Sunday, May 29, 2011
Sometimes one can see the incorrect statement that Rebel Without a Cause was based on this novel. In truth, Irving Shulman turned in his 164-page Rebel Without a Cause script and walked off the film project. But he somehow then swung a deal with Warner Bros. to write this novel (with Judy and Buzz developed as much tougher and meaner characters). He did do the novelization of West Side Story in 1961.

As evident by the Children of the Dark title and Mitchell Hooks cover illustration, one could have walked past this in 1956 totally unaware that it had anything to do with the film. As I recall, the opening chapter describes a party that turns into a fight with frozen food.

For more Mitchell Hooks, go here.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Milla Jovovich's "Gentleman Who Fell" is from her album, The Divine Comedy (1994). Milla said,"When I was first working on the sketch for the album cover, my mom introduced me to a young Russian artist named Alexey Steele. I looked at his sketch for the cover, and I saw that struggle, all the struggle that I'm singing about. It is the divine comedy." For more work by Alexey Steele, go here and click on "figurative paintings".

The 1993 "Gentleman Who Fell" video with Harry Dean Stanton was directed by Lisa Bonet. Milla wasn't happy with the result, so she made another video (1994), her homage to Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon.

Gentleman Who Fell (1994), directed by Kae Garner

Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Gentleman Who Fell (1993), directed by Lisa Bonet

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Monday, May 23, 2011
After many submissions, Roger Ebert recently won The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. My own entries never even become finalists. Here's one of my favorites. If you don't get it, turn it 90˚ clockwise or bend head sideways.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf

Craig Yoe, editor and designer. Introduction by Jerry Beck. Yoe Books/IDW, $29.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-60010-747-4

In the early 1930s, Bud Sagendorf’s sister worked in a Santa Monica art supply store where Popeye creator E.C. Segar bought his art materials. After she introduced the two, the 17-year-old Sagendorf soon had a job as Segar’s assistant on the Thimble Theatre comic strip.

For seven years, Sagendorf learned cartooning from the master. When Segar died in 1938, King Features inexplicably decided not to turn the strip over to Sagendorf. Instead, he was given a job laboring in the King Features bullpen.

In 1948, he began as the writer-artist of Dell’s Popeye comic books (a series he continued until 1962), and he took over the Thimble Theatre strip in 1959.

Craig Yoe notes that Sagendorf, in chalk talks and interviews, most often referred to his newspaper strip: “He rarely talked of his comic book work. Comic strips were Big Time. They had prestige and sometimes even financial reward. Comic books were low-rent, thought of as ‘only’ a kid’s medium, even greatly looked down on in some circles. But the comic books were a great artistic medium for Bud.”

Yoe offers nine color stories that were published between 1948 and 1957 with “a plethora of Popeye twister-sock punches, punchy art, and punch lines.” Yes, plenty of punches are thrown, including Popeye’s rotating “twisker-sock”. “Interplanetary Battle” (1952) pits Popeye against Jetoe, a shape-shifting Martian. “Shrink Weed” (1953), a wild adventure in which Popeye and Swee’pea are miniaturized and used for fish bait, was written a year after Mary Norton’s The Borrowers was first published, and it reads like a satire of Norton’s tiny family. In “The Happy Little Island” (1954) Popeye outwits the underground Dismal Demons who have caused happy islanders to become sad islanders. It’s evident that Sagendorf loved to create imaginative premises and see how Popeye, Wimpy, Olive Oyl and others would deal with the strange situations. It’s fun to go along on these fanciful flights, flowing easily from panel to panel.

The color restoration is effective except for a few conspicuous spots. Some other minor quibbles: An incorrect page number is given in a comparison of b/w original art with the printed color version. Captions in black type on a dark blue background are difficult to read even under a strong light.

As he has done with his other books, Yoe presents a fascinating selection of photos, memorabilia and relevant images, such as Sagendorf-inspired Popeye paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. There’s a 1938 Sagendorf cartoon from Popular Photography, an autographed flier from the 1977 installation of the Popeye statue in Segar’s birthplace, Chester, Illinois, and an “extremely rare” 16-page comic book Sagendorf drew for the Red Cross in 1946.

WWII Popeye postcards have spaces for servicemen to fill in their names and mail home. Outstanding is Sagendorf’s contribution to the 1956 Famous Artists Cartoon Course, pages showing basic drawing of objects and exteriors simplified in clean cartoon lines. Amid such delights are the humorous design devices one now expects from Yoe Studios: Page numbers throughout the book cleverly cascade from tiny cans of spinach (see page 43 above), and the front cover curves credits around a giant can of spinach.

Sagendorf’s life journey took him from Wenatchee, Washington, to Santa Monica to Manhattan to rural Connecticut to Florida. Bill Pearson, who wrote Popeye comic books after Sagendorf retired, recalled meeting him in Connecticut: “What a genius!... Sagendorf’s comic books were classics, completely his own, with a fascinating unique environment for the cast. He would fashion long, convoluted plots, with Popeye lost in strange places for pages, ruminating about his fate and the fate of the universe. Brilliant stream-of-consciousness tales, with plenty of action and suspense, and clever, silly cartooning that carried it all beautifully.”

Reading just a single story confirms that Pearson’s description is apt. Oddly, the National Cartoonists Society never gave Sagendorf any kind of award. They could make up for that shameful oversight by giving an award to Craig Yoe for delivering this attractive, eye-popping Popeye package.

Bud Sagendorf, at age 23, drawing the
Popular Photography cartoon seen above.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011
  Clarence Nash on What's My Line? (December 12, 1954)
Donald and Goofy: Clarence Nash and Pinto Colvig 

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Friday, May 13, 2011
  Click to enlarge Doug Moench/Russ Heath
©2011 Doug Moench
In the early 1970s, Doug Moench worked the graveyard shift at the Chicago Sun-Times handling the teletype machines from one am to nine in the morning. As the clacketing machines churned out copy, filling the floor with teletype paper, Moench wrote his scripts for Creepy and Eerie, beginning with "Snow Job" in Creepy #29 (September 1970). Not long after dawn, he would distribute the teletype stories to the news desks and then go home to sleep.

When Moench saw Roger Ebert in the hall, he told him a piece he had written about the Warren magazines had speculative guesswork and was somewhat off the mark. Ebert said, "Who are you?" Moench said, "I write those stories!" Ebert then introduced Moench to Richard Takeuchi, the editor of the Sun-Times' Sunday magazine, Midwest, and suggested to Takeuchi that he have Moench write a piece about scripting for Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.

Moench's article, "Confessions of a Ghost Writer", appeared in the June 25, 1972 issue of Midwest, accompanied by a full-color comics page, "The Mask Behind the Face", scripted by Moench and illustrated by Russ Heath, who felt he was being paid so well that he should deliver a full painting. It appears here in color for the first time since 1972. A b/w version was published in The Warren Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001). Before heading for New York to write for Marvel and DC, Moench contributed several other articles to Midwest in 1972-73. When one of those articles, a stream-of-consciousness reflection on violence in the Chicago subway system, was nominated for a Chicago Newspaper Guild Award, the entire Sun-Times staff, cued by syndicated columnist Bob Greene, broke into applause as Moench walked through the city room.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
  "Put out the lights and call the law!"

The legendary Billy Daniels sings "That Old Black Magic", by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, with Benny Payne on piano. Beginning in 1948, this became his signature song. His recording of "That Old Black Magic" sold 12,000,000 copies.

One seldom sees mention of Daniels' historic breakthrough: He was the first black performer to have his own sponsored network musical series, telecast on ABC in the fall of 1952.

Daniels became almost a forgotten figure over past decades, but since 2005, several CDs have brought back the magic.

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Monday, May 09, 2011
HBO's five-part miniseries of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce, directed by Todd Haynes, is a magnificent recreation of the 1930s, with a look influenced by the photographs of Saul Leiter. It features a multilayered performance by Kate Winslet and a haunting score by Carter Burwell. NY locations became LA, including the California bungalow-style stucco homes in Merrick, Long Island. As explained in the "Making of" film, the Gables community in Merrick was created to make Hollywood actors feel at home on the East Coast.

  Photo by Saul Leiter

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Like an artifact from a Philip K. Dick novel, the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was printed during World War II to be distributed during the German occupation of England. After WWII, the poster was shredded. It became a rarity, and only seven copies of the original poster are known to exist.
The revival began in 2001 after Barter Books (Alnwick Station, England) found the poster in the bottom of a box of books and began to sell facsimile copies. Sales escalated, and it eventually became the object of parody, such as "Keep Calm and Make Tea".
Now the poster's design and font has become influential. It's the apparent source for two film posters: The King's Speech and The Social Network. There's a shot in The King's Speech that briefly shows a "God Save the King" poster in the same style. Since Google Image doesn't bring up that poster, could that mean it was created for the film?

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Friday, May 06, 2011
Go Yoe @ Yoe Books

Barney Google: Gambling, Horse Races & High-Toned Women

Billy DeBeck, edited and designed by Craig Yoe, foreword by Richard Thompson. Yoe Books/IDW, $39.99 (248p) ISBN 978-1600106705

Craig Yoe does it again. His beautifully designed Barney Google presents nine months of Billy DeBeck’s daily strips from 1922, the memorable story sequence in which the racehorse Spark Plug was introduced. As one turns pages, Yoe’s brilliant skill as a designer, historian and visual editor becomes more and more evident, and it soon becomes apparent that he has planned this book like a race, taking the readers for a fast spin around the track. The front cover image, showing Barney atop Spark Plug, is from the cover of the rare Circulation magazine. With different coloring, this is the same drawing seen on the sheet music of the 1923 song hit “Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)” by Billy Rose. The Spark Plug stories and the song catapulted DeBeck to fame.

“And they’re off!” The book opens to a huge full-color endpaper image of a reluctant Spark Plug on the day of a race, followed by pages showing the start of the race and a striking 1932 pencil original by DeBeck. The title page is curiously absent the book’s catchy subtitle (which means it will never appear in some listings and reviews). However, it displays another stunning color cartoon spread across two pages. The inventive syndicated strip cartoonist Richard Thompson (Cul de Sac, Richard’s Poor Almanac) contributes a hand-lettered foreword, “Barney Google and the Bigfoot Style” with cartoon illustrations “after DeBeck”.

“The race is on!” Following that extended display, the book finally gets underway at long last with Yoe’s essay, “Google This!”, tracking DeBeck’s rise to riches and analyzing the appeal of his character: “He became a squat runt, maybe because he suffered the blow delivered by the very world he schemed to beat. Barney started as a Mutt and ended as a Jeff… The new diminutive stature was certainly responsible for much of Barney’s appeal, a weird kind of appeal. Barney was rogue, sometimes a scoundrel, for sure a philanderer, and the ASPCA frowned upon horse kickers. But like lovable loser Homer Simpson or pilfering pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, we like and are rooting for Bad Boy Barney.”

“Spark Plug takes the lead!” DeBeck springs to life in Yoe’s profile of the cartoonist, contrasting night life fun with drawing board desperation: “In New York, DeBeck partied hard as he and his pals didn’t believe in Prohibition, and the cartoonist had trouble keeping up with deadlines. The story goes that his frustrated editor locked DeBeck up without his pants in a hotel room, so he couldn’t escape until he caught up with his work.”

“Hi Yoe, silver!” DeBeck died in 1942, and four years later, the National Cartoonists Society was organized. Yoe recounts how DeBeck’s widow, Mary (who remarried as Mary Bergman), stepped in and said she would provide the prize for an annual award if it were in the name of her late husband. The award was a silver cigarette case engraved with DeBeck’s characters. Thus, the Barney Award was launched, but the selection was by a committee of one. Milton Caniff recalled, “Mrs. DeBeck arbitrarily decided who would win. I’ve never talked with anyone who was consulted about it… She just made the choice and presented the award and that was that.” An interesting angle, but Yoe missed the punchline, the strange story of how the NCS pulled the ol' switcheroo to deny DeBeck lasting fame: On February 14, 1953, Mary Bergman was flying from Tampa to New Orleans in a National Airlines DC-6 when a thunderstorm sent the plane plummeting into the Gulf of Mexico, where it broke in half. Even as the last bodies, bubbles and debris surfaced from the ocean floor, the National Cartoonists Society had already submerged the Barney, replacing it with the Reuben (named for Rube Goldberg, the first NCS president). To freeze the NCS’ instantaneous revisionist history, the 1946-53 winners were all given Reuben statuettes and designated as Reuben winners rather than Barney winners.

“Heading for the homestretch!” After a rundown of films, animation, books and comic book reprints, Yoe offers “A Billy DeBeck Scrapbook”, a savory salmagundi of sheet music, advertisements, Cupples & Leon books and promotional images. Further insight into the cartoonist’s lifestyle is seen in the many photos of DeBeck drawing cartoons, playing golf and living it up with his celebrity pals. Racing into the homestretch, Spark Plug is shown galloping into glory in the final color endpaper spread.

“The winner’s circle!” Yoe has succeeded in recapturing the golden era when the leading syndicated cartoonists lived like kings. With comic strip champions Woody Gelman and Bill Blackbeard receding into the past, Yoe has picked up the torch, illuminating panels and pages. His fine flair for creative design has propelled him into the designer pantheon as the Milton Glaser of comics, and this book is such a scintillating, splendiferous delight that one closes it eager to dive headfirst into Yoe’s other IDW titles.

July 17, 1922

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Thursday, May 05, 2011
  Death of Newspapers #19: The washable e-sheet
Only 15 years ago, people talked about how computers would not replace reading materials because you couldn't read a computer in the bathtub.


Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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