Wednesday, April 22, 2009
  Death of Newspapers
Control-click heading to hear Paul Whiteman playing a "Joe Palooka Medley" on the Kraft Music Hall (December 28, 1933).
Maureen Dowd: "Slouching Towards Oblivion": "Maybe it’s because I’m staying at the Sunset Tower on Sunset Boulevard, but I keep thinking of newspapers as Norma Desmond. Papers are still big. It’s the screens that got small."
April 8, 1906
October 23, 1921

September 26, 1926.

June 11, 1933
Roy Crane's first Captain Easy Sunday page

This is an excerpt from an article by Virginia Combs that ran December 31, 2007, in The Kentucky Post. It provides a portrait of rural households minus radios during the 1930s when kids opened newspapers to the comics pages for entertainment. To read the entire article, go here.

The Post Was Part Of Her Life

It was with much regret and sadness that I learned The Cincinnati Post would be closing December 31. For more years than I like to admit, The Post has been part of my life six days each week.

I grew up on a small farm during the Depression in the foothills of Kentucky. We were poor and each penny (literally) was spent only for necessities - that is except for one item. At Dad's insistence our one luxury was a subscription to The Cincinnati Post.

We received The Post one day after it was printed (we didn't have a radio until 1939) and this was our connection to the outside world. Six days each week someone in the family would walk the half mile or maybe ride a horse to our one-room rural post office.

My dad would end each day - if in the summer in his rocking chair on the front porch or if in the winter with his long legs stretched out toward the fireplace - with The Post spread open and reading it intently. The Post kept him informed of state, national and world affairs and whomever he met he could discuss any of this with up-to-date knowledge.

I first took interest in The Post around seven or eight years of age when I heard my older brother mention that a new comic strip was coming to the "funny page" - Li'l Abner by Al Capp. I had to see what this was about so I made sure I read Li'l Abner the first time it was printed in the paper. Of course, this led to reading the other comic strips. So through the years I enjoyed reading Major Hoople, Out Our Way, Abbie and Slats, Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs, Alley Oop, Boots and Her Buddies, Tarzan of the Jungle, Nancy and many others I cannot recall now.
January 5, 1936

September 6, 1936
November 3, 1940

May 17, 1942
October 10, 1943

December 21, 1947

June 4, 1950

June 9, 1956
December 18, 1964

November 27, 2006
Chris Ware

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
  Harvey Kurtzman's Silver Linings
Before Mad, Trump, Humbug and Help!, Harvey Kurtzman created the comic strip Silver Linings for the New York Herald-Tribune where comics writer Harold Straubling was the comic strip editor from 1946 to 1954. The strip ran in the Herald-Tribune from March 7 through June 20, 1948.

The gags and art in Silver Linings are very similar to Kurtzman's Hey Look! pages. Here are four of the nine strips in the series. Note use of the repetitive diner dialogue years before John Belushi's "cheeseburger cheeseburger" routine and another line of dialogue decades prior to the recording "I Scare Myself" by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009
  Topps #3: Pee-wee's Big Adventure
In 1966, at the request of Art Spiegelman, I submitted gags for Topps' Insult Postcard series. The first freelance gag I sold to Topps was part of that series: "Come alive! You're in the Monster Generation!" spoofed the familiar Pepsi Generation commercials. Wally Wood and Ralph Reese illustrated the series.
Cover: Esau Andrews
Although Ralph took an extended leave from illustrating, he returns this month with a wild DC Comics tale, "The Thirteenth Hour," featuring monsters crawling over buildings a la Cloverfield. Look for it in issue #13 (May) of editor Angela Rufino's revival of House of Mystery for Vertigo.

As I explained previously, I began working with the Topps Product Development staff in December 1967. By then, Art had taken off for San Francisco, and when he returned a few months later, we would take sketchpads down the hall to the Topps cafeteria, which was deserted during the hours before and after lunch. While the kitchen staff prepared lunch, we would drink coffee and toss gags back and forth.

Others in the Product Development department, run by Woody Gelman, were the cartoonist-designer Rick Varesi, Len Brown (now a classic country DJ in Austin, Texas), Mad writer Stan Hart (who only came in once a week), the clever, creative Larry Riley and the secretary, Faye Fleischer. Riley was a terrific raconteur with hilarious tales of his years working on Paramount animated cartoons, and I regret never tape recording his stories. When he left Topps, he worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi's movie, Fritz the Cat (1972).
The inventive Larry Riley at Topps
Occasionally, other people would arrive and briefly take a crack at gagwriting. However, a special knack was required, and these wannabe humorists usually had odd and puzzling notions of what constituted humor.

One day Woody Gelman explained to us that the Topps execs were sending in a crackerjack humor writer to work on creating cards with us. I don't think Woody was too pleased about the situation of a newcomer crashing his party. Rick, Len, Larry and I were sitting in Woody's office waiting for the new guy to arrive. Expectations were high, because why was he being sent over unless he was a funny fellow? Indeed, he came in wearing a plaid jacket, a bowtie and big, confident grin. In retrospect, he looked sort of like Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman.

After a round of introductions and handshakes, Pee-wee took a seat, and Woody asked him to go right into his presentation. Pee-wee pitched a very strange concept. He said, "Okay, picture this. You show the world as it looks from a dog's point of view." Dead silence... as we all tried to comprehend just what he was describing.

I said, "So in other words, the dog is looking up, and there's a drawing of what he sees in an up-angle from ground level?"

"Yes," said Pee-wee with a big smile, obviously proud of this idea.

I continued, "So if that's the first card in a series of 44 cards, what would you do for the other 43 cards? Would card #2 be a cat looking up? Then maybe a hamster?"

He had no response. His smile faded. He began to twist slowly in the wind. And after that meeting, we never saw him again. In the bubble gum universe, another bubble had burst.

"Cowpoke in Africa" is another Krazy TV card with gag and color rough by me. John Severin drew the finish. The card caricatures Chuck Connors in the short-lived TV series Cowboy in Africa (1967-68). Coincidentally, Chuck Connors grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, within walking distance of the Bush Terminal where Topps offices were located.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009
  Terminus (2007) by Trevor Cawood
Better quality of this short film at the Terminus official site.

Interview with Trevor Cawood.

Trevor Cawood's reel

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009
  Long before 9/11 there was 5/5

May 5 is the 64th anniversary of the only fatalities due to enemy action on the U.S. mainland during World War II. Oddly, it's not generally known that the Japanese succeeded in killing American civilians with WWII bomb attacks on the U.S. Certainly we were never told about this in classrooms during the 1940s and 1950s. If the 1945 event had been widely taught in schools, would there have been less complacency about such attacks during the 1990s? 

In 1945, the press cooperated with the FBI to keep those bomb attacks secret -- with the result that the Japanese abandoned the campaign, believing it to be unsuccessful. Of 9000 unmanned Fu-Go balloon bombs launched from Japan, a confirmed 285 fell in an area between Alaska and Mexico with some found as far east as Iowa. It's possible that some bombs still exist in mountainous areas in the West. In July 1945, a Japanese military spokesman in Singapore spoke of a major assault in which soldiers would fly with the incendiary balloon bombs, directing them over West Coast cities.

On March 10, 1945, one of the balloons came down near the Hanford, Washington plutonium facility, part of the Manhattan Project. It caused a short circuit in the electrical system used for the nuclear reactor cooling pumps. An emergency system, which had never been tested, prevented a meltdown. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell led a Sunday School picnic into the forest near Bly, Oregon. When the group found a balloon caught in a tree and pulled on it, the bomb exploded, killing five children and Mitchell's pregnant wife, Elsie. Mitchell survived, but years later, as a missionary in Vietnam, he was captured by the Viet Cong and vanished.
Elsie and Archie MItchell
After the deaths, the government lifted the ban on press coverage on May 22, 1945 with a War and Navy departments joint statement that made no mention of the fatalities: "It is the view of the departments that the possible saving of even one American life through precautionary measures would more than offset any military gain accruing to the enemy from the mere knowledge that some of his balloons actually have arrived on this side of the Pacific." 

Constructed in 1950, the Mitchell Monument is located on Gearhart mountain near Bly in the Fremont–Winema National Forests. In a strange synchronicity, Bly was the proposed site of a terrorist training camp, and the trial regarding that is taking place this week in New York.

With Google Advanced Image Search the phrase "world trade center" with "memorial" as a qualifier will bring 210,000 results, while "mitchell monument" will bring 161 results. The few photographs of the Mitchell Monument that surface almost all show it hidden in dark shadows. (I lightened the one above with Photoshop.) Photos that make the words on the Monument readable are almost non-existent on the Internet. After extensive searching, I was able to find only three. The event is also described on Elsie Mitchell's tombstone (below).

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Thursday, April 09, 2009
  Carnival of Souls

©Bill Pratt

The first Saltair Resort (top), built in 1893, burned in 1925. Rebuilt in 1926, it was used by Herk Harvey for Carnival of Souls location scenes. At bottom is the third Saltair Palace (1983) in a 2005 photo by Bill Pratt.

AMC just launched BMC (for "B Movie Classics"), a new online portal for viewing full-length B movies (27 titles available) with a full-screen player powered by Brightcove. If you've never seen Candace Hilligoss in Herk Harvey's classic Carnival of Souls, this is your chance. Why see the forgettable, regrettable 1998 film with same title (and different story) when the 1962 original is right here? And Candace explains how she was betrayed in a souless carnival of former colleagues. However, to see it full screen, you have to go to BMC.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009
  The Resurrection of Humbug

Harvey Kurtzman went from Mad to Trump to Humbug to Help!

Mad went from a comic book to a magazine. Humbug was a magazine that was downsized to comic book proportions, which was a factor in its doom. I remember searching for copies by looking behind larger publications in the magazine racks. By the time Humbug increased in size, it was too late.
©2009 Fantagraphics Books

Thanks to Fantagraphics, Humbug is back in a big way. Instead of crumbling newsprint, it's now a splendiferous two-volume slipcased set with quality paper, an attractive design by Adam Grano and extensive digital restorations by Paul Baresh. In addition to story annotations by John Benson, an intro by Benson and Gary Groth, and a lengthy Benson interview with Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee, there are even four pages detailing how the Baresh restorations were accomplished (see above). When no original art or paste-ups were available, they scanned from the printed pages.

The film clip below reveals that Jack Davis drew the bottom right panel almost identical to Eli Wallach's position in that scene.

Elia Kazan won a Golden Globe for Baby Doll, and it received four other Golden Globe nominations and four Oscar nominations. The film benefited from a terrific Kenyon Hopkins score, remastered in 2003. Listen to "Lemonade"! Hopkins also did the music for The Strange One, 12 Angry Men, Wild River, The Fugitive Kind, The Hustler, Lilith and This Property Is Condemned.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009
Rob Spence: "I am in development with the National Film Board in Canada to make a documentary called Eye 4 and Eye. By retrofitting my prosthetic eye into a wireless and web-connected video camera I become a symbolic “Little Brother” media virus who goes on a cybernetic journey literally from my point of view."

The Unsleeping Eye: Medical science has advanced to the point where it is practically unheard of for people to die of any cause except old age. Those who are the exception provide the material for a reality TV show with an avid audience who want to experience watching someone else's dying weeks. So when Katherine Mortenhoe is told she has an incurable disorder and has only weeks to live, she becomes hot property. For some peace, she signs a contract with NTV, but breaks it and tries to get away. However, the company are not easily shaken off. Sleeping rough in a church she does not suspect that the young man with whom she becomes friendly is actually an NTV employee who has undergone an operation which gives him, literally, camera eyes. Published in the UK as: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe. Filmed as Deathwatch.

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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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