Wednesday, December 30, 2009
  Death of Newspapers #10: Barney Google ushers in the New Year! ~~

Control click header above to hear vaudevillian George Price sing his 1923 hit, "Barney Google with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes".

Billy DeBeck was a comic genius. In other words, he was flat out funny. Thus, Barney Google kicks off our Splendiferous Barney Google New Year Celebration! Note in the 12/26/20 b/w page how the comic situation escalates with every panel advancing in a logical manner.

December 26, 1920
January 1, 1921
September 26, 1923 show in Elyria, Ohio
January 3, 1926

Bughouse Fables, DeBeck's topper strip, came to an end on May 9, 1926. In the corner of the last panel of Bughouse Fables is a note of thanks to "Odd McIntyre" (pronounced "udd"). Now mostly forgotten, O.O. McIntyre (1884-1938) was a newspaper columnist with a huge readership in the 1920s and 1930s. (He almost vanished entirely. Try to find more than three pictures of him on the Internet!) His daily column, "New York, Day by Day," was widely syndicated and collected into bestselling books. His readers expected to find his columns about celebrities and parties in the big city occasionally interruped with portraits of small town life, such as "The Glee-or-ious Fourth". Why did O.O. veer into obscurity while other columnists (Hedda Hopper, Herb Caen, Louella Parsons, Walter Winchell, Irv Kupcinet) never faded away? I think it was because he had no interest in radio. He felt that the discipline that went into writing his columns would slide if he made a detour into broadcasting. (Thus, Fred Allen was free to use O.O.'s columns as the uncredited inspiration for his popular Allen's Alley segments.)

May 9, 1926

On May 16, 1926, with Bughouse Fables gone, DeBeck launched Parlor Bedroom and Sink, the title an apparent reference to his cheapskate main character.

May 16, 1926
May 23, 1926
June 6, 1926
June 13, 1926
June 20, 1926
June 27, 1926
July 4, 1926
July 11, 1926
July 18, 1926
July 25, 1926
August 1, 1926

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009
  David Small's Stitches

David Small's graphic novel Stitches is a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Best Books of 2009 selection.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009
  Australian animation: The Cat Piano

The Cat Piano from PRA on Vimeo.

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Friday, December 25, 2009
  Otto Soglow


Thursday, December 24, 2009
  Wood Chips 15: Bucky's Christmas Caper

Control click header above to hear Stan Freberg's Christmas Dragnet.

Wally Wood's Bucky's Christmas Caper is becoming a Christmas blog tradition -- like It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story on television. See Steve Thompson, Mr. Door Tree and Pete Doree.

Short-run Christmas strips were once popular with the syndicates. Notice the dates on the strips, and you can see that this ran in 1967 from December 5 to December 23. As Woody explained it to me, NEA promised he could continue to do these characters in a regular Bucky Ruckus comic strip -- on one condition. If the Christmas strip had a favorable reaction and was picked up by hundreds of newspapers, then it would be syndicated as a permanent feature. However, to gain that many papers in only three weeks was NEA's Catch 22. They knew and Wood knew that such was a feat was impossible.

However, as Eric Idle puts it, always look at the bright side of life. The line quality is fine because the strip exists in slick proof sheets. And there are more than 50 panels, so one day this will no doubt be formatted as a colorful children's book.

©Wallace Wood Estate

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Sunday, December 20, 2009
  Volcanic Eruptions

Control click header above to hear Fletcher Markle's adaptation of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano on CBS' Studio One (April 29, 1947).

Malcolm Lowry died in 1957 at age 48 after writing his own epitaph:

Malcolm Lowry
Late of the Bowery
His prose was flowery
And often glowery
He lived, nightly, and drank, daily,
And died playing the ukulele.

Richard Burton reads from Lowry in the Oscar-nominated documentary Volcano (1976).

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Thursday, December 10, 2009
  Wood Chips 14: A visual book review of Jules Feiffer's Backing into Forward

Control click heading above to hear Bob Andelman's 2008 interview (54:26) with Jules Feiffer.

Jules Feiffer

Reviewing this book for Publishers Weekly, I wrote:

As a kid (he was born in 1929), drawing comic strip characters on the sidewalk was a way to avoid Bronx bullies: “I was never not afraid.” Serving an apprenticeship with cartoonist Will Eisner, he felt he was a fraud (“My line was soft where it should be hard, my figures amoebic when they should be overpowering”), so he instead graduated to ghostwriting Eisner's The Spirit. His account of hitchhiking cross-country invades Kerouac territory, while his ink-stained memories of the comics industry rival Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize–winning fictional portrait. Two years in the military gave Feiffer fodder for the trenchant Munro (about a child who is drafted). Such satirical social and political commentary became the turning point in his lust for fame, which finally happened, after many rejections, when acclaim for his anxiety-ridden Village Voice strips served as a springboard into other projects. Writing with wit, angst, honesty, and self-insights, Feiffer shares a vast and complex interior emotional landscape. Intimate and entertaining, his autobiography is a revelatory evocation of fear, ambition, dread, failure, rage, and, eventually, success.

Wood on Feiffer: Jules Feiffer's Outer Space Spirit script and rough as drawn and inked by Wally Wood.

In Jules Feiffer's memoir, Backing into Forward (due in March from Doubleday), he describes the Wood studio of the early 1950s (located where Lincoln Center is today). Feiffer was 17 when he began at Will Eisner's studio. Working alongside letterer Abe Kanegson, he graduated from ruling lines and erasing to coloring, and he was 19 when he started scripting The Spirit for Eisner. After meeting Wood at Eisner's shop, he began visiting the Wood studio where he became friends with Ed McLean, as he recalled:

Excerpt ©2010 by Jules Feiffer
Wally Wood, maybe a year older than I, was brought back to our office by Will, who was impressed by his samples (no threat to me, he drew backgrounds). Woody was from the Midwest. Enviably handsome, he had a squinting, tousled, mischievous charm. His squint let you know that he knew a lot more than he was saying, which was good, because he was at a loss for conversation. He seemed to be wary of speech, his prolonged silences made him formidable. While Abe and I wisecracked like smart-ass New York Jews, Woody, in no way Jewish, made sly elliptical comments that were possibly profound had we only understood what he was saying.

He shared studio space in a rundown walk-up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Sixties on the Upper West Side (now Lincoln Center) with two other cartoonists and a couple of writers for comic books, already in training, with the help of beer, Chianti, and cheap rye, to make it to the top as the next generation of comic strip roustabouts. In the mid- and late forties, the first step to success for ambitious young men in the low arts was to make a mark in comic books as illustrator or writer and break into syndication with your own daily strip before you were 30.

Cartoonists like Woody saw this as the end of the road, although some others who had the facility dreamed of moving further upscale to magazine illustration. That market was still flourishing, with the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Liberty. A writer’s ambition, beyond comics, leaned toward breaking into the sci fi market… Woody introduced me to his studio mate, a lettering man named Ed McLean, who within minutes let me know that comics were not his end game, that his plan was to write the Great American Novel… Ed intended to impress me, and he did immediately. We met on my first visit to Woody’s studio, a long room that deepened and darkened as your eyes failed to get used to it. Artists and writers sat like galley slaves at desks and drawing tables jammed close enough together to constitute a single piece of furniture, an intimidating world of cluttered comic pages and pounding typewriters, dingy and roach-rich. The no-frills ferocity of the place was intoxicating.

Feiffer 's friend, Ed McLean, who became a legend in direct marketing copywriting, died August 13, 2005. In 1947, Feiffer asked for a raise, and Eisner instead gave him his own page in the Spirit section. Feiffer used it to create his first professional comic strip, Clifford. Feiffer probes his innermost thoughts, anxieties and memories in this compelling autobiography, and he devotes five pages to his struggle with Clifford, recalling, "It turned out to be more natural for me to write an episode of The Spirit than to write and draw my own comic strip... Now, even though I had preceded both Schulz and Watterson with my kids' strip, I was still too young and callow (and cautious) to make my point or make my mark... Without Eisner's guidelines, I was on my own, and not up to it."
©Jules Feiffer
Below is a Wood story from the period Feiffer described. "Man from the Grave!" in The Haunt of Fear 4 (November-December 1950) was one of five horror tales Wood did for The Haunt of Fear. Wood did a total of nine horror stories and several horror covers for EC during 1950-51.

Feiffer at the Strand Bookstore (May 15, 2008)

In the early 1950s, after rejections of his books by numerous publishers (as he describes in Backing into Forward and the Strand Bookstore clip), Feiffer finally scored when his Sick, Sick, Sick comic strip began in the October 24, 1956 issue of the Village Voice. To launch his Voice strip, he wrote about his own stomach spasms and drew it with a UPA style, as he explained: "The drawing style, I decided, should be direct, cartoony, animated, akin to what I so admired coming out of the UPA studios, Gerald McBoing-Boing and The Nearsighted Mr. Magoo. The more painful the subject, the funnier it should look. So my chronic stomachaches took center stage for my first Village Voice cartoon in October 1956, turning a psychosomatic problem into a metaphor. For what? Who cared? It just seemed funny."

©Jules Feiffer

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009
  Lady Gaga on BBC Radio 1: "Poker Face"

Lady Gaga gives a very cool and snappy ending to pah pah "Poker Face" on BBC Radio. Best version of all?

Mum mum mum mah
Mum mum mum mah

I wanna hold em' like they do in Texas Plays
Fold em' let em' hit me raise it baby stay with me (I love it)
Lovegame and intuition play the cards with Spades to start
And after he's been hooked I'll play the one that's on his heart

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Monday, December 07, 2009
  Say hello to Nao

Nao from Aldebaran:

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Saturday, December 05, 2009
  Model railroads #2: Paul Busse and Garden Railroads

Landscape designer Paul Busse and his Applied Imagination company in Alexandria, Kentucky create and construct garden railroads. Busse trains can be seen in numerous public and private spaces, including the New York Botanical Garden, the Chicago Botanical Garden, the Omaha Botanical Gardens (Lauritzen Gardens), United States Botanical Garden (Washington, D.C.) and New Orleans' City Park.

Natural materials (leaves, twigs, bark, berries, cinnamon sticks, gourds, leaves, pinecones, twigs) are used in his constructions. A lengthy interview with Busse is part of this documentary, Locomotion in the Garden (2005), showing how he constructs his garden railroads. Magnets on the tracks cue the bells and whistles.

Frank Etheridge, in 2002, wrote "Making Tracks" about Busse's New Orleans garden railway:

Busse uses only natural materials when constructing his gardens, a feat accomplished with such plants as Contorta (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) and grapevine tendrils; the tightly coiled wood of these plants are used to recreate the elegance of French Quarter wrought-iron balconies. Details are endless: delicately shaved wood becomes the flowing tail of Andrew Jackson's horse that stands in Jackson Square; acorn tops crown columns on mansions depicted such as the one at 2222 Esplanade Ave.; and bamboo forms the calliopes of a Mississippi River steamboat. Leaves are pressed flat to collectively form the spires of St. Louis Cathedral, with the city's most famous church standing at a height of 39 inches and serving as the focal point of Busse's train garden.

Remember that 1972 horror movie about the giant rabbits, Night of the Lepus? Watch for the rabbit hopping on the track at 2:20 in the video below.

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Friday, December 04, 2009
  Zina Saunders' Overlooked New York

Zina Saunders' Overlooked New York makes a quantum leap from blog to book. Go here.

Yesterday, Utne Reader art director Stephanie Glaros reviewed Overlooked New York.

Zina describes her approach:

Overlooked New York is a collection of portraits and interviews with ardent New Yorkers about their joyous obsessions. It all started with the Puerto Rico Schwinn Club. I've seen them all my life, but I never knew why these old guys would be tricking out their bicycles with flags and horns and fox tails and mirrors. So I tracked them down and painted their portraits and interviewed them. That began my mission to discover the seemingly endless variety of enthusiasms pursued by New Yorkers, whether they were carried from immigrants' cultures from overseas or indigenous to the city landscape. These are real New Yorkers who have found fascinating ways to unleash their joy on the roofs and rivers and parks and streets of New York.

Click heading at top to read Zina's interviews with the New Yorkers I've posted here.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009
  Hitchcock #5: Fletcher Markle interviews Hitchcock
This Fletcher Markle (1921-1991) interview with Alfred Hitchcock appeared January 2, 1964 on the CBC series Telescope, which Markle produced. Also interviewed in part two is Joan Harrison (1907-1994), the creative force behind Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Busy making movies, Hitchcock only directed 17 episodes of that series, which Harrison produced. She was married to novelist Eric Ambler for 36 years. This is the only interview with her I've ever seen.

Director-producer-writer-actor-announcer Markle made his mark in 1947 as the director of CBS radio's hour-long Studio One (launched with an adaptation of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano), and he moved to TV with that series in 1948. Markle was married to Mercedes McCambridge from 1950 to 1962 and thus adopted her child, John Lawrence Markle. In 1987, John Markle killed his wife, his two daughters and himself, as detailed 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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