Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Force Crystals

This "not to be used for evil purposes" FORCE CRYSTALS ad ran in various magazines in 1979-80. It comes astonishingly close to major trademark infringement with its rather obvious redrawn STAR WARS characters and use of variations on "May the Force be with you." What exactly are "force crystals?" Well, to read the ad is to have no clue. Someone worked overtime to NOT actually say anything in this ad! The "actual photo" certainly doesn’t help either. I have to believe that they were actually selling simple, tiny rock crystals and telling you to use your imagination to pretend them to be "space SCARED (??)" What really gets me is that they were ripping fans off to the tune of $4.98 apiece! "Not to be used for eavil purposes?" Yeah right! Do you know how much GAS $4.98 would have bought you in 1980? Oh, and...why does it appear to be snaowing in outer space?

You Know How You Get a Song Stuck in Your Head # 2

Today's stuck like glue music is the 1970 protest song by Johnny Cash entitled 'What is Truth? "The old man turned off the radio
Said, 'Where did all of the old songs go
Kids sure play funny music these days
They play it in the strangest ways'
Said, 'it looks to me like they've all gone wild
It was peaceful back when I was a child'
Well, man, could it be that the girls and boys
Are trying to be heard above your noise?
And the lonely voice of youth cries 'What is truth?'" This was actually a pretty heavy-handed, talky piece against war and promoting youth values. It was a big hit in 1970 thanks in part to the huge youth appeal of the man in Black's popular ABC television series. THE JOHNNY CASH SHOW somehow managed to promote down home family values and at the same time became, in a way, nearly as subversive as THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW by continually giving a musical forum to such artists as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Wonder. Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos even made a rare TV appearnce with Cash, jamming with legendary show regular Carl Perkins! The post-Tork Monkees even guested, doing schtick and Cash's old minor hit, "Everybody Loves a Nut" with Johnny! I don't think I've actually heard "What is Truth?" more than once since those days. Maybe it's the news headlines that brought it back out of the files in my brain. Seems to apply today as much as it did then. Sigh. What goes around comes around and it goes around and around and around and still comes out here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

British Children's TV

My first exposure to British television was probably Gerry Anderson’s FIREBALL XL-5 back when I was five years old. The US imported quite a few shows from the UK back in the day and I became enamored of THE AVENGERS, THE PRISONER and even DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE. Cliff Richard and the St. Trinians girls turned up regularly on the UHF channels in old movies and staid old PBS (or NET at the time) offered more highbrow fare on MASTERPIECE THEATRE. Eventually they picked up britcoms such as Pauline Collins in NO, HONESTLY! before finally presenting DOCTOR WHO, RED DWARF and MYSTERY! One of my favorite British programmes of late has been LIFE ON MARS.
That said, in spite of starting out with kids’ shows, I knew virtually nothing about the history of UK TV for kids when I ran across Ian Hartley’s 1983 GOODNIGHT CHILDREN…EVERYWHERE at a used bookstore in the early nineties. I was intrigued by the appearance of William Hartnell’s DOCTOR WHO on the cover and purchased it immediately.
The book does a splendid job of capturing the early radio and television world of British children, detailing not only the shows that they listened to but also their reactions to them. One mother wrote the BBC to ask that they not have the sounds of horses’ hooves at the end of a radio show as her daughter became afraid that the horses were about to gallop out of the box! Early, simplistic television shows are given equal time with the sixties puppet shows and even US imports such as THE LONE RANGER and TOP CAT (called BOSS CAT in the UK due to a conflict with the brand name of a cat food.) Familiar personalities are profiled as if they were old friends.
One has to presume that these are the shows and stars that the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion groups watched and listened to growing up. These are the shows that influenced the people who most influenced pop culture in the sixties.
I didn’t live in this world of Daphne Oxenford, Mr. Pastry and BLUE PETER and reading about it is, in a way, like reading the history of an alternate universe. If you have even a trace of Anglophile in you, however, it’s a most imaginative and wondrous universe! It makes me wish I HAD lived it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Another Letter From DC

Awhile back, I ran a piece on the form letters DC Comics sent fans in response to letters sent to their comics back in the sixties. More recently, I ran a letter I received from DC inviting me to join a new fan club. Well, today I ran across this forgotten missive from DC’s advertising department received in 1993. You know, sometimes it seems like DC was writing me more than I was writing them!
This time, they wanted me to take a survey. Apparently they wanted me to take it so badly that they were willing to pay me to do so! The letter contained one crisp new dollar bill (and no, it didn’t have Perry White’s face on it) as an enticement to return the survey. This was followed by the suggestion that it be used to go toward buying my next comic book.
The really bizarre part of this is that the back of the stationary contains this marvelous cheerleader move by seven of the most well-known superheroes with Wonder Woman clearly meant to be holding up the DC logo…but it’s on the other side! Was the letter printed on the wrong side? Was the illustration meant to be a lighter, background thing? What’s the deal? Oh, and who did the artwork? Wonder Woman and Robin almost look like friend Michael Netzer. Mike? Oh, and why the John Stewart Green Lantern, I wonder? Just sneaking in a little diversity?
Anyway, I did return the survey but they appear to have ignored anything and everything I said as I have spent the last 13 years since then buying less and less current DC books and, more recently, paying less and less attention to them altogether. I just never thought that would happen but I guess the lesson learned is that nothing lasts forever. I used the dollar to buy a large candy bar and split it with my wife.

Memorial Day

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Unsold TV Pilots

Lee Goldberg’s UNSOLD TV PILOTS, published by Citadel Press in 1991 is actually an abridged version of his similarly titled small press book often found in the reference sections of libraries. Besides research, though, either version can be just plain fun to read as the author describes scores of the most bizarre concepts ever greenlighted. Many of these shows aired as TV movies or episodes of already existing series. Others never aired at all. Some prime examples of actual unsold series included are:
THE RETURN OF THE ORIGINAL YELLOW TORNADO- 1967-Mickey Rooney and Eddie Mayhoff as retired super-heroes. This was written by Jack Benny’s former writing team!
GOOD AGAINST EVIL-1977- the late Dack Rambo starred as a writer who falls for…wait for it…Satan’s girlfriend, then teams up with an exorcist to get her back, righting wrongs and solving crimes along their way.
HIGH RISK-1976-Victor Buono, BATMAN’s King Tut and Joanna (ISIS) Cameron as two of a group of circus performers who use their skills to solve crimes.
ALIAS SHERLOCK HOLMES-1976- Larry (JR) Hagman as a delusional motorcycle cop who thinks he’s the world’s greatest detective and, with the help of his female psychiatrist, conveniently named Dr. Watson, solves crimes.
SHOOTING STARS-1983-Parker Stevenson and Billy Dee Williams (Lando!) as two former TV detectives who become detectives in real life and…you guessed it, solve crimes.
VAMPIRE-1979-Created by HILL STREET BLUES’ Steven Bochco and directed by Bridget (HERE COME THE BRIDES) Hanley’s ex-husband, E.W. Swackhammer, this was the story of a guy (THE EXORCIST’S Jason Miller) who ticks off a vampire (Richard Lynch) and teams up with a retired cop (E.G. Marshall) to stop him…no doubt solving crimes as they do so. A good cast included Barrie Youngfellow, Jessica Walter and Michael Tucker.
BUNGLE ABBEY-1981-Lucille Ball and her husband Gary Morton produced this as a vehicle for her long time co-star Gale Gordon as an Abbott. His "Costellos" included Monks Gino Gonforti, Graham Jarvis and Charlie Callas. As far as I know, they didn’t solve crimes.
YAZOO-1984-William (CANNON, NERO WOLFE) Conrad was legendarily dissed when his hit radio series GUNSMOKE came to television and the CBS brass decided that the portly actor didn’t "look the part." Strange then that somebody somewhere felt the actor WAS right for this series that found his character, a widowed journalist, learning about life in a magical land populated by puppets! (Wonder if they had any crimes to solve?)
WHERE"S EVERETT?-1966- Very early Alan Alda as a man who finds an invisible alien baby on his doorstep one morning. Needless to say, he and his wife decide to adopt and hilarity ensues. Just keeping up with an invisible baby, alien or not, left him little time to solve any crimes even if he wanted to!
SAFARI-1962-Dick Powell produced this AFRICAN QUEEN remake that would have found James Coburn and Glynis Johns having adventures and …aww, YOU know…every week.
THE SUNSHINE BOYS-1977-Red Buttons and Lionel (HART TO HART) Stander as Neil Simon’s "geriatric odd couple" here forced into becoming roommates.
HIGHER GROUND-1988- Singer John Denver as a former FBI agent who avenges his partner and vows to continue to solve crimes in Alaska!
SAVAGE-1973-The producers of COLUMBO brought their boy wonder director Steven Spielberg to this pilot featuring long-time couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain as an investigative TV reporter and his producer solving political crimes.
OUT OF THE BLUE-1968- Academy award winning actress and future Partridge Shirley Jones is, along with the great Carl Ballantine and several others, an alien visiting our planet to see if they’d like to settle here. Hmmm… probably too much crime.

Movies That Fell Through the Cracks # 7

THE DYNAMITE BROTHERS was a no budget 1974 martial arts/blaxploitation film from no talent exploitation movie legend Al Adamson (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, BLAZING STEWARDESSES). "See for the first time street fighting against kung-fu!" promised the ads that showed the film’s leads chained together like it was a latter day remake of the classic THE DEFIANT ONES. Like most films of this type, it promised more than it delivered.
The lead role of Stud Brown (which became the title of the eventual VHS release) was played by Timothy Brown. Brown was a pro football player for Philadelphia for most of the sixties but then, like Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and later O.J. Simpson, opted for an acting career. A small role in the film version of M*A*S*H led to his taking on Williamson’s role of the unfortunately named "Spearchucker" Jones in early episodes of the TV series version. The controversial token black character was written out of the series pretty quickly which apparently freed up Brown for THE DYNAMITE BROTHERS.
The martial arts half of the team was Alan Tang, a second string Asian star/stuntman. The supporting cast included prolific Asian-American actor James Hong and Hollywood veteran Aldo Ray. Ray, sadly suffering from various addictions in the seventies, turned up in everything from a straight role in the porn western SWEET SAVAGE to FRANKENSTEIN’S GREAT AUNT TILLIE! (I recall a late interview in which Aldo claimed to have beaten his addictions and enjoyed a bit of a career revival.)
Timothy Brown has continued an ocassional acting career ever since. Al Adamson was murdered in 1995. I shall attempt to avoid the obvious tasteless joke that it was undoubtedly by someone who had seen his films. OOPS! Sorry.

Alex Toth Passes

Comics art legend Alex Toth died yesterday. Although he began as an old school DC artist in the forties with Kubert, Infantino and Hasen, Alex Toth's artwork, greatly influenced by newspaper cartoonists like Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff, gradually grew more stylized. His panel layouts were legendary and, especially in later years, his long, hand-lettered and illustrated letters to fans, magazines, columns, etc. were highly prized. Although never associated particularly with one strip, Toth is represented here in the Library in many forms. Seen here is a copy of the second Golden Age comic book I ever purchased. ($5.00 in 1974) Toth had been one of the regular artists on the long-running GREEN LANTERN strip that had been cover-featured on ALL-AMERICAN COMICS for ages. With this particular issue, though, # 100, GL took a back seat that would soon lead to his early retirement as Alex Toth presented the new cover feature, JOHNNY THUNDER! Now, of course, all DC fans know that Johnny Thunder was a JSA member and had his own strip (and his own Thunderbolt!) but this was somebody new--a cowboy! The always popular western genre was about to take over the world of pop culture in the fifties on the new medium of television and the comics were jumping on the bandwagon as early as 1948. Toth's storytelling made this a cut above the rest and in just a couple of months, GREEN LANTERN was phased out completely and the book's title changed to ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN. DC reprinted and revived this JOHNNY THUNDER numerous times over the years as Alex Toth's work has grown in stature. He was one of the greats and his incredible work will continue to be discovered by new generations.

Oh, Wicked Wanda!

Beginning in 1972, OH, WICKED WANDA!, PENTHOUSE magazine's answer to Kurtzman and Elder's LITTLE ANNIE FANNY, was a British production, written with a politically and sexually satirical bent by author Frederic Mullaly and painted by classic English comics artist Ron Embleton. In 1975, PENTHOUSE published the now-rare collection seen here which I managed to purchase off the stands in spite of the fact that I was only 16 at the time. Sometimes that prematurely grey hair came in handy. Well, I had been planning to write a piece about OH, WICKED WANDA!, but it all seems so pointless now when this obsessive site-- Oh Wicked Wanda!--offers every little detail you could possibly want to know including the actual stories themselves! Thanks to Curt over on the virtual other side of town at The Groovy Age of Horror for pointing out the site. Adults only, please! Sigh. Some days it's all a blogger can do to keep up!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Castle of Frankenstein-1970

Here’s another one I thought I no longer owned. This was my very first issue of CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Calvin T. Beck’s erratic pop culture mag of the sixties and seventies. I discovered FAMOUS MONSTERS in 1969 so, naturally, when I saw Vincent Price and Christopher lee, two of my horror favorites, on the cover of this OTHER mag along with DARK SHADOWS’ Quentin Collins, I knew I had to buy this issue! Okay, okay. The semi-nude Frank Brunner sorceress babe on the cover may have been a deciding factor as well.
Having started out, like a dozen other also-rans, as more-or-less a clone of FM, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN quickly expanded to include coverage of comic books, genre fiction, television and other aspects of pop culture. Striving to be a bit more adult than FM, CoF presented actual critical reviews, not just pun-filled looks at monster movies. There was also a tradition of semi-nudity, again giving the impression of maturity while appealing to the fanboy. Thus we see in this issue a reprint of a vintage piece on Lon Chaney’s makeup but also a cheesecake photo of Hammer movie starlet Veronica Carlson.
Cover artist Frank Brunner, barely out of his Wrightson-ish phase, gets an early profile and a SMASH GORDON comical strip several years before his Marvel fame. There are features on MAROONED, THE OBLONG BOX, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. There’s also coverage of sci-fi fandom and recent comics releases. There are even two pages of LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND reprints…just because! The back cover of this 1970 monster mag features, of all things, the YELLOW SUBMARINE cartoon Beatles. About the only thing CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN didn’t cover was a regular publishing schedule. Notorious for poor distribution and the length between issues by the time I discovered it, I picked up only intermittent copies going forward (including, of course, the Linda Blair cover in 1974) but they all offered a fuller view of my interests than just about any other magazine at the time.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hammer Films Presents-Vampirella!

Hammer Films had brought the classic Universal movie monsters back to life in garish (un)living color for a new generation of filmgoers beginning in the late fifties with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA. By 1976, however, when it released its final major release, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER with Christopher Lee and Richard Widmark, the studio was on its last legs. A deal with Warren Magazines, whose stories were often inspired by Hammer sensibilities, to film VAMPIRELLA seemed ideal to pull them out of their slump…if only it had come a few years earlier. As it is, this colorful ad (with its umpteenth recycling of THE classic Jose Gonzalez Vampi pose) was all that materialized. At some point, the fan press announced that Playboy model Barbara Leigh had been cast in the lead and somebody, somewhere took a lot of pictures of her in the skimpy costume but I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t Hammer. She looked the part to the extreme and, if she could act at all, might have been able to carry a real film of the story of the reluctant alien vampire and her monster-hunting friends. No film emerged, however, for another two decades. Finally, in 1996, ultra-low budget director Jim Wynorski debuted his silly-looking PVC Vampi, ex-Bond girl Talisa Soto, in a film seemingly designed to be derided by fans and fanboys alike (and how Roger Daltrey got mixed up in it is anyone’s guess!).
Hammer films lives on only in histories and documentaries, Vampirella has returned from Harris Comics, Barbara Leigh has milked her moment of fame much longer than seems possible and the 1996 VAMPIRELLA is already largely forgotten. But in 1976…for a brief moment, we dreamed of Drakulon!

The Great Comic Book Artists

These two volumes of THE GREAT COMIC BOOK ARTISTS come from prolific comic book historian, genre author and sometime William Shatner ghost writer Ron Goulart. Published, respectively, in 1986 and 1989, they offer a nice basic primer on classic and even unsung comics artists from the thirties up through the time of publication. Each volume is laid out so that the left hand page is a biography and the right hand page is a (usually) good black and white scan of an art sample. As you might suspect, with so much work to choose from, many artists are represented by arguably not the best choices. Don’t know how much input Goulart had with the choices, though, and/or how much those choices may have been constrained by rights factors.
The ever-popular John Byrne provided the cover for volume one and Art Adams jumped in for volume two. Besides the obvious choices found here, lesser (but no less interesting) lights such as Matt Baker, Lee Elias, Mort Meskin, George Tuska, Craig Flessel, Mike Grell, Norman Maurer, Tarpe Mills and Ogden Whitney are given equal treatment. Goulart has probably written more books on comic strip and comic book history than any other author and all of them are informative and entertaining. If you're at all interested in the creators behind the comics, these are two of his best.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

You Know How You Get a Song Stuck in Your Head? # 1

From time to time, everyone gets a song stuck in their head. Sometimes it comes from a few seconds on a TV commercial or in an elevator but more often than not, at least in my case, the songs just spring up from my vast (and largely unexplored) subconscious. My lovely wife, pointing out that she can't imagine anyone having a more eclectic inner soundtrack than mine, suggested that I might on ocassion, share these interior musical moments. So here we are with that first look into my subconscious. The two songs that have been stuck in my head since awakening this morning are "Gone Fishin'" by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong and "The Colonel Bogey March" from THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. What's stuck in YOUR head today?

The World's Greatest Superheroes

It didn’t get a lot of fan press as I recall but April of 1978 saw the newspaper debut of THE WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHEROES, a daily and Sunday comic strip featuring DC’s Justice League. Well, initially it just featured Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Packing in more action than most other strips of the period, the first storyline featured classic Justice Society villain Vandal Savage. Doctor Destiny followed. The strip didn’t run for long in my local paper but I clipped it all (as well as some Sunday strips from the NYC Sunday News). During the course of the action, we saw Superman behaving like a male chauvinist pig toward Wonder Woman, a shaved bald Flash needing brain surgery, Aquaman replaced by Batman and Robin and, towards the end, the introduction of Black Canary into the continuity.
Written in the beginning by ex-letter hack Martin "Pesky" Pasko (the first convention guest I ever met!), THE WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHEROES offered some of the best art from (just recently turned ninety-something) veteran George Tuska, inked quite capably and comfortably by the much maligned (and often with good reason) Vince Colletta. The stories were original, the characterizations were strong for a daily strip and yet it was not a resounding success, even in those SUPER-FRIENDS days. According to Wikipedia it ran a lot longer in some markets, eventually featuring other heroes including Black Lightning. Later writers included Gerry Conway, Bob Rozakis, Paul Levitz and Paul Kupperberg. Additional art over the course of the run was provided by Jose Delbo, Bob Smith, Frank McLaughlin and Sal Trapani (or someone ghosting for him anyway!). The focus switched to Superman and the strip continued for about seven years. I doubt many of the fans who would appreciate it have even heard of it today. Hey, DC, you listening? There’s some trade paperback dollars waiting for you in this!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More Paint Pop Art

Seems I've been chasing the day today but the day has too much of a lead. Lots of interesting things to share and talk about as usual including THE VICAR OF DIBLEY, WEIRD HEROES, ALLEY OOP, more lost movies and Vaughn Bode' but no time to give any of it the respect it's due so, for now at least, here's some more recent Paint Pop Art that I've done on break at work. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Popeye Yis What He Yis

At left is a posable rubber POPEYE figure that I got around 1971 at a store called Twin Fair which, ironically, was around the corner from the house I now own . It cost 50 cents. Every so often, I go through a POPEYE phase. Since Fantagraphics has announced a naturally nifty new series of POPEYE books coming soon (see here: Popeye Vol. 1: "I Yam What I Yam": Books: E. C. Segar), I've got a feeling I'll be going through one again soon. As I said about M*A*S*H earlier, there are many distinct versions of POPEYE and nearly all of them have merit. I love the Fleischer POPEYE cartoons of the 1930's and I enjoy the Famous color POPEYE's of the forties and fifties. I grew up with reruns of all of those when I was about ten. Much earlier (and again as a teen) I saw the limited animation TV cartoons of the early sixties. Yes, they're pretty bad BUT they offered a much richer tapestry of creator E.C. Segar's great characters than any of the other series including the Sea Hag and Alice the Goon. Thus, by the time I discovered the Nostalgia Press volume seen here, I was prepped and ready for the real thing-THIMBLE THEATER. The creativity, originality and humor in these original storylines put them on a par with the best literature of their period (to those open-minded enough to pay attention). There have been a number of POPEYE books published since including a nice earlier run by Fantagraphics. These strips, perhaps more than any other of their period, deserve to be in print. Yep. Looks like I have another POPEYE phase coming up.

Gloved M*A*S*H

I respect Rober Altman as a filmmaker but the only one of his films that I have ever actually enjoyed is M*A*S*H. I didn’t catch it in its initial run. In fact, I didn’t even watch the TV series until near the end of the first season and it went on to be an all-time favorite. After the series caught fire, the original, R-rated movie was re-released as a PG film in order to cash in on the TV success. I’m uncertain as to whether or not it was edited or if the original rating had just been appealed. The salty language was still there, blood was omnipresent, Hot Lips was still naked, etc. If anything was cut, it clearly wasn’t much. Anyway, the original poster with the legs and the hand and the peace sign is undoubtedly one of the most memorable film poster images of them all. How many, however, recall that when it was re-issued in the mid-seventies the hand was now wearing a glove? Huh? What did that signify exactly? This prophylactic protection seemed designed to indicate that, contrary to all that skin shown on the original, the movie was, in fact, safe for the TV fans. Anyone who’s seen the TV version and the film version, however (or read the books for that matter) will tell you that each M*A*S*H must be taken on its own terms. You really can’t read M*A*S*H GOES TO MAINE and successfully visualize either Donald Sutherland or Alan Alda as Hawkeye. Neither can you imagine the movie’s anarchist doctors preaching the series’ left-wing philosophies. Both versions, as well as the long series of books by creator "Richard Hooker," are legitimate. Underneath the humor, they all make you think about the horrors of war and that glove certainly doesn’t make those thoughts any safer.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Typical Day at DC-1967

Real or not, thanks to Stan Lee’s editorials and letter pages, sixties comics fans had an idea what things were like in the Marvel Bullpen. DC, then known as National Comics, on the other hand, had kept quiet about that sort of thing, preferring the image of a completely professional corporation. At least they did until late 1967 where, in the unlikely pages of INFERIOR FIVE # 6, we are treated to an exaggerated, but probably factually based, look at what really went on in the DC Bullpen!
INFERIOR FIVE was a superhero parody featuring Merryman (a Woody Allen type), Awkwardman, The Blimp, the cowardly White Feather and the pulchritudinous Dumb Bunny. This issue, however, opened with Merryman promising a brief prologue about how an IF comic book is made. That prologue then takes up the entire issue. Filled with dozens of in-jokes and parodies of comics creators, this story, entitled "How to Make a Bomb!" is actually one of the funniest DC comics ever published.
After a completely misleading cover and an amusing intro featuring a brief look at Ginny and Lucille, "the switchboard girls," we meet I.D., the Boy Wonder and Big Boss of National Comics. Although a parody of then-publisher Irwin Donenfeld (himself soon to be ousted), since he was the son of National Comics founder Harry Donenfeld, he is portrayed as a five year old. I.D. travels in a private elevator down to a sub-basement clearly based on Jack Benny’s legendary vault to visit his staff. Awkwardman observes from the next panel that, "They’re already at the bottom of page 5 and they haven’t even started this issue!"
Editor Jack Miller is introduced next, being fitted for a suit by seven tiny (and racially cliched) Hong Kong tailors as his secretary begins a day-long phone conversation with her mother that occasionally comments on events in the book. I.D. and Jack head off to an editorial conference (the tailors, too) where less than flattering caricatures of Mort Weisinger, Julie Schwartz, Bob Kanigher and others are having a food fight!
The Boy Wonder tells E. Nelson Bridwell, a former MAD writer, to put more of "that MAD spirit" in INFERIOR FIVE. Bridwell rattles off a full panel of MAD nonsense words like "potrzebie" and "fershlugginer" to which I.D. replies, "I’m dubious but try!" At the bottom of the page, Awkwardman observes that, "This ‘brief prologue’ promises to be longer than THE BIBLE." (Merryman responds with, "And that WAS a long movie!"
Miller(and his tailors)meet up with this issue’s artist, Mike Sekowsky and they decide to go see Art Director carmine Infantino for a cover conference only to run into a fanboy tour! Carmine, when they do find him, breaks the fourth wall to use the Blimp as a model (for a vase!), then it’s off to Sol Harrison and Jack Adler in the Art Department, dueling with ink. The aptly named letterer, Joe Letterese gives a gothic touch to the issue’s text next. Then Miller tells Bridwell that he heard he won an Alley Award (Fandom’s early version of the Eisners) for writing INFERIOR FIVE. Bridwell counters that actually he was beaten up in an alley for writing the mag!
A lisping mad scientist-type shows up to audition for the villain role followed by our actual hapless heroes confronting their creators about using all of the space just as the seven little tailors finally finish the straitjacket they’ve been sewing for Jack Miller and take him away, leaving his secretary to sum up the day as the Inferior Five sack out on the floor in the office. A typical day at National Comics in late 1967?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A History of the Beatles

Today’s feature is another that could have fit under the Movies That Fell Through the Cracks banner except that
a) it isn’t really a movie and
b) every bit of the footage is easily accessible on the Internet.
A HISTORY OF THE BEATLES was a more-or-less random compilation of rare footage of the Fab Four that played the Alpha Fine Arts Theater in Cincinnati in early 1978. For all I know, it may well have been compiled locally and that may well have been the ONLY place it played.
Note that the flyer emphasizes that this is NOT a multimedia performance or a slide show. Throughout the seventies, various travelling shows attempted to cash in on the Beatles with exactly those tactics, to varying success. BEATLEMANIA ( "NOT the Beatles but an incredible simulation!")continued well into the eighties, in fact, when I finally saw it. I liked it. Clearly a lot of work went into it and there was a live group on stage performing Beatle songs (in various period costumes) to an overwhelming backdrop of historical context footage, sight and sound. Casual fans loved it but many hardcore fans decried the stage shows. Thus, to appeal to those fans, they distanced themselves with the disclaimer for A HISTORY OF THE BEATLES.
The Alpha Fine Arts had been (without the "Fine Arts" tag) a notorious porno theater that, as you might guess in Cincinnati, was constantly in trouble for one thing or another in the seventies. In the late seventies, it underwent a complete rehabilitation and became a repertory cinema. Their colorful monthly calendars were filled with such fare as SIDDHARTHA, BARBARELLA, THE BICYCLE THIEF and M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY. I had to take two buses to get there (age 19. I didn’t drive until 32 but that’s another story) but I would try to make it every Sunday afternoon.
The footage found in A HISTORY OF THE BEATLES included the STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER video (with Dick Clark outro), REVOLUTION on DAVID FROST, early concert clips, ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE and…well, I’m not sure. You see, one of the first pre-recorded videos I purchased when I bought my beloved Betamax two years later was a two tape set of the same stuff…with about four hours added on! I get confused as to which footage was actually on display at the Alpha. The tape included the full Shea Stadium TV special, the full Tokyo concert and the full MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR and I’m sure THOSE weren’t a part of HISTORY.
Anyway, for a Beatles fan like myself, that showing I attended at the Alpha Fine Arts 28 years ago now was an overload of new to me musical joy. Yeah, yeah, yeah indeed!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

View From the Sandbox

One item, if you can call her that (and I’d better not!), seen around the Library every day is my lovely wife, Rene. She has a blog also, dedicated to political issues from a liberal mother’s point of view. VIEW FROM THE SANDBOX grew out of her participation as one of the founding mothers of the Million Mom March in 2000. Of late, her blog has presented some interesting pieces, my favorite being her just posted article on the "English as national language" controversy which she posted in multiple languages including Greek, Spanish, German and Russian. Please check it out here at VIEW FROM THE SANDBOX and then go back and read some of her other editorials. I may be prejudiced, but by looking at things from a different perspective than most of the pundits, she sometimes makes some valid points rarely heard elsewhere.

Movies That Fell Through the Cracks # 6

THE LEGEND OF HILLBILLY JOHN was a barely released 1974 movie based on well-known author Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories. Although he wrote regular fiction and science-fiction (as well as some scripts and non-fiction), the author is best remembered for his Appalachian balladeer horror stories but this is the only one that made it to the screen.
Improbably produced by CAGNEY AND LACEY’S Barney Rozensweig and directed by ONE STEP BEYOND’s John Newland, the film boasts an impressive cast of character actors including Second City alumnus Severn Darden, Susan Strasberg, Harris Yulin and, one of my favorites, the unfortunately monickered Percy Rodrigues. Topbilled as John is one Hedge Capers who, assuming he didn’t change his name, apparently never worked in show business again. Original music was by Hoyt Axton who seemingly could do no wrong in the seventies. Special effects were by Gene Warren who had an impressive credits list that included the stop motion work on the original LAND OF THE LOST.
IMDB describes the plot as "A wandering ballad singer in the Appalachians meets an ugly bird-type creature, is transported back in time, finds himself involved in the Devil's work." Their reviews offer fond recollections of fans of the books, all of whom cite the low budget restrictions of the movie. Steeped in the folk traditions of the Carolinas, Wellman’s tales would probably be hard to visualize as well as anything the books could display inside your own head. I find myself wondering, though, if the guitar carrying wanderer didn’t influence the folks who later brought you SIX-STRING SAMURAI.
You’re probably better off reading up on Wellman, himself , so here’s a link to a good source: The Voice of the Mountains

Stan Lee's Best of the World's Worst

What did Stan Lee do for a hobby before he started doing all of those movie cameos (I can understand Spidey and FF but PRINCESS DIARIES 2? Where did THAT one come from?)? Answer: he wrote books! Or…did he? To look at this cover for RHINO PRESENTS THE BEST OF THE WORLD’S WORST, published in 1994, one would get the definite impression that Stan the Man was the author, wouldn’t one? The fact that the copyright is held by Stan Lee would seem to cinch that but then, if you read the fine print on the acknowledgments page you’ve got a compiler, editors and a list of "researchers, helpers, typists and exotic dancers." The most telling phrase is one that says "featuring caustic comments capriciously choreographed and concocted by Stan Lee." Hmmm… Opposite this page is the title page which now calls the book, STAN LEE PRESENTS THE BEST OF THE WORLD’S WORST and is followed by a quote stating, "If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you steal from many, it’s research." What th’??? "Steal?" Are they trying to subtly tell us what becomes obvious as soon as you start the body of the book—that Stan’s contributions are minimal at best. Each page offers a number of paragraphs (some illustrated by various artists including sometime Marvel folks, Jim Owsley and Ed Hannigan) of trivial interest and under each one is an italicized Jay Leno-style zinger from the man who would later bring you STRIPPERELLA. Since he has to come up with something for every single piece, most of them fall flatter than Mister Fantastic after a bad day. For instance, after a piece about a Spanish Church that collapsed after taking 90 years to build, Stan writes, "They shouldn’t have rushed the job." After a piece on the Guyana Tragedy, Stan writes "Odd. We thought they’d died of old age." To be fair, some are better but none bring out a real chuckle. Rhino Records was responsible for this book…which readily explains why they’re Rhino RECORDS and not Rhino BOOKS!

Friday, May 19, 2006

DC Swipes Kirby!

Here's an unexpected one for the Jack Kirby swipe file series in THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR(but since I have my own blog, I'm debuting it here) and it's a weird one. One of my all-time favorite splash pages comes from the CAPTAIN AMERICA story in Marvel's TALES OF SUSPENSE 92, 1967. It's a simple piece featuring Steve (CA) Rogers arriving back home at a commercial airport after a long series of very eventful issues. He's smiling, he's optimistic, he's...wait a minute. What's the deal with that scene-stealing little girl holding a doll? She's waving at us like she knows she's in a comic book! In fact, she doesn't look much like a Kirby character at all! I always had the sneaking suspicion that frequent Kirby inker Joe Sinnott threw in a drawing of his daughter or something just for fun. In fact, I vaguely recall an interview where someone asked Sinnott about that panel but I don't recall what he said. Jump now to DC's METAMORPHO 16 which hit the stands just a couple months later and...whadda ya know? There she is again! In fact, the entire airport crowd, in approximately their exact same positions, turns up at a dock where a cruise ship is leaving! Credited artist is Sal Trapani but Sal had a reputation for lots of assistants or, quite often, simply farming out or subcontracting the work he had been assigned. The inks still look to me like the heavy Charles Paris inks that had defined the look of the series but neither DC's SHOWCASE volume nor GCD credits an inker other than, perhaps, Trapani himself. So the question is, who was drawing this scene? Did they need a small crowd scene and just lift it plain and simply from the Cap tale which more than likely was on the stands just as the Element Man story was being drawn? If it was Sinnott's daughter, neice, neighbor or whoever, I wonder if she ever saw herself in THIS one!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Hulk is Coming (1978)

In late 1978, with the semi-success of the SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip (and the failure of THE VIRTUE OF VERA VALIANT), Marvel ventured once again onto the ink-stained pages of America’s newspapers with THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Hulk had been much more successful than Spidey on television. In fact, the newspaper Hulk was, as on TV, David Banner, not Bruce. Ostensibly written by Stan Lee (but I’d venture that they would more than likely put his name on it no matter who was actually writing it) and drawn by his brother Larry Lieber, the plots are fairly uninteresting and the action typically, as in most newspaper strips, drawn out. Aided either by a jarring variety of inkers or at least inking styles, Lieber’s artwork went from pretty good to rushed in a matter of weeks. Seen here is the cool "Coming Soon" ad that appeared in my local paper along with the introductory week of strips. It was not uncommon for newspaper syndicates to provide such strips to get readers up to speed when the series began in a new market. Noting the extremely crude lettering on these, I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that these may have been cobbled together in-house by The Cincinnati Post themselves rather than distributed by the syndicate. I’m not certain how long THE INCREDIBLE HULK lasted in papers elsewhere but around here, the strip was gone pretty quickly, leaving ol’ Greenskin alone to sit in a corner and wait for Peter David to come along and make him interesting again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fandom Annual # 3

I thought I had sold FANDOM ANNUAL # 3 a few years ago but I found it slightly misplaced in the archives last night. This 200 page bound volume collects what is essentially a "Best Of" compilation of early RBCC articles and art. Published circa 1972 (there’s no date) it features such a wide variety of fan-oriented obsessions that it eerily echoes the blog I, myself, have now created! Legendary fan G.B. Love was the editor and his talented replacement, James Van Hise (who still owes me some money on that last RBCC subscription renewal but, hey, that’s all water under the bridge…) assisted.
An index of the contents will give some idea of just how diverse fandom was in those days (and maybe how I got to be that way, too!).
Cover-Sub-Mariner by Farwell and Warner
(?)Inside Cover-Fighting American by Bill Black

EC Revisited by Rich Hauser-20 page section illustrated by original and fan EC art
Blackmark- a review of Gil Kane’s sword and sorcery paperback

Undergrounds- a one page piece by Van Hise

Comics Fans- an undergroundish strip that defines fanboys in 3 pages of still true truisims

Untamed Love-a Frazetta reprint

Interview with Garry Trudeau

An index of UNCLE SCROOGE comics by…wait for it…DON ROSA!!!!!

Magazine reprint on Alex Raymond

Flash Gordon-one page reprint

Serial stills, posters and lobby cards for 16 pages

Harryhausen stills

TOR by Joe Kubert-Cover and 11 page reprint

Star Trek article with rare illustrations

WHITE INDIAN-Frazetta reprint

The Williamson Collector-23 pages of this popular RBCC review feature, with art

Return of the Werewolf-Horror reprint by Al Williamson and Harold LeDoux

7 page Lone Ranger piece with great stills

3 pages of early Wallace Wood art

The Ray- Lou Fine reprint

Interview with PRINCE VALIANT’S Hal Foster

White Indian-another Frank Frazetta reprint

Rocketship-Flash Gordon serial feature reviewed

Buster Crabbe and the Maid of Mars-yet another reprint

SPACEHAWK- Basil Wolverton sci-fi reprint!

Days of Valor- Multi-page EC reviews

Captain Comet-Space Pilot, one final comic book reprint

A series of classic and (at least then) little-seen golden age comic covers

Back Cover-PRINCE VALIANT by Hal Foster
Whew! As I said, what a diverse bunch of stuff…much like what I’ve been presenting here. Okay, Van Hise, I guess I got something out of all this after all. Let’s call it square on that subscription mess, deal?