Tuesday, March 31, 2009
  Mars Is Heaven
Control click heading to hear the X Minus One adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Mars Is Heaven (May 8, 1955).
©WMG and Ray Bradbury


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  Paul Conrad
Barbara Multer's Paul Conrad: Drawing Fire (2006) includes 200 Conrad cartoons. (56:16)

For Terence Howard intro and/or full screen, go here.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
  There Will Come Soft Rains
Click heading above to hear the start of the 1977 BBC adaptation of "There Will Come Soft Rains''.

©WMG and Ray Bradbury
Wally Wood drew EC's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" for Weird Fantasy 17 (January-February 1953). Note Wood's error on page two, panel four: The garage door cannot open or close with the "waiting car" parked midway into the doorframe. (The caption is the same as Bradbury's original paragraph.) In panel five, "After a long wait, the door swung down again"... which would smash the hood of the car. To read Ray Bradbury's original story (first published in the May 6, 1950 issue of Collier's), go here. In the Collier's original, the story takes place on April 28, 1985. Later, the date was changed.

Listen to the 1956 X Minus One adaptation of "There Will Come Soft Rains''.

Peter Cotter's animated adaptation...

Russian 1984 animated adaptation...

There will fall soft rains
Sara Teasdale's poem...

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

        --Sara Teasdale (1920)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009
  Wood Chips 9

Early in his career, Wally Wood did horror comics for Master, EC and Avon. Wood's cover for Avon's Eerie #2 lives up to the title; it is quite eerie. Below are inside front covers from Eerie, issues 2 through 5 (1951-52). At bottom left, #4 is a collaboration with Sid Check, and #5 (bottom right) is totally by Check. By then, Wood had dropped out, while Check continued on and did several subsequent covers.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009
  Topps #2: Krazy TV

When I was at the Wally Wood Studio in 1967, there was a continual flow of cartoons created for products packaged by Topps Chewing Gum. Soon I was offered a job in the Product Development Department of Topps, which was then located in the old Bush Terminal building in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Taking the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn each morning was a curious experience, as I soon discovered almost no one lived in Manhattan and worked in Brooklyn. I would ride trains empty except for a few stray social workers. Yet we would pass Manhattan-bound trains packed with hundreds of human sardines squeezed into giant rolling sardine cans.

The first assignment I was given was to create gags for a satirical card series with the working title, Funny TV. In a windowless metal cubicle, I sat at a desk with a flickering florescent lamp and began work using a layout pad, a Rapidograph and colored markers. The second day I started getting headaches, yet the headache would vanish if I stepped into the hallway. Soon I figured out that the headaches happened because the lamp was generating a strobe effect. The headaches went away when I got rid of the lamp.

Each gag had to spoof a specific television series of the late 1960s. Once my color roughs were approved, they were mailed to Mort Drucker or John Severin for finished line art following my layouts. When their inked drawings arrived, they were turned over to the Topps production department along with the color roughs (which were then used as color guides). The cards were eventually issued as a test series with the Funny TV working title changed to Krazy TV.

The use of Drucker and Severin was a calculated move to make the series resemble Mad artwork, and more than a few Topps products were inspired by or imitated certain Mad features. Coincidentally, the March 1967 issue of Mad had a Dick DeBartolo/Jack Davis parody of the TV show Daktari, but I hadn't seen it. The gag I roughed for Daktari was drawn by Drucker.

Notice in the Lazzie card by Severin that the lettering is different on the word "mumps". This is because the line I wrote was, "O.K., Mom! We'll come eat supper as soon as Lazzie finds a cure for cancer!" After the card was inked and lettered, some executive noticed the gagline and decided cancer should not be mentioned on a bubble gum card, so it was altered.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009
  Zadi Diaz talks to Rocketboom's Andrew Baron at SXSW
Andrew Baron launched  Rocketboom, "daily internet culture," in October 2004. This month Rocketboom expanded from five to seven episodes each week. For Rocketboom's five-year archives, go here.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009
  Smitty and Smiddy

Walter Berndt (1899-1979) drew Smitty for more than 50 years. The Smitty daily began November 27, 1922, and the Sunday strip followed three months later on February 25, 1923. Smitty came to an end when Berndt retired in 1973. His memory lives on with the Berndt Toast Gang, a group of Long Island cartoonists who named their organization in his honor.

Here Smitty tries to beat the heat on August 1, 1948:

Smitty is 13-year-old Augustus Smith, an energetic office boy who worked with his boss, Mr. Bailey, and stenographer Ginnie. Then it was home to his family -- Ma, Pa and his four-year-old kid brother, Herby. As the strip progressed, Smitty aged into adolescent adventures, and during the 1950s, he married Ginnie. Herby is featured in both the top and bottom strips on this page from August 2. 1936.

Bill Elder drew this parody for EC's Panic #4 (August-September 1954):

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Saturday, March 07, 2009
  Everything's coming up Rosa Rio!
Click heading above to hear a 1971 interview with Rosa Rio, who is seen below at the gold and ivory organ in Brooklyn's Fox Theatre where she was the house organist in 1933-34. (The Fox was demolished in 1971.)

Rosa Rio, who will be 107 years old in June, has been the organist at Florida's palatial Tampa Theatre since 1996. She began her career in 1911 as a pianist with silent movies. On radio, during the 1930s to the 1950s, she provided the music for Bob and Ray, Cavalcade of America, Ethel and Albert, The Shadow and other programs. In some cases, such as Bob and Ray and Lorenzo Jones, these programs would be in adjacent timeslots. In this 1942 photo, she is running to get from one NBC radio program to another. 

Tampa Theatre interior

Kurt Loft captured the magic of the Tampa Theatre in his 2007 article for the Tampa Tribune:
Tampa rightly takes pride in its prize in the heart of downtown, a 1,450-seat theater built more than 80 years ago and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Nothing like it exists here, a mixed-breed of Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Mediterranean, Spanish, Greek Revival and English Tudor. Gleaming marble floors and palazzo tile add touches of regal weight. Defending the premises are mythological figures standing in alcoves around the proscenium, and exotic beasts, gargoyles and birds hide among darkened nooks and crannies. On any given night the Mighty Wurlitzer organ - a staple during the age of silent film - pops up through the center of the stage. Designed by architect John Eberson and built for $1.2 million, the theater was Tampa's first "air-cooled" building when it opened on Oct. 15, 1926, featuring the silent film "Ace of Cads" for 25 cents.

Continue reading Loft here.

Go here for more Blogjams by Greg Williams.

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Friday, March 06, 2009
  Topps #1: Dick Tracy wallpaper
Dick Tracy wallpaper? Yes, this was marketed in 1950 by the Niagara Wallpaper Company. It was intended for a children's room, which explains why none of the strip's famed villains are evident. 

During the time I was doing product development at Topps Chewing Gum in the late 1960s, I was also working on the Nostalgia Press book collection of EC Comics, prompting visits to the Mad offices for several meetings with publisher Bill Gaines. The more conspicuous item among the oddities in his office was a fake window. It contained a life-size head of King Kong (sculpted by Sergio Aragones) looking through the window frame at Gaines.

Back at Topps in Brooklyn, I thought about the Kong window and wondered how something similar could be done as a Topps product. For its humorous posters, Topps used a newsprint paper stock that folded several times down to their standard small trading card package size. The visual concept I pitched was King Kong Wallpaper, a product which would use such newsprint posters to make giant-size b/w jigsaw puzzle pieces that could be collected and assembled to fill one entire wall of a kid's room. A single image of Kong could then loom in an immense fashion to give nightmares. Kids would love it; it would be the mothers who had the nightmares of Elmer's Glue all over the wall.

At Topps, puzzle pieces were considered the "B" side on a trading card, on the theory that no one wants to purchase individual jigsaw puzzle pieces. So my idea was shot down with the somewhat illogical question, "What's on the other side?" In retrospect, the solution would have been to simply package the folded newsprint puzzle posters with some colorful trading card item.

Maybe something similar happened at the Niagara Wallpaper Company. Someone thought how cool it would be to see a roomful of weird and outrageous Dick Tracy villains. Then some executive stepped in to get rid of the villains, making the final wallpaper bland and banal.

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Monday, March 02, 2009
  Patrissy's #2

Patrissy's restaurant with "authentic Neapolitan cuisine" is gone, but Marie Severin's 2004 drawing (for Grant Geissman's Foul Play)  recreates the high-spirited atmosphere over a half-century ago when the EC Comics staff went around the corner to 98 Kenmare for lunch at Patrissy's. The old-style telephone exchange, CAnal 6, appears beneath the logo design depicting the restaurant exterior with an overhead awning at the entrance. Below is the ultimate EC collectible, a Patrissy's ashtray.

In this early 1950s photo, Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein lunch at Patrissy's after spending the morning at 225 Lafayette Street creating EC stories. Patrissy's is mentioned in Frank Jacobs' The Mad World of William M. Gaines (1972) and Digby Diehl's Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives (1996). "We'd plot in the morning, then go to Patrissy's, the local Italian restaurant," remembered Feldstein. "We'd gorge ourselves on spaghetti and manicotti and bread. I got fat. In a very short time I ballooned from 150 to 180." Feldstein soon chose to have melba toast and cottage cheese at the office instead of scanning the Patrissy's menu daily.

Patrissy's opened in 1906, and eight decades later Danny Patrissy sold his restaurant to Arnold Magliaccio in 1995. It became NoLita's (a portmanteau since 1994 from "North of Little Italy") when it was taken over by Nicholas Barnes in 2000.

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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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