Tuesday, August 26, 2003

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Lest you think I've spent all my time with my nose buried in one floppy pamphlet or another, I've been watching some movies over the last few days as well...including a couple that have been on my "want to see list" for a few years now.

First up is Kissed, easily the best film I've ever seen about necrophilia. That's right, necrophilia- and it's not some low budget exploitation film made to get a quick buck but a sensitive and thoughtful portrayal of a definitely deviant practice. The deviant in question is one Sandra Larson (Molly Parker, above), who we first see as a young girl obsessed and fascinated with death. When she would find a dead animal, she would take it to a special burial ground and perform an elaborate ritual before she buried it, rubbing it on her body in what she called "the anointment". As a young adult, she is shown working at a flower shop but is soon employed at a funeral home after she makes a delivery and is so overwhelmed by the atmosphere that she asks to work there. Sandra, you see, believes that she's performing a sacrament of sorts, and acheives a kind of transcendence in which she "knows" her partner and comforts him, complete with white light and heavenly voices. Eventually, in college studying to be a mortician, she encounters a young man in a coffee shop who is attracted to her, and she likewise. She reveals her secret to him, and at first he's curious but becomes obsessed as time goes on with her and her habits, and while you're sure that no good will come of their relationship it takes an unexpected, but fitting, turn. Kissed deals with some pretty unpleasant stuff in a smart, reserved fashion. There's no explicit sex in the film, even though director Lynne Stopkewich makes it pretty clear what's going on. A memorable, sometimes disturbing but often beautiful film, it certainly enables me to come as close to understanding a necrophiliac as I ever want...and also makes me think maybe I might want to be cremated when I go.

I also caught the HBO film RKO 21, a fictionalized account of one of my favorite films, Citizen Kane- the genesis, filming, and subsequent struggles with its subject, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Excellent performances by Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles, Roy Scheider as RKO studio head George Schafer, and Melanie Griffith, of all people, as Marion Davies, Hearst's mistress. She's no Claire Danes in The Cat's Meow, but she's pretty damn good. The filmmakers play fast and loose with the facts in the name of dramatics...but amazingly, it all works and you get caught up in the story just the same. The period detail is excellent, and the recreations of certain Kane scenes are spot on. I recommend that if you see this, see Kane afterwards to see what the fuss was about.

With all the recent Bob Hope tributes in mind, I sat down and watched his 1961 film Bachelor in Paradise on TCM this morning. It was aired as part of TCM's "Summer Under the Stars" theme, in which they spotlight a different film legend each day in August, and this was part of co-star Lana Turner's tribute. Made one year after I was born, I got a kick out of seeing furniture, clothes, cars, grocery store boxes and so on that I remember from pictures from when I was a baby. The story itself was a bit of antiquated fluff about Hope, a notorious bachelor and author of racy books about life in different countries, being forced by the IRS (his accountant had absconded with Hope's money and left him penniless and in debt to the government) to move into a planned community in California, where he intends to research and write a book about life in the suburbs in order to pay off his tax debt. Assuming an alias, he acts as advisor and benefactor to all the lonely, neglected housewives in the neighborhood, romances bachelorette Turner (whose house he rents), and pisses off all the husbands, and "hilarity ensues" until all misunderstandings are resolved and Bob gets the girl, for once. Like I said, this is all very dated-there's a scene where Hope encounters an odd little neighborhood girl in the grocery store parking lot as he prepares to go in; she's curious about the stranger, and she wishes to go with him to the grocery to help Bob out. She asks her mother, and her mother says OK! Yes, that's right! Can you IMAGINE that happening today? Bob would be in jail so fast his head would spin! Dated, yes-but it's fun, and I found myself chuckling several times. Also gotta mention the cool, jazzy score by Henry Mancini which kept impressing itself on my ear. So it's well worth a watch, if nothing else but to see a world that just doesn't exist anymore.

I've got at least three more movies that I've wanted to see for some time now, but haven't been able to find to rent and managed to miss them on cable: the recent Lost in La Mancha, the documentary of the failed filming of Terry (Fisher King, Adventures of Baron Munchausen) Gilliam's Don Quixote movie with Johnny Depp; The Whole Wide World, a 1996 film with Vincent D'Onofrio as Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard and Renee (sigh) Zellweger as the love interest; and 1995's Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker in this tale about her life and her role in the renowned Algonquin Round Table. Kissed was one of those films, and now I've seen it; so I suppose hope springs eternal. It took me 24 years to finally see Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr's Son of Dracula, which turned out to be an awful film but I'm one of the biggest Nilsson (and Beatle) fans there is, and I just had to see it.
Well, I see where Fox has dropped its suit against Al Franken, serving up a snarky cheap shot as they did so. The "Honi Soit" subheading is back in its accustomed place, and as I understand it, the "Fair and Balanced" blogthing is over. Had a great time, and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts waiting for you backstage.

On behalf of Tick, Futurama and Firefly fans everywhere, fuck Fox.

Maybe more later...

Monday, August 25, 2003

On a related note, here's what I'll be getting Wednesday according to the new Diamond shipping list:

HELLBOY WEIRD TALES #4
BEWARE THE CREEPER #5
HELLBLAZER #187
JLA #85
LEGION #23
PLANETARY #16
(I'll believe it when I see it)
SLEEPER #8
SUPERMAN: RED SON #3
JACK STAFF #3
(yay!)

I'll also still have that copy of Witchblade Animated 1 and the Human Target TPB in my folder as well, but this looks to be a heavy week so I'll wait a while longer. My comics shop is having a 25% off sale Saturday, and if I have any money at all that might be a good time to pick those up.

Sean Collins has posted two very persuasive and well-thought-out posts about what he feels is central to the survival and eventual prosperity of those floppy pamphlets that some of us still refer to as "comics books"- the adoption and adaption of book formats and storytelling techniques currently employed by our friends to the East, who publish Manga (the Japanese term for comics, but you probably already knew that) that is distributed over here and is selling like those proverbial hotcakes.

And you know what? For the most part, I agree with him. Adopting the Manga model would certaily result in better-looking, more "real" book-ish , self contained stories that don't require familiarity with years and years of continuity, and presumably "real" booksellers would be more willing to embrace these titles. Despite the fact that I remain addicted to the monthly or bi-monthly (or more, depending on the creators) "pamphlet" coming out and giving me the same "fix" that watching a weekly television show does, it has always irked me when creators, for various reasons, will have to bail on a project in the middle of the run...and nine and one half times out of ten the creators named to replace them are not of the same quality. I think the Manga-style format would eliminate that, if the creators know going in that they're working on a finite story, then they can finish it at their own speed. Now here's where my ignorance of most Manga comes in (and I'll address that later)...it's unclear to me whether or not the model Sean has in mind is, say, the equivalent of six of what would have been monthly comics, coming out every other month, or once a year, or whatever. I don't really know what the frequency of actual Manga titles is. But if it means that some creators wouldn't have that 20 pages a month, every month deadline breathing down their neck, I think it would be a very good thing. I, for one, am perfectly willing to wait for an issue of a comic if it means that the original creators, the ones I'm presumably buying the book for, are able to do these stories without needing fill-ins, the inker of the month, or what have you.

Now as far as the notion of adapting Manga styles in the art and writing, in an effort to make the stories more palatable to the Manga audience, I'm a little less enthusastic about that. There's a strong Manga influence in a lot of mainstream comics already, if nothing else sort of a "monkey see, monkey do" factor, and while I understand that there is much more to Manga art and writing than we're seeing, I just don't want to see companies dictating art styles any more than is necessary. I know it goes on, but right now, I think there's a diversity in art styles, in comics right now, that we haven't seen in a long time, if ever. Remember, I'm of an age when the Jack Kirby Marvel House Style was enforced stubbornly, and I remember Barry Smith's early *shudder* efforts to conform. Many of the visual tricks- speed lines, figure rendering, superdeformity- are being employed frequently. I'm not sure I want to see much more cross-pollenation. I think if the content is there, then it's adaptable to any format. And that brings up another big problem I've had with most of the Manga I've read over the years, and frankly a big reason why I'm a little less enthusiastic about totally embracing the genre completely- while I am interested in and somewhat appreciate Japanese culture, most of the stories I've read, while often visually arresting, are extremely lacking story-and-content wise. Maybe this is just a case of me reading the wrong stuff, I don't know- but what I've read has been a mile wide and an inch deep, as they say around these parts. As a result, I just don't buy very many Manga, although I appreciate the use of its tricks in many of the domestic titles I do buy.

Another concern I have is, as always, price. Even though I know it's more cost-effective to buy a collection rather than individual issues, especially when most mainstream books go for $3 a pop, it's just easier for me to cough up $20 for six seperate books, for example, than it is for me to shell out the same amount, at least, for one collected title. I just read, over at Pop Culture Gadabout where commenter Darren Madigan notes that a parent is most likely going to be reluctant to buy their kids a three dollar comic book, if asked to do so. In this way, the book format might alleviate the "sticker shock" that parents might experience. I can see that, certainly- I bought comics for my son a lot when he was growing up, and I'm sure he would have had me buy him a lot more...but I just couldn't afford at least twice as many comics every week! I know, I know...a good parent would have cut back on his own purchases. Sigh.

I don't really have a problem with the trade dress style issue, because sometimes a certain uniformity can look very good. An example could be recent runs of both Batman and Detective Comics, along with most of the other Bat-titles, which sported a standardized logo design and just looked plain old sharp to my eyes. I think it will just be incumbent on the designer to make the books look as distinctive as possible.

I think perhaps Sean underestimates the pre-teen fixation on the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon on sales of Manga collections. I'm not entirely convinced that Manga without some sort of TV, gaming or film tie-in would be as desirable to young buyers. However, the comics shop I frequent, located in a college town, does carry and sell Manga books, so it's not unheard-of. I don't know how much they sell; maybe I'll ask Wednesday.

So there you have it. Sean makes a very convincing argument, and as I said, I agree with him on a number of his assertions. This being said, if "floppy pamphlets" must be phased out, then I hope it's a gradual one. They may be relatively expensive, not very design-efficient, and obsolete as a product point, but I am one of the unenlightened that still enjoys his weekly fix- so I may be blinded to a lot of his argument. Either way, it's certainly been an argument that's provided a lot of inspired discourse on the subject. Go to the Usual Team Comics Suspects for more- like Bill Sherman, Dirk Deppey, Alan David Doane, Franklin Harris, Tegan Gjovaag, Neilalien and others for more.
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Lots of interesting people having (or would have had) birthdays today.

First, Declan McManus aka Elvis Costello, always interesting and listenable if not always enjoyable. His best album remains, to me, 1978's This Year's Model, but I still find myself listening often to lesser regarded efforts like 1991's Mighty Like a Rose and 1987's Blood and Chocolate. Elvis is 48 today.

Next, the only real James Bond, Sir Sean Connery, 73. Fave Connery films, besides the Bonds (a given) are 1975's The Wind and the Lion and The Man Who Would Be King, and I always thought he did a good job in 1981's otherwise dodgy Outland. Then there's The Untouchables, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and...oh, you get the picture. So to speak.

Finally, the "It" Girl of the Roaring Twenties, Clara Bow, would have celebrated her 98th today...and I'll bet, based on the legendary stories about her heyday, she would have celebrated.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

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BEST OF THE WEEK


COMICS REVIEWS!
What I bought and what I thought, week of August 20


Kind of a difficult week to rate- while most of what I bought was of good quality, almost everything had a flaw or two, preventing me from wholeheartedly embracing anything. Still, a good week.

HUMAN TARGET 1
The Target's been around since the mid-70s, but not much else has been done with him because writers have beither been unable or unwilling to dream up fresh situations in which to place him. Peter Milligan thought of something fresh a few years ago but unfortunately it's the only thing, apparently, he can think of so once again we get Chris Chance submerging his identity inside someone who he impersonates. A valid and logical, if somewhat cynical slant on this impersonator par excellence, but after one mini-series and the graphic novel (that I haven't read yet) of which this ongoing is a continuation, I'm thinking enough is enough. Javier Pulido saves the day with his expressive and deceptively simplistic art- as long as he's around I think I can be patient with Milligan. A-

SMAX 1
The very thing that the likes of Neil Gaiman and the horde of CrossGen writers celebrate, Alan Moore sends up with this clever and fun spotlight on two of his Top 10 characters. A little slight, but always clever and while I think I like Zander Cannon better as Gene Ha's inker, he turns in a nice job with all the requisite Easter Egg-type stuff that 10 fans groove on. This is at least as witty as Shrek, which this resembles, and is a good first chapter to what promises to be a fun series. A-

DAREDEVIL 50
In which the Kingpin finds out that, as the saying goes, "you can't go home again" and gets a convincing comeuppance from not only our hero but his former underlings as well. And if you think I've given everything away with major spoilers, well, you're wrong...as usual with Bendis it's the dialogue and character interaction that make the difference, and it's sharp as always. Myself, I'm hoping that maybe this will signal an end to the Miller-inspired DD/Kingpin/Elektra/Bullseye related plots that have been a part of this book forever and ever, and perhaps an opportunity to go in some other direction for a while. Docked a notch for a silly and self-indulgent sequence, during the big climactic showdown, in which many of the artists associated with DD past (and Bendis, too) get a panel each. It's nice to see Romita Sr. and Colan get a panel, and I know that it's intended to reinforce the weary feeling Daredevil has at having to face down the Kingpin again like so many times over the years- but it's needlessly distracting. B+

LUCIFER 41
A fine "morning after" type story in which we get a few more plot threads tied and prepare for the next big story arc. The focus is mostly on the halfbreed angel Elaine Belloc and her ghostly friend Mona, whose rescue was the main object of the previous big quest, and their story is resolved in winning fashion. The art, by fill-in David Hahn (someon who I'm not familiar with at all) is OK, if a little cutesy- kinda reminds me of a cross between Linda Medley and Mike Allred, only not that good. One thing I know- I'll never be mean to a hedgehog, if I ever run across one. B+

CINNAMON: EL CICLO 1
The original Cinnamon was an Old West-type character, if I recall correctly, that had one or two backup stories in Weird Western Tales, or something like that. Introduced with little fanfare and drawn by Jack Abel, I think...she dressed all in white, and was gunning for the men who killed her Daddy. The DC Implosion did her in, although I seem to recall her popping up here and there in Jonah Hex or Weird Western in the 80s. I don't think she's been used since, but I may be wrong because I've never been what you could call a hardcore western comics fan. Anyway, here she is now, all tarted up and decked out in a long brown leather duster a la Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead and coming across all Clint Eastwoody. That duster is muy caliente in the desert, I'll bet. Hope she wears a good deodorant. I kept having to remind myself that I wasn't reading an issue of 100 Bullets, because everyone talks that terse, TV crime show dialogue and the artists draw in a style that looks like mid 80s Mike Mignola crossed with 100 B's Eduardo Risso...problem is, they haven't been studying Risso long enough to have his style down pat and there are a lot of awkward-looking panels, perspective shots and poses. But in spite of everything, something about the character is compelling so I'll keep buying. B

1602 1
I liked Sandman for the most part, especially when someone with a strong, interesting style like Jill Thompson or Marc Hempel illustrated it. Gaiman came up with one really interesting concept, his Endless family, and embellished it wonderfully...and if his dialogue was stiff, mannered and florid, well who cared? It fit the concept. I've never read any of his prose novels, so I can't really judge his acumen in that area. 1602 would be easy to dismiss as Neil's attempt to do a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for Marvel, and someone's already undertaken the task of annotating it just like he did with League...but I don't really think that's what he's up to. The League was public domain characters in a somewhat generic "evil menace threatens the world" fantasy story setting, and Moore's wit and imagination made it more than just that. Gaiman has no sense of humor, at least not in his writing, and the story he seems to be setting up is Marvels again, but in a different setting, with lots of heavy handed cameos and more Easter Eggs. Combined with poorly rendered, fuzzy looking Andy Kubert art, the feeling I got from all this was that this is just more insular Marvel lore, recycled in Victorian clothes for True Believers and Marvelites everywhere. Will it get more interesting? I think so...but I'm not going to wait long. Four issues tops. B-

TOM STRONG 21
We get Alan Moore good and Alan Moore bad this week. I like the concept and the world Moore has created for his pulp hero homage Strong. It's a lot of fun. But he's gone way too far with all the dreary, convoluted time travel crap and multiple worlds with multiple Strong families of all shapes and sizes...it's like reading the same issue of What If? over and over and over again. Another attraction for me with this book has been the art by co-creator Chris Sprouse...but of course he's taking a break and this particular story arc is being illustrated by Jerry Ordway, whose precise and bland style doesn't add a thing. Best thing about this issue is Sprouse and Karl Story's cover, a nice swipe of Fantastic Four 26. C
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See, ADD, somebody used your banner!

So, apparently, at least two creators have delivered work to CrossGen, and have not been paid, and have met with stonewalling and excuses when they attempted to find out why. The publisher and his marketing director have resorted to namecalling and vague hints when responding to the allegations. The whole thing is summed up, so far, in typically succinct fashion by Dirk Deppey.

My take? While I understand that small publishers, like any small(er) business, have to resort to belt-tightening and can often have cash flow problems, still it seems like the creators in question have been dealt with in a very dodgy fashion. It reminds me of the last year I worked at WLOC in the early 90s (not to be confused with the WLOC where I work now...similar, but different and a long story). A small, family-owned station in a small town, WLOC had always depended on its advertising revenue from its daytime AM and FM programming to survive. It had a weak signal- sufficient in 1960, when the station was established, but hopelessly antiquated in 1992 and unable to get us out beyond a 25 mile range. When the owner died, previously existing cash flow problems got worse, resulting in several bounced and missed paychecks. When I confronted his youngest daughter, who had been running things, about getting paid (I was already owed two paychecks) I was told flat out that they just didn't have the money, and I should look at the big picture, "take one for the team", so to speak, and trust them to get me the money ASAP. Well, I couldn't go along with that...I love music as much as anybody on the face of God's Earth, and that station was a lot of fun, but I couldn't work for free...so I walked. They shut down two months later, and I never did get all that money back.

The freelancers who are having the difficulties with CrossGen don't have that luxury; they can only hope to become squeaky enough wheels to where they can get some grease. I think it would behoove CG to scrape up the cash somewhere, pay these fellows, and reduce the amount of future damage control they'll have to deal with. Easy for me to say, huh!

Maybe I could be more charitable if I was a CG reader, but other than a halfhearted attempt to read Meridian a few months ago I've never acquired the habit. I'm just not all that interested in the sort of Marion Bradley Zimmer/Anne McCaffrey/Tolkein sort of high fantasy-SF stuff that seems to be the main focus of the CG line. If I was 12 years old, I might think different, but sadly, I'm not...so I just don't care one way or another how the company fares, except that I would hate to see people out of work.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Hello...I've been out and about most of the day, and haven't had any time to sit and compose my thoughts, so no bloggage from me so far. I still have comics reviews to write, and that includes 1602- and I'd like to chime in on the interesting discussions going on here and there about manga and comics and adults who still read comics (like me, presumably) and CrossGen and so on and so forth.

So stay tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

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BSBdG's today, a bit posthumously, to illustrator/author Aubrey Beadsley, who would have been 131 today.
At some point today, one of you lucky people will become the 10,000th visitor to my humble little blog, and for that I thank you, and everyone else who cares enough to visit.

I wish I could send you a prize or something, but I guess you'll just have to settle for my undying gratitude.
Well, Brendan's gonna do it soon, or so he says, and Rhonda's already done it, being inspired by Solonor. All the cool kids are doing it, so I will too.

What, you may ask?

My List of Top Five Guilty Pleasure Songs!

1. "It Might Be You" by Stephen Bishop.
The fact that this is a drop-dead lovely melody balances out its cloying sweetness, at least in my head. From the Tootsie soundtrack, by the way.

2. "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers.
Yeah, the Rollers as a group or a marketing concept or whatever they were was dumb as hell, all wrapped in tartan and high-water pants...but this song is a stomping gem from the late glam-rock period (I'll bet Marc Bolan wailed and gnashed his teeth with envy when he heard it) and it always makes me dance around the room, just like Charlie Mackenzie's dad in So I Married an Axe Murderer.

3. "Foolish Beat"-Debbie Gibson
Another song that I was probably too old to appreciate fully when it came out...but the gorgeous melody receptors in my brain hummed along with pleasure. It's amazing that she wrote, arranged and performed this all by herself, or so the story goes.

4. "Mr. Roboto"-Styx
Dennis DeYoung, the writer of this camp classic, was so far up his own ass by the time he did this that he honestly thought he was doing significant social commentary. Fortunately for us, by the time he and the rest of the boys got finished with it, it came out as cheesy as just about every Styx song did. I'm not really a hard core Styx-basher, though, don't get me wrong- they were as tuneful as the next mid-70s corporate rock band, even if they did take themselves way too seriously, and I defy you not to carry this around in your head all day after hearing it. When I took Japanese language classes in college, the teacher made it a point to mention that "Mr. Roboto" does not come after "domo arigato". Another Styx song I love that was nowhere near as big a hit as "Roboto": "Music Time", in which they made fun of themselves for a change and it was funny and catchy as hell. Which is why, I'm sure, that it was a flop as a single.

5."When 2 Become 1"-The Spice Girls
Hey, stop snickering. I liked the Spice Girls. What's not to like? Five good-looking girls, with manufactured but likeable personalities (well, I'm not sure about Posh on that account) and some of England's best hitmakers working their ass off to write them hit songs. Just like the Monkees, but better looking. Anywho, this is another gorgeous song which gets in my head from time to time. Another nice ballad is from their final record, Forever: "Goodbye". In fact, I like that song better than this one, but "2 Become 1" was a bigger hit, so I figure you've heard of it, at least.

And there you have it! And the title "guilty pleasures" is a misnomer- I regret nothing, do you hear! Nothing!
Found links at both Neilalien and ADD to the forthcoming book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book. This could be very interesting. There's already a few noteworthy items to be found in the "extras" section, mostly correspondence from the Smilin' One to Jack Kirby and others.

There are few more controversial topics in the comics world than who did what in Marvel's glory years. It seems fairly obvious to me that Kirby, Ditko, and many others had as much to do with the creation of these stories and characters as Lee did, and I've always bristled when I would see Stan get sole credit for the creation of the FF, Spidey, and others in the Marvel pantheon. It should be apparent that Kirby in particular was a creative and imaginative force in that period. I always have to ask: what did Stan create after Jack and Steve left? That being said, it's always seemed equally as obvious that Lee's greatest contribution was his snappy, fresh dialogue. Some of those early Marvels are a joy to read because of it. Sure, he could be melodramatic at times, but even then Stan had a recognizable style. One of the first comics I remember owning was Amazing Spider-Man 16, in which he teamed up with Daredevil against the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. I recently re-read this story in an Essential collection, and I got just as many chuckles from the back-and-forth between Spidey and the Circus as I did over thirty years ago. I think Stan fed a lot from his collaborators-witness how stilted and bland his last scripting efforts were in the early 70s, the waning days of Marvel's Golden period after Ditko and Kirby had gone and Lee was phasing himself out of the editor position. That being said, I'm sure that Lee did contribute some story and character ideas as well- but his greatest contribution was as a scripter. Witness, also, the post-Marvel efforts of both Kirby and Ditko: Ditko always needed a scripter when he went over to DC, but his character ideas were as idiosycratic and interesting as always. When Ditko wrote his own dialogue, as in his Mr. A stories, it was as flat and dull as dishwater. Post-Marvel Kirby, especially his Fourth World, Demon and Kamandi series were bursting at the seams with energy and imagination, but Kirby's dialogue was, to be charitable, odd- even though it worked in the context of the stories.

And that's my two cents worth on that great debate. I'll try to keep an eye out (not literally-ouch) for this book- sounds like it could be a good read.
Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka?

Apparently Tim Burton's set to remake everyone's favorite Oompa Loompa movie, and the studios are hot to get Depp, fresh off Pirates of the Caribbean. Could be interesting, but after seeing what a mess Burton made of Planet of the Apes, I'm not sure I want to see him redo anything anytime soon...

Gene Wilder will be a very hard act to follow, that much I know for sure.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I write like a girl.

Well, that's according to the Gender Genie, a neat little website which takes a sample of your writing and claims to be able to predict your gender, based on an algorithmic equation.

Poached from Susan.
By gum, it's new comic day!

According to the Diamond shipping list, here's what I'll be getting:

HUMAN TARGET #1
LUCIFER #41
SMAX #1
TOM STRONG #21
DAREDEVIL #50


plus I'll have the first issues of 1602 and Witchblade Animated in my folder. I'll probably get the former, but I'm still undecided on the latter because I have less than no interest in the Witchblade character or, for that matter, any of the other Top Cow stable. I also have the softcover TPB of Human Target put back for me in my folder, but that's still a twenty dollar item and I just can't afford it right now. I'm also considering Cinnamon: El Ciclo 1...but I doubt I'll get it. Looking forward to Smax, though...it's the first continuation of Top 10 since that great series went on hiatus a year or so ago.

I've been reading a lot, here and there, in the comics blogosphereiverse about many new interesting books that have come out, most notably Craig Thompson's Blankets, which looks like an obvious work of care, quality and craft but at 30 bucks is way out of my price range. Plus, to be honest (and I haven't read it so this is an uninformed opinion if there ever was one), from the 5 page preview I read it seems like one of those earnest, achingly sincere TV-show dramas, about as exciting as church, that I wouldn't watch if you paid me. A lot of very intelligent folks are singing its praises, though, so I'm willing to be proven wrong. But unless someone sends me a free copy it won't be anytime soon! Also, the Acme Novelty Library Datebook looks pretty spiffy. Big Sunny D and Alan David Doane (along with yours truly, the three-headed David hydra of comics blogging) like it. And to be honest, Chris Ware's series is one that I've been interested in for a long time- I even own an issue or two. But back issues are somewhat hard to find in the comics shops I have access to, and I'm just not intrigued enough to order from Fantagraphics and pay shipping and all that. But as a has-been Graphic Designer I can tell you that Acme, not only the Datebook but the whole series, is a marvel. As in the adjective, not the company. Here's another book, though, that's just too damned expensive for me to purchase. Bet your ass, though, that if I hit the lottery I'll soon have a complete Acme collection. Also, Sunny D and ADD express appreciation for the most recent issue of Eightball, about which I wholeheartedly agree. No one can express deadpan strangeness like Daniel Clowes. Fortunately, I've been a longtime Eightball reader and have had this issue for some time now...but it came out before I started blogging, so I've never written about it. I wonder what his version of Auto-Focus would have been like?

On a more personal note: the State of Kentucky computer systems have been down, probably virus related, causing my unemployment check to be late. And I have the biggest bills of the month due today. Ah, worra worra me.

Some news on the job hunt front, though: I received a call from R.R. Donnelley yesterday, setting up another phone interview tomorrow. I'm a little nonplussed by this, since I've already had at least one phone conversation and a face-to-face interview as well. Guess we'll see. They might be calling to tell me thanks, but we can't use ya. I have also heard from my contact at Printlink.com about the Cabela's job in Nebraska- she says that they're very interested in me and I should hear something within the week. Light at the end of the tunnel or oncoming train? Stay tuned!

Saw the embarrassingly bad 1993 film Boxing Helena last night. I'm tellin' ya, it blew chunks. Bad acting, ludicrous script, cheat ending, it had it all. I suppose that it's a wonder this odd film got madein the first place- I seem to remember a lot of controversy prior to it being filmed. Kim Basinger was sued (or sued the filmmakers) either because she backed out or was dropped or something, and Madonna was considered to replace her...blah blah blah. Anyway, they settled on Sherilyn (Twin Peaks) Fenn and Julian "what the hell happened to my career" Sands as the principals, and while both have done fine work in other films, they flat out suck here. Sands is twitchy and wooden as the nutty surgeon who becomes obsessed with the shrewish Fenn...so he manuevers a way to get her to his house, where she gets hit by a truck, giving Sands the opportunity to amputate her legs and (eventually) her arms, and places her in a box where he can wait on her hand and foot, no pun intended. This sounds horrifying, but believe me when I tell you that it's all presented as neatly and cleanly as can be. No cheap shocks or gore effects, which would have probably livened this mess up a bit. This film crawls at a snail's pace- after I had watched for what seemed like a long time, I looked at thecable channel guide, which shows how much time is left in the movie, and it said there was another hour and twenty minutes to go! Also on hand are Bill Paxton, overacting mercilessly as Helena's snubbed boyfriend, and Art Garfunkel, underacting mercilessly, perhaps in a vain effort to keep the viewer from noticing his puffy, pointy, bald-in-the-middle hair, which reminds one of Dilbert's pointy-haired boss. So here's a word of warning, boys and girls...don't be like me and succumb to curiosity about this formerly controversial, little seen film. Don't watch. Resist. You won't miss a thing, unless you're as devoted to Fenn as Sand's character was to Helena, and if that's the case you need to get a life!

Well, I'm going to get from here now and head south on my comics run. Of course, you know that I'll inflict my opinion of each on you right in this here space. Later!
Get out your party hats, cake and ice cream...we've got a triple shot of BSBdGs today!

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First, ol' Percy himself, Robert Plant, 55 today. His solo career has had its share of ups and downs, but at least he's always been determined to follow his muse and not crank out product. Of course, he's already earned his place in Rock and Roll Valhalla for his idiosyncratic vocals as Led Zeppelin's frontman.

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Next, a somewhat less famous (but no less important) figure than Plant, John Hiatt, 51. Even though he's never had much success as a solo performer, many artists have gone on to have huge hits with his songs, most notably Bonnie Raitt with "Thing Called Love". Favorite album: 1997's Little Head, another album which most regard as one of his weakest. Seems to be a trend with me.

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Finally, none other than seminal horror and fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, who would have been 113 today. If you've heard of the Necronomicon or the “Cthulhu Mythos”, well, he's the bloke what created 'em. Hopefully, he didn't go on to encounter anything he wrote about.
Forget the official Disney line that Feature Animation boasts a staff of 1,000 to 1,500 artists. In Burbank, there are only about 60 traditional “2-D” animators left who actually pick up a pencil or a paintbrush, counting Layout, Animators, Clean-up and Background artists… and Disney has no 2-D projects currently in production for them to work on...the vast majority of Feature Animation's artists have been reassigned to a computer or shown the door. It all points to Disney's next two animated features (this fall's Brother Bear and next spring's Home on the Range) being their last.

Well, I suppose we all knew this was coming. Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. For the rest of the article go here.

From Steven Wintle via !Journalista!. Steven, you had me going there for a minute with the Bil Keane thing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

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This is one of the images in a Four Seasons set, done by another of those immensely talented Pants Press people, Clio Chaing. You can buy these as prints...go here to check them out. And while you're there, be sure to scope out the gallery.
Even though my enthusiasm for the upcoming NFL season has taken a couple of serious hits (Mike Vick's fibula and no more Glasgow Fantasy Football League), there's one sign of pigskin to come that's always welcome: Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, the best sports column they is.

Here's the new one.
Here's the one from the week before.
First, here's something from the Bacardi Show Political Correspondent:

President Bush, like Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and FDR, epitomizes H. L. Mencken's adage, that "the only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head.  Put it in his hand and its good-by to the Bill of Rights."  Armed with the Patriot Act and a blank check to wage war anywhere on earth, he is a constant danger to personal liberty and national security.

For the rest of the article, go here.

Also, the newest toys to indoctrinate kids into the idea of living in a police state:

The Lego Surveillance Truck, and Police 4WD and Undercover Van.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Saw a couple of movies over the weekend:

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First up, Daredevil. I came into this one expecting a trainwreck of colossal proportions, based on all the negative word of mouth and reviews I had read. But you know what? I thought this film was OK. Not great, but OK. They stuck pretty close to the Frank Miller template. I think that if you're inclined to like Ben Affleck, that helps a lot. He's made a lot of junky films, but I've always thought he was an engaging presence, especially in the Kevin Smith movies, and he not only looks like the comics' Matt Murdock, but manages to give the character that tragic, driven side that Miller saddled him with for better or for worse. Jen Garner does a good job in a pretty limited role, considering that she's a onscreen a lot, and while I wasn't really all that crazy about Michael Clarke Duncan playing the Kingpin, when I first heard that he had the role, he won me over as the film went on. He's an imposing presence, exactly what the Kingpin should be. But I had reservations, simply based on the fact that the comics' Kingpin is a white man (please don't get me wrong here), and I was hoping they would stay true to the original conception of the characters. I've enjoyed Duncan in other films, and he was very good here. Jon Favreau (who I saw again in the funny Swingers yesterday) was born to play Foggy Nelson and had a couple of amusing scenes. Colin Farrell wasn't asked to do much as Bullseye except act like a lunatic, and he did that with aplomb...but the comics' Bullseye was largely a cool customer and not an eye-rolling, foam-at-the-mouth nutjob. It's been a long time since I read the original Miller run, though, so I could be wrong there. Still, a one-note performance, and I've seen better from him. Visually, I thought the filmmakers did an excellent, imaginative job of depicting DD's radar sense, especially in the scene with Elektra in the rain. The first big fight scene with Bullseye was fast-paced and well-staged- something the climactic battle was not.

On the negative side, this film is DARK. I don't mean in tone, although it is sometimes that too. But it seems 75% of the movie is shot in pitch blackness, and sometimes it's pretty frigging hard to follow what's happening, especially in the action scenes. I think the filmmakers must have left a lot of this film on the cutting room floor as well because the story often goes to point D from point A and you're left wondering what the hell happened. The plot tends to favor contrivance and the dialogue, while overall fine, gives us some eye-rollers once in a while. One is also hard pressed to understand why Matt falls so hard for Elektra and vice versa, especially on such short notice. They "meet cute", and fight a couple of times, and suddenly they're intensely devoted to each other? Somehow I doubt that technique will work for anyone else. I thought it was regrettable that once again we had to have our superhero characters decked out in fetishistic black leather (well, OK, very dark red in DD's case) outfits. I'm beginning to think the S&M outfitters must have a potent lobby system in Hollywood.

Gotta mention the wonderful "History of Daredevil" documentary that's included on the bonus disc. In it, they interview many of the people that have written and drawn Daredevil comics over the years, including Stan Lee, Miller, John Romita, Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, and most notably Gene Colan, one of my favorite comics artists from back in the day...and notably missing from the cameos and in-joke name-drops in the film itself. Fascinating stuff and something which almost makes buying the DVD worthwhile.

So, not a perfect film, but at least it showed some respect for the source material and didn't condescend. If I was inclined to give it star ratings, I'd give it 3 out of 5.

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The other movie I watched was Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, the story of Bob (Hogan's Heroes) Crane, his recreational pastimes and brutal demise, based on a book written by one of his sons. Now, I'm of that generation that remembers Crane from, of course, Hogan's and a ton of TV sitcom appearances on shows like Love Boat, Love, American Style and Night Gallery, where he played an affable, wisecracking "regular guy" most of the time. Then there was The Smirk, which was the most notable aspect of his run as the title character in Heroes. There was nothing in his onscreen persona which would prepare you for the revelations about his personal life, in which he was apparently a total sex freak, especially when it came to filming his exploits. Auto Focus exists, it seems, solely to present us with that side of old Bob, and that's what it does, unflinchingly, for almost two hours.

This film is meticulously crafted; the period recreations look right on the money. There are several scenes in which the Hogan's cast and sets are recreated, and they're very well done, especially Kurt Fuller, who plays Werner Klemperer playing Colonel Klink. In fact, all the performances are great: Greg Kinnear acts his ass off trying to portray the lead, who, as portrayed here seemed to have no moral compass or introspectiveness whatsoever- he apparently just fell right in with whatever he fell into and didn't trouble himself too much with the consequences, and Willem Dafoe once again successfully defends his crown as Creepiest Guy in Films Today with his portrayal of Crane's partner in debauchery, John Carpenter- who is often portrayed in what seemed to me to be an almost positive light. Perhaps he was manipulating and/or enabling Crane, and using him for his fame, but he also appeared sometimes to be a pathetic sycophant. Willem brings out every nuance in this contradictory character, as always.

The biggest drawback to this film, for me, was the one question I had when it was over...what, exactly, was the point Schrader was trying to make? By presenting Crane's peccadillos in such a objective manner, it's uncertain exactly what we're supposed to make of the man. There certainly seemed to be a void somewhere inside him, and perhaps Schrader intends this to be a cautionary tale. There's very little here that's erotic or titillating, even though there's a lot of nudity and naughty behavior, so that couldn't have been the idea either- in this way it's a lot like Boogie Nights, which at least had a sense of humor that this film totally lacks. Maybe the moral is "Don't film yourself or anybody else having sex, or someone will come along and beat you to death with a video camera tripod". Oh well, I suppose that's as good a moral as any. Another nitpicky thing for me was that while Kinnear certainly walked the walk as Crane, he just couldn't reproduce one of the man's most notable traits: his voice. Crane had a deep voice with a lot of range, and Kinnear just doesn't. And while this is not a big thing, it kept bugging me because he just didn't sound like Crane, and it kept me from totally believing that he was anything else but an actor portraying someone. The actor that played Richard Dawson didn't look a damn thing like the real Dawson of the time, either. The film would have you think that except for a couple of flop Disney films, Crane did nothing after Hogan's was over, but one look at his bio on IMDb will tell you otherwise. In all fairness, I have read of factual errors and misconceptions that were published in the book this movie's taken from, so a grain of salt must be employed when considering the facts presented, something like one has to do with Ed Wood, another similarly scandalous pseudobio that was scripted, I believe by the same people responsible for this movie.

Another somewhat negative side effect of this flick is now I can't watch anything with Crane in it now without flashing on his "other" life. I recently caught a showing of the movie Crane made in 1968 with many of the Hogan's cast members, The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz, not a porn film (despite the title) but a virtually laugh free cold war comedy with Elke Sommer as the title character. I could not help but wonder if Bob got to snog or at least photograph Sommer; you'd think he'd at least try. And that's terrible, I know...I've always been one that espouses the philosophy that there are two sides to every story and usually the truth falls somewhere in between. But now I'll always mentally tar Crane with that brush. Unfair, but what can ya do?

So see Auto Focus, it will suck you in and hold you for the duration. But after it's over, it will be, like many of Bob's exploits must have been, ultimately unsatisfying.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usToday's BSBdG goes to former Labelle singer Nona Hendryx, 58. She did a handful of excellent synth-driven funk albums in the mid-to-late 80s, many with Bill Laswell and Material, of which 1984's Art of Defense, (from which the above picture was taken) remains a favorite to this day. Of course, most people who care about these things regard it as her weakest. Go figure.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

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BSBdG's go out today to Maria McKee, 39 today.

She's an adventurous singer, songwriter, and performer, and her 1993 album You Gotta Sin To Get Saved is probably her best all around record. That being said, I am devoted to her next release, 1996's brilliant and nervy Life Is Sweet. Her latest, High Dive, isn't too bad either. Seems like I said I was gonna review that one back when I bought it. Oh well.
The football gods hate my team.

My beloved Falcons may win a game or two with Doug Johnson at QB, he's not that bad. But Mike Vick could pull magic out of thin air sometimes, and had the fickle Atlanta fans buying tickets and selling out home games. Now he won't be back until October. There's just a special hell reserved for the Falcons and their fans like me, it would seem.

Sunday morning- the perfect time for Unconscious Mutterings!

I say ? and you think ? ?

Only you:: ...and you alone...
33:: and one third RPM
Foundation:: Wayne (I'm such a comics geek)
Accidents:: will happen!
Hometown:: television (the provincial slogan of Bowling Green's oldest TV station)
Natural:: woman
Bombastic:: Celine Dion
Bachelor:: party
Far away:: So Close
Tony:: Millionaire

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThere seems to be some discussion in the Blog-o-sphere-iverse about the nature of Ditko's Question and Mr. A characters, and whether or not they're as "preachy" as the Sturdy One's reputation would suggest.

As someone who is older than God, and who has read about as many comics, too, I feel moved to put my two cents' worth in. I've read several of the old Charlton Questions (along with a half dozen or so of DC's revival attempt in the 80s) and a couple of the Mr. A's as well, although I don't own any. What I had was either in the collection of my friend Dave Puckett, or was sold when I sold 3/4 of my original collection in 1987, a move I regret to this day. I don't recall Ditko's Question being all that "preachy", mostly because, I suspect, that it was a work made for hire for Charlton. That being said, Ditko certainly took every opportunity to slip his Rand-ish views in whenever the opportunity presented itself, as he tried to do in his later Spider-Man issues and DC's Hawk and the Dove. Also, if I recall correctly, when Dennis O'Neil and Denys Cowan did the character for the 80s revival, he took on a harder edge, and O'Neil used the book as a forum for some of his more liberal viewpoints...so maybe that's what many folks recall when they think of the character in general, since that version is more comparitively fresh. He also did a character named Killjoy for Charlton, which was much more of a platform for his polemics. Mr. A, on the other hand, was self-published (or published by a small press publisher which did Ditko projects almost exclusively) and was created solely as a forum for his views, such as they were. So, I suppose on a preachiness scale of one to ten I'd give Mr. A a 9, Killjoy a 7.5 and the Question a 6.

For a bio of Steve's Question, go here.
For a bio of Mr. A, go here.
For a picture and brief commentary of Killjoy, go here.


These come from what is probably the best site for Ditko info on the Web, Blake Bell's Ditko Looked Up. Curiously, there's little mention of Killjoy.

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BSBdG's to Madonna Louise Ciccone, 45 today. My fave song: "Like A Virgin". It's that amazing Tony Thompson drumbeat. Album: Bedtime Stories.



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Also, today marks the birthday of a somewhat lesser known figure, Mr. Kevin Ayers, 58. I rather like his 1973 album Bananamour, among others.

Later: a paragraph or two about Daredevil and Autofocus, both of which I viewed yesterday.


YOU ARE ROSEMARY


What herb are you?
brought to you by Quizilla


Tee hee. I'm Rosemary. I've always liked that painting... found at Rhonda's.

Friday, August 15, 2003

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BEST OF THE WEEK


COMICS REVIEWS!
What I bought and what I thought, week of August 13


1. BATGIRL YEAR ONE 9
Satisfying finale to this overall excellent, if a little stretched-out, limited series. By focusing on the thoughts and feelings of not only Barbara Gordon but the supporting cast as well as opposed to a clever plot or fight scenes or existential angst of some sort or another, writers Dixon and Beatty have done that all-important thing- create sympathy and empathy with the title character. If you can do that, then that's half the battle. The other half is carried by artists Marcos Martin and (especially) inker Alvaro Lopez, previously unknown to me, who do a great job of adhering to the established Year One series Mazzuchelli template but bring their own style into play as well. Just like last issue's subway train scuffle with Blockbuster, again we get a rousing set piece- a somewhat improbable, but no less exciting scene in which Babs pursues and eventually brings down the Killer Moth & Firefly's helicopter. Suspension of disbelief...always talked about but seldom accomplished. If you haven't been picking this series up in "pamphlet" form, then I strongly suggest you get the trade paperback, which I'm sure is coming out soon. A

2. GOTHAM CENTRAL 10
While I really wish Rucka hadn't resorted to using Two-Face (and to a lesser extent, Batman) in such a prominent manner- I tend to be more involved with the non-superheroish elements of this book- this still was an excellent finale to an excellent arc, and the final scene redeems all. I love the already great relationship between Detective Allen and Josie Mac. Michael Lark has really grown into his comparatively new, looser style. You know, Allen reminds me of ESPN's Pardon The Interruption guy, Michael Wilbon. A

3. FABLES 16
Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Certainly not Bill Willingham, who is doing a marvelous PR job for that oft-maligned huffer and puffer. Although he kinda comes across as a cross between one of Neil Gaiman's Sandman characters and Wolverine as portrayed here, he is still the most interesting character in a large group of interesting characters. In this particular issue Bill zigs when I expect him to zag, and delivers a twist or two I didn't figure on. The art by Buckingham and Leialoha is still doesn't yank my crank, but they have some nice moments. A-

4. POWERS 33
First we get Quest For Fire, then Conan the Barbarian, now Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When Bendis gets around to the Thirties, I anticipate Citizen Kane...or maybe even The Roaring Twenties with Zora in Priscilla Lane's role. Aw, I kid. Actually, the concept Bendis is developing actually works quite well in the context of what's already been established, and this issue makes a lot of things clearer...even though, really, the gist of this issue's story is an argument that's been posited in many different places...Watchmen, Kingdom Come, to name a few of the recent stories that have dealt with similar themes. Bendis doesn't really add much to the debate, but we'll see what happens as this progresses. Mike Avon Oeming has a field day, as does colorist Peter Fantazis, but Oeming should be careful with his panel layouts...not since the halcyon days of Thriller have I been misdirected so often. A-

5. JLA 84
Ask and ye shall receive! All I wanted was to see Kelly, Mahnke and Nguyen back together again, with the League facing a suitably world-threatening menace and a de-emphasis on the heavy-handed political allegory. And lo and behold, that's what we get, and less than a month after last issue's debacle to boot! The menace looks to be a strong and interesting one, but Joe kinda flubs a bit with his usual strong point- characterization, especially in regards to Batman. However, Bats may be suffering from the same malady that all the villains were, so I'll give Kelly a Mulligan. Part one of what promises to be a good 'un. A-

6. H-E-R-O 7
Don't go in for Jackass-type shows myself, nor do I particularly enjoy the company of dumbass fratboys...but I don't mind laughing at them whenever the opportunity presents itself as it does in this amusing, but slight, skewering of that particular sub-sub culture. The art by fill-in guys Patrick Gleason and Christian Alamy reminds me a lot of JLA's Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen...and that's a compliment in my book. B+

7. JSA 51
Hector Hall gets a little self-respect on in this effectively handled, though somewhat predictable coda to the events of issue 50. We Legion fans even get a little treat in the form of a puzzling cameo by our favorite 30th century supergroup...but one which features members which aren't part of current continuity. Foreshadowing...or poor research? To coin a phrase- U-Decide! Anyway, almost everything gets tied up somewhat neatly, the bland-when their-run-started but eventually very good Kirk/Champagne art team goes out with a bang, and I'm prepared to bid this book (which I've grown somewhat bored with) a fond adieu...but then they go and throw in a final scene with a JSA splinter group which appears to have some promise. Sigh. Guess I'll wait a while longer. B+

8. THE FILTH 12
Lu cimapar pohi vufacay hiyo meha bedate. Icinet fesahi lemiyew balaret oyo vu isasale tal tidepih dotulu. Cuto lono wiloca sulog se; givixu mote para narila eti. Omomu bafe cive ta pola eri dilie focu car latolet. Resev otieseh hete lide riwa namez! Anila ube idin cuh careyal cikapet domen iyan; nocene nawiyi tokuyo be tema ter heti ivi. Tetatup dieb mi leracan lofurom socasor xosie tetor. Ihane siciy nagez ge neneci yexay cis sece: Ri cal yusew sibol nodas cahet refuro teni yanoge; itan tilirut abenar icu eloyur. Kamer uni pe. Oricir con nu hier. Osalare viem potirog gare lebi aqaroy rodocif fa! Me doho daditi re sonev mos hanir otayet cu: Dudina imaso efatet cato vitepar lo bareli elamonih! Now you know what my general impression is of almost every issue in this series so far. Oh yeah. The art is quite good and so is the coloring. Clem Robins' lettering is well done, too, but I fail to comprehend why he bothers.C+

I also had the lovely Nicole at my comics shop place Witchblade Animated 1 and 1602 1 in my folder for next week. The more I thought and read about them, the more I decided I wanted to get 'em. I'll review them next week. Better late than never.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usOne of the most annoying things about being a voracious consumer of music, especially an unemployed, almost broke and never exactly flush with cash when employed voracious consumer of music, is that I'm constantly coming across albums and performers that I haven't heard before (or have heard a long time ago and hear differently now) in which I become interested...but don't have the resources to hunt the music down and buy, or go see perform, or whatever.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to a documentary I caught last night on the Sundance Channel, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, about the noted (and notorious) folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Now, I had heard of Elliott, but that's all- I knew he was a good friend and contemporary of Woody Guthrie, and heavily influenced Bob Dylan, but that's all. This documentary sheds a lot of light on his career and his accomplishments...and also paints a not-so-flattering picture sometimes of a person who was determined to remain footloose and free spirited, no matter what the cost to his career or family life. But even though there was plenty to dislike about the man, this film makes it clear how talented and likeable he was when he wanted to be, and I was blown away by a lot of his singing and playing, and enjoyed the performances that were shown. One great clip we get to see is an appearance on the Johnny Cash Show (will someone please get this program out on DVD, immediately if not sooner?), in which Elliott sits and tunes for at least a minute and a half while Cash looks on, amused...but the song they sing together is worth the wait. If you're a big Bob Dylan fan, you should probably check this out as well...Zimmy's a constant presence throughout. But be warned- Elliott has a definite ax to grind with Mr. Zimmerman, who imitated and refined Elliott's stage persona and performance style while buddying up with him...until he hit it big, after which he completely abandoned Elliott, to the point where Jack wasn't even invited to the all-star Woody Guthrie tribute, which Dylan headlined, after the great singer's death. Dylan did try to reconcile later, and included him on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the mid-70s...but the relationship fell apart again. The general consensus is that Dylan owes Elliott far more than he's repaid, and there's a great interview segment with Arlo Guthrie (who sounds like he has a bone or two with Dylan himself) flat-out stating that "Without Ramblin' Jack Elliott, there wouldn't be any Bob Dylan".

Another dimension to this film is that it was directed by Elliott's daughter by his fourth wife, Aiyana Elliott, who grew up with her Dad always on the road and had little contact with him after her parents divorced. A great deal of the proceedings are spent with Ayana attempting to have several talks with her father, who is prone to, well, ramble and free associate. There's a funny/sad scene in which they drive, in Pater Elliott's RV, to the location of the house where they all lived for a few years as a family...but Elliott has forgotten where it was. While Aiyana doesn't come to any real reconciliation with her Dad, you get the feeling that she knows him better, or as much as anyone can know the mercurial Elliott, and realizes perhaps (again, in the words of Arlo) "maybe she just wasn't meant to know him", or at least like she thought she did.

Anyway, Elliott's music has definitely aroused my curiosity, especially in the two records he did on Warner Bros./Reprise (you know how I am) in 1969 and 1970. Elliott himself is a fascinating individual, as charismatic and rascally as he is obtuse and difficult, and he seems to have settled into his old age with resignation, if not always acceptance, about his lot. He still performs, and is excellent in the recent clips shown, in particular one that shows a stellar rendition of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", one of my fave Dylan songs. If you're inclined to like folk music, or pop music history, or just want to watch the family drama unfold, then you should seek this out. I hope to see it again before its run on Sundance is over.
As I sit here in my air-conditioned home while the thermometer reads 90-plus degrees outside, listening to The Basement Tapes and drinking a Dew with ice, taking it all for granted, I read about the current difficulties in New York and elsewhere...and think that perhaps I do have one or two things to be thankful for. I suppose all I can do from hundreds of miles away is send out sincere hopes that they get that mess straightened out as soon as possible.

Elayne Riggs has written a interesting first-hand account of her experiences yesterday. I have a feeling there will be several of these all over the blogosphere in the next few days.

Heck of a way to spend "Fair and Balanced" day, isn't it?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

This is gonna be another one of those "state of my union" pieces, and it will be brief because I got up late and have things to do, including cutting the grass, always a fun thing in the Kentucky humidity.

Picked up eight new comics yesterday, and of course I will review them eventually. In my stack were

BATGIRL YEAR ONE #9
FABLES #16
THE FILTH #12
GOTHAM CENTRAL #10
HERO #7
JLA #84
JSA #51
POWERS #33


Out of these, I suppose half of them could be considered Spandex superhero comics, and I suppose Central and Powers would be as well even though superheroism is de-emphasized in those titles. I don't know how to categorize the uncategorizable Filth. Under "mindfuck", I suppose. Anyway, I note this because I've been reading a lot of thoughtful pieces dealing with "outgrowing" superheroes and the comics that feature them over at !Journalista!, Sean Collins', and Eve-Tushnet's comparison of comics to opera over at her place. Of course, I always accepted it as a given that Kirby comics, for example, always operated at a implied Wagnerian level, but it's a good piece nonetheless. I have, for a long time now, thought myself bored by most conventional superhero-type offerings from the Big Three or Four, but the evidence above kinda brings my conviction into question. Still, a generous portion of my monthly purchases, I believe, while not as indiecentric as they could be, is still definitely not that of a typical comics fan these days- whatever that may be. I'd like to write a long post about my thoughts on this, but I am finding it difficult, at best, these days to organize my thoughts on most matters so I guess it will have to wait. It's an interesting discussion, though, and I wanted to point it out to you all.

Also, lest we forget, I opined a little on the Jesus Castillo debacle, but it was buried in one of my longwinded rambling-type posts so go here to read what I said again, which pretty much echoes 75% of most people who are inclined to care about that sort of thing. Third paragraph. However, there are many who don't agree, and Ampersand has a clearly thought out "con" position. Go here to read it. Me, I still maintain that while the letter of the law might have been upheld, justice was not done.

Finally, you may or may not have noticed that I have made my small contribution to the "fair and balanced" madness, in the header above.

Hopefully, more later. If not, sayonara, kiddies, see you tomorrow. Pax et justitia!
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BSBdG's today go out to Sly's former singer/bassist and Graham Central Station founder Larry Graham, 57 today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Just wanted to mention that I've added a couple of interesting new (to me, anyway) blogs at right: Forager23 and Sugar n' Spicy.

Forager's site is loaded with well-written commentary on any number of subjects, and Sugar n' Spicy spotlights art from various sources and times. Good stuff. Go check 'em out. Thanks to Skippy for pointing Sugar out.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?



An impassioned commander with more respect for individuals than for authority, you have a no-holds-barred approach to life and its obstacles.

I don't believe in the no-win scenario.

James is a character in the Star Trek universe. STARTREK.COM has his Starfleet record.



Oh...good...grief.

Found over at In Sequence.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAnd now, finally, it's time for that long promised JOHNNY B's MONDO VINYL-O! In which I discuss, inform, opine, and otherwise enlighten all of you wonderful people out there who deign to read my little bloggie-poo about at least ten, count 'em, ten vinyl long playing 33 1/3 RPM stereo unless otherwise noted stacks o' wax to which I have listened to since the last time I did one of these here things. This was started when I got a new turntable several months ago and I had literally thousands of records that I hadn't listened to in over three years, and I thought it would make great blogfodder to inflict, I mean pass on my joyful reunions to all of you. I still listen to those newfangled compact disc things a lot, too, but this here's an exclusive vinyl joint, yo, so I don't discuss them. I've thoughtfully provided a scan of the cover when AMG didn't have one. So without further a-do-delee-doo, here goes...

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWendy Waldman-The Main Refrain (1976)
Wendy was one of a spate of West Coast female singer-songwriters that emerged in the early 70s in the wake of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Janis Joplin. I've always placed her in a little group with Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, The McGarrigle Sisters and later Karla Bonoff, but she was different in that unlike Muldaur, Raitt and Ronstadt she wrote her own songs (several of which were covered by Muldaur, on whose records she often performed). Her records were always well-crafted LA-style country-pop-rock, often tinged with jazz stylings like her most obvious influence, Nyro. Her vocals even resembled Nyro's. But for some unexplainable reason, despite recording for one of the biggest record labels on Earth, her five Warners records from 1973-1978 probably sold as many all together as one of Ronstadt's. Guess she was just too smart for the room, who knows. Anyway, Refrain, her fourth solo album, is probably her strongest cut-for-cut, often featuring expansive, even cinematic arrangements and some nice harmony singing, especially on the title cut. Other highlights are the breezy, recorder-accented "Goodbye Summerwind", the dramatic, rockish "Soft and Low" and "Living is Good", and the reflective, jazzy "Back By Fall" which Muldaur also covered that same year. Wendy went on from here to release one or two records on other labels in the 80s, which were laden with typical 80s rock-guitar bombast and slick production, wrote a song called "Heartbeat" which Don Johnson, of all people, riding high on the success of Miami Vice had a hit with; then she went to Nashville where she's had a decent career of professional songwriting and production. Most recently, she's recorded with her pre-solo career band Bryndle, which features Andrew (Lonely Boy) Gold and Karla Bonoff as well. Sadly, none of her albums are available on CD; only a best-of sampler, released by Warner Archives about five years ago and one which doesn't begin to scratch the surface of her best work, is available.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Mothers of Invention-Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
This album was (and still is) the line of demarcation for many Zappa fans. Sensation was his first album in which every song was conventionally structured, in a verse-verse-chorus-bridge-verse sense, rather than the mix of Varese, Ornette Coleman, doo-wop and blues to which Zappaphiles had become accustomed. And it was on this record that Zappa's sense of humor, always sarcastic, added an overtly surly and dismissive edge- one of the things I've always disliked about Frank's music was his nasty air of disdain for those that he perceived as beneath his contempt, and it's on this record in abundance. Guess getting pushed off a stage by a crazed "fan" and breaking your leg will do that to you. Anyway, I too am a little undecided, even after all these years, about what I think about this record...most of the satire takes shots at easy targets, unless you choose to go by Ben Watson's book, with all its "conceptual continuity" and multiple meanings and layers, and the arrangements of many of these songs are a bit too repetitious ("Camarillo Brillo") and busily arranged. Still, geez- it's got "Montana", one of his best songs and one of the few times his playful whimsy gets to shine though here, with speeded-up vocals by Tina Turner and the Ikettes; "Zomby Woof", which could have been a leftover from the Flo & Eddie band days; and of course, the elaborate and notorious dirty joke "Dinah-Moe-Humm", which is as catchy as it is crass. "I'm The Slime" is passable blues-rock, although its satirical target is a sitting duck. Really, the only cut which I don't like on this is the too-slick and horribly sung (by one Ricky Lancelloti) "Fifty-Fifty", in which Zappa states his musical ideology circa 1972. Time has been kind to this record- compared to much of his mid-to-late 80s albums, Sensation sounds like a major work.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usUriah Heep-Sweet Freedom (1973)
Ladies and gentlemen...THIS is Spinal Tap. These guys were critical whipping boys for so long, and mostly for good reason. Ostensibly a heavy blues-rock boogie outfit, they began early on to incorporate grandiose harmonies and fantasy themes into their music, and managed to hit it pretty big in the early 70s with albums such as Demons and Wizards, with its hit single "Easy Livin'", and The Magician's Birthday, appealing also to the Prog-rock crowd due to their Roger Dean album covers. And it's true, a lot of Spinal Tap's material was inspired by bands like the Heep...but when I was growing up, I kinda liked the guitar-keyboard-harmonies blend, as well as the hippie-dippie sword-and-sorcery subject matter so as an adult that should theoretically know better, I retain a soft spot for the classic incarnation of Uriah Heep. That being said, unfortunately the Heepsters were saddled with a preening vocalist, David Byron by name, who had one of the most cringe-inducing voices in rock music history. He had the unfortunate tendency to break out, at odd times, into a falsetto vibrato that would peel paint off a wall. Anyway, by the time of this record they had changed US record companies and this was their first release with Warners. It spawned a hit single, the catchy bluesy "Some Kind of Wonderful"-ish "Stealin" but largely abandons the fantasy themes of its immediate predecessors for more down-to-earth topics. The opener, "Dreamer", is a punchy rocker which Byron almost kills with his screeching at the end and I also like "Seven Stars"- another driving rocker with weird backwards-masked voices at the end. "Circus", an acoustic "pity the lot of the poor rock star" tune, is normally the sort of thing that annoys the hell out of me but the whining is at a minimum so it gets a pass. On the negative side, the plodding title cut sports a memory-defying hook and lyrics of the self-pitying type, and the album's closer, "Pilgrim", is the sort of song which gave the Heep its sometime unfair rep. The story of a wandering warrior who has to choose between love and battle, or something like that, it's bloated and overlong and horribly sung (especially at the end) by Byron, you won't know whether to laugh or leave the room. For what it's worth, I always liked Uriah Heep, even after Byron left or was sacked or whatever, and stuck around for a couple of records after he left- one of which, 1977's Firefly, was quite good. But I can certainly see why they were scorned like they were. We all have our guilty pleasures. Caveat emptor.

The J.Geils Band-The J. Geils Band (1970)
Most people that remember the Geils band at all remember their slick, oversynthed (but catchy) 80s hits like "Love Stinks" and "Centerfold". However, when they started out they were a straight up blues band- idolizing, emulating and covering the likes of John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush and Albert Collins. This, their debut on Atlantic, is about as bluesy as five white guys from Boston can get. They cover all three of the aforementioned gentlemen here, along with Smokey Robinson and Big Walter Price, and manage to hold their own with originals like "Wait", which kicks off the LP, and "Hard Drivin' Man". Later records adopted a more R&B-rock tone, and were not successful sales-wise even though they were popular on the road throughout the 70s. Of course, I liked 'em all, but as you're probably beginning to notice, my tastes don't always coincide with that of the record buying public at large. These guys are long overdue for a reunion album, but it probably won't happen despite the fact that neither lead Peter Wolf or anyone else in the group are having any sort of success whatsoever right now. Ego clashes, I suppose. Pride swallowing difficulties, maybe.

Bloodrock-2 (1970)
Gotta give a shout out for this one to Russell Butler, the cool older guy that lived next door to me when I was growing up and exposed me to bands like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and these guys. Bloodrock was a Texas heavy blues rock group that was managed and produced by Grand Funk Railroad Svengali Terry Knight in the early 70s. According to AMG, and I didn't know this, they had six charting albums between 1970 and 1972 but the only one anyone ever remembers is this one, which features the top 40 hit "D.O.A.". I've always been amazed by the chart success of this song, which was so unlikely given its morbid subject matter. But you know what? That tale of two unfortunate young people who OD on drugs and jump off a building is still kinda gripping, the ominous, spooky music memorable and the lyrics crossed a lot of taboos for radio, causing a sensation among those who tend to become sensationalized by that sort of thing. And it definitely didn't sound like much else that was on the radio at the time, that's for sure! Anyway, there are several other songs here that are tuneful and rocking, if not especially well played, but the leaden production style of Knight doesn't help. Many of these, and I assume other songs on subsequent records, were co-written by one John Nitzinger, who went on to release several solo records as the decade wore on. I dig this one out from time to time for nostalgia's sake...it's one of the oldest records in my collection. Sadly, the first cut "Lucky in the Morning" is so scratched it barely plays.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usStatus Quo-Rockin' All Over the World (1977)
I'm sure you all (or many of you, anyway) remember the mid-1960s psychedelic pop hit "Pictures of Matchstick Men" which put the Quo on the map way back when. After unsuccessfully trying to follow that song up, they decided to make a major shift in their sound and went all heavy and bluesy, like the Cream, Foghat, or Humble Pie and many other groups of that ilk that were popular in the late 60s and early 70s. And they boogied along for several years, releasing several albums which did quite well in the UK but not so well over here until they released a live album in 1977 which finally got them a little attention. Then they released this, the studio follow-up, and it sounded very little like what had come before. Gone were the eight minute extended jams and piledriver riffs, replaced by a more compact and sleeker sound which rocked just as hard but more economically. I don't know why they chose to do this, maybe Punk and New Wave had something to do with it, but I'm glad they did because this little record is a joy. Yeah, it's slickly produced but for once the processed group vocals and guitar licks are in service to tightly arranged, strongly melodic songs which make all but the most lead-assed among us nod your head or dance around. All the songs are written by the band themselves, except the title cut which was taken from John Fogerty's self-titled first solo album. The Beatles and Cream are obvious influences, as well as Creedence to a point, and a couple of cuts- "Dirty Water" and "For You" sound like the Kinks. I'm tellin' ya, if you haven't heard this one I recommend it very highly. It's a good-time record if I ever heard one. Of course, this record failed to build on the Live record's sales, and it was back to the heavy boogie for the Quo. Honestly, I've heard very little of what they've done since this record because its follow up didn't come out in the US right away (or at least not where I could find it) and I just kinda lost interest...but they're still together and boogieing strong to this day. Here's their official website, if you're curious.

David Lindley-El Rayo-X (1981)
I've never had much use for the music of Jackson Browne, so it took me a while before I discovered the four albums that his sidekick and guitarist Lindley did in the 80s. This one was the first, and it was after this that he assembled an actual group named El Rayo-X, which toured in between session commitments. El Rayo-X is the best of the eclectic bunch, and it's consistently entertaining and surprising, combining a multitude of styles (mostly reggae, zydeco and Tex-Mex) and rhythms. Best of show here is the cover of the old song "Mercury Blues" later an enormous hit for some singing hat from Nashville...but that version couldn't hold a candle to this one, with its downright terrifying slide guitar solo. Other standouts are "Quarter of a Man", a funny reggae tale of a vertically challenged fellow who manages to get by just the same, "Ain't No Way", two of three excellent Robert "Frizz" Fuller songs on side one (whoever the hell he was), with a great melody and another excellent slide solo, and a reggae-ized cover of "Twist and Shout". A fun record, and highly recommended along with the two other El Rayo-X albums, Win This Record! and Very Greasy. We used to play the heck out of these at WLOC back in the old days.

Seals and Crofts-Summer Breeze (1972)
OK. I know by now that I have lost a ton of critical cool points for my earlier advocacy of Chicago. And I know I didn't help it any by admitting to liking Uriah Heep. Now I've probably destroyed it beyond all recognition because I'm going to step right up and say that I liked this record. Or to be precise, I liked the album cover design, and two songs: the title cut, and "Hummingbird". Those are both catchy and winning folk-rock songs with nice, polite, but somewhat snarly guitar licks spicing them up. Of course, they went on to record many schlocky albums sporting many schlocky cloying hit singles...but there's just something about the hippie vibe of this album in its entirety that appeals to me. While I'm at it, the later songs "Diamond Girl" (from the album of the same name) and "King of Nothing", from 1974's Unborn Child, were nice, too. And that's all I'm going to say about Seals and Crofts, pro or con. Heck, it's Summer, and that's when these songs sound the best, so I put the record on. Sue me.

Rick Wakeman-The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973)
PBS recently aired a two-part documentary/dramatization which dealt with the lives of Henry's spouses, and I watched most of it, which in turn led me to dig this record out and give it a spin for the first time in several years. Of course, Wakeman was a pianist who started out as a session guy in his teens, then eventually hooked up with the Strawbs first, then Yes, and launched a solo career during his tenure with the Prog supergroup. This was his first, and it purports to be his "musical impressions" of each of the wives. It's tuneful enough, and very well played...there was never any doubt that Wakeman could play. He would never play one note when he could throw a hundred in instead. There are several nice, complicated passages of music, featuring not only piano but a barrage of keyboard instruments that were cutting edge then but sound a bit dated today...time marches on, I suppose. As a longtime Strawbs fan, I was especially gratified to see that some of the band members circa 1973 played on one cut here. The problem I've always had with this record is that in spite of all the craft and musicianship that went into it, I never get much of a feel for the personalities of the individual subjects. It all just sounds like a bunch of trademark Wakeman keyboard flourishes, punctuated by oohing and aahing from group vocalists. Sometimes he plays quieter, sometimes he plays faster and louder. Sometimes he plays a Hammond, sometimes a Moog, sometimes a Mellotron. Guess I just can't hear it, I don't know. Also, the track sequence is not the same as the sequence of Henry's wives, and this annoys my anal nature. Wakeman later went on to release enormously successful records with enormously overblown stage presentations, and when his career momentum died out he reunited with Yes, and has hung in there to this day...he's released an astounding number of records over the last three decades.

Marshall Crenshaw-Marshall Crenshaw (1982)
I gotta confess: when skinny-tie New Wave bands and their music came along, I was just as slow to embrace it as I was Punk. I liked what I liked, by God, and I didn't like all the synths and simplistic guit-bass-drums arrangements and gulping vocals and lyrics that were just boy-girl-whatever love songs. So when I first saw this record in Creem magazine, I was prepared to ignore it...Crenshaw looked like a less-nerdy Elvis Costello and I thought it would be more of the same. This was before I saw the light with Mr. McManus, so cut me some slack. However, something in both the Creem proper review and Christgau's review in the next issue (I think) broke me down a little, and I took a chance. I am very glad I did. For a bright shining moment, it looked like Marshall was going to be the savior of pop music itself- this record was so unpretentious, filled with great hooks and arrangements, and rewarded repeated listenings with a sharp, funny lyric here or a great lick or percussion embellishment there-and I think everyone got their hopes up for more of the same in perpetuity. Uh...didn't happen. Apparently the song well was a shallow one, because the sluggish, overproduced follow-up Field Day was a huge commercial flop with only one or two really memorable songs (and I know this record has its admirers...I just call 'em like I hear 'em) and subsequent records, while still delivering a great tune or three, were disappointments as well. Still, many artists go their entire careers without releasing one album this strong, so I can't feel too bad for Crenshaw, but it's a shame he couldn't sustain whatever he had. That doesn't take away from this album, which I think is one of the best in the history of pop music, no kiddin.

Well, that's gonna do it. I've listened to several others lately, but I'll have to do them some other time. I think the next Vinyl-O will be a special solo Beatles edition, since I'm always digging those out and giving 'em a spin.

Thanks for reading, and by all means feel free to comment!