Monday, December 27, 2010
  Robbie in the Land of Lore
Here is Robbie, scripted by Len Brown and illustrated by Al Williamson during the 1960s. This was an effort by Brown, Williamson and Woody Gelman to create a syndicated comic strip that would bring back the epic era of such imaginative strips as Little Nemo and Prince Valiant. Two pages were created as samples, but the days of full-page strips had already faded into the past.

The copies I have were too big for my scanner, so I had to do them in sections and then use Photoshop to jigsaw the pieces together. I then saved the final images very large so the little details Williamson drew can be easily studied. Here's how Len Brown remembers this project:

Woody and I had talked about seeing if a fantasy Sunday page could be sold (with a tip of the hat to Nemo of course). We bucked the trend at the time, because full page Sunday strips were gone with the exception of an occasional paper that still ran Prince Valiant full size. In the early 1960s that was rare.

We commissioned Al to draw two Sunday pages as a sample for the syndicates. I know we submitted it to King Features and perhaps one other syndicate. I remember one of the syndicates gave nice feedback and suggested we redraw it as a daily. But I guess it was tough to get Al on it, as we didn't pay him a lot of money, and he was in demand during those days. The nature of the two
Robbie pages didn't lend themselves to statting them down to a daily strip.

The artwork was lost when Woody accidentally left it outside his office one evening. The cleaning folks were used to thinking of anything outside an office was trash. I was heartbroken, Woody felt terribly about it, and I don't believe we ever told Al the sad truth. We paid him $75 a page for each of the two pages.

- Len Brown

© copyright 2010 by Len Brown

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Sunday, December 26, 2010
Through the 1950s, Ed Emshwiller did annual Christmas covers for Galaxy, all featuring his four-armed Santa character. Note the 1956 issue with coffee pot spaceship design. In the background of the 1957 cover, Carol Emshwiller holds daughter Eve Emshwiller.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010
  Wood Chips 24: Sunset on Mars

Click "Wood Chips 24" heading at top to hear Ray Bradbury's "Mars Is Heaven" on X Minus One  (1955). EC's adaptation was in Weird Science 18 (March-April, 1953). Following the Wood panels while listening offers a textbook example of specific differences in adapting a short story for radio and comics. Wood's research into period architecture is seen throughout amid lush vegetation, and he also drew what he knew; between 1937 and 1940, he lived in four different small towns in Wisconsin.

Drawing Green Lake, Wisconsin (a real place), he filled the interiors with such Victoriana as a roll-top desk and a shelf for displaying dishes. Surely Bradbury must have been delighted the first time he saw Wood's interpretation of his story. But note the curious window on page five which has four panes on the bottom sash and six on the top sash (which fills two-thirds of the window frame). This is similar to Wood's "There Will Come Soft Rains" error of the automobile preventing the automatic garage door from opening and closing.

©copyright 2010 by WMG estate and Ray Bradbury

H.B Vestal was the first illustrator of "Mars Is Heaven" in Planet Stories (Fall 1948).

1890s Queen Anne style Victorian homes in Wisconsin. (Top two images are the same building from different angles.)

To read the entire Wally Wood "Spawn of Mars" story, go to Cloud 109. It was published in EC's Weird Fantasy 9 (September-October, 1951).
To read the entire 3D "Spawn of Venus" story. go to Golden Age Comic Book Stories. It was created for an unpublished EC 3-D title (1954), but it was never published by EC.

In 1968, to get the original art for the Nostalgia Press EC reprint book, I went with Bill Gaines and Jerry DeFuccio to the real vault of horror, a midtown storage facility where Gaines kept the art for each of his comic books in large individual manila envelopes. I remember this as a large, dimly lit room with a concrete floor and locked storage rooms somewhat like small trailers. These had to be pulled out and unlocked. It was necessary to set up a work light on a stand inside the storage trailer so Jerry DeFuccio could locate each envelope. Gaines pulled a story from each envelope and handed the envelope back to Jerry. Then I stacked each story on a nearby table.

Earlier, when I told Wood I was going to Gaines' vault, he asked me to retrieve his 3-D sf story, "The Spawn of Venus", so he could use it in witzend. That was the first time Wood had seen the artwork in 15 years, and he then published it in witzend 6 (1969).

©copyright 2010 by WMG estate and Bill Pearson

To see all of the "Spawn of Venus" pencil pages, go to stwallskull.

To read the entire Al Feldstein "Spawn of Venus", go to Entre Comics. It was originally in Weird Science 6 (March-April, 1951).

Above images ©copyright 2010 by WMG estate.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010
  Ken Nordine and Word Jazz: "How are things in your town?"
I interviewed Ken Nordine in the early 1980s in the lounge at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. When he saw my tape recorder, he remarked, "Ah, an antique!" Unfortunately, the tape was lost before I made a transcript.

Equally regrettable, I missed seeing Fred Astaire and Barrie Chase dance to Nordine's "My Baby" on Another Evening with Fred Astaire (telecast November 4, 1959). Decades passed before I was able to see it at last, thanks to YouTube. Here it is, below, at the 2:50 mark.

Barrie Chase is the sister of the actor-writer Frank Chase and the daughter of the Westerns screenwriter Borden Chase, who was Oscar-nominated for Red River. (Frank Fowler devised his Borden Chase pseudonym by combining Borden Milk with the Chase Manhattan Bank.)

Barrie Chase was so fluid and flawless, it's easy to see why Astaire chose her as his dancing partner on his four TV specials (1958-68). She retired in 1970 and moved to Venice, California. For her book The Dancer Within, Rose Eichenbaum interviewed Chase in 2005.

This late 1970's Levi's commercial was a variation on Ken Nordine's "Flibberty Jib" recording on his 1957 album Word Jazz. In 1977, Nordine explained the origin of "Flibberty Jib": "It grew out of the religious revival meetings that my mother used to take me to when I was a child. These fundamentalist preachers would get up in front of a crowd and try to pass off their words as wisdom. It was quite a disillusionment to find out that most of them had clay heads as well as clay feet. Well, you could take it one step further and apply it to politicians, or even rock stars--anyone placed in a position of great popularity who could use that notoriety to influence a lot of people."

Tour of Ken Nordine's studio on the third floor of his house.

In Nordine's 1991 demo of the Video Toaster he uses his signature "talking-to-himself" motif of overlapping tracks. On his Word Jazz radio program, this often was used to create a stream of consciousness effect, giving the impression of thinking rather than speaking. Thus, Nordine took the familiar fictional device of an interior monolog and gave it a heightened techno boost.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
  Wood Chips 23: The Rejects
Below is "The Rejects" from witzend 4 (1968), script and layouts by me, pencil art by Wally Wood, lettering by Bill Yoshida and inking by Wood with some inks by Dom Sileo.

Here's the story behind the story: At the time, a half-hour animated TV series concept of science-fiction humor seemed ideal for Wood. Such a show would have been unique then, and his juxtaposition of diverse, bizarre, funny characters made the idea appealing. Paramount was interested. As Wood requested, I took his individual character sketches and pencilled a presentation, grouping them together (much like "The Rejects" splash). Wood inked the board, added a b/w wash and delivered it to Paramount. Right on cue, Paramount chose that same month to close down its cartoon studio (December 1, 1967). End of brilliance.

Wood was immediately suspicious, believing that Ralph Bakshi, who had headed the Paramount cartoon studio, was secretly selling his animated sf concept elsewhere. He explained, "We have to copyright the characters, Bhob, so write a story that includes all the characters, and we'll publish it in witzend." I left and came back the next day with three pages of roughs. Before Bill Yoshida's son arrived to take the story away to be lettered by Yoshida, Wood made two changes. He deleted a complicated, labored pun on a line from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". ("Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.")

In the splash panel, he added a simple, wonderful phrase spoken by the lead character, I.Q., directly to the reader: "There are Good Guys and Bad Guys and the job of the Good Guys is to kill the Bad Guys." Wood was enamored of such mirth maxims and philosophical aphorisms. He devised or recalled them constantly, proclaiming them (in his near whisper) as he worked at the drawing table. But his "Good Guys" line struck me then, and still does, as multileveled. On the surface, it is a satirical reduction of a basic premise in genre fiction. It served as an insightful self-commentary on Wood's encounters and conflicts with art directors--and it also stands as Wood's summation of the true nature of life on Earth.

Larry Hama liked my "who walks on four legs" gag sequence so much that he borrowed it and reworked it into the Sally Forth adventure where she goes to Mars. "L. Sprague de Freeb" was a name Wood had used previously, I forget where. Since I had once met L. Sprague de Camp and listened to him drone on in a somewhat pedantic manner, I thought the name was hilarious and worked it into the dialogue.

John Barth's 1960 novel, The Sot-Weed Factor, is referenced in the next-to-last panel; it had a Doubleday Anchor paperback reprint about the time I wrote "The Rejects" in 1967. Barth was himself referencing Ebenezer Cooke's poem, "The Sotweed Factor, or A Voyage to Maryland, A Satyr" (1708), which some consider the first American satire.

The character of Kenneth Banghead was Wood's amusing twist on the veteran NBC newscaster of the 1940s and 1950s, Kenneth Banghart (who had a slight resemblance to Jonathan Winters).

©copyright 2010 by Bhob Stewart and Bill Pearson

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010
  What is Ken Jennings?
IBM announced today that their Watson computing system will compete on Jeopardy! against the show’s most successful contestants—Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

The Jeopardy! competition will be telecast over three consecutive days (February 14-16, 2011). Grand prize will be $1 million, with second place earning $300,000 and third place $200,000. Rutter and Jennings will donate 50 percent of their winnings to charity. IBM will donate 100% of its winnings to charity.

In December 2009, the Jeopardy! producers got their first demo of Watson (named after IBM's founder). Producer Harry Friedman said, “We’re thrilled that Jeopardy! is considered a benchmark of ultimate knowledge. Performing well on Jeopardy! requires a combination of skills, and it will be fascinating to see whether a computer can compete against arguably the two best Jeopardy! players ever.”

For more details about Watson, go here.

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Monday, December 13, 2010
  Wood Chips 22: Lunatickle

Below is a totebag issued by the Lunarians, the New York science fiction organization which has been staging conventions since 1957. They also used this as a color image in their logo for the 2009 Lunacon.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010
  Dig We Must!
Bill Elder and Harvey Kurtzman introduced Melvin Mole in Mad #2 (December 1952 - January 1953). (See last two pages of "Mole!" below.) Previously, I  compared that with the subject of the satire, Chester Gould's Mole in Dick Tracy of 1941-42.

But now take a look at this, which I just ran across. Obviously, Howard Nostrand was influenced by Elder/Kurtzman when he drew this page for Witches Tales #21 (October 1953).

Three words are missing in the final caption, as evident in the panel at right. Over the years, the rubber cement dried and line corrections fell off the art, sometimes becoming lost.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010
  Topps #9: Wacky Packages
I have a memory lapse when I try to recall which Wacky Packages and Wacky Ads I devised over 35 to 40 years ago. I know one of them was the dog shaving with Rabid Shave and another was the Mustard Charge card. (See below.)

Of course, all the Wackys were much smaller than the actual products, and the main reason I did the Mustard Charge sticker was because I wanted to do a Wacky Package that could fool the eye by being the exact same size as the product being satirized.

A news story today is about the cyber attacks on Visa and MasterCard. So far as I know, no one has ever hacked into Mustard Charge.

The 1973 New York cover story is headlined Wacky Packs. I never quite understood why Topps didn't change the name to the more euphonic Wacky Packs, since that's what kids called the cards and stickers.

The usual procedure was to first go to a store, buy some products and study each until a gag came to mind. Then it was a matter of embellishing the main premise with related gags.

Working on a layout pad, one could sketch out the gag and then put the rough under another layout sheet to tighten the drawing. After inking with a Rapidograph, the rough was then colored with markers. If the color rough were accepted, editorial changes might or might not be written on it, and it would then be used as a color guide for the final art.

Back then, Topps was still in Brookyn at the Bush Terminal in Sunset Park (the setting for the new Paul Auster novel, Sunset Park). The Bush Terminal is a huge complex, used during World War II for the shipping of troop supplies to Europe. There was a plan during the 1990s to turn it into Silicon Valley East, but that never got underway.

In Topps' Product Development Department, there was a central area where secretary Faye Fleischer sat near banks of file cabinets. Creative director Woody Gelman used these to file away all rough gags, possible ideas, clippings and even various kinds of paper stocks, along with tricks, gimmicks, pop-up oddities, lenticular images and cardboard novelty items.

Gelman and writer-editor Len Brown had adjacent offices that opened into Faye's area, as did my office, which was near the offices of the imaginative Art Spiegelman, designer Rick Varesi and gagwriter Stan Hart, who had married into the company and came in only one day a week. Hart wrote the Mad movie satires and later was a two-time Emmy-winner as a scripter for The Carol Burnett Show. A door on the other side of Gelman's room led to the office of the clever cartoonist and entertaining raconteur Larry Riley, whom I described in the third installment of this series about Topps. Sometimes Jay Lynch came to New York and worked periodically in the Product Development Dept.

Each day when I entered the building, as I recall, I went past a small sign that read, "Uneeda Doll Co." The floor of my office could get quite hot, and one day I peered into the ground floor area occupied by the Uneeda company and saw fumes rising from giant boiling vats. Later I began to wonder if seepage from those fumes is why we were all going wacky in Product Development.

One day in the summer of 1968, I told Woody I was going out, left the overheated office, exited the Bush Terminal and turned on 3rd Avenue toward Bay Ridge, perspiring as I walked through the broiling Brooklyn heat to a distant supermarket. At that time of day, the place was almost deserted. I wandered the aisles, sometimes just standing and reading the copy on containers to see what might be twisted into something goofy.

I looked up and noticed the store manager at the end of an aisle, staring at me. Since my actions were not those of a usual grocery shopper, he thought I was getting ready to steal something. After making my purchases, I headed back to Topps, carrying a paper bag filled with parody potentials, including a can of frozen orange juice concentrate.

I set these up near my drawing table, locked up and took the train back to Manhattan. When I opened the office door on Monday morning, there was a surprise. With the heat rising to a bake oven temperature during the weekend, the orange juice had exploded, leaving an orangey stickiness scattered over the drawing table and the wall. It was still stuck to the wall when I left New York and moved to Boston.

Google Street View screenshot at right shows where Topps was located at 254 36th Street in Brooklyn. At left is corner of 36th Street and 3rd Avenue where Woody Gelman and Len Brown would park their cars beneath the Gowanus Expressway.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Below is my interview with Dave Gibbons as it appeared in The Comics Journal 116 (July 1987). The intro mentions the cover's hidden image which is perhaps easier to spot in a smaller size. See reduction at right. Then enlarge to see the typo discussed in the first paragraph of the interview. 1986 photo of Dave by Jackie Estrada.

Now, some 23 years later, one can follow him on Twitter by going to Dave Gibbons, where he recently announced, "I'm currently halfway through my first all digital story. Will post teaser soon."

Parts two and five of six-part demo.

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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