Sunday, November 16, 2008
  Truck Stop
©2008 Bhob
Control click above for Dave Dudley: "Six Days on the Road".

Russ Jones is the founding editor of Creepy and a pioneer in the publication of original graphic stories in mass market paperback books, such as Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror (Pyramid, 1966).

During the late 1960s, Russ lived at 127 West 79th Street, a huge apartment building called the Clifton House, and I would go over there to join him in inking pages for DC Comics. A few years later, Russ and I collaborated on a series of stories for Charlton Comics. Here is "Truck Stop" which was published in Ghostly Tales #108 (November 1973).

A series of events led up this story. Russ had done some work for the Twilight Zone comic book. One day I ran across a copy and mentioned to Russ that the stories in that comic book were several steps removed from the style and approach of the Twilight Zone television series. Pondering this, I began to wonder what Rod Serling might have written if he had worked for comic books. I decided it might be fun to script a story that would attempt to duplicate the type of atmospherics, themes and settings that Serling put into the TV series. There were episodes that took place in small town soda fountains, in rural areas and roadside diners.

This led to the thought that I could base such a story on a real-life incident that happened when my brother Joe and I were driving cross-country in 1969. It was very late, around midnight, as we drove through pitch black darkness in Arkansas. Nothing was open anywhere, and many hours had passed without food. I suggested that we stop at the first place we spotted.

Suddenly, out of the blackness, loomed a sign that simply read, "EAT". We pulled up and went inside. It was totally deserted. No customers, no one behind the counter. In the middle of the room, floor to ceiling, was a huge hand-painted sign, illustrated with a cartoon chicken, that read, "Gitmo's! If you want mo' you can git mo'!" We stood there staring at this sign. Then a woman wearing a blue bathrobe appeared and said, "What kin I do for you boys?"

I said, "I'd like some of that fried chicken."

"Yeah, I'll have that too," said Joe.

She said, "Well, I cain't git y'all enny fried chicken, but I can serve you up some Gitmo's."

"Okay, fine," I said. "We'll have some Gitmo's." We sat on stools at the counter and watched as she began frying chicken and heating vegetables.

I asked about the sign, and she explained, "Oh, yeah, he had big plans. He said he had the luck of the pluck. The idea came to him one day while he was in one of those Minnie Pearl Chicken places. Said he was gonna be franchisin' and fryin', fryin' and franchisin' 'til Gitmo's stretched from here to Atlanta. Yes sir, he was a schemer, all right, but there's a difference 'tween a planner and a doer. After all that talk, he jus' took off one day. It was all jus' a pipe dream. So y'all are sittin' in the one and only Gitmo's you'll evah find."

She set the two plates on the counter. As it turned out, Gitmo's and Coca-Cola made a terrific combination, and I was thinking how great it was that we had stumbled into this four-star eatery with superb Southern cuisine. Cleaning up behind the counter, she walked out into the center of the cafe and sat down at a table behind us.

As I ate, she struck a match to light a cigarette. She sat there smoking in silence. She was facing us, but we could not see her. It was an odd reversal of the usual spatial arrangement where a manager and employees are visible to customers seated at counter and tables. We continued to eat, but knowing she was sitting there in silence, staring at our backs, made me uneasy. Of course, there were no other customers, so there was no real reason for her to remain behind the counter. I heard her move the ashtray as she crushed out the cigarette. Silence.

I wanted to turn around, but I just kept eating. Eventually, she broke the silence. "If you boys are interested, I can show you something you've never seen before and will never seen again."

"Oh, yeah, what's that?"

"I can take you boys across the road over there and show it to you." I looked out the door toward the highway. Across the road, nothing could be seen in the darkness. There were no lights visible anywhere. Only blackness. I thought, No matter what she says next, there is no way I am going across the highway with this woman.

"We can walk over there," she said, "And I can show you a mummy with a glass eye."

"Well, er, thanks, but we have to get going. The Gitmo was great!" I stood up, put some money on the counter, and we departed, driving away into the inky blackness.

Once the "Truck Stop" script was written, I did the penciling and lettering. Russ did the inking, while I inked the backgrounds. Note that several panels in "Truck Stop" parallel the real-life situation, such as entering the diner and finding it deserted, the top row of panels on page three and the nothingness as seen from the doorway. The signs and prices were based on fading memories of 1950s Texas cafes where one could get a bowl of chili for a few coins or spend a bit more to dine in style with a "Chicken Fried Steak". The coloring obscures the Chicken Fried Steak sign in the third panel of page three.

It seemed to me like a Serling touch to take Charon, the ferryman of Greek mythology, and put him in a modern setting. The real River Styx is 35 miles long, located at the Alabama-Florida border. Many years ago, traveling from Alabama to Florida, I went over a bridge on that river, and I have never forgotten the quick glimpse of the sign at the bridge entrance. It appeared to be an official state sign and read:

River Styx - Charon Crossing

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Saturday, November 15, 2008
  John Semper's The Crypt of Creeporia (episode four)
©2008 John Semper

Kommerina DeYoung is a talented actress who brings a razor-sharp sense of comedy timing to her role as Creeporia in John Semper's The Crypt of Creeporia. In his entertaining online series, Semper combines live-action, puppetry and digital animation for a spooky spoof. To see the earlier episodes, go here.

Best known as the producer and story editor of the animated Spider-Man series, Semper did the English-language dialogue for Miyazaki's Laputa and Kiki's Delivery Service, and his writing for the Static Shock series brought him a 2004 Emmy nomination. His live-action credits include co-scripting the Kid 'n' Play comedy movie Class Act. His Walter Lantz documentary, Walter, Woody and the World of Animation (1982) recently resurfaced on disc one of The Woody Woodpecker and Friends: Classic Cartoon Collection (2007) DVD.

I asked him for some background on the creation of Creeporia, and he responded:

Creeporia is shot in the living room of my townhouse here in Toluca Lake. I shoot it, record the sound and light it. To shoot it, I use a cheap, $200 Canon DV home-video camera whose greatest attribute is that it allows me to record sound using an external microphone. Creeporia wears a small, black, clip-on, wired microphone. We run the wire down through her dress, and it comes out the bottom and runs to the camera. For our relatively few long shots, where we can't hide the wire, I use a shotgun mike instead.

On the days we shoot, it's usually just me and her - with a brief appearance in the morning by the pro makeup artist, Rachel, who gets Creeporia into the full regalia and then leaves. We did one day where we were joined by Hans (Eric Von Mayhem) who shot all of his scenes for both his episodes in about two hours. When the shooting is over, I edit the rough cut and later record my voices and do all the animation and post-production myself on my computer. I mostly try to keep it all fun, so if I'm not in the mood to work on the series, I don't. It takes a loooong time and I frequently burn-out, but eventually it gets done.

For me, this is the fulfillment of the dream I've been chasing ever since I was fooling around back in the old days with Super 8. Simply put, I want to create movies involving as few people as possible who can get in the way and muck up my creative vision. Now, thanks to all this digital technology, most of which isn't even all that "cutting edge," I can finally do it everything myself - from beginning to end.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008
  Inside Rachael Ray

Drag food and clothing onto Rachael Ray at the Cartoon Doll Emporium.

A talk show host who can't speak? Today Rachael Ray finally did a segment about her hoarse voice, gave a guided tour of her larnyx where a benign cyst will soon be removed and dispelled tabloid rumors that she has throat cancer : "It's not true, and to prove I'm fine so that nobody worries about me, including my own friends and family, I let cameras go... well, where they just shouldn't go... They went down my throat."

In 1956 CBS turned the network over to Salvador Dali for 12 minutes, and he kept dissolving a head of cabbage into a rhino tusk. Rachael Ray's show can get equally surreal. Just the mention of certain foods or condiments causes the studio audience to erupt in wild applause. Last week, Ray made this strange statement: "I not only talk to my food, I talk to my dishes." I think Dali would have approved.

Without knowing anything about the rumors or the cyst, I had actually started watching her show because of a fascination with the surreality and her deteriorating voice. One day the rasping was so severe that Ray's guest interviewed herself as Ray sat helpless. I had concluded that she simply needed a vocal coach. as she speaks from the throat rather than the abdomen and keeps talking rather than breathing. Unable to communicate in a quiet conversational manner, she instead flails her arms about and attempts to bond with the studio audience by yelling at them while smiling, giggling and slamming her hand into the table again and again. Meanwhile, on another channel, her competition, Bonnie Hunt, does a similar show, speaking softly while delivering one funny line after another.  At one point on her show, Ray seemed to admit that her inability to speak properly is what caused the current problem. 

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Thursday, November 06, 2008
  SIGGRAPH 2007-08
Control click heading above to hear The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air as broadcast March 13, 1938 on NBC. Walt Disney was the voice of Mickey.

Here is Alejandro Meludis' The Moving Eye, created for a Mexican arts festival and shown at SIGGRAPH 2007.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), founded in 1947, did its first computer graphics conference in 1974 in Boulder. Known as SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques), these conferences are held annually in different major U.S. cities, and this year SIGGRAPH branches off with an additional conference outside the U.S.

Above is a preview of the first SIGGRAPH Asia Computer Animation Festival upcoming in Singapore on December 10-13. An international display of state-of-the-art animation, it features animated shorts, visual effects, interactive CG art, scientific visualization, machinima, games, real-time graphics, lectures, studio presentations, panel discussion and an awards presentation. For better resolution on the preview trailer, go here.

SIGGRAPH 2008 was last August in Los Angeles. Here's the Maxon demo reel shown at that fest: 

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008
  Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Comics
Control click heading to hear opening of Dirk Maggs' Batman Knightfall.

In this photo by Joanne Rathe, Rick Keene is retouching the original color of a Starman panel drawn in 1943 by Emil Gershwin for Adventure Comics 88 (October 1943). See finished panel below. This is from the second page of the story, "The Enigma of the Vanishing House". At bottom are three stages of restoration.

When I began working with DC Comics in 1989, it coincided with the first book in the DC Archives series, a vast project to collect 1940s DC Comics into hardback editions. It seemed obvious to just shoot the original pages dot-for-dot (which had worked effectively with reprints of The Spirit and Captain Marvel Adventures), but DC chose an approach that involved removing the original color, restoring the black lines and then recoloring. At that time, there were no computers in the DC offices. When I saw the complex task of restoration rushed through the DC production department with some art getting a quick re-inking by brush, it seemed like there was a problem brewing. As I recall, I said, "Hey, listen, I know this guy in Natick, Massachusetts, who could do this on a computer." To my surprise, there was no real interest in my suggestion, and the pages continued to get an assembly line treatment in the DC production department. Weeks passed, and a backlog began to develop. One day a worried production chief came to me and asked, "Hey, what's the phone number of that guy in Massachusetts?"

Soon Rick came to New York, solved the problem and signed a contract. He's been doing such computer restoration of comics for the past 18 years, creating his own secret techniques along the way.

Steve Maas of the Boston Globe just did a lengthy article on Rick, going into much detail on Rick's life and working methods:
©2008 Boston Globe
Bringing color back to the comics: Natick artist uses computer to restore luster to pages of yesteryear

By Steve Maas
Globe Correspondent / October 30, 2008

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman - those are just some of the superheroes who owe their future to Rick Keene.

The 54-year-old Natick artist restores comic books for DC Archive Editions, hardback collections of series that date back to the Depression. "I don't make these drawings better," Keene said. "I bring them back to life the way the original artist wanted them to look."

His ingenuity at the computer has made it possible to bring back stories once "considered 'lost,' " said John Clark, editor-in-chief for Gemstone Publishing's Disney comic books, which Keene also restores. The comics, originally printed on newspaper letterpresses, "were smudgy and out of register, so any attempts to make them reprintable were cost-prohibitive," Clark wrote in an e-mail.

Keene estimates he has restored 11,000 DC pages and 800 Disney pages. They often come in faded and tattered. Occasionally, he has to recreate dialogue or make an educated guess, say, as to whether the missing wrist in a torn panel had been wearing a watch.

He employs computer technology that not even the sci-fi comic creators of decades ago dreamed possible. When he started his restoration work 18 years ago, he pioneered techniques using computer components that today are considered museum pieces.

His office is on the second floor of his Civil War-era house, a couple blocks north of downtown Natick. A solar-powered prism sends lights dancing, disco-ball like, around his downstairs parlor, where he serves oatmeal cookies on a Felix-the-Cat table he made himself.

Game boards, advertising posters, and other pop culture treasures scavenged from flea markets decorate the house. In the front room are posters of art he did for the website of the band Van Halen; his work had caught the eye of Eddie Van Halen's then-wife, Valerie Bertinelli, after he depicted her as a dominatrix on an Internet mailing list.

But back to the comics and the magic Keene performs on his Mac. His current patient is Starman, a sci-fi superhero created in the early 1940s. In a departure from his earlier work for DC Archives, he is restoring the colors in addition to the line work.

Continued here...

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

My Photo

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

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