How Santa Got His Red Suit

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yesterday, I wrote of the wonders of Christmases past - especially the delight of reading classic comic-book stories to our kids on Christmas day. Today ended up especially busy (and I suspect things will not become less busy as December 25 approaches), so there's no time for an extended essay. However, I have a suspicion that this week's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast from National Public Radio (Tweet #PCHH) is going to have a mention (Dec. 10) of one of the stories I referred to yesterday. It's "How Santa Got His Red Suit," written and drawn by Walt Kelly, the lead story in the Dell Four Color comic book #61: Santa Claus Funnies copyright 1944 by Oskar Lebeck. If the PCHH gang chats about it, this is what they're talking about. Just saying.


Christmas Memories of The Three-Flavored Blizzard and More

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When our kids were young, our annual Christmas morning tradition was well-established. While Don, downstairs, turned on tree lights, prepared beverages and cold cuts and other such treats, set up the background music, and so on ... As I say, while he did all that, I'd sit with the kids upstairs, reading any of a number of classic Christmas comic-book stories. These included Walt Kelly's "The Great Three-Flavored Blizzard" from Dell's Four Color: Santa Claus Funnies #175 (copyright 1947 Oskar Lebeck), in which the Easter Bunny is confused by a lack of snow, and he and Fuzzychin (who always helps Santa at Christmas) visit Santa to find out the problem. That problem turns out to be that the machine that regulates the weather is stuck on "Summer." Of course.

It's only one of many delightful Christmas comics stories. Among my favorites are: Kelly's "How Santa Got His Red Suit," "A Mouse in the House," "The Three Blind Mice and a Christmas Deed," and "Hickory and Dickory Help Santa Claus"; Carl Barks' "Christmas on Bear Mountain," "The Golden Christmas Tree," and "Letter to Santa"; and Oskar Lebeck and Morris Gollub's "Santa and the Angel" and "A Letter to Santa."

Mind you, none of these is in print at the moment. Sometimes, people ask me, "Why do you collect comics?" And this is a reason: The only people who can read these stories are the people who (a) bought them and (b) kept them.


If You Could Only Pick One ...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A friend recently asked me what I'd recommend as the one comic-book that people should be advised to read. (OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, but let's move along.) I opted to consider something that would simultaneously reflect standard comic-book-character storytelling with an outstanding script and, if possible, something that would also let a new-to-the-field reader see a variety of art approaches. After more mulling, I decided that a good introduction for an adult who grasps the storytelling challenges of fantasy (which is, after all, what a huge percentage of today's comics consists of) would be The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman and illustrators Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and Malcolm Jones III. It reprints issues #17-20 of the comic-book series, so it's a sample of what can be found in an ongoing series. It's an anthology, so it's a sample of a variety of artistic approaches. It features an assortment of "what if" approaches for a fantasy character. At least one story ("Facade") ties into DC Comics continuity, analyzing what might seem to be a wonderful super-power, revealing the tragedy of what its reality would be. Another story is a World Fantasy Award-winning tale ("A Midsummer Night's Dream"). None of the tales is predictable; all are excellent. And there's the bonus of a behind-the-scenes look at how Gaiman approached a story, including the script he provided to the artist.

That was my choice and my reasoning. What would you have recommended? What has worked for you when you've tried to introduce comics to people who are interested - but new to comic books?


iPad .... because

Sunday, December 5, 2010

That's a header that will bewilder anyone who has no familiarity with the strange vagueness of a series of ads in 1950s magazines with sizeable female readerships. And, yes, I'm revisiting the general snickering that accompanied Apple's announcement of the name for its all-purpose lug-around computer thingy. (I'm a little surprised there didn't seem to be an immediate flood of fake iPad ads featuring gorgeous women in over-the-top formalwear with iPads discreetly Photoshopped into the images.)

The thing is, "iPad .... because" pretty much sums up the reason for my addiction to the thing (though I don't pretend to know why those '50s ads seemed to insist on four dots instead of the usual three in ellipses - trademark, maybe?). Today, again, I'd hauled my iPad with me to an event, and, when I began to use it (in this case, to note some upcoming dates in its Calendar app), folks stopped to ask what it was and how it worked and why I found it useful.

So. When I first heard about it, I thought, "Well, I'll get it in 2011, when they release the second version, because what do I need it for right now?" Then, I thought, "Well, maybe I'll treat myself with one for Christmas, because I hear good things about it." Then, I thought, "How about my birthday? I could get it for that." Then, I visited daughter Valerie, whose son has one, and I borrowed it for an evening, at the conclusion of which I asked, "Could we go to the Apple store tomorrow so I can buy one right away?" Because it's not just what so many have called it when I've showed it to them. It's not just "Maggie's toy."

I travel quite a bit. Not on the level of Neil Gaiman, who jets around the globe because so many people rightly want to see and hear him in person. Not on the level of businessfolks whose jobs take them hither and (especially) yon. But I'm often in locations I don't know well, away from entertainments of home, and I've found my carry-ons growing more and more heavy with an assortment of electronic thises and thats - and, even so, missing things I enjoy. So currently on my iPad (top of the line, with AT&T's 3G service, so I can connect lots of places without WiFi), I have (free, once I bought the thing) Calendar, Notes, Maps, iTunes, and iBooks apps. (Maps is of particular importance in my travels, showing me clearly how to get here or there by car, bus, or walking - and even showing me where I am at the moment: a help in some cities, let me tell you.) I've loaded a number of free apps (iMDb app for quick movie info, many books [especially Saki and Wodehouse at the moment], Marvel and DC apps, and a National Public Radio app. I also connect with the Internet via Safari and (and this was when I decided I had to have it) that lets me connect to Wisconsin Public Radio's two networks (Ideas and the News and Classical Music service) and its 24-hour classical music service so that I can listen to my favorite NPR programs, no matter where I am. I have not begun to explore the iPad's possibilities, though my daughter showed me one app I paid for: "Star Walk," which lets me identify the current constellations wherever I turn. (That's one that evokes an "Ooooooooo!" when I show it off - and, yes, that is a toy aspect, but hey ...)

Got an iPad? What's your favorite application?


Obsessing on Harry Potter

Saturday, December 4, 2010

At an American Association of University Women brunch this morning, I found myself once again discussing the wrap-up of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series with someone. And once again I found it intriguing that those who have read the novels divide into two camps: those who grasp the full meaning of what happens on page 658, the end of Chapter 32 - and those who don't. I missed it on first reading, I have no idea of how on earth filmmakers will be able to convey it (assuming they even make the attempt), and it's my favorite moment in the entire series. Oh - and I can't even discuss it at any length (or why my favorite character in the series is my favorite character in the series) because it's part of one of the Big Reveals of the entirety of the epic. But it really does divide the People Who Get It from the People Who Don't Get It about what happens to a major character.

All of which comes to mind because, having seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 twice now, I've been revisiting the entirety of that final book, listening (for the third time? the fourth?) to the marvelous unabridged (Grammy Award-winning) audiobook performed by Jim Dale. He holds the Guinness World Records record for most voices in an audiobook, and his career has included a number of pop-culture achievements, of all of which that I have seen or heard, I am an admirer. His performance in the Rowling series is the reason I tried to "read" each of the novels first via his audiobook readings: That's how good they are. [And I note to my dismay that, at least from Amazon, the audiobook of Deathly Hallows is out of "print" as a stand-alone release. Dang!]

In any case, my point is that I know many people who have been following the Potter tale only through the movies - and, as the wrap-up of that format nears, I'd just like to encourage anyone who has enjoyed the epic in that form to check out the books before the final installment hits theaters. Most fun, as I say, are the audiobooks. But, whatever the format, you're missing wonderful, rich storytelling if you've skipped the books.


Have You Ever Heard of Chicago Cartoonist R. Guerrieri?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Every now and then, we get involved with what we around here have taken to calling "Whatzit Day." Since Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., has a decades-long focus on collectibles, some of us occasionally sit at tables to which people with Weird Stuff can bring said Weird Stuff. And we try to identify it and (when we can) try to come up with some sort of valuation for it. It's not Antiques Roadshow. But we do our best. However, this year, we were challenged by something we thought we'd be able to identify right away. And we failed miserably. So here's a challenge - and my guess is that it will remain a challenge for months to come. What you see here is a portion of a cartoon pretty obviously done as a gift to the pictured gentleman. There are all sorts of inside jokes and identifying hints: A note reading, "Dear Harry Who [old?] is my son Geo. A. [?] Peck." Socks labeled "white socks." A drawing of him diving off a board and wearing a swimsuit label "IAC." [The Illinois Athletic Club was active in the teens of the 1900s and actually dominated competitive U.S. swimming then.] He's a Shriner. He's shown driving a new car "cheaper than having the old one fixed up" - of a model looking like vehicles from around 1915.

The signature seems to read "R Guerrieri" - and we can't find anything about him, though the drawing is excellent. And that's pretty much all we could tell.

Could he be U.S. Attorney George R. Peck from Chicago? We haven't been able to find a photo of him. And, when I say, "we," I include here "Mrs. D," who is the person who brought the art to us in the first place. It's large, it's framed, and among the details of the framing are a number of actual dollar bills, fanned in to cover the corner mountings. She is refurbishing a Victorian house, furnishing it appropriately, and she encountered the art in the course of her project. You'll find another shot of the art in her blog entry for Oct. 15, 2010 - with more background on its origin (though our car experts, as I've already noted, place the probable date as closer to 1915 than 1925).

Are there any detectives out there? Who's the artist? Who's the subject? What was the reason for the drawing? Any ideas?


The Importance of - HUH?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I've always loved Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. I have no idea of when I first read it; by now, I've memorized portions of the play to such an extent that I can say the lines just before the characters do in my favorite version of it. And my favorite version is the 1952 film by Anthony Asquith, starring such performers as Michael Redgrave and Dame Edith Evans ("A handbag?"), not to mention Dorothy Tutin in her screen debut and the husky-voiced Joan Greenwood. I saw that film on TV long before we had a color set; in fact, I find I tend to think of it in retrospect as being in black and white - which it isn't. And, recently, I wondered whether it had made its way to DVD. That resulted in one of those "oh, boy!" moments followed by one of those "oh, heck!" moments. Because it was (oh, boy!) available on DVD but it was (oh, heck!) only available as part of "The Criterion Collection" (aka "a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films," aka "it'll cost $10 or so more than if it came from some other source").

Now, among the reasons for higher prices for Criterion releases is the excellence of its supposedly meticulous transfers. On the insert sheet, there's a credit for audio restoration. "This digital transfer," moreover, "was created from a new 35mm composite print. The soundtrack was mastered from the 35mm optical soundtrack. Audio restoration tools were used to reduce pops, clicks, hiss, and crackle." And, yes, it sounds fine. But. But. But. A mere 3 minutes 53 seconds into the feature, I'm startled to see, twitching into top-of-screen center, a hair. A hair? In a flippin' Criterion edition? And it wasn't for a few frames; the hair twitched and wiggled impertinently from 3:53 to 5:44, nearly two minutes during which I lost track of the polished performances of Redgrave and Michael Denison in my increasingly disbelieving fascination with something I'd never expected to see from Criterion.

Oh, well, maybe Criterion will reissue the film someday in which it'll boast it's repaired the picture (which, yes, does still have other, more easily overlooked, imperfections) as well as the audio. And I am glad to have even a hairy copy of a delicious play. In fact, my purchase of this version reminded me that I'd also enjoyed the BBC version (starring, among others, Gemma Jones, Paul McGann, and Joan Plowright), so I grabbed that, too, via the BBC's The Oscar Wilde Collection. Hot dog! Four Wilde plays for a lot less than Criterion. But, then, I already commented on the price point, didn't I?

(Oh, and in case anyone wondered: Both the 1952 motion picture and the 1988 BBC TV release outdo the sadly pedestrian 2002 film with Colin Firth. Leonard Maltin commented, "This time, unfortunately, the tone is all wrong: the actors are terribly, terribly coy, the comedy much too self-aware." Yep. And it's just plain tiresome. So, even if you saw that version, do try one of the earlier releases; I'm sure your library will be able to get you a copy.)


Every Time I Think I'm Well Informed about Comics ...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I've just come from one of my favorite shops: Half Price Books - in this case, the outlet in Appleton, Wis. After a quick ramble through the store, I'd found nothing and was preparing to leave, when I decided to glance through the "books of comics" section. (That is to say, there's an accumulation of everything from Spirit pop-ups to random fifth volumes of reprint collections.) And I came across Rick Random Space Detective, a thick softcover subtitled 10 Classic Interplanetary Comic Book Adventures. It's from Prion in England, but it's "published under license from DC Comics." The book is edited by Steve Holland, and a quick online check (thank you, iPad) while waiting for friends in a nearby restaurant provides more details about a 2008 book I hadn't known about before.

Its contents consist of reprints of stories from British digest comics from Super Detective Library, and I guess I know what I shall read until my friends show up. (I will update this post tomorrow, you can bet.) I love used bookstores.

Update #1: At least two of the stories are by Harry Harrison. Details here. I've also linked to that online check my iPad provided in which details (dates, some creators) that would have (should have, I think) been provided in the volume itself are available. (In fact, I think I'll copy and print the information and tuck it into the book. But my goodness.) I also note the online community provides a bit of information as to why DC Comics holds the license. The more you learn about comics, the more there is to learn.


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