Sunday, February 28, 2010
  Synchronicity: What if we are all one entity only we don't know it? Why do people blink at the same time? Why do people yawn at the same time?

Contagious yawning. Studies of yawning usually mention visual cues. Once I was on a crowded NYC subway car and from my sightlines through the crowd I watched two people who could not see each other simultaneously yawn.

Film editor/sound designer Walter Murch on film edits synchronized with actor blinks.

Tamami Nakano study of synchronous eye blinks.

Conversation Piece from Michael Kontopoulos on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
  Serena Bramble's The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir

Serena Bramble

Serena Bramble's short film tribute to film noir created a sensation at the Castro Theatre's 8th annual Noir City Film Festival last month. This is on several blogs, as Bramble's brilliance brings a luminosity to flickering frames in the dark balconies of memory. A 20-year-old psychology student at Santa Rosa Junior College, she created The Endless Night with iMovie on her MacBook, commenting, "After many long hours, this is my tribute to my favorite genre, to the dark shadows and the profound despair of the soul." The music is "Angel" by Massive Attack. (Control click heading at top for David Raksin's "Laura".)

The films:
THE LETTER (1940, William Wyler. Bette Davis)
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941, John Huston. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor)
SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943, Alfred Hitchcock. Joseph Cotten)
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944, Billy Wilder. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray)
MURDER, MY SWEET (1944, Edward Dmytryk. Dick Powell)
SCARLET STREET (1945, Fritz Lang. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett)
LAURA (1945, Otto Preminger. Gene Tierney)
DETOUR (1945, Edgar G. Ulhmer. Ann Savage)
NOTORIOUS (1946, Alfred Hitchcock. Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman)
GILDA (1946, Charles Vidor. Rita Hayworth)
THE KILLERS (1946, Robert Siodmak. Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster)
THE BIG SLEEP (1946, Howard Hawks. Humphrey Bogart)
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946, Tay Garnett. John Garfield, Lana Turner)
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947, Orson Welles. Rita Hayworth, Welles)
OUT OF THE PAST (1947, Jacques Tourneur. Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum)
BRUTE FORCE (1947, Jules Dassin. Burt Lancaster)
FORCE OF EVIL (1948, Abraham Polonsky. John Garfield, Marie Windsor)
THE SET-UP (1949, Robert Wise. Robert Ryan)
THE THIRD MAN (1949, Carol Reed. Orson Welles)
CRISS CROSS (1949, Siodmak. Burt Lancaster, Yvonne de Carlo)
GUN CRAZY (1950, Joseph H. Lewis. John Dall, Peggy Cummins)
IN A LONELY PLACE (1950, Nicholas Ray. Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame)
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950, Huston. Sterling Hayden)
NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950, Jules Dassin. Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney)
SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950, Billy Wilder. Gloria Swanson, William Holden)
ACE IN THE HOLE (1951, Billy Wilder. Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling)
ANGEL FACE (1952, Otto Preminger. Jean Simmons)
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953, Samuel Fuller. Richard Widmark)
THE BIG HEAT (1953, Fritz Lang. Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin)
KISS ME DEADLY (1955, Robert Aldrich. Gaby Rodgers)
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955, Charles Laughton. Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish)
THE KILLING (1956, Stanley Kubrick. Sterling Hayden)
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958, Louis Malle. Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet)
TOUCH OF EVIL (1958, Orson Welles)
THE NAKED KISS (1964, Samuel Fuller. Constance Towers)

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Sunday, February 21, 2010
Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra by Herbert Schmalz

"Zenobia" is one of the stories I packaged in the early 1980s for Heavy Metal. It was published in the June 1983 issue which had a front cover illustration by Barclay Shaw. The story was scripted by me, drawn by Shawn McManus and painted by John Coffey.

I felt that acceptance of the science-fantasy situation with a "sense of wonder" could be facilitated in a smooth manner with pantomime panels rather than the intrusion of balloons. I seem to recall that the vehicle was originally intended to be a creature with organic wheels.

Zenobia was the name of the girl I sat behind in study hall when I was in junior high school. While I was reading science fiction magazines, I would occasionally whisper something over her shoulder, and without turning around, she would respond with soft laughter. I had her in mind when I titled the story. So there was that sf/female memory link, plus the name has a sort of exotic reverb. It has been used as a name for exotic characters in fiction by Robert E. Howard, Robert A. Heinlein, Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, William Golding and others. There was a real Queen Zenobia in the Third Century, as depicted in the painting at top by Herbert Schmalz. She was said to be more beautiful than Cleopatra.
© 2010 Bhob Stewart, John Coffey, Shawn McManus

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010
  Call Me Joe

Control click to read Poul Anderson's Call Me Joe here.

Listen to Poul Anderson's Call Me Joe, read by Warren James

Cover by Kelly Freas

To read hundreds of 1950-60 science fiction short stories, go to Matthew McClintock's Many Books.

Aspects of Avatar in classic science fiction

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Monday, February 15, 2010
  Topps #7: Wood Chips 16: Crazy Cards

These are Crazy Cards which Wood did in color for Topps in 1961. The series was planned as a parody of Ripley's Believe It or Not! The punch lines on the card backs featured line art by Wood with one added color. Wood had previously illustrated Ernie Kovacs' Strangely Believe It! for Mad in 1958. To see the entire Wood Chips series, click on the "wood chips" label at bottom. To see various card backs for this series, visit Steven Thompson's Hooray for Wally Wood.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

In 1972, after Russ Jones and I edited and designed several issues of Flashback magazine, we started doing a series of stories for Charlton's Ghostly Tales. In November 2008, I posted one of those, "Truck Stop", with the story-behind-the-story. Here's another, "Ghost Artist," which was just reprinted in Craig Yoe's The Art of Steve Ditko, published last month by IDW. Yoe positioned it as the concluding story in the book.

Russ had once worked as an assistant to Leonard Starr (Mary Perkins On Stage), and we would sometimes trade anecdotes about incidents at the Wally Wood studio and the Leonard Starr studio. These discussions eventually led us to script "Ghost Artist," a satire on the interactions of comic book and comic strip artists with their assistants.

You can spot first name references to Leonard Starr and Charlton editor Sal Gentile. I asked Charlton Spotlight editor-publisher Mike Ambrose about the transition at Charlton of editors Gentile and George Wildman, and he responded, "George's earliest editor credits appear in some of the late 1971 ghost books, and by January 1972 he was credited as editor across the line. Sal Gentile moved up into the magazine division, as had Pat Masulli before him. I don't know what happened to him after that, but he evidently died a few years ago, because I bought a group of his sketches and stuff from an estate sale in December 2002, from a Florida seller."

In the story, the name of comic strip artist Jimmy Elder is not a reference to Bill Elder. It's actually a combination of people Russ knew in the UK film industry--writer-director Jimmy Sangster and writer-producer Tony Hinds, who used the pseudonym John Elder. Sangster and Hinds scripted Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966). The name of our character Tony Sansom also combines Hinds and Sangster, since John Sansom was a pseudonym used at least three times by Sangster. Further, Russ devised his own pseudonym, Jack Younger, as the flip side of John Elder. In 1976-79, Russ used Jack Younger as his byline on a half-dozen or so horror-fantasy novels, including Claw, Curse of the Pharaohs, Demon, Devlin, Maniac!, Rest in Agony and Satan Sublets. However, to make it even more confusing, there are some comic book stories credited to "Jack Younger" which were actually scripted by me.

The "personal habits" sequence of "Ghost Artist" has specific references to Starr's "French cigarettes" and to Wood's overheated studio and his psychoanalytical reflections. Once Wood went into a self-analysis monolog and later left for an appointment, leaving me and Dom Sileo both working at the studio drawing tables. After some ten minutes passed, Dom said in frustration, "Why does he have to tell us all that?"

The ending of "Ghost Artist" is probably inspired by my memory of "Portrait of the Artist," Harry Harrison's short story about a comic book artist who is replaced by a computer. It was published in the November 1964 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and reprinted the following year in New Dreams This Morning, James Blish's memorable anthology of science fiction stories about musicians and artists. (Harrison became familiar with computer theory and gunsight computers during WWII when he was trained to repair the secret Sperry Mark I.)

Since Russ and I had written and illustrated several stories for Charlton by this time, we anticipated doing the artwork for "Ghost Artist," but Wildman instead gave the script to Steve Ditko. I was disappointed we weren't going to illustrate the story, but as you can see, Ditko brought an intensity with a striking contrast between the two characters. He also added a nice touch by making Jimmy Elder a caricature of Russ!

For another Ditko story about a comic book artist, "The Blue Men of Bantro," go to Yoe's arflovers.

Ghostly Tales #101 (January 1973)

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Saturday, February 06, 2010
  Death of Newspapers #14: Barney Google continued

These Barney Google Sunday pages are so rich, let's pick up where we left off on Death of Newspapers #10 (December 30).

August 15, 1926
August 22, 1926
August 29, 1926
September 5, 1926
September 12, 1926
September 19, 1926
September 26, 1926
October 3, 1926
October 10, 1926
October 17, 1926
October 24, 1926

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Thursday, February 04, 2010
  Death of Newspapers #13: Sideways comic strips

Control click header above to hear vaudevillian George Price sing his 1923 hit, "Barney Google with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes". Was this an influence on Doodles Weaver's "William Tell Overture"? Listen to the horse race near end. Weaver was 12 years old when this song was a hit.

Scroll down to see comments about earliest sideways strips by Ted Dawson and Roy Crane, and go here to see Ted Dawson's sideways strips. Here's one even earlier from comic genius Billy DeBeck, actually a horizontal/vertical hybrid.

February 3, 1937

For even more Ted Dawson illustrations and comic strips, go here.

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Monday, February 01, 2010
  Topps #6:
Basil Wolverton

©1973 Marvel Comics Group

This is a page from Marvel's Crazy #1 (October 1973). I had nothing to do with Crazy, but I was the instigating art director of these disemboweled, glutinous guts in slimy seepage from the fertile brain of Basil Wolverton.

For the full story, we must jump back five years earlier to Brooklyn in 1968, when I was on the staff of Topps Chewing Gum's Product Development Department. (See previous Topps posts.) With telephone and correspondence, I supervised Wolverton on a product with the working title, Ugly Posters. To get the project underway, I first wrote descriptions of curious characters and strange situations for a full line of posters.

Usually we began a product by creating cartoon roughs, but it was felt that this was not a good idea with Wolverton. We didn't want to box him in or somehow limit his imagination. Instead, Wolverton would send in small pen sketches of his convoluted concepts based on my short descriptions and pun-filled premises. When his roughs were approved, he would go to work on a large inked drawings. By this point in his career, he had switched from flexible pens to working with a Rapidograph (which might be evident if you make a close comparison of the lines with details in his earlier drawings). As I recall, he did about one complete poster a day for almost a month.

When the finished artwork came in, I created the color guides. Using color markers, I inserted the original art into a layout pad with backing on sheets that prevented marker ink from bleeding through the paper. Then they went to the Production Department for finished borders and display lettering. After that, the posters were printed for test marketing.

One of the drawings was rejected. I had written a description of an eyeball floating in a viscous fluid leaking from a gift package with ribbons. As you can see, Wolverton carried that idea to the very edge with an image so wild that the Topps executives chose not to print it. It went into storage. How it eventually arrived at Marvel Comics is something I never knew, but it probably came about because Topps editor Len Brown was friends with Marvel editor Roy Thomas.

Lastly, a copy of the art went to Harlan Ellison to write the science fictional runaround copy, and Harlan may never have known this artwork originated at Topps. I guess it's sort of like Frazetta's Buck Rogers art that was reworked to become a cover for EC's Weird Science-Fantasy (which I previously covered as ''The Rhythmic Bestiality of Frank Frazetta'' on August 12, 2008).

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

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