Abandoning Condescension in 2010

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yesterday evening, son Stephen called my attention to a brilliant essay on National Public Radio's Monkey See blog. That it is brilliant didn't surprise me; the writer is wordsmith Linda Holmes, whose commentaries have always illuminated their topics while providing delicious (and quotable) phrasing.

The essay opens,

"Familiarity breeds contempt."

Perhaps it is this little saying, or some variation of it, that convinces people that disdain and discernment are the same thing: that the more things you roll your eyes at, the smarter you must be.

Those of us who have spent many hours in following a variety of fields of popular culture have surely run across the phenomenon. "I don't own an idiot box." (I suddenly realize that I haven't recently heard that cliche; at least that phrasing seems to have gone out of favor, though the sneer remains in what amounts to the same thing.) And in comics? Even as the term "graphic novel" actually intimidates some, the humble "comic book" still hasn't achieved the same respect - though they're synonyms.

In any case, do check out Linda's "Let's Resolve" - and join us all in the resolution.


Working Around, Coping, and Generally Managing

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My mother was a master of the work-around in decades past: She could make a Kleenex tissue serve as a coffee filter. She used her freezer to keep from mildew the dampened clothes that awaited ironing during a busy summer. She learned to use plastic wood and screening to patch decaying paneling on our "woodie" station wagon. She figured out that home brew was cheaper than commercially available beer and learned how to make her own.

What occasionally surprises me is that the necessity of figuring out ways of working around problems continues into our 21st century. We are certainly living in a science-fictional age. The grocery-store door opens as we approach. We carry our telephones with us. I have a lightweight tablet that, though newly purchased, lets me carry in one hand the complete works of Mark Twain, the Bible, and 33 novels by P.G. Wodehouse. (I'm in the midst of the introduction of Psmith, one of my favorite Wodehouse characters.) My living room is a theater, complete with Surround Sound and impeccable picture. But that doesn't mean I don't have to go on coping with idiosyncrasies of technology.

My Verizon PocketPC cell phone (Model RAPH500) runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, bought because it has a pull-out physical keyboard and connects to the Internet via dial-up (so I never need a Wi-Fi hot spot), supposedly connected best through "Opera." Except that no one at Verizon could figure how to make the e-mail display properly. After six different consultations, I returned the phone as defective, Verizon sent a replacement - and Opera still didn't work. So much head-scratching. Until someone at Verizon pointed out that I could use Internet Explorer as one of the Windows doohickies, and it has worked just fine. Worked around, coped, and generally managed.

Yesterday, I tried to post two images of absinthe, photographed at my brother's home. One image gave no grief. Two images not only distorted the opening paragraph, they also changed the font. OK, one picture yesterday. One picture today. Had to put it at the start of the post, because it glitched the text when I tried to move it to this paragraph. Worked around, coped, and generally managed.

Airlines are making carrying luggage more and more complicated and expensive. So one box of clothing and such resides at Valerie's home. One box of clothing and such resides at Stephen's home. And I travel with a carry-on and backpack. Worked around, coped, and generally managed.

When we have colonies set up at the North Pole and under the mid-Atlantic Ocean, we'll have solved a lot of problems to do it. But we'll still need to have work-arounds, to cope, and to generally manage.


Absinthe Makes ...

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder" is such logical wordplay that it's even the title of an episode on the Showtime series Californication. So no sense trying to pretend it's a brightly original opening for a brief post on my holiday introduction to the absinthe experience. My brother, Paul, learned that absinthe drinking is legal and began to build a home collection of a variety of that beverage. (He prowled the Internet, turning up such sites as that for The Wormwood Society. That organization notes that there's no law that prohibits absinthe by name but that no drink containing "in excess of 10ppm of thujone" is legal in America. However, "several authentic absinthes are now available for purchase at liquor stores and bars in the US." Clearly, there are restrictions. Also clearly, many kinds of absinthe are OK.)

My curiosity was connected with its reputed attractions for such creative folk as Oscar Wilde and an assortment of Parisian artists and writers. The Wiki writeup seems pretty clear on much of the history and comments that American bottlers resumed absinthe production a couple of years ago.

So Paul has spent the last few days providing me with a different brand of absinthe every evening for a tasting experiment. (The preparation is its own complex process, involving a special absinthe glass, mixing with water, and sometimes adding sugar.)

Absinthe (mixed with water) basically comes across to my jaded tongue as weak, slightly sweet licorice. Some varieties slightly numbed my tongue; I felt no alcoholic effects from any of the doses. After several days, I'm here to report that, while Paul's tastebuds can detect the many differences among the varieties and I was able to note that the super-expensive variety did taste different, I'll stick to my one-dose-per-day cabernet sauvignon or rum and Coke.

But at least now I'll know what some of the literary references are talking about.


On the Wings of Dreaming Eagles

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A month and a half between postings? Life happens -- and my best determination to make this blog a habit hasn't been enough to motivate me.

Until now.

'Cause I belieeeeeeeve in myself!

I am now officially inspired, and it's thanks to American Idol and my son.

As I turned on the radio in my car in the motel parking lot, preparatory to heading to the airport and the plane that would take me to the wonder world of holiday travel, Stephen's voice floated melodically in a message of inflated self-importance.

Understand that Stephen has, over the years, been something of a devotee of certain "reality" entertainments. Thanks to the bonus of commentaries on the Television without Pity website and its brilliant analyzer Linda Holmes, he was sucked into the whirlpool of involvement Big Time. It gave him a perspective that led to the composition of what you will hear on his National Public Radio essay for Morning Edition.

(And, yes, that is Stephen performing "On the Wings of Dreaming Eagles.")

You, too, can fly in the sky!


Oskar Lebeck of Dell's Golden Age

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In the course of researching the origins of the term "graphic novel," I came across information I'd internalized long ago, forgetting where it had originated. Bill Spicer edited a groundbreaking fanzine Back In The Day. Born as Fantasy Illustrated, it morphed into Graphic Story Magazine with #8. In #9 (Summer 1968), Spicer and Vince Davis interviewed creator Dan Noonan (whose work I'd admired since seeing it in the 1940s).

I've been rummaging through Internet postings in search of information about the man who owned personal copyrights to the non-licensed comic books he edited for Western Printing & Lithographing Co. (distributed by Dell) - rummaging without success.

But here, in the Noonan interview, was that information about Oskar Lebeck. In fact, it opened the interview:

"At the time I was working for Oskar, he'd been the prime mover for the Western line of comics; before the war, Lebeck, through association with the Disney Studio and Western, started the Mickey Mouse Magazine and several others. And of course, they met with almost instantaneous success. At the conclusion of the war there was a terrific market for comics, and they were doing a million-dollar business in it. Lebeck then became editor-in-chief for the Western comics division; he was responsible for delivering the package - the material that'd be printed - to George Delacorte, the publisher and distributor.

"Lebeck was a wonderful man to work for, and he was really the only comic book impresario that, in my opinion, ever deserved the name. He was a German, who'd come here from Berlin and had worked with Max Reinhardt and with a number of stage people. He had also done a good deal of design work in New York. Lebeck had quite a flair for design; the Bauhaus was still not so distant in people's minds that it wasn't acceptable, and I think that's where his work might have been influenced.

"He had a wide open mind for ideas; he initiated Animal Comics, a fairy story comic book, and these Raggedy Ann comics at the end of the war. And many other titles that were one-shots. Just about everything he did turned out rather well. He insisted on good stories; he'd buy a good story, and then he'd try to pick the best artist he had for it. But if an artist wrote a story himself, and he liked it, you could go right ahead and illustrate it, if he felt you were capable of doing so. With Oskar the story was the thing, and it didn't make too much difference to him who did the writing. Just so it was good."

Asked about the Lebeck copyrights, Noonan responded:

"I'd imagine that it was some understanding they had - Oskar was responsible for bringing up the sales of their comic book division, and I think this might have been part of his reward; he held these copyrights. And if there was any re-use of the material, he'd receive royalties.

"Anyway, that's my interpretation of it. It wasn't talked about too generally; most companies wouldn't discuss finances with you outside of your own, and I can't say they were unusual in that respect."

He said Lebeck had died the previous year "at his home in La Jolla."

The full fascinating interview (copyright 1968 William W. Spicer) ran six pages and is well worth tracking down. I've not found more information on Lebeck anywhere else.


The Verizon GPS Lady: Can She Tell the Future?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So my sister and I are barrelling along Route 76, heading east toward Akron. Mary's Verizon service includes a GPS set-up via which the Robot Lady not only tells us where to turn but also advises us of, say, "Congestion ahead in 6 miles." Suddenly, around 5 p.m., she pipes up, "Two-hour-and-10-minute delay ahead." No other information, no reason for the delay.

We figuratively scratch our respective heads, wondering about the possible cause, but she hadn't given a cause, just that there would be that delay in our travel. We figured there was some major problem in Akron, but Akron came and went (or, rather, we continued our brisk progress) without incident. We continued our planned route on 76, still heading east, and decided to stop for dinner in North Jackson, Ohio. It was yummy, and we returned to the car, driving a ways to get to Route 80 and then turning to head east again. Driving continued uneventfully on Route 80 until, wups! At 7:12, all traffic heading east in both lanes pulled to a halt. We sat there a bit. What the heck? Eventually, people began getting out of their cars to find out what was going on - and we learned that, about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, a semi trailer had flipped over, blocking both eastbound lanes. And we sat. Police cars eventually drove by us on the berm. The sun set. We sat. Cars and trucks eventually turned off motors. We sat. People wandered by, going to look at the truck and to see what the prognosis might be, eventually returning to report that we were in for quite a wait. I pulled out my Garmin to locate exactly where we were: past the Route 11 exit and just past the Bell Wick Road overpass.

At 8:50 p.m. a tow truck traveled up the divider between eastbound and westbound lanes. We applauded and continued to wait.

And suddenly, at 9:06 p.m., everyone turned on their lights, started their engines, and we were on our way, glancing at the semi, which was lying on its side in the left lane.

So here's the question: How the heck did the Verizon Robot Lady know that we were in for what she foresaw as a more-than-two-hour delay because of an accident that didn't happen for another couple of hours? And, given her foresight, why had her timing been off by about 15 minutes?

No, that's quibbling. Verizon can take justifiable pride in her accomplishments. Do you suppose this was a test of a new phone service: prognostication for an additional $10 a month?


Done in One

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In the midst of researching something else, I stumbled over something I'd been looking for in the back issues of Comics Buyer's Guide: the introduction of a "Done in One" icon. I thought I'd coined the term some time earlier, and I've been trying to figure out specifically when that may have been, if so, but this is a first step. Here's what I wrote in CBG #1168 (April 5, 1996):

"The idea of a Done in One icon came to me as I mulled the changes that had been wrought in comics since the Golden Age. There were serials in Golden Age comics. (For one thing, very early comics consisted of strip reprints, and many of those had ongoing continuities, of course.) However, sales led many publishers to adopt the idea that free-standing short stories produced the best results for the medium, and before long even most anthology titles featured primarily tales with their beginning, middle, and end in the same issue. Some Dell titles (Tarzan, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, etc.) featured one back-of-the-issue serial in addition to primary content, but basically for your dime you got at least one or more complete stories.

"When the Silver Age began, it was the same situation, based on that conventional wisdom. The DC super-hero stories which, in effect, began the Silver Age, were stories that were complete in an issue. It was Stan Lee who made a magnificent sales success out of taking several issues to tell a story -- and expanding the concept to be the standard for his line of super-hero material. (And, yes, Don and Maggie decried the practice and boldly stated that trying to serialize comic books would never work.)

"Today, casual readers -- especially those new to comics -- may find it hard to locate a story they can read without having bought the preceding six issues or being obliged to buy the ensuing three. So, when we can, we plan to identify free-standing issues with the Done in One logo.

"Any publishers want to use it? Retailers for special displays? Call me; we'll talk."

Well, no one did, but the "Done in One" term itself has become common parlance. My hunt for the first time I used it will continue. And I seem to recall that the reason we gave up using the icon in our reviews is that we switched layout systems at some point and the icon (designed by Al West) never made the transition.

[And let me note, hours later, that my quest for that first-time usage continues. I've now checked editorials and my reviews column in CBG #1155 (Jan. 5, 1996)-#1167 but have found no such reference. Was it earlier? Or did I actually coin the term for this use for the first time in #1168? Sigh.]


A Month away from Blogging! Yiiii!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Apologies for the vacation; I've been hoping to become more constant in my posting -- and, of course, that trick never works.

So for today's post (and let's see whether I can pick up the pace), I take you behind the scenes of my recent book-store bargains, thereby providing a behind-the-scenes look at the sorts of thing that captures my attention. (You know how, when you go into an antiques shop, the staffer will ask you what you're looking for? I can never answer with a specific, because -- as in a used-book store -- I won't know it until I see it.)

Conkey's, a fixture in downtown Appleton, Wis., had been in business for 113 years. While the current owner still hopes to find a buyer, everything in the store is being liquidated, so I stopped by on a whim on Sept. 2, two days after the official close. Aside from the fixtures' flat pricing (I bought two tabletop items, one for a flat $2, one for $3), everything was 75% off. So -- in a store selling its stock of already-well-picked-over volumes, how could I find anything of interest?

$6.25 Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Topffer by David Kunzle, paperback, 2007. The biography (including a brief tracing of the influence Topffer had) accompanied Kunzle's collection of Topffer's strips.

$6 Harry Potter and the Order of the Court: The J.K. Rowling Copyright Case and the Question of Fair Use by Robert S. Want, paperback, 2008. It contains a lengthy discussion of what fair use is, a history of the legal actions taken leading up to the actual trial, Rowling's testimony, and the judge's decision.

$2.25 A Reconstructed Corpse by Simon Brett (Large Print Edition), jacketed hardcover, 1993. While the Charles Paris mysteries are my favorites of Brett's work, I also enjoy the Mrs. Pargeter novels.

$2 Talking Funny for Money: An Introduction to the Cartoon/Character/Looping Area of Voice-Overs by Pamela Lewis, paperback with 2 CDs, 2003. 2CDs: How could I not buy it? There's lots of solid information (even including contact info for the New York-area performers involved in the demos).

$1.75 Biblical Figures outside the Bible edited by Michael E. Stone and Theodore A. Bergen, paperback, 1998. Here are a number of scholarly essays on apocryphal tales of Adam and Eve, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek, Joseph, and Ezekiel, among others.

$1.75 Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction Volume I: 1860-1979 by Colleen A. Barnett, paperback, 1997. Since the volume is complete in itself, I didn't need Volumes II and III (though I'd have bought them, had they been there). I'm not sure why Marlene Dietrich is on the cover; the photo doesn't seem to be sourced or explained. Nevertheless, the book is informative, and I like the notation on the dedication page: "In recognition: One hundred years ago, Anna Katherine Green published That Affair Next Door which launched Amelia Butterworth, the first female sleuth to play significant roles in three mysteries." I'm not nuts about the book's organization, in which the user needs to know the era of the character in order to locate her. (An index would have been more than handy.) Nevertheless, it's informative.

$1 Work Hard and You Shall Be Rewarded: Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire by Alan Dundes and Carl R. Pagter, paperback, 1992. I'm intrigued by urban myths and folklore in general, and here the authors take a look at a series of stories, gags, etc. perpetrated in faxed memos and the like. Some of these are, of course, now showing up in e-mails, on Facebook, etc. (I haven't done more than glance through the book at this point, but my guess is that some of the picture-plus-text material originated in greeting cards.)

Not a bad accumulation ...


Dear Mr. Hyatt: Huh?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

OK, so I missed the registration deadline to get the Wizard World
convention rate because I couldn't confirm my transportation in time.
So I'm paying more for my room. Now I find that you'd hit me for ADDED
charges, should I use the WiFi that con attendees will get free. It's
nice that I can use my dial-up phone service for e-mail, so I won't be a hostage to whatever rates you're charging for the service. However, I find these arrangements not only personally annoying but also misleading for the Hyatt when evaluations are made of how many guests the convention brought you.
Maggie Thompson
P.S. The e-mail address on your flyer welcoming con members gives my e-mail of the above comments an immediate bounce-back. Sigh.


I'm at Comic-Con. Where are you?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Posting from my phone may turn out to be too much of a challenge. We shall see. The Marriott has wired Internet in the room, which won't work with my notebook, not to mention that there's a charge...

Milton Griepp is providing a business seminar today 1-5 p.m. at the Marriott. Scheduled speakers include Jeff Smith.

Phil Foglio has changed printers to return GIRL GENIUS to the U.S. Improved production, tinier carbon footprint.


Curiosities of TV's Old Curiosity Shop

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Among my countless obsessions, I discover I'm fascinated by Charles Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop. Among its aspects is that it's one of the several works of fiction that have had a vital plot point become a matter of common knowledge. Who today can read Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without knowing in advance the solution to the mystery? And virtually the only thing most people today know about Old Curiosity Shop is [OK, spoiler warning, but do you actually care enough to stop reading? If so, great; stop reading this posting and read the novel; it's even available complete online, and it's my favorite Dickens novel.] is that Little Nell dies. Oscar Wilde famously wrote, "One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears ... of laughter."

Thing is: Wilde got it wrong. Nell doesn't have a death scene in the novel. In any case, while the book was probably among the first novels to deal with gambling as an addiction, Nell and her gambling grandfather do not interest me. My fascination lies with the subplot of Richard Swiveller and the Marchioness: a fascination that began with the 1980 nine-part BBC dramatization [white background image] that aired in America on Once upon a Classic. With Granville Saxton as Swiveller and Annabelle Lanyon as the Marchioness, the production (scripted by William Trevor) focused on that portion of the plot with enough fidelity to drive me to read the novel in the middle of the weekly broadcasts to find out what happened next.

As a result, I've kept an eye on adaptations of the novel ever since to see how that subplot is handled -- if, indeed, it's handled at all. Last night, I settled down with another DVD from the BBC [brown background image]: a 2007 non-serialized version scripted by Martyn Hesford. And, yes, the subplot was there, with Geoff Breton as Swiveller and Charlene McKenna as the Marchioness. The weird thing is that somebody, somewhere didn't grasp what was so clear in 1980: The Marchioness is a foil for Little Nell. They're roughly the same age -- which is to say 13. Little Nell is deeply loved by those who fail to help her. The Marchioness is starved, beaten, and too poor to have a name but she not only saves herself, she saves others.

It's true that Trevor had a break, with the total running time of 4 hours, 25 minutes -- as opposed to Hesford's 1 hour, 33 minutes. But Hesford included characters and scenes that could have been omitted to focus on what G.K. Chesterton termed one of the two true love stories in all of Dickens. On the shoestring that seemed to be the budget for the 1980 version, the focus was on characterization, with only Nell (played by 20-year-old Natalie Ogle) looking wrong for the part. (It's still amazing to me that Lanyon, also 20, is absolutely convincing as a 13-year-old.)

And, oh, the changes in the 2007 version! Not only does Nell's grandfather (Derek Jacobi in an otherwise excellent performance) settle himself sullenly to wait for money he's bullied her into begging for in a pouring rain (for all his faults, not something Dickens' character did), not only does Nell get a full-on deathbed scene in which she forgives everyone in person, and not only does the Brasses' lodger turn out to be -- Who? Wow, not who is in the novel! But the Marchioness is no longer the counterpoint to Nell: While Kit and Nell are played by 15-year-olds, the Marchioness is 22 and looks it.

Not to say that the 2007 version is badly acted or poorly shot or poorly directed. It's just that -- for all its merits -- the filmed-on-a-shoestring version of nearly 30 years ago is still the best, even with a Nell in her 20s. I'll bet you can find a copy via your local library.


O, Stephen Thompson, my son, my son, why do you celebrate grief?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Three days ago, Stephen posted at "It's Time to Party: Summer Songs" at National Public Radio "Party of One: Misery Alienates Company." Stephen addresses lonely people, "All you and your poor, pockmarked soul really need is a soundtrack -- five songs to ensure that you and your stuffed animals will have a night to remember." And he provides a commentary on each of the songs, opening with one he introduces as "a bruisingly sad look at a relationship torn asunder by tragic circumstances."

It's actually a pretty funny essay, so I laughed my way through it but then the "Related NPR Stories" at the end provided a double-take. Each consists of an opening mini-essay followed by the songs with commentaries. And here's the thing: The titles of a year and a half's run of these are as follows: "So Your Tiny Black Heart Is Broken" (Feb 12, 2008), "Weeping at the Wheel: Crushingly Sad Songs" (Aug 13, 2008), and "Songs for a Drab and Unfulfilling Existence" (Oct 9, 2008). Man! And each and every posting is written by Stephen.

But there is a cure. It's just that you'll have to look for it. For example, he came up with an essay on finding the perfect CD mix for a wedding. He's done more than one devoted to great Christmas CDs (springing to my mind this July day; have you finished your holiday shopping for 2009 yet?).

So no problem. But if, on the other hand, you'd like to wallow in grief, he's got the music for you.


It's Old Cars Show in Iola!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Once a year, the teeny town of Iola, Wisconsin, copes with an influx of old cars. I'm not talking about rusty heaps still managing to hold together well enough to get to the grocery store and back. I'm talking about Cars They Don't Make Any More. And it's not as though we're not used to it here. Thanks to Krause Publications' long-running Old Cars Weekly, we've long been accustomed to seeing classic vehicles parked in the lot next to the latest models (and, for that matter, my own aging Ford Focus station wagon). But even the KP parking lot has been turned over exclusively to collector cars. In a quick walk down some of Iola's village streets today, I just pointed my pocket camera and shot images of vehicles not on display -- but used as actual transportation, just part of today's traffic. It's a trip to the past ...


Monkey See is my "Must-See" NPR blog

Since it began 11 months ago, Monkey See has become my favorite blog on the favorite-blogs-filled National Public Radio website -- and one of my two favorite blogs, period. (The other is Mark Evanier's newsfromme, packed with insights, hilarity, and information that's mostly about things I care about. But I digress, though it must be clear from this that popular culture is one of my ongoing affections.)

To quote its own information, Monkey See aspires "to be a haven for the geek and a translator for the confused, and to carve out a space where both longtime residents and curious visitors can comfortably roam the pop-culture landscape." It is presided over by Linda Holmes, whom I first encountered on Television without Pity, where her remarks (as "Miss Alli") actually kept me following The Amazing Race for a season or two, despite my lack of interest in "reality TV."

Monkey See is a spot that keeps me informed about events at which I could turn out to be entertained -- by its commentary as well as by the events themselves.

Yesterday, for example, there was an intro to Bravo's Top Chef Masters. Such is Linda's skill that she managed to provide a hook that explained the show, evaluated the differences between it and "Top Chef Classic," and concluded with the reason to see the episode in question. Succinct. Entertaining. Enlightening. Even for someone who has never watched Top Chef.

So it is that Monkey See rambles through the forest of pop culture, blazing a trail so that members of its expedition can keep up to date, even on aspects of entertainment to which they're not personally devoted. They provided a link to a Harry Potter quiz that's one of the best current promos I've seen. (I scored 31 out of 35 and would have scored 32, had my screen display made me more aware of precisely which of the films I was supposed to respond to.)

And, as host, Linda presides over other insightful commentators on today's entertainment. For example, Glen Weldon's comic-book commentaries are something I always find intriguing. A recent post, for example, was "Let There Be Bike Shorts: A Profile in Comics-Geek Courage." It's about DC Editor Matt Idelson and Supergirl, it was posted July 1, and it already has 37 comments. Rightly so.

So the link to "Monkey See" on my home page is no accident. It's there to remind me not to miss checking its most recent postings, because I don't want to be out of the pop-culture loop. Do you?


The Third New Look for the Home Page

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I haven't hung out much on my website recently, mostly because experimentation continues regarding the best way to set it up and contribute to it. With Comic-Con International: San Diego coming in two weeks, I was eager to get this working, and Kindly John Jackson Miller has moved it to this iteration. (Iteration: what a great word, no?)

At the moment, I'm continuing to experiment. I just tried to post from my cell phone but found it incapable at the moment of even finding online sites via its dial-up. My fingers now figuratively crossed that it's something that Verizon will fix magically without my whining yet again at one of its stores, I'm posting from my neat little HP whatchamacallit: It's one of those lightweight, no-disc computers. (I had earlier tried an Acer, but its lunatic trackpad was, well, lunatic. I'll probably be showing off the HP at San Diego, though it requires WiFi, rather than dial-up.)

Ah, techgabble. Sorry to be gone so long. But one of the neat advantages to the revamped site is that I suddenly can see that people have been e-mailing me here without my noticing. Apologies! I'll try to get to you soon!

Now, let's see if this posts properly.


Tarsem's 'The Fall'

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Fall (2006, in theaters 2008, on DVD 2009)
$24.96, 117 mins. (plus extras)
A+ (though clearly not everyone's cup of ambrosia)

It's certainly not for everyone [considering the "style over substance" complaints appearing on Metacritic], but I've became captivated (friends would say, "obsessed") by Tarsem Singh's The Fall, which I bought used at Four Star Video in Madison -- intrigued by the DVD's packaging. Said negative evaluations are typified by Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, "There is never a sense that The Fall exists for any reason besides simply being something nice to look at. Yet no matter how good-looking a film may be, if it's as sleep-inducing as this, there's simply no point." I watched the film, then checked the reviews (Roger Ebert was the most effusively positive), then watched it again with the director's commentary, then watched the actor-writer commentary, and then watched the two "making of" featurettes. So far, I've watched the movie itself seven times in one month -- and enjoyed it every time. Countless reviewers (even The Onion's Tasha Robinson, who gave the film an A-) have given away major plot twists -- so, if you do want to watch it, don't read the reviews or even the synopsis on the film's own website.

The simple first-page plot at IMDb is OK, though: "In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s [I'd say around 1915] Los Angeles, an injured [novice] stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances." The feature was filmed all over the world in what I took at first to be computer-generated backgrounds and then learned were real -- incredible -- landscapes. Romanian 8-year-old (How old was she during the filming? Maybe only 5.) Catinca Untaru worked well for me as Alexandria; maybe others didn't fancy the child actress; it’s certainly possible. Lee Pace (of Pushing Daisies) was terrific.

And the whole production is, at a minimum, delightful eye candy. At a maximum, it's a triumph.

See what you think of the trailer (not, as I say, the synopsis) at the film's website. I find The Fall to be more rewarding every time I see it. The "story" equally involves the action (which is what I think many reviewers focused on) and on the characters (per all that English Major fol de rol I was teached in college). It's the evolving characters of Alexandria and Roy that balance the crude shoot-em-up storytelling of the visualized fantasies. Some reviewers apparently consider such character focus a thin story, but (when it's combined with the splendor and action of the fantasy) I found it heartily satisfying.

The behind-the-scenes information on the DVD makes clear the challenges involved in both working with a young girl who, moreover, spoke little English -- and in integrating stunning real-world locations that resemble fantasy worlds. People have compared it to such other movies as Pan's Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and Brazil, to name three. There are elements of those productions, but The Fall stands on its own.

Note: It's bewilderingly "R"-rated. I can guess at reasons but none that makes a convincing case for such a strong restriction.


Yeah, Yeah, I've Been Busy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Anyone preparing to set up a blogging situation knows (or should know) that one of the basics of the art form is that one must blog frequently: the goal being one post per day. This doesn't mean one can babble about the breakfast menu of the day, and the aim is also that the content be worth reading.


I paid a gazillion dollars for a new phone so that I could blog more easily. The display didn't work and, after two months, I'm still trying to get it to function.

I became aggressive about posting samples of unusual comic strips at my other blogsite -- and almost immediately became enmeshed in a book project that, while cool, was so time-consuming that I had no time to scan strip selections.

And this website -- for which one of my goals was to post scans of early fanzines Don and I produced -- morphed, which complicated even that.

But it's May, the weather outside is gorgeous, and how better to celebrate that than to renew my pledge to blog! Excelsior!


Easter Is Coming

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's been some time since I've posted, and I'm aiming to do better. I'm now so entangled with online activities that it sometimes seems difficult to get anything else done. And then I duck out of handling this or that or the other aspect of my online life. In any case, as noted, aiming to do better. For example, I spent a chunk of this morning scanning a Walt Kelly story that appeared in Easter with Mother Goose (Dell Four-Color #103, copyright 1946 Oskar Lebeck, copyright not renewed) in order to post the complete story on the CBGXtra site. It wasn't till I looked at the copyright information that I realized that I must have bought my copy (which I used for scanning) when I was 3 and a half years old. I'd had no idea that my comic-book collecting began that young. All things considered (such as the year-after-year reading), it's in surprisingly good shape -- which is to say it's in "Poor" condition. Here's another page -- a stand-alone -- from that issue. (Easter comics are unusual in the field of comic-book publishing, but Kelly's contributions were outstanding.)


Non-Cartoon Animation in Coraline

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

As seems to be the case with the rest of adult humanity (though I wouldn't extend a viewing to little kids), I had a wonderful time with the film version of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. I was initially hostile to references to the film that identified only the director and screenwriter (Henry Selick wearing two hats), I must admit. But Selick did morph the original, even as he morphed the characters, settings, and everything else in the project. Among the aspects that impressed me was that, as I watched the (2D version of the) film, I failed to recall that it was stop-motion animation, not CGI. I've heard some people say that they liked the slight "imperfections" that reminded them it was stop-motion; I never noticed them. And the fact that I had actually seen and photographed some of the figures (such as the one on the right) at last year's Comic-Con International: San Diego never occurred to me as I watched the film.

I think the nearest 3D showing is in Madison; I'm hoping it'll still be there by the time weather permits an excursion.


Identifying Cartoonists

Monday, February 16, 2009

I was delighted to be able to purchase a cartoon that fits so nicely with the pop culture I love. But.

This cartoon, bought through a Heritage auction, is one I'm sure I've seen in the past -- almost certainly in a collection of magazine cartoons. Not only did it appeal to my affection for magazine cartoons in general, of course; it also touched that nerve of love for Old Time Radio shows -- and, for that matter, for Old Time Radio shows of the Mysterious Stranger type. You can see at once the challenge, though: Who the heck drew it? Frank, yes. But which Franks were active magazine cartoonists in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s? I consulted George Hagenauer, who put the probable age of the cartoon at earlier, rather than later. He initially guessed at Frank Beaven but then decided the art was better than most of what he's seen of Beaven's work. His guess at original publisher was Collier's, Liberty, or Saturday Evening Post.

Identifying cartoonists whose signature is not apparent has been an ongoing challenge in the field of original art, of course. Its most challenging current aspect is that of assigning credits on old comic-book stories. But that's not the only time it has me scratching my head.

Any guesses regarding credit for this cartoon?


Regarding Rob Siegel, The Wrestler, and Entertainment Weekly

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I just received Entertainment Weekly for January 23, 2009 -- and was delighted to read the following, in its Golden Globe coverage:

"Besties 4-Ever, Part 2: Mickey Rourke and His Dogs The best-actor-in-a-drama winner neglected to mention Wrestler screenwriter Robert Siegel -- but he did thank all his four-legged friends, dead and alive."

I've known Rob since his magnificent Onion-editing days in Madison, Wis., and I know The Wrestler has been a years-long project for him. Anyone who has followed the entertainment biz for a while knows that many of those responsible for massive successes are often ignored. Cheers to EW for not ignoring the creator fundamentally responsible for The Wrestler. Thanks, reporters Dave Karger and Lynette Rice!

(And we can all look forward to Rob's next project. Yay!)


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