Monthly Archives: August 2008

Zak Champagne on Teaching Math, Loving Music

When I interview folks, I periodically like to follow-up and get suggestions for other people they think I should interview. That’s how I landed an interview with Zak Champagne, a fellow music nut (in a good way) and a fourth grade math teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Shelby Miller of the Shifted Sound podcast recommended that I pick Champagne’s brain for his thoughts on teaching math and enjoying music. My thanks to Champagne for his time and Miller for the suggestion.

Tim O’Shea: What attracted you to teaching in the first place and math in particular?

Zak Champagne: First and foremost, I was going to be a rock star. Teaching wasn’t really in the plans until college. You see I had everything ready for rock superstardom except for the talent of playing or singing music. Now I was in a band…but we were much more into the superficial things about being in a band rather than actually being a band. But…I sort of knew towards the end of high school that I wanted to teach. Once I got into college (University of North Florida) I thought I wanted to teach high school. It seemed rather logical to me. But while I was preparing to become a teacher, I took a job at a youth center here in town and ended up working with K-2nd grade students. And it was during that time I had found my calling.

Now the math thing is a bit more interesting. Once in elementary school I saw a need to make mathematics meaningful to my students. I encountered so many young students who already hated mathematics. And to me that was not okay. I have to find a way to inspire my students to love mathematics for what it is. And I found one of the best ways to do that is to make it meaningful and fun.

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Adam Rifkin on Shmobots

Recently BOOM! Studios released Shmobots, a graphic novel by writer Adam Rifkin and artist Les Toil. I recently was able to conduct an email interview with Rifkin. Before getting to the questions, here’s BOOM!’s official breakdown of the creators and the project: “SMALL SOLDIERS and MOUSEHUNT screenwriter and DETROIT ROCK CITY director, Adam Rifkin, pairs with pin-up artist supreme Les Toil to create Shmobots! In an world where man needs robots to do menial labor, a city decides to contract with the lowest bidder in order to create its army workforce. But the whole thing backfires and the robots end up being lazy and stupid — with attitude. So what do you call these slacker robots? They’re a bunch of Shmobots! A darkly funny tale of passion, romance, and sexy-time! Once you go chrome, you never go home!” Honestly I had to interview the writer after I read the 128-page trade paperback and it had such absurd scenes like “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein”. It appealed to my odd sense of humor. BOOM! is uploading pages from the book for free, on a daily basis, here. My thanks to Rifkin for his time and for BOOM!’s Chip Mosher for his assistance.

Tim O’Shea: The Diary of Anne Frankenstein AND a Stan Lee endorsement? Rarely can a book pull off both–how did you score the Lee endorsement?

Adam Rifkin: Getting a thumbs up from Stan Lee was a real dream come true. The man has been such a hero of mine for so many years that I really can’t put into words how much that endorsement means to me. I actually had met Stan a number of years ago when I was shooting episodes of a television series that ultimately never aired called WELCOME TO HOLLYWOOD. It was a show based on a movie I had made of the same name. Stan played himself in one of the episodes and as a result he and I had become friendly. He truly is one of the nicest guys I’ve come across in this business. Anyway, after SHMOBOTS was complete I sent Stan a copy just to get his feedback. Not only did he dig it, but he gave us that fantastic quote to use with his blessings. WOW!

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Dirk Deppey on Journalista

There’s no corner of the sequential art industry that gets ignored, thanks to Dirk Deppey. As the linking dynamo behind Journalista, Deppey has built a web presence that is a daily stop for anyone who wants to stay informed about comics. Deppey took time out of his recent vacation to answer a few questions on his role as TCJ.com online editor and his past gig as managing editor of The Comics Journal.

Tim O’Shea: Some people mistakenly assume your responsibility as TCJ.com’s online editor is to do Journalista. What all do you do as online editor?

Dirk Deppey: Journalista’s a big part of it, yes — I mean, it requires anywhere from six to twelve hours a day, depending on what’s out there, so it takes up the overwhelming majority of my time. The other big job is producing the online edition of the print magazine for subscribers, which entails turning the text and images into something Web-friendly, which while not as time-intensive as the blog still takes a significant amount of work. There are also the random online-only goodies, nominal policing of the message board and whatever else rears its ungainly head. I probably put in a good 50-55 hours a week on the website, all told.

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Lars Martinson on Tonoharu

When I interview someone, typically I enter the process knowing that the person is far more informed than I am. Part of what draws me into interviewing most folks is the realization that here is someone I can learn a great deal from, or at least that’s how it works for the most part. Then there are interviews like this one, in which I become fairly well aware, fairly quickly, that the interview subject has a wealth of knowledge that has me scrambling to the New York Public Library website to keep up with the interview subject. Such is the case here, with Lars Martinson, creator of Tonoharu. Here’s the core info you need to know about the storyteller:

“Lars Martinson was born on Mother’s Day, 1977. He has met a princess, seen a five-legged cow, and eaten raw octopus eggs. From 2003 to 2006 he taught English in Fukuoka, Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. In 2007 he received the prestigious Xeric Grant for his graphic novel Tonoharu: Part One.” He currently is in the midst of a two-year effort to study Calligraphy at Shikoku University in Japan and “is hard at work on the second part of the Tonoharu story.”

And here’s the essence of his current work:

“Daniel Wells begins a new life as an assistant junior high school teacher in the rural Japanese village of Tonoharu. Isolated from those around him by cultural and language barriers, he leads a monastic existence, peppered only by his inept pursuit of the company of a fellow American who lives a couple towns over. But contrary to appearances, Dan isn’t the only foreigner to call Tonoharu home. Across town, a group of wealthy European eccentrics are boarding in a one-time Buddhist temple, for reasons that remain obscure to their gossiping neighbors. ” (One last detail about the book? How well is it selling? Top Shelf has sold out of the first printing with a second printing on the way.)

Tim O’Shea: I found it interesting that you wrote recently in your blog: “Iris Murdoch once said ‘To be a good writer, you have to kill your babies’, and that’s what editing the text was like for me.” First off, I actually don’t think I’ve heard a graphic novelist reference Murdoch before, so I have to ask–what books or authors do you like?

Lars Martinson: I have to confess that I’ve never actually read any Murdoch; I heard the “kill your babies” quote years ago, and it stuck with me because I thought it was good advice and an apt description of the editing process. When I included it in a blog entry, I had to do an internet search to find out who to attribute it to.

But to answer your question, my favorite work of fiction is the four-volume Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, about a group of expats living in pre-WWII Egypt. A couple of the character names in Tonoharu were taken from that series. My favorite author in general is Knut Hamsun, a 19th century Norwegian novelist. I’ve read every English translation of his work that I’ve been able to get my hands on.

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Goodbye Skip Carey

My father died in 1985, when he was in his early 60s and I was 17. There is not a week that goes by that I do not miss him on some level. So when I just read that Skip Carey died in his sleep today, I missed my father greatly. Let me explain.

My father was not a touchy feely/positive affirmation kind of guy. I distinctly recall trying to hug my father once when he was in the hospital. My father, even in a weakened state, effectively blocked my hug with an extended hand and the perfectly executed forced handshake. My father was a curmudgeon who showed a father’s love through three square meals, a damn fine roof over my head and the best Catholic education money could buy.

The one way my father and I bonded was through baseball. No, he never took me to a baseball game–that was just not his style. He religiously watched the Braves on TV and listened to the radio. Atlanta’s Channel 17 in the 1970s (long before TBS) was always on in the evening or the radio tuned to WSB in the car. I grew up listening to Braves announcer Skip Carey. The man was even more of a curmudgeon than my father.

So whenever I heard Carey call a game after 1985, it gave me fond memories of my father. This past Wednesday, I was driving up to Tennessee and happened to hear the game on the radio (that’s the great thing about the South–the Braves Radio Network has affiliate stations in several states). Skip and old friend Pete Van Wieren were calling the game. It was like the 1970s all over again (complete with the Braves losing even). Even though it seemed like Carey was hitting the cough button to mute his coughs, I thought I could still hear it sneaking through Van Wieren’s mike. Maybe I imagined the whole thing, but I remember thinking: “Wow, Skip sounds weak.” It reminded me of my father’s voice in his final year.

And yet, Skip’s wit was still intact in that game. I’m glad I got to hear him one last time. Thanks for keeping part of my father alive for me for 23 more years, Skip. I’ll miss you.

Got the Marriage License

Yesterday, the future wife and I drove to the nearby county courthouse to get the marriage license. The office that we were directed to had a rather interesting handwritten sign next to the doorway: “Marriage, boat and fishing licenses”. We were both amused and strangely assured by the sign, actually.