waterproofing on the outer shell, and five waterproof exterior pockets. It also has elbow, shoulder and back armor. I suppose it also worth mentioning that the removable liner has been designed to be worn as a seperate jacket, looking like a basic windbreaker. The integrated venting system is reported to be very effective when open, yet maintaining waterproofing when closed. Some of these are features you'd find on the Aerostich gear, some go beyond that. Despite this fact, the AST retails for much less, at $289.
The Olympia Phantom fills out their options available in slime yellow. It's basically the AST in a one-piece suit version, and aims to take on the Roadcrafter one-piece head on. Besides having tougher Cordura at the high-impact points, ancedotal accounts say that it is more waterproof than the Roadcrafter due to a different zipper set up. This different setup does have the deteriment of making the Phantom slightly more involved to get into and out of. The Phantom lists for $449.

Now, I know that radioactive neon gear is not traditional amongst scooterists. Neither are one-piece suits. I'm just throwing these options out there, because I think they definitely have some pluses. The hi-viz suit was made for urban and suburban commuters who are daily riders on dangerous crowded roadways. I think that describes the average scooterist better than the average motorcyclists.

Sure, a lot, if not most scooterists, prefer riding gear which is subtle and looks as much like street clothes (preferably hip, stylish clothes) as possible. But if you have a serious commute, which you under take in all kinds of weather, one of these options just might be right for you. Get a suit, for safety while riding, and wear whatever you want underneath. Just store the whole thing in your topcase when you are off bike.

Of course there are some of us scooterists out there, who are attracted to scooters as a manifestation of form following function. Personally, I think wearing a day-glo riding jacket is pretty punk rock. Finally outer-wear which will recapture the shock value the leather biker jacket had sixty years ago...

New York Times article from 2004:

As for looking cool, that's subjective. Mr. Goldfine, lacking a windshield, pays a price for giving up the camouflage of black leather. ''The high-visibility yellow garments become plastered with oil, bug stains and other road filth,'' he said. ''To me this looks as authentic as faded denim or well-worn shoes. But most nonriders find this alarming. Several times when I've met someone, their eyes alight on the crud and their expression changes from friendly to a kind of nonverbal eeeeewwww.''

Anyway, Mr. Goldfine said, when you show up on your motorcycle, ''it's not what you wear that makes you cool; it's that you rode there.''

Previously, Scooter Gear: Part 1, Leather Jackets

Friday, April 25, 2008

Beginning of a Great Adventure

More proof, if any were needed, that Lou Reed is the most underrated song-writer of the 20th century.

Some great jams here, but the vocals are a little muffled.
And so you can truly appreciate Lou's take on a middle-aged hipster staring down paternity's double barrels, I give you the lyrics:

It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around
A little me to fill up with my thoughts
A little me or he or she to fill up with my dreams
A way of saying life is not a loss

Id keep the tyke away from school and tutor him myself
Keep him from the poison of the crowd
But then again pristine isolation might not be the best idea
Its not good trying to immortalize yourself

Beginning of a great adventure
Beginning of a great adventure

Why stop at one, I might have ten, a regular tv brood
Id breed a little liberal army in the wood
Just like these redneck lunatics I see at the local bar
With their tribe of mutant inbred piglets with cloven hooves

Id teach em how to plant a bomb, start a fire, play guitar
And if they catch a hunter, shoot him in the nuts
Id try to be as progressive as I could possibly be
As long as I dont have to try too much

Beginning of a great adventure
Beginning of a great adventure

Susie, jesus, bogart, sam, leslie, jill and jeff
Rita, winny, andy, fran and jet
Boris, bono, lucy, ethel, bunny, reg and tom
Thats a lot of names to try not to forget

Carrie, marlon, mo and steve, la rue and jerry lee
Eggplant, rufus, dummy, star and the glob
Id need a damn computer to keep track of all these names
I hope this baby thing dont go too far

I hope its true what my wife said to me
I hope its true what my wife said to me, hey
I hope its true what my wife said to me

She says, baby, its the beginning of a great adventure
Babe, beginning of a great adventure
Take a look

It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around
Create in my own image like a god
Id raise my own pallbearers to carry me to my grave
And keep me company when Im a wizened toothless clod

Some gibbering old fool sitting all alone drooling on his shirt
Some senile old fart playing in the dirt
It might be fun to have a kid I could pass something on to
Something better than rage, pain, anger and hurt

I hope its true what my wife said to me
I hope its true what my wife said to me
I hope its true what my wife said to me
She says, lou, its the beginning of a great adventure
Lou, lou, lou, beginning of a great adventure
She says, babe, how you call your lover boy
Sylvia, quite you call your lover man

That's right baby, take a walk on the mild side...

Anniversary, Announcement, and Assorted Aliterations

Well today is the second Anniversary of my first post here on Honky-Tonk Dragon. Over 1100 posts and 75,000 hits later, it might seem like a good time for reflection, and indulging in laser accurate probes of hind-sight. I'm sure I'll get to that eventually, but right now, I'm looking toward the future, for reasons which will become obvious in a moment.

The announcement part of this post is probably the biggest personal announcement, ever.

Jes is preggers!

We are both, excited, anxious, overwhelmed, ecstatic, worried, and overjoyed.

The timing could be a little better, I suppose, as we are both still settling in to Connecticut. But neither of us is getting any younger, and just about every parent I have talked to agrees that you are never ready, it just happens and you become ready.
I always understood that notion, intellectually, but now it is tangible. The more the concept of impending parenthood becomes real to me, the more it becomes a source of strength. I am not being naive, I know that our lives as we have known them are basically over for the next twenty years.

I'm sure this development will impact the blog somewhat, though the details remain to be seen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Scooter Gear: An interlude, Why gear is important.

Well it's taken me longer than I expected to get back to the topic of riding gear for scooterists, and I apologize for that.
Originally, I planned on doing only one post on the whole topic, but after starting with Leather Jackets, I realized this is a topic which needed more in depth coverage.
The topic of safety gear for scooterists doesn't get discussed enough. To a lot of folks, the possibility of a scooter accident is like the 500 pound gorilla in the room. They hope if they don't talk about it, it will go away. Part of the appeal of scooters, especially the high-end Italian models that so many of us enjoy, is that they are fashionable. Indeed, when the Vespa was first being designed, the intention was to create a motorized two wheeler that wouldn't dirty a business suit, and would allow ladies to wear skirts and heels. You still see representations of this in scooter advertisements.
I have to admit, when I first started scooting, I didn't wear anything more protective than a helmet. Despite all of our protests to the contary, many scooterists think of a scooter as just a step up from a moped. It is easy to think of a scooter as a bicycle that you don't have to peddle. In fact that is a great bit of it's appeal to urban commuters. And, again, I have to admit, I can't stand the idea of wearing a helmet on a bicycle.
But this is a subject on which my opinion has changed with time. On one hand, I actually think a scooter is safer on the road than a bicycle, due to it's ability to keep up with traffic, and marginally safer than a motorcycle, due it's slightly better maneuverability, the simple truth is the road doesn't care what you fell off of when you hit it. While I believe that an experienced rider will be fractionally more likely to avoid an accident on a scooter than a motorcycle, and perhaps significantly more likely to perform an emergency dismount when an accident is unavoidable (due to the step-through design), the fact is that riding a scooter at motorcycle speeds, requires the same precautions as riding a motorcycle.
Look at this way, sex with a condom, is still sex, it's still the most fun you can have with your clothes off. And you are much more likely to live to be able to have more sex. Rding a scooter with protective gear is still riding, it's still the most fun you can have with your pants on, and you are much more likely to live to be able to ride some more.

Working in a Vespa dealership has really brought this home to me. I see so many new Vespa riders who think that a helmet is all the protection that they need. And, sure, I'd love to sell them jackets, pants, gloves, and boots out of our stock. But much more, I'd like to know that they are getting protective gear from anywhere, and using it. Yes, I know that new Vespa is a fashion accessory for some folks. For others, it is an economical, reliable automobile replacement. For some it is a toy, a means to motorized bliss. But in all these cases, there exists protective gear which will fit your priorities, and should the worst happen, increase your chances of pursuing them in the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Day Late and a Dollar Short Movie Review: The American Astronaut

Just got this disc in the post from the Dragon's Arkansawyer correspondent, Iain de Sane, and I gotta say it is a Drive-in Classic!

Now Iain has been raving about this film to me for some time, and quite honestly, I thought his hedonistic lifestyle had finally caught up with him, and he was just getting the name of that Astronaut Farmer flick wrong... How wrong I was...

The American Astronaut defies easy classification. Some reviews call it a Science Fiction / Western / Musical / Comedy, but that really doesn't give you much concept of what this film really is, and actually does it a disservice. The American Astronaut is what would happen if a rock band attempted to make a independent science fiction art-house movie which broke all of Joe Bob Briggs' Drive-in traditions, but would still be something that Joe Bob would say, "check it out."

If you have no idea what I am talking about, yet take this as a sign that this film is not for everyone, then you are correct! Indeed, Jes couldn't make it all the way through. I, on the other hand watched the film, then watched the director's commentary (given live, with Q&A from an audience in a Brooklyn bar), then watched the movie again!

Now, I'm not big on musicals. Though I'm an obvious fan absurdism, the average musical in absurd in a way that bugs me. I suppose the absurdity is generally not taken to the aesthetic and humorous extremes I'd like. A short list of musicals I like will make this obvious, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Ruling Class, and Improv Everywhere's guerilla performance art piece Food Court Musical, all illustrate a peculiar and original interpretation of the genre.

The American Astronaut definitely qualifies as peculiar and original. Set in a Sci-Fi universe which seems one part William S. Burroughs and one part Philip K. Dick, it's musical numbers either fit seamlessly with the plot, as performances which are taking place in bars or mass assemblies, or they are completely absurdist, beyond that absurdity of characters just bursting into song which one might expect of Broadway. No, these explosions of song, verse and choreography are delivered with a Discordian wink, a nudge, and even a "say-no-more." The number linked above "Hey, Boy" is just one example.

So, I don't know if Joe Bob would have reviewed The American Astronaut, as it is a strange mix of B-Science Fiction, and Art film (or more likely, art-school drop-out turned rock-musician), but I'd like to think it woulda gone a little like this:

No dead bodies, but countless piles-of-ashy-remains-of-disintegrated -bodies. No breasts, but one "Boy who actually saw a woman's breast." Disintegration pistol fu. Public restroom Polaroid. Two giant fish bowl space helmets. Two F-bombs. Space-gimp in a rubber suit who smells like poo. Description of homo-erotic acts by 19th century Nevada silver-miners. Gratuitous Flash Gordon-esque painted space scenes. Spaceship hidden in floating space barn.

Also check out this review from Boulder, CO, where for sometime the film has shown with Rocky-Horror-like frequency:

The whole movie, including the music, is infused with an odd mix of working-class sensibilities and intellectual irony. The roughnecks at the bar wear leather, don’t shave, drink rotgut, and dance as though their masculinity depended on it. At the same time, the longest mis-told joke on film can only really be appreciated in a post-modern, ironic frame of mind. And our hero is subjected to the humiliation of having a Polaroid taken of him on the toilet, something you will see in no blue-collar commercial for Chevy Trucks.

In music, if you mix the aggression of hard rock with ironic lyrics, you get something like punk. Add a little country, and you have the music from The American Astronaut. Maybe the fact that it’s all so incongruous and puzzling (and still funny) is what makes the movie watchable over repeated viewings.

Four stars. The Dragon says, Check it out!

Buy The American Astronaut at Amazon

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Free Shipping on the Dragon's Shirt Designs

This weekend there is free shipping at SpreadShirt. I suppose you could use this on any old graphic, but why, when you can get these fantastic scooter designs by yours truly. You can see all my images here.

This offer is good April 19th and 20th, in the US and Canada, just use code SPRINGFREE (or CADSPRINGFREE for Canada) when asked for a coupon or voucher code as you order.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Painting: January Sky

Just finished this painting, and I'm pretty happy with it. It is the most intensive piece I've completed in like four years. There are little bits I was tempted to keep refining, but a voice inside my head started saying, "Step away from the easel, and no one will get hurt..."
This of course is a reference to an old artist's joke:
Q: How many people does it take to paint a painting?
A: Two. One to paint, and the other to shoot them in the head, when it's finished.

If this image looks familiar, that's because it's something I've been working on for several years. It originated with a photo I took in my senior year at Evergreen.
This image of my good friend Sky was part of a series of digital photos I took of friends in bars. Here is the original...

While I did a little editing of the digital file in Photoshop, this consisted of nothing more than using the computer as a digital darkroom. I fiddled with contrast, color balance and the like, but the source was always one image. The image itself was made possible by altering the digital camera's settings to operate in low light with no flash, which is why it has the appearance of a double exposure. This is still something that interests me, the ways in which a digital camera acts differently than film.

Anyway, I've always liked the photo, though I had the feeling that I saw a potential in it, which others didn't quite grasp.

A couple years later, I finally got around to playing with the image again. This sketch was actually done on a plane, during my first trip out to CT. I'm very fond of it, as I am of the original photo, though for different reasons. It was one of the first serious sketches I completed after a long dry spell. It deconstructed the photo, which was very 21st century in its conception, in a very classical manner. That amuses me, in a perverse way. Plus, Jes's father, David, was very emphatic in his appreciation of the sketch over the photo. As best I can tell, David has very a sophisticated, albeit conservative, aesthetic. So, not long after returning home from that trip, I skritched down some outlines with vine charcoal on an extra canvas...
And then I let that canvas sit for a year.

So for my birthday last year, Jes and her parents chipped in to get me a new easel. A really nice new easel, the kind of tool, gift which demands use. So I started going through my stack of blank canvases, and there was that under-drawing. At the time, I was in the mood for some daring experimental work, and indeed I started several other pieces which are more abstract and non-objective. You can see the influence of this approach in the image above. But once I gotten to about this point on this painting, it had started to dominate my thinking.
At about this point, I'd abandoned all pretension of abstraction and non-objective painting. Unsatisfied with how the work was progressing based on those strategies and the original sketch, I returned to the original photo. There was something in it which had originally entangled my thinking about the piece, an ephemeral quality which was only hinted at in the sketch, and was missing thus far in the painting. At this phase, you can see where I attempted to do away with some of the more obtrusive mandala-like elements which had existed previously in the background.

There is no set interval to these work-in-progress shots. But I think the progression is interesting. Though not the best example, this work does show some sign of what technology can mean to traditional artistic endeavors. Though this work was executed in acrylic, smearing pigments on prepared cloth is an antiquated endeavor. Still, for all the convenience of modern media, this painting will be around centuries after inkjet prints have faded, and optical disks have become unstable. All our advances have yet to displace the smearing of minerals coated in a binder on a substrate.

At about this point, I began to be dissatisfied with the composition as it had been scrawled on the canvas in charcoal.
Oops. Too late for that. Well, I guess I started with some abstract intentions, so at this point I figure I'll just tweak the abstracting of the background and color strategies to compensate.

Almost done here, the magenta shades on the left side are pretty well finished. But it took several hours of work after this point to get the depth and texture which I felt the piece needed on the right hand side.

Though the depth that is achieved through varying layers of glazes, velaturas, and scumbling, can't really be captured by photography, you can see how the layers of colors interact. So some of the depth which is readily apparent in the actual painting is lost here, you do get a sense, though flattened, of how color was used in the piece, as well as some of the brushwork.

January Sky is 16" x 20", Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas, ready to hang, and can be yours for $1000 USD. Contact information can be found on this page, or notify me of your interest in the comments.

(Edited 04/15/08. Posted better quality images of the final painting and the closeup. Also, removed text complaining about the poor quality of those initial photos.)

Comics Britannia: Alan Moore Interviews

I just found this lovely series of videos of comics writer Alan Moore discussing several of his projects. Link
If you are a fan of Mr. Moore, then you probably are aware of most this stuff. It's highly entertaining, nonetheless. If you only vaguely recognize the name, (and you should as the man behind the comics which inspired the films V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the upcoming Watchmen), beware of spoilers.
Also some of these (particularly the 4th) are not exactly work safe.
Probably my favorite bits are when Mr. Moore reads excerpts from his work. It's interesting to hear the emphasis and inflection he places on the text.

Part 1: V for Vendetta

Part 2: The Watchmen

Part 3: League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Part 4: Lost Girls

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Like Everything Else, Those Dastardly French Raise Comics to Fine Art

Heather McDougal over at Cabinet of Wonders, has a wonderful (pardon the redundant pun) post up about the joys of French comics:

For a number of years now, I have gone to France as often as I and my family can afford, and each time we make a pilgrimage to a particular store in St. Michel that sells literally thousands of these kinds of comic books, along with videos, manga, and other things. Imagine going into a shop that rises up on several levels, with at least two of them literally solid with the spines of comic book albums. Every book on the shelves is large format, beautifully printed, and relatively reasonably priced (considering you can get ten or twenty years out of them; the terrible bindings I've been finding on modern American softcover graphic novels only last a few months in the hands of enthusiastic readers before they start giving up their pages like moulting birds). We always choose two or three books to buy. They have to be readable in our lame high-school French, and at least one of them has to be readable to my daughters, because we can only fit a couple in our luggage. But they're worth it.


Sigh, indeed.

Oh, comics. Despite your constant reappraising by pop culture, the true depth of your potential as an artistic medium is constantly overlooked. Except perhaps, in France, where artistic endeavors are held in slightly higher regard than in the Colonies.

Case in point, Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet. If Bill Waterson were to write the great American graphic novel, it would probably look a lot like this. It is pure genius, better in many ways than most celebrated novels I've read, to say nothing of comics. It should be a best seller among mainstream readers. But it is a comic, and it is hard for Americans to over come that stigma. Larcenet melds traditional western visual storytelling with lessons from Manga effortlessly, coming up with something that has the Zen-like beauty of the best Calvin & Hobbes sunday strips.

Seriously, I have comics picked out to help my kids learn to read, to help them adjust to adolescence, etc. This is the comic I will give them when they graduate college. This is the "OK, you're an adult now, welcome the real world" comic, with all the freedom, joy, numbness, and true existential angst (as opposed to adolescent poseur angst) that entails.

Sigh, indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

News on the Dragon's Favorite Blogs

Which do you want first, the good or the bad?

Ah, you're like me, you want the bad first, with the good to follow to cusion the blow, well...

One of my favorite blogs is going into extreme slow down, if not ceasing to post altogether. Yup, Steve Williams over at Scooter in the Sticks is moving on to greener pastures. This makes me very sad, as Steve frequently came the closest to describing the ineffable Zen of scootering, without relying on trendiness, fashion, or allusions to Robert Pirsig. Steve was one of the first bloggers to notice your humble Dragon, and I still hope to actual bump into him at some point, preferably when we are both on scoots. Plus he had magnificent photos, and even won an award for his blog. Still, he has a life, a family, and quite a photographic talent to be tended to. The Dragon wishes him the best of luck with all of these, and hopes to hear something about how they progress.

On a more positive note, Tinkergirl over at the Brass Goggles blog, is looking for a steampunk blogging co-conspirator. She is feeling a little overwhelmed with maintaining both the best blog deovted to Steampunk items, and the best forum devoted to Steampunk culture. Who can blame her, she's done a bang-up job so far, which we salute her for. Drop her a line if you are interested. I'd pony up, but my steampunk blogging is probably a little more sporadic than she is looking for.

Speaking of, Steve, if having another hand at wheel would help you keep Scooter in the Sticks going, well I'll through my Stetson into the ring. Heck, living in sticks in Connecticut, I think I might be able to generate ample fodder, now.

You should check out Orin at Scootin' Old Skool's post-mortum for Scooter in the Sticks, his analogy to Calvin and Hobbes is most apt.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Scooter Customization on the Cheap

Piaggio is supposedly releasing a series of various decals for the Vespa S. It seems a little odd that these stickers are being tied so closely to the S. Like they won't stick onto a GTS? The sets of stickers are fairly pedestrian, Italian flags, Union Jacks, racing stripes... yada, yada, yada... Follow this link, and it will take you to the S accessories page where you can see pictures of the sets.

I guess I can understand some of the marketing-think for this. The S is harkening back to the sport models of the 60s and 70s which scooterboys get all misty over, and scooterboys are prone to pimping their scoots in one way or another.

It takes me back to my skater days when a skateboard deck, no matter how cool the graphics, had an undeniable attraction to stickers, mostly for favorite punk bands of the week. I guess I'm showing my age, but I see a strange evolutionary connection between skateboards and scooters. Skateboards being transport for early teens and scooters being the next stage of mobile independence.

Any how, while I'd be hesitant to put many stickers on a car, (even though it might improve the appearance of Jes's beater Escort Wagon I'm driving), stickers just seem natural for scooters.

Perhaps you are following my train of thought, but are hesitant to plaster your beloved scoot with "Nuke a gay whale for Christ" or some other such slogan. Well let me tell you, the world of ready-made stick-on graphics has changed a lot since the days of Black Flag logos on Vision decks...

I've mentioned Scoot Graphics in the past, and have meant to link to Pimp My Scoota, and Scooter Art, but somehow neglected to.

Pimp My Scoota has many different sets of large vinyl graphics designed by artists. These designs are very distinctive, stamped with the various artists particular style, and crafted to fit exactly on P-series Vespas. If you've got a P and you find something you like, you are in luck.

Scooter Art has stylized 50s looking space age designs. A little more generic perhaps, but the style does work well with the Modern Vespas.

An idea that percolated through my head for a while is using wall-stickers. Blik has a variety of wall-stickers that have cool potential for customizing a scoot. They also make some of their designs as auto stickers, but I think the wall stickers are more removable. Above you see Matthew Haggett's Spheres in the Autographic version. I think those spheres could be the basis for one really sweet scooter.

All of these various decals stem from the revolution in desk-top vinyl cutting. If you want something really custom, try finding a local sign shop. Chances are they will be happy to cut adhesive vinyl into your design. Also try searching Etsy for wall stickers, you'll turn up all sorts of crazy stuff.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Virtual Vespas

Linux News is reporting that H.R. Block virtual offices within Second Life are giving away Vespas (you know, virtual Second Life Vespas)

As the tax deadline nears, H&R Block is serious about giving real-life advice to made-up characters.
Because those characters are controlled by real people, otherwise known as potential clients.
This is no digital dalliance. Last year Computer World magazine named H&R Block Island one of the eight most useful corporate sites within Second Life. The island, which has been up for more than two years, has eight tax offices, an auditorium, product pavilion and DJ playing pop songs in a nightclub, complete with lighted dance floor and disco ball.
Free Stuff
Since dancing is popular in Second Life, Block gives visitors a free computer script that allows their avatars to dance. (They also give them a virtual H&R Block T-shirt, hoodie and Vespa scooter.)

I haven't spent much time in Second Life. I downloaded the base application over a year ago, but I was playing a lot of World of Warcraft at that time, and well Second Life just seemed a little dry compared to WoW.
But you know, I have been procrastinating the taxes... And if I ever was to spend time back in Second Life, a Vespa would be aweful nice...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Rezistor DIY Vespa Conversion

The Rezistor - World's Quietest Vespa | V is for Voltage Community
A member of the V is for Voltage EV community has converted a 1970 Vespa 50S Special to a DIY electric scooter. Apparently he recently won best Rat scoot at a Portland scooter rally.

Very Impressive!

Apartments Designed for Scooterists/Motorcyclists

Dezeen » Blog Archive » NE apartment by Yuji Nakae, Akiyoshi Takagi and Hirofumi Ohno

This is one of the cooler things I've seen lately. Three Japanese architects have designed a unit of eight apartments specifically for two-wheeling residents.
The C-shaped unit has an open, central common area which connects to the street, a kind of shared driveway. Each apartment has a small garage off of this central hub.
I can just imagine that weekends at this unit would entail a lot of wrenching and BSing about modifications and bike performance...
So awesome.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Scooter Gear: Part 1, Leather Jackets

I've been promising you for awhile, and myself for even longer, that I would post something in depth about riding gear for scooter riders.
Well, I just stumbled upon this recent article in the New York Times about leather jackets, and thought it was a good place to start. It's a strange article, with an accompanying set of photos of male models posing on Vespas. One of the photos even features a chopped Lambretta, though most of the scoots are modern Vespas. The thing that gets me though is all the jackets are fashion leather jackets, ranging in price from over $600 to over $5k! I know the dollar is weak, but good lawd!
Now, I'm sure the piece was intended as a fashion article, and I'm sure someone in the creative department had the brainstorm that Vespas are way more hip than motorcycles, thus the photo shoot. But I have some problems with this.
First of all, some of these skins may be styled after classic riding jackets, but none of them actually strike me as being riding jackets. The leather looks thin, design features intended to let in and keep out air are totally forgotten, and I'm sure there is no armor to be found. Sure, any leather jacket is going to be better protection than a nylon wind breaker, but these things just scream poseur to me. Plus, I'd imagine one good slide would totally destroy them... and then there is $2k down the drain. Whereas a good $300 to $500 motorcycling jacket would probably just need a little mink oil, and would good as new.
The article does touch on the mystique of the leather jacket:

Since the early 1980s, when American men first truly embraced the leather jacket as the antihero’s anti-sport coat, a new one has risen from the tomb of rebels past every six or seven years. In the 1980s, there was the ’40s-style WWII bomber (very Indiana Jones), then, in the late 1980s, the ’50s-style motorcycle jacket (very Mad Max). In the 1990s, the ’70s hip-length jacket (very John Shaft) had a moment, followed by the 1960s-style streamlined “cafe racer” that would shout Steve McQueen if McQueen ever shouted.

But I think if you are really trying to emulate rebel machismo emphasizing form over function, isn't the way to do it.

My other problem with this article, is that leather isn't that popular with scooter riders. I suppose there are a multitude of reasons for this, from the classic Mod vs. Rocker feuds, to the fact that a lot of scooterists view their scoots as day-to-day transportation, and don't want to tailor their whole wardrobe around their ride. Plus, though I have no stastics to back this up, I think you will find significantly more vegans and vegetarians on scooters than on motorcycles. Plus, if a scooterist did decide to go with leather for their riding gear, I think this article does them a disservice. There are now plenty of stylish leather jackets, which are made for riding and its dangers, which don't make you look like a Hell's Angel or like you are ready for Le Mans.
And while a lot of folks might think that any leather and the hardened outcast image it brings with it would be incongruous, I don't necessarily agree. In my mind a scooter is way more punk-rock than a motorcycle, especially when you get into the DIY subculture of 2-strokes. And unless you are a vegan straight-edger, a leather jacket is still pretty iconic punk-rock. I also think the right leather jacket can be pretty steampunk, giving off a vibe of the classically civilized adventurer in a way that is very difficult for ballistic nylon.

So without further ado, I bring you the Dragon's guide to leather riding jackets that are both fashionable AND functional.

The jacket pictured above is the Triumph Rivton. This is currently my favorite leather riding jacket. It's hard to tell in this picture, but the elbows feature quilted patches like the shoulders, and the leather has a supple, aged and broken quality. We've got these at the shop, and the one in my size fits me perfectly. I really like the retro-styling of this jacket, which though it is supposed to recall the cafe-racer jackets of late 60s British rockers, to me it has a steampunk or dieselpunk vibe. Though it is obviously a riding jacket, guys I've talked to who own this jacket tell me they get complimented on it all the time by non-motorcyclists. I don't know when I'll be able to afford one (list price is $409), but I've already got the patches picked out to cover up the Triumph logo.

The Triumph Portland jacket is very similar to the Rivton, only monochrome. Well there are a few other styling differences, but it still has those assume quilted leather panels on the elbows and shoulders. Of course both jackets feature CE armor on the elbows and shoulders as well, and I know the Rivton has a pocket for inserting a back protector, I believe the Portland does too. The Portland is a little subtler I guess, but still stands out in a crowd of wannabes in cookie cutter 50s styled leather jackets. Again, very retro-futurist. $419 MSRP

OK, one last Triumph jacket, this time the Madison. Not quite as steampunk as the other two, just a good basic leather. Very classic, it definitely brings to mind 60s and 70s cafe racers, but in a very no-nonsense way. I dig the aged leather. The Madison doesn't come with armor, though it does have pockets for it, and is thus a little cheaper at $319. I really like a lot of Triumph's gear. It's well designed, well made, in touch with it's roots, and looks badass in a subdued manner. If you have a problem with the Triumph logos, just cover them with rally patches, or pick up something at Angry, Young and Poor. If you are really worried about maintaining your skooter-boy cred, I'd recommend a Specials patch.

The least expensive jacket on this list is River Road's Hoodlum. No armor, very little frills, costs $200, which is about the least you should expect to spend on a quality leather jacket. This one looks sweet, and I imagine will protect you much better than any of those boutique jackets featured in the NYT article.

From the least expensive jacket we move to the most expensive. The Dainese Montone sheepskin jacket lists at $1299. But for that price you are getting a quality jacket from one of the most respected manufacturers of motorcycling gear in the world. To me this retro-futuristic garment brings to mind the long-standing connection between two-wheeled travel and aviation. For the steampunk scootering enthusiast this is the top, the most flash, the shiniest. Of course it has removable composite protectors at the elbows and shoulders. Now, you'll have to excuse me for a moment, as I believe I just drooled on my keyboard.

Really, if you wanna be protected AND fashionable on your stylish Italian scoot, Dainese is a great way to go. They are an Italian company, with that implies fashion wise, and they make some of the best gear in the world. Plus in Italy, two-wheeled transportation isn't just a weekend hobby for testosterone poisoned kids and guys with mid-life crises, it's a fact of everyday life, just like a passion for fashion.
This baby features elbow and shoulder armor, has a space for a back protector, and comes with a removable thermal liner. Just a gorgeous, and pragmatic coat, with styling that should please any steamy velocipede pilot. Not cheap at about $700, but then again, nothing about this jacket is cheap, and it makes those fashion leathers in the NYT article just seem silly.

The last leather I'm featuring today really makes me wonder about that NYT article. The Dainese Superdune is currently available at Bloomingdales in NYC. I guess I don't know enough about NYC fashion, 'cause I thought that was kinda hoity-toity. Anyway, the Superdune is inspired by jackets worn by riders in the classic Paris/Dakar race. The leather on this piece is gorgeous, strong and tough, while also being light and supple. It includes elbow and shoulder armor, and also has a pocket for inserting a spine protector. Yet again, great classic styling that should make any Steam- Jazz- or Diesel Punk quiver.

So if you are inclined toward leather as a protective garment for your two-wheeled adventures, there are definitely some options out there for you. The links for these jackets go to the ecommerce page for Vespa Ridgefield / Branchville Motors, so if you feel like ordering one of these, I'd be processing that. The Dianese stuff, we handle as well, drop me an email if you are interested. Of course if you are in or near Fairfield County, CT you should ride in and check us out. If you are farther away, I encourage you to check out your local gear dealers, dig a little deeper in the racks, and ask the employees for help. There are many options out there for quality riding gear which won't make you look like you should be in a Motorcycle gang, or on a racetrack. If you don't have a nearby dealer, well, again, I'd be happy to assist you online.

Coming soon, I'll take a look at textile jackets, helmets, gloves, boots, ladies gear and more.

What is Art?

I've always loved Creature Comforts, but I thought it was just this single short about Zoos. So discovering this short from Aardman productions on art was a real delight. Then I found there are a whole bunch of these shorts available on YouTube on topics ranging from the upcoming presidential election to being a bird. Still this one above is my current favorite.

via Art News Blog

Honky-Tonk Dragon vs. the Mods and the Rockers

Labels are such weird things. We protest being confined to them by others, and then turn around and wrap ourselves in their comforting detachment.
The world of two-wheelers and two-wheel afficiandoes is more fractured and contentious than the genres of music store. Taste in music is how adolescents define themselves and make a place for themselves in the fringes of society. Taste in two-wheelers is how kids who have spent a lot longer avoiding growing up make a place for themselves on the fringes of society.

The Harley riders sneer at anyone who rides a foreign made bike. The sport riders sneer at anyone riding a bike not engineered for maximum performance. Motorcyclists look down on scooterists. Vespa riders look down on anyone not riding an Italian scoot. Vintage Vespa riders have disdain for anyone riding a four-stroke automatic... and so on and so on.

Sure, these are gross generalizations but if you spend any time hanging out with two-wheel afficianadoes you'll realize there is a lot of truth there. Since I've been working at a shop which sells both Vespas and Triumphs, I've been thinking about these divisions a lot. Because nothing captures these conflicts more than the Mod and Rocker brawls in Britain in the late 60's. And nothing epitomizes the Mods more than Vespas, or Rockers more than Triumphs.

It should go with out saying that both Vespas and Triumphs are a lot different now than they were forty years ago. But they are still very different machines and still attract very different buyers. But as much as some folks would like to perpetuate scooterist vs. motorcyclist rivalry, I'm more interested in contemplating WHY someone would choose to ride a scooter over a motorcycle.

Both scooters and motorcycles have a cachet as fashion accessories, as a kind of lifestyle statement, but I'm not interested in that, except for how it might illuminate the underlying usage. While a lot of people are drawn to both as lifestyle accessories, basically as toys, I think in reality more folks buy scooters for practical transportation reasons than motorcycles. This is becoming even more true, as the constant "born to be mild" news stories remind us, as gas prices rise, but there are practical advantages to scooters beyond just mpg's.

For the kind of personal transportation the average person needs on a daily basis, scooters are superior to any other mode of transport. Mostly we just need a means of commuting, through a mix of suburban and urban environments. While motorcycles and scooters both perform admirably in the suburban setting of strip malls and chain restaurants, scooters really come into their own in residential areas and urban gridlock. In zones where the speed limit is 45 mph or less, and traffic is stop-and-go, a motorcycle is overkill, and shifting gears diminishes the riding experience rather than adding to it. Even many two-stroke manual shift scootering die-hards are starting to come on board the automatic bandwagon for just this reason.

On top of this is the fact that scooters, with their smaller wheels, and shorter wheel-base, as well as lighter weight, and lower center of gravity, are easier to operate at low speeds. They are also more nimble, and easier to muscle around without power. In a very real sense from an operator's view point, a scooter is more friendly than a motorcycle.

One perceived difference between scooters and motorcycles which I'd like to dispute, is the need for protective gear. Many folks seem to think that riding a scooter is somehow less dangerous than riding a motorcyle, But at 40 mph, not to mention 60, the asphalt doesn't care if you are falling off a Vespa or a Harley. And since most accidents happen at 35 mph or less and within 5 miles of home, "all the gear, all the time" or ATGATT should be every rider's mantra. This means at the very least, a helmet, eye protection, gloves, an abrasion resistant jacket and pants, and shoes/boots with ankle protection and good grip on road surfaces. I'll discuss the differences (mostly aesthetic) between scootering and motorcyling gear in a later post.

Mother of the Other

Since "Breaking Bad" is in reruns, I'm painting tonight. And going through my clip file, I discovered this blast from the past.
This mural is the largest painting I've executed to date. It was never titled, but I'm posthumously saddling it with the name "Mother of the Other," which if my beer-addled brain serves me right, kind of sums up the gist of what I was shooting for.
I was never completely happy with this piece. It was intended to be a basis for a "free-wall" during Freak-Fest, a neighborhood arts festival held in downtown Little Rock, on what ended up being the hottest day of the year. In fact on that particular July Saturday in 1995, Little Rock racked up the highest temperature in the nation. And that's not taking into account the humidity...
Anyway, my intention with the piece was to provide a basis for the artistic additions of whoever decided to slap paint to bricks. The wall was at that time the property of Dottie Oliver, publisher of the Little Rock Free Press, and she'd volunteered it for the festival. As the coordinator of artistic affairs for the festival, I'd hoped that by giving the graffiti wall an underlying skeleton, the chaos of hundreds of various artistic visions might end up being something worth looking at.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, Dottie loved my under painting so much that she didn't want anyone painting on top of it. The free-form graffiti ended up taking place on a donated VW Westfalia van.
This always bothered me a little bit, because well if I'd known I was doing a solo wall mural, I would have put a little more effort into it. So it goes, I suppose.
I suppose I should mention at this point that the paint for this piece was graciously supplied by Golden Artist Colors. Of course I would have used Golden anyway for this, as acrylic is the most suitable medium for outdoor murals, and well, Golden makes the best acrylics. Which makes sense when you realize that the late Sam Golden, along with his uncle Leonard Bocour, helped invent artists acrylics.
History of artist's materials aside, in hindsight, I'm fond of this mural. It melds several layers of my visual thinking from this time period. I'm hesitant to drain what little mystery the piece may have by over-explaining it, so I'll just leave it as a meditation on the other, the alien, and female fertility. In other words, the Mother of the Other.
This mural was on a wall near 7th and Izard in downtown Little Rock. I'd be extremely grateful if any of my Little Rocker readers could let me know if it still exists. Iain de Sane, I'm looking at you.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Vespa Expedition to Promote Kindness, Compassion, and Volunteerism

Chef Peter Ramstine is my kind of maniac. On April 1st (seriously) he began a journey through all of the state capitals and 8 Canadian Provinces on his yellow Vespa GTS. Along the way he will be volunteering where-ever he can. Look at this route!
You can view the route and schedule in more detail here.

Peter was originally inspired to start this journey after his experiences volunteering with disaster relief for hurricane Katrina.

Heck, I'll shut up and let him explain it:

I want to inspire people to reach-out to their neighbours. Not the neighbours they know, but the ones they don’t know. I want to inspire people to stop by ‘that soup kitchen‘ they’re always passing by. I want to inspire people to do ‘that thing‘ they’ve ‘always wished they could do.’

Moreover, I’m doing Vespadition because I’m personally tired of talking-the-talk without walking-the-walk. I’m fed up with watching things happen and complaining about them without doing anything meaningful to change it. I’m doing it because I’m tired of being sad at the sight of some of the things I see going on in this world. I’m doing it because I’ve decided simply that I must.

Buddha is quoted as having said: “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.” I’m doing it to become the path.

I’m doing Vespadition to do it. To be kind. To be compassionate. To volunteer to help-out wherever I can to help make even the slightest, smallest difference.

Who am I? I’m no one. I’m nothing. I’m you. I’m that person who makes eye contact with you and smiles at you. I’m that person who holds the door for you.

Check out the Vespadition blog for stories as the trip progresses.

Ben Hur Enters Celestial Chariot Races with a Vespa

The first thing I was greeted with this morning upon firing up my browser was the news of Charlton Heston's passing, and the obligatory yet distasteful jokes about his "cold, dead hands."

That Chuck spent his later years as a whipping boy of the Left has always troubled me. Though I may not have agreed with all his politics, I always respected Heston. He always gave me the feeling of being the kind of man you could agree to disagree with. The snark with which many progressives have approached his passing, seems indicative of the loss of civil discourse in this country.

The Charlton Heston I'll remember is the man who marched with MLK, who starred in one of the best movies EVAH (Orson Welles' Touch of Evil) and made some of the best matinée fodder ever, from sword and sandal epics, to classic B-Movie Sci-Fi which are still quoted today.

Quinlan: Our friend Vargas has some very special ideas about police procedure. He seems to think it don't matter whether killers hang or not, so long as we obey the fine print.
Vargas: Captain, I don't think a policeman should work like a dog catcher in putting criminals behind bars. No! In any free country, a policeman is supposed to enforce the law, and the law protects the guilty as well as the innocent.
Quinlan: Our job is tough enough.
Vargas: It's supposed to be. It has to be tough. A policeman's job is only easy in a police state. That's the whole point, Captain - who's the boss, the cop or the law?

-From Touch of Evil

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Firefly + Bluegrass + Radiohead = Bliss

Or to steal a page from Warren Ellis's book:

Q: Conan, what is good in life?

A: Mashing-up Nihilistic British Pop music, virtuoso American rural folk music, and the best Gorram show to be canceled before it could find its niche.

Gaius Baltar = Messiah ?!? What the Frak?

(Or judging from this promotional photo that has been circling the internet for awhile, maybe it's Six... ?)

If you are wondering why the Dragon is blathering on like a five-year-old talking about Dinosaurs today, it might be because Battlestar Galactica is back with new episodes!

(Pardon me whilst I do the "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy" dance.)

It could also be that I just made the best batch of red beans and rice in the history of mankind. OK, perhaps that is hyperbole, but they came out pretty frakkin' good. I used this recipe, with (unusual for me) very little modification. Basically, I didn't dump the water once they started boiling, and I added Garam Masala, because I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is very little you put in your mouth that couldn't be improved by it.

No, really it's Battlestar. I don't want to post any spoilers, but if you like SciFi at all, and haven't watched this series, well, get thee to a video store and start catching up. Or just check out this 8 minute recap of the last three seasons. (Heh, heh, "there's a bun in the toaster.") Seriously. This is one of the best shows on TV, and the best SciFi series EVAH. (Firefly, of course coulda been a contender if not for the fickleness of Rupert Murdoch's minions.)

The series just continues to reflect upon some of the deepest issues that people face: What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of faith? and How do you keep 'em down on the farm after they've had sex with folks whose spines light up?

Anthromorphizing the Velocipede

Leave it to John Rana, over at Who Rides a Vespa, to scoop the Norte Americanos on a neat Vespa ad campaign in our own backyards. Though he blogs from the Philippines, he's only one mentioning these groovy new ads from Vespa Canada for the new Vespa S.

John quotes this article from Media in Canada :

To create buzz for the Vespa S model- a replica of a classic '60s Vespa, with square mirrors and headlights - the Toronto-based Canadian Scooter Company has commissioned eye-catching cutouts. The life-like Vespa-heads are decked out in retro-cool attire like Converse and other in-again brands to play on the notion that it's hip to be square.

The images will be affixed, like wallpaper, at eye level on buildings around Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. There are four different Vespa-heads in total; they'll appear either as singles or more intimidating "gangs."

"[They're unbranded] to create curiosity and intrigue," says Glen Hunt, creative catalyst at Toronto-based Dentsu Canada, who adds that the images were done by Toronto-based guerrilla artist Faux Reel. "The idea is to bring something attractive to the locations - it's more like art, so people appreciate it." Hunt describes Faux Reel as "the Banksy of Canada," referring to the renowned British graffiti artist. Street teams will be handing out Vespa-head buttons, too, to further leverage the concept.

Vespa is also working with Toronto-based prodco Crush to do a 40-foot outdoor projection of an interactive Vespa-head that turns around to check out and double-blink at passersby. Print and poster executions will also play on the Vespa-head concept, with headlines like "Born to be Square."

The article also goes on to mention this television spot from Vespa Canada:

which I first saw mentioned by Brian over at 2Stroke Buzz.

Actually, I am kinda cursing the Vespa S, as well as the MP3 500 right now. I've been holding off on some scooter blogging, because we are supposed to get our first models of these ANY DAY... for the last month. Though I've already seen both models in the flesh, I can't wait until we some in stock... I mean somebody has to ride them out to the front of the building in the morning, right?

Friday, April 04, 2008

True Origins of Iron Man

There is a great story over on, titled We Are Iron Man, which attempts to trace the literary and comic book influences on the classic Black Sabbath song "Iron Man".

So what might a song whose themes were in all probability cobbled together from Iron Man's origin story and Ted Hughes's heady children's book mean?

During the Vietnam War era, and again today, those of us who aren't off fighting in a senseless war -- and who know that it's a senseless war -- gain cold comfort from the shrill middlebrow arguments we find in liberal magazines and on op-ed pages. But Black Sabbath’s vaguely antiwar dirge, whose lyrics aren't high-, middle-, or lowbrow, but hilobrow, and whose music is savage, relentless, and overwhelming, is cathartic. It forces listeners to experience man's inhumanity to man, to experience for a moment what it's like to be crippled and deformed by, say, explosive ordnance. Or by the everyday indignities, injustices, and absurdities of contemporary life. ...

Anyone who desires nothing so much as to prevent humankind from tearing itself to pieces, but who feels paralyzed, helpless, tongue-tied -- and therefore full of inarticulate rage, perhaps even a desire for revenge of some kind -- is an iron man.

We're all iron men.

I love how memes travel, and also how they sometimes spontaneously pop up in different areas and media. Joshua Glenn offers several theories as to what the possible connections are between the Marvel Comics superhero, the Ted Hughes children's book The Iron Giant, and the heavy metal anthem. Some of theories are pretty compelling, but he neglects the one I think is most likely, which is that certain archetypical figures just reappear in pop-culture from time to time. Perhaps all these creative individuals were operating under similar influences...

Anyway, I'm stoked about the new Iron Man movie coming out soon. The previews look awesome, Downey seems a perfect choice for jaded, worldly Tony Stark, and the use of the Black Sabbath song in the soundtrack and previews is a no-brainer, but it still makes me very happy!

Steampunk Games

Brass Goggles (Which seems to share a posting schedule with the Dragon) has a couple of posts up recently about Steampunk computer games.

Dirk Valentine and the Fortress of Steam, is online game with old-school style controls and graphics. You can find it here.
It looks like the perfect thing for cubicle inmates looking to kill some down-time.

More interesting to me is Remnants of Skystone, an upcoming MMO which is Flash based. Tinkergirl writes:

Upcoming from the Flipline developer, and slated for release on the Kongregate site (known for free to play, Flash based games), Remnants of Skystone is a very Steampunk multiplayer game featuring character creation (look for gas masks, spats, goggles, brass cuffs and the most stunning facial hair I’ve yet seen in a game), socialising and co-operative side scrolling missions battling the bally alien invaders! There may even be the opportunity to have your own floating residence!

Apparently going to go live sometime this autumn (or fall, if you prefer) it looks like it has some potential indeed, and the blog has some nice backstory, art inspiration pages, and character screens. Several of the characters could do with smiling more, but I suppose with alien mimics denying the very ground you stand on, you might be a little disgruntled too!

The world definitely needs more games with stunning facial hair!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Free the Elves!!!

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the Pini's are publishing all of the ElfQuest saga online for free!
For those of you non-geeks, who think ElfQuest is a euphemism for my search for a bar with a 50 cent Maredsous happy-hour, it is actually one of the longest running and influential independent comic series of all time.

Ectoplasmosis probably sums it up best:

• With Dave Sim’s Cerebus, it was among the first self-published comics to make it big, booting down the door for new talent the nation over. Its success as a graphic novel in mainstream bookstores helped infect the American mainstream with a European-esque appreciation for comics. Women actually read this. Women.

• Wendy Pini’s art is a melting pot of comics, manga and classical illustration. And she’s been at it since before most people had even heard of manga…

• The feral, omnisexual, hallucinogen-guzzling protagonists aren’t Tolkien-derived clichés, but a freakish medley of european lore, native american myth and hippy free love.

• No superheroes, magic wands or other arbitrary magics. It’s consistently plotted to tight rules of engagement and expertly crafted by the same wife-and-husband team thats been doing little else since 1977.

• It’s a neat blend of high fantasy and science fiction: the “elves” are aliens who wanted to impress us by appearing as angels, but got stuck in a genetic disguise by their slaves’ violent rebellion.

• All the fashions in it are either from the 1970s or the 1930s: everyone is either a pimp in furs and leather or something sculpted by Erté. They just don’t make ‘em like this any more.

• Winnowill is the best arch-villainess since Maleficent Cthulhu.

• It’s not over: the story’s final showdown, the creators write, has been written but not yet published.

• 6,000 pages of full-color classic indy brilliance free of charge. Precedent set.

• Issue #17’s Elf Orgy. If nothing else, a great name for a punk band.

Seriously, if you are into comics at all, or even if you aren't (ElfQuest has long been the prefered gateway comic for geeks who want their significant others to grasp the possibilities of the medium) you owe it to yourself to check this out.