Thursday, June 28, 2012
  Mad Style Guide #4: Angelo Torres
As requested long ago, here are more pages from the very rare Mad Style Guide, which I edited in 1994 with Joe Orlando, then the associate publisher of Mad. Needed were images that could be used on T-shirts and other merchandising. I walked uptown to a T-shirt shop at Sixth Avenue and 57th Street with a copy of Mad and had the cover imprinted on a T-shirt to show a prototype to the DC Licensing Department. Joe came up with the idea of having Angelo Torres do b/w ink copies of past Mad cover paintings. The Mad #58 cover is by Kelly Freas, and Mad #238 is by Jack Rickard.

Production of the Mad Style Guide was by the designer Judy Reiser, author of a series of books on irrational human behavior (And I Thought I Was Crazy). For more, see her website.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012
  Fridge #3
When Russ Jones and I did Tales from the Fridge in 1973, the fast-food parody centered around the marketing of the Globalburger. With the help of Paula Clark, we concocted a recipe; we did test and eat the Globalburger. Bon appétit!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012
  Topps #19: Len Brown

This photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell of classic country DJ Len Brown at his home in Dripping Springs, Texas, kicks off a profile of Len by Joe Gross in the June 16 edition of the Austin American-Statesman. Behind him is the Wally Wood Weird Science cover that gave him the idea for Mars Attacks. My article on Len was the very first Potrzebie post on October 21, 2005.

From boyhood fun to a career

by Joe Gross

In the Good Book, St. Paul makes the case for putting away childish things. But there is also something to be said for making your boyhood interests into a career. This was the route that Len Brown took. "I still love comics, country music, early rock ‘n' roll, science fiction, movies and baseball," the 70-year-old Brown says as we sit in his Dripping Springs home. To wit: In his 40 years at the card and novelty company Topps, Brown wrote the backs of baseball cards, co-created Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids, and wrote the card series Mars Attacks!...

Continue reading here.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

George E. Studdy (1878-1948) created Bonzo the dog in the early 1920s, and the bull terrier became a merchandising bonanza in the UK. Bonzo made the leap to the USA in the mid-1920s when the Crosley company manufactured a small radio receiver called the Crosley Pup and adopted the dog as their mascot. The Crosley Bonzo wore headphones (the way most people listened to radio broadcasts then) in an apparent parody of RCA Victor's Nipper character.

Vivian Stanshall (1943-1995) intros "The Intro and the Outro" on the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's debut album, Gorilla (1967). Click for this great guide to the puns, personnel and people, fictional and otherwise, cited in the tune. And here for the massive Stanshall Archive. Do not adjust your set.


In the style of "The Intro and the Outro", Stanshall did the narration for Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (1973). A portion of Tubular Bells was used in the soundtrack of William Friedkin's The Exorcist that same year.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
  Tom Conroy #7: Captain Trips
More hitchhiking memories from Tom Conroy...

Going Down the Road

by Tom Conroy

This is back when I was a teenager living in Arizona. I was 16 and had already dropped out of high school. Actually, they politely asked me to leave. I was so far behind in my grades that I would not graduate until I was 23. This was my first real long trip on the road.

I was coming back from San Diego to Tucson. I was hitching with a cardboard box filled with about 150 old comic books all wrapped in plastic. It was night, and I was in El Centro when a car pulled over. The car jumped the curb, crossed the sidewalk, and when it came to a stop, it was sitting on the grass in a small park. Being that I was young and dumb, I actually got in the car. The driver was a drunk Mexican, and the floor was covered with booze bottles. He told me he also was going to Tucson and off we went.

It was after a couple of miles that I realized I had just made a grave mistake. We were on a four-lane highway with a guardrail down the middle. About 25 miles ahead of us was the small town of Holtville. These four lanes of traffic bottlenecked into two lanes and then crossed over a bridge just before going into town. Now this guy was swerving all over the road and would slow to five mph and then back to 40 mph. A couple times I grabbed the wheel and brought the car back on the road. I knew this guy wasn't going to get across that bridge. I had slept under the bridge with the bullfrogs on the trip into San Diego. The drop-off was at least 60 feet. I told him I wanted to visit my grandmother, so he should let me off on this side of the bridge. He stops, and I get out. I'm standing there watching him go across. I couldn't fucking believe it. The guy went in a perfect straight line with no swerving. He gets on the other side, makes a left turn and drives through town.

A few minutes later the next car to come along gives me a ride. When I get in, the guy says, "Hey, kid. What happened? You’re as pale as a ghost." While we were cruising through to town, I tell him what happened.

A couple miles on the other side of town we come up behind the drunk. He is swerving all over the road, and the guy I'm with makes an instant U-turn back into town. He tells me he is an ex-cop, and he starts doing an SOS with his car horn. Beep, beep beep. Three beeps and then a pause. He tells me if there is a cop out there, he will hear us. Beep, beep, beep, as we go shooting through town. Sure enough, on the other side of town, a cop is standing there waving us down. He pulls up and yells, "Drunk driver. Follow us." We go zooming back through town again. The cop is behind us with all his lights blazing away. It seemed like forever before we caught up with the drunk. All of a sudden we see a huge dirt cloud, and we slow down and stop. Chunks of dirt are still falling down and landing on our car. The drunk guy’s car is on its side about 60 feet off the road. The wheels are still spinning. It must have flipped at least once. All we can see is the bottom of the car and this big dust cloud.

The cop runs up to the car. He shines his flashlight into the front windshield. Then he climbs up on the car and shines the light into the two side windows. I don't know what he saw, but by the look on his face it wasn't very nice. The cop asked us questions, and we talked to him for about five minutes, both of us telling our stories. He thanked us and then said, "I'm sure glad it happened here. We got a bus full of kids coming back from a game." We drove off into the night. About half an hour later we passed the school bus on its way into town.

In the summer of 1961, when I was 18, I had talked Roger Brand into hitching back with me to New York City. We hitched from Pinole, California, down to LA to visit with Joel Beck. Joel was staying at the YMCA in Glendale and could only have one person stay in his room at night. That's where Roger stayed. I stayed in my sleeping bag under the front steps of the Y for a couple nights until somebody ratted me out. Big boss man told me I couldn't sleep there, so I searched for another place to go beddy-bye. Around the corner there is a big fancy church with a nice churchyard. In the yard are four big cement benches. They were just the right size, and at night I would crawl under one of the benches with my sleeping bag and go to sleep.

I awoke one morning with another one of those "Oh, shit" moments. The first thing I see is the back of a woman's legs. She is in stockings and high heel shoes and is about three feet from my nose. Then it hits me. It's Sunday morning, and all the people are hanging out in the churchyard after services. All I'm thinking is, "Now what do I do?" After a minute or so the woman walks away, and I decide it is time for me to get out of there. I crawl out from under the bench dragging my sleeping bag behind me. I don't even look at anybody as I walk through a crowd of at least 25 people with my head hanging down. There is this uncanny dead silence as I walk over to the sidewalk. I roll up the sleeping bag and just keep going. I don't even look back. It was the most embarrassed I had ever been.

When on the road just finding a place to sleep can be an adventure. A couple years later I was heading East on old Route 66. I was at this tourist trap in New Mexico. The place was all fixed up to look like the street of an old Western town. They had a stagecoach out in front that would give the tourists a ride. It took them around a quarter-mile circle and then brought them back to the front. Across the highway were a bunch of old buckboards and wagons. I'm there late one night and decide the best place to sleep was inside an old covered wagon. Not bad. It was nice and cozy.

I woke up in the morning when I heard people outside the wagon talking. I stuck my head out and scared the shit out of two little kids and their father. Daddy was taking photos of little Johnny and Suzy standing next to the wagon. This is when I first had long hair and a beard. I freaked the shit out of all three of them. The kids were yelling and screaming and daddy grabbed them and ran across the highway. They jumped in their car and locked the doors.

I'm heading East on Route 66 and this guy picks me up somewhere outside of LA and gives me a ride to Barstow. He was driving this big fancy new car. Maybe a Lincoln or Cadillac. A real nice car. He was about ten years older than me and talked about how he had hitched around the country when he was my age. How when he ran out of money he would get some two-bit job for a couple weeks. Then take off again when he had a few bucks saved up. He said he traveled with the wind for four or five years and had a great time. Then he got married and had kids. Now he had a good job and was making lots of money. We swapped road stories until he dropped me off. He even took me a few extra miles out of town and left me at a good place for hitching.

It was now nighttime, and the place had a lot of good lights and a place to eat. When I got out of the car he offered me some money. He took a $20 bill out of his wallet, and when I reached in through the open window he grabbed my hand. He started crying like a baby. He said, "Hey, kid. Don't let them do to you what they did to me. Keep traveling. Don't sell out. Stay free as long as you can. The only time I was really happy was when I was on the road. The one thing you can't buy is freedom." Then he drove off into the night. A weird feeling came over me. Like I had just received some kind of sacred knowledge from a holy man. I ate good all the way to New York.

What I liked about the road was the people you would meet. A lot were guys who had hitched around during the Depression and also combat veterans from World War II and Korea. One vet picked me up in Missouri. He had hitched around after the war because he said he "couldn't go home". He was bored. This was the guy who had been at Camp Roberts when my dad had died saving a bunch of guys that were drowning during a training exercise. They were caught on barbed wire under the water. He asked, "Was that your dad who was on the baseball team?" When I said, "Yes", he said he was there that day. The first thing he did when I got in the car was he bought me a meal. Afterwards he gave me a couple bucks. He said he does that with everybody he gives a ride to because he remembers all the times he went hungry. This guy repaired vacuum cleaners for a couple of motel chains and traveled though about six or seven states.

Another veteran was a guy who traveled around inspecting and repairing billboards for a billboard company. The same story I heard so many times before. "After the war I found it hard to settle down. I bummed around for years. Now I'm getting paid to bum around."

This was another trip to see Roger Brand. I was still 18. Walking across a freight yard in New Jersey I saw a piece of steel on the ground. The voice in my head told me to take it with me. It was about an inch wide, a 1/4-inch thick and about a foot long. I was carrying a small canvas overnight bag and put it on top between the two handles.

A couple of days later I'm on Highway 40 in Indiana. It's about nine at night, and I'm by this gas station and restaurant. The place is well lit and was a perfect place for hitching. This lady come out of the cafe and brings me a slice of pie. She tells me she has a boy who is also out hitchhiking around the country. She was the night manager. She tells me if I want more pie or coffee, just come on in. No charge. "I hope somebody out there will feed my boy if he gets hungry." Wow. Another encounter with an Earth Angel.

A few minutes after eating the pie I get a ride. The guy tells me he is going to St. Louis to visit an old Army buddy. He gives me a bullshit story about him being an auto mechanic and a racecar driver in the Indy 500. I knew it was all BS because his car was too clean. I never ever knew a mechanic who drove around in a clean car. Even to this day any mechanic I know has his car filled with junk. He says, "When me and my buddy were in the Army we shared everything. You know what I mean. Even when we slept in a foxhole together, we shared everything. You know what I mean. He was the best buddy a guy could have. You know what I mean. We still share things together. You know what I mean." After about a half an hour of you know what I mean stories there was a few minutes of silence. Then out of the blue he says, "When was the last time you got your nuts off?" He reaches over and grabs my crotch. I leaned down and picked up the piece of steel. I hit him on the hand so hard I even hurt my leg. He lets out a yell and slams on the brakes. He starts screaming, "Get out of my car. Get out." I grab my bag and bedroll and bail out. He almost drove the car off the road when he made a U-turn to go back.

I am now out in the middle of nowhere. It is wet and drizzling. I hardly had any shoulder to stand on and any time a truck would go by I got hit with spray and almost blown into the ditch. What a mess. I walked for hours hoping to find a bridge to get under. Nothing. I got hungry and tried to eat some corn from a cornfield. Gag. Yuk. All I kept thinking about was that lady with the slices of pie I could be eating. Way down the road I saw a light. When I finally got there it was a gas station. It was closed. I went to sleep sitting on the toilet in the men's room. All night long a dog barked. This was a bad ride.

A few days later I'm out in Wyoming on Highway 30. I'm a little ways out of town when a cowboy and his girlfriend go by in a pick-up truck. When he passes me he honks his horn and flips me the bone. I also flip him the bone. He hits the brakes and backs up to where I'm standing. I grab my bag so it doesn't get run over. He and the girl get out of the truck, and he starts cussing me. Then he punches me so hard I fall back into the bed of the truck. The steel bar slides across the bed and stops in the corner. He starts to climb into the truck. I jump up and grab the steel bar. Ka-boom. I hit him over the head with it. He just stops. He freezes. He steps back and pushes his hat up. He says, "Get out of my truck." I grab my bag and get out. He and the girl get back in the truck and drive away. I'm standing there scratching my head, wondering what the fuck just happened.

A year or so later I was 100% into the beatnik thing. At this time I had long hair and beard. It was 1962 and the start of winter. I'm hitching from New York to Frisco with my girlfriend Donna. She was a real looker. We brought her cat with us in a cat carrier. It is nighttime, and we are in Indiana on Highway 40 and had just eaten some shitty 15-cent hamburgers. We were both wearing two old Army P coats with hoods. A car pulls over, and we get in. Our plan was for Donna to always get in the back. The guy tells us he is going to St Louis to see an old Army buddy. He also tells us he is a race car driver in the Indy 500. He starts talking about how him and his buddy would share everything. "You know what I mean."

My ears are starting to curl, and I'm thinking, "Oh, shit. Not again." At this point, Donna says something and then lets down her hood. She shakes out her long brown hair. The guy says, "Oh. She’s a girl. I thought you were two guys." There wasn't much conversation after that. On the other side of the highway, we saw a guy hitching in an Air Force uniform. At the next town he pulls over to get gas. I see a two-inch scar on his right hand as he fills the tank. I tell Donna this is where the ride ends. She says, "He's going to St Louis." I said "No way. He's turning around. I'll explain to you later." That's just what he did. I forgot the excuse he used. I know he wanted to pick up the Air Force guy so he could tell him all about his old Army buddy. You know what I mean.

Images and text © 2012 Tom Conroy

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Monday, June 11, 2012
  More memoirs
This is a theatrical caricature I did for The Village Voice in 1962. The play, a revival of Patrick Hamilton's Rope, ran only eight performances before closing. So the Voice printed the caricature with a caption headlined something like "Anatomy of a Flop".

The artist-novelist Kin Platt did regular theatrical caricatures for The Village Voice, but I noticed several issues went by without a Platt drawing. Around the same time, I saw that a production of Rope was due to open at the Actors' Playhouse in Sheridan Square. Looking at the opening date, I deduced when they were going to have a dress rehearsal.

That evening I went to the theater with my sketchpad. No one was in the lobby area, so I just walked in and took a seat. The theater was empty, except for a few people in the front row and the actors in costumes on stage. The play was a shambles. The director had walked out on the production, so the actors were sitting on stage debating what to do, talking with the people in the front row. It was almost like they were posing for me, so I sketched them all. No one ever looked at me. No one even knew I was in the theater, and during the time I was there, they never rehearsed. I closed the sketchpad and walked out.

I went back to W. 10th Street and did the inked drawing on Strathmore paper, based on the poses in the sketches. In the morning, I went to the Voice office in Sheridan Square and asked to see the editor Michael Smith. The receptionist said he was out to lunch. So I sat on the bench in front of the Sheridan Square park. When he came by, I said, "Hello," and showed him the drawing, indicating the theater across the street. He accepted the drawing while we were standing there.

We went up to his office and talked. He suggested I next do Shakespeare in the Park. Why didn't I do this? I don't know. Instead, I did a caricature of Robert Duvall and Rose Gregorio in The Days and Nights of Beebee Fenstermaker. It opened September 17, 1962, at the Sheridan Square Playhouse. When the Voice ran a photo of the play instead of the caricature, I moved on to other things.

The prolific Kin Platt (1911-2003) was better known back then for his comic strip Mr. and Mrs., which ran from 1947 to 1963. Above is a Sunday strip from April 30, 1955.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

James Montgomery Flagg and Ham Fisher were friends. In the 1930s, Flagg did this oil painting, Ham Fisher and Three Nudes.

 June 25, 1939

Cartoonists at the White House in October 1949: (l to r) Ham Fisher, Harry Truman, Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff. By 1949, Fisher's Joe Palooka was carried in 665 American newspapers and 125 foreign papers.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Arizona artist Duane Bryers died May 30 at age 100. He was the creator of the popular character Hilda, which he painted for Brown & Bigelow calendars for more than three decades. For more on Bryers, go here.


Saturday, June 02, 2012
  Double Dare (1976) and Blue Remembered Hills (1979)

Dennis Potter's astonishing, multi-layered Double Dare was telecast by the BBC in 1976. For the BBC's Play for Today series, Potter wrote Double Dare as a reflexive commentary on writers and actresses. It was the first Potter production to be done entirely on film.

Playwright Martin Ellis intends to write a play about a prostitute and her client at a hotel. So he invites the actress he plans for the part to join him for a drink at a hotel, hoping this will give him some material to work with. As they talk in the hotel lobby, the boundaries between fantasy and reality begin to blur and overlap.

Scenes included in this clip from BBC Close Up show the play's innovative experiment of double dramas interweaving. Actress Kika Markham's memories of Potter and the production reveal yet another psychological level, as she explains how Potter invited her to meet him at a hotel before he wrote the play. Embedding has been disabled, so to see it, go here. For another Double Dare scene, go here and move to the three-minute mark. Blue Remembered Hills was also written for Play for Today.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
       --A.E. Housman (1896) 

"When we dream of childhood," said Dennis Potter, "we take our present selves with us. It is not the adult world writ small; childhood is the adult world writ large." Potter viewed childhood as "adult society without all the conventions and the polite forms which overlay it," so the cruelty of children emerges in Potter's Blue Remembered Hills (1979), a theme also explored by Ray Bradbury ("The Playground") and Margaret Atwood (Cat's Eye). For Blue Remembered Hills, Potter employed the device he had introduced 14 years earlier (in Stand Up, Nigel Barton): children's roles were cast with adult actors, providing "a magnifying glass to show what it's like to be a child" in this naturalistic memory drama of a "golden day" that turns to tragedy.

On a sunny, summer afternoon in bucolic England of 1943, seven West Country children (two girls, five boys) play in the Forest of Dean. Their games and spontaneous actions (continuous and in real time) reflect their awareness of WWII, but no adults are present to intrude. As the group moves through the woods and back to the grassy hills, their words and actions illustrate how "childhood is not transparent with innocence." When the two girls (Helen Mirren, Janine Duvitski) push a pram into a barn to play house, the casting concept is heightened, doubling back on itself in a remarkable moment: adults are suddenly seen to be acting as children who are pretending to be adults, and lines from Housman echo across the years.

Cast: Colin Welland (Willie), Michael Elphick (Peter), Robin Ellis (John), John Bird (Raymond), Helen Mirren (Angela), Janine Duvitski (Audrey), Colin Jeavons (Donald), Dennis Potter (Narrator). Potter reads the Housman poem at the conclusion.

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Stephen King's Misery (1987) had a novel within the novel, Misery's Return by Paul Sheldon. Below is the cover of the Viking hardcover, an image repeated for the cover of the 1988 Signet paperback. However, opening the Signet paperback revealed another cover (above). It featured an inside joke, showing King himself in the romance cover. This painting has been used on products, including a throw pillow and a T-shirt.

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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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