Coverboy vs. the Toast
Coverboy vs. the Toast
Bettie Page, the Marilyn Monroe of the fanboy community, passed away on December 11. Though she was once the most popular pin-up model of the 1950s, Page dropped out of the public eye for decades, adding mystique to her legend. Like most geeks of my generation, I learned about Bettie when cartoonist Dave Stevens "cast" her as the Rocketeer's girlfriend in his comic book of the early '80s. In the years following, her photos, as well as contemporary artists's renderings of her likeness, became obligatory among the comic book set. By the mid-90s, you could find more "Bettie Pages", in bondage gear and trademark bangs, than Batmen and Darth Vaders at Dragon Con. (Personally, I thought it was a huge improvement over the comic conventions of old.)
Mike Mussa, the guy at the bottom, is one of those cases where he's gained weight in recent years, but isn't quite a "fat guy". So it's not like drawing William Conrad, where you just start with a big circle, but his features don't have the distinction of his younger self. You have to shoot for somewhere in the middle, an unsatisfying outcome for a caricaturist.
But all in all, a very enjoyable gig, working with very appreciative people. Hope they call again!
King of the monster geeks, Forry Ackerman, died this week at age 92. He was the first of the seemingly-indestructible trio of long-lived sci-fi pals - Forry, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen - to pass away. In the pre-VCR era, Ackerman's vital periodical, Famous Monsters of Filmland, gave glimpses of classic horror and science fiction films to those too young to remember (and couldn't see unless they showed up on TV). As we all found out when video came our way, most of the movies weren't half as good as Forry's magazine made them seem.
Ackerman's collection of monster movie memorabilia was legendary, with tours provided by the man himself for decades. Sadly, with no museum offering to buy his various masks, lobby cards and robot suits, he was forced to sell most of the collection piece by piece in recent years. A damn shame. I mean, the Smithsonian will spring for Warren G. Harding's pajamas but they won't buy Karloff's neck bolts? As a nation, we've lost our priorities.
But those of us who know the score will look to our Wolfman Soakies and glow-in-the-dark Hunchback model kits and salute the man who opened the Chamber of Horrors for our juvenile minds. Arise, Forrest J Ackerman! May you keep Van Helsing at bay.
Yesterday's post, with my Shazam portrait and accompanying anti-70s rant, inspired more email in a single day than any work I've ever produced. (And thanks to those who included birthday wishes/sympathies.) This was exciting, of course, but interesting in that almost everyone (save the not-quite-right Caleb Fraid) agreed with my assessment that the show was butt-awful. It's a sad reality I guess we have to accept: poor quality television brings us together as a people. All you have to do is say, "Gary Coleman", and a stranger becomes a friend.
Anyhow, I figured I should post the companion piece, which you'll notice is slightly similar to the first. Above is John Davey, who portrayed Captain Marvel after the first season of Shazam. I preferred Davey, who seemed like a regular Joe compared to a TV weatherman-type like Jackson Bostwick. Davey struck me, in spite of his red ballet tights, like the sort of guy who would tell you to "pop the hood" if you said you were having car trouble.
That took a little sting out of those endless lectures about lying and not judging people by their gender, but not much.
Michael Gray and Jackson Bostwick in the 1974 CBS series, Shazam.
How is it that, during my childhood of the 1970's, the Japanese could keep me completely enthralled with cheap, rubber monster suits on shows like Ultraman and Space Giants, yet here in America, "the greatest country in the world"TM, Saturday Morning entertainment was like watching paint dry after a shot of Nyquil? Case in point, the 1974 - 77 Shazam series. The set-up sounds pretty exciting to a kid: Young Billy Batson and his elder companion, known simply as The Mentor (this was pre-NAMBLA, remember), traveled around in a big camper van*, getting into all sorts of dangerous predicaments that required Billy to magically transform into Captain Marvel, super hero extraordinare. Man, this oughtta be good!
I had intended to post my tribute portrait of the legendary Studs Terkel in a more timely manner (Studs died on Halloween), but was held up by an actual paid assignment (I was just as surprised as you are). Then, thanks to poor planning on my part, I got caught up in the trance-inducing patterns of Terkel's trademark shirt and hat, which I wound up having to produce pixel by pixel over the course of two days.
Software-savvy illustrators often ridicule me when I reveal this secret: I do the bulk of my digital work in MS Paint. That's right, the built-in paint program your two-year-old uses to make color squiggles, that's what I'm working with. I started working this way when I first got the computer and never stopped. I tweak the image here and there in Photoshop at the final stage, but I've never been able to get the level of control in PS that I have in Paint.
But that means that I have to manipulate my scanned line art by hand/mouse, filling in most of the lines with color so they'll dissappear into basic shapes. It sounds crazy, but I hate working in layers (as with Adobe Illustrator) and the process usually goes by quickly.
Usually. Unless that quick 'n easy trick I was going to use for Studs' shirt doesn't look right, and my only recourse is to go back in and salvage the pattern a centimeter at a time.
Serious cramps in my back and mouse hand. But I'm sure a friend of the working man like Studs would appreciate what I went through.
(Click to enlarge the legend.)
Fans of classic exotica, give your copy of Voice of Xtabay a spin and pay tribute to the amazing, multi-octave stylings of the original Lounge Diva. You'll imagine yourself in some strange, tropical island...or perhaps attending a party at Jackie Treehorn's house. She may not have been a real Peruvian princess like her press kits claimed, but she was royalty in high fidelity.
This here's Wilfred Day Novit, an Outstanding Senior. Google turns up nothing about him, so I suppose he took that education back to the farm, never curing tennis elbow or arguing in front of the Supreme Court or winning a Pulitzer for his expose on Jackie Kennedy's hats. What a waste. He may as well have gone to art school!
As far as I can tell, Miss Bobbie Ward wasn't a student, but a "sponsor" of Pi Kappa Phi. Never having been a beer-funneling fraternity douchebag, I have no idea what that means. I suppose the Pi Kappa boys just passed her around like a doob. Poor kid. You can't tell from my portrait, but she was cute as hell and deserved much better.
Sorta-kinda Ellen Degeneres I just finished for The Progressive. Seems she's been announced as a new model for Cover Girl makeup and Kate Clinton, author of the piece, wonders what sort of demographic Ellen is supposed to attract.
Fortunately for Cover Girl, Ellen will make a much more photogenic spokesgal than my portrait suggests.
People! You know I hate 'em! Walking around, talking about stuff, wasting my oxygen. There oughtta be a law! Here's a tantrum about the state of male public dress that's sure to secure my standing in the "you kids get offa my lawn" stage of cranky, old geezerhood.
Finally! A comic strip that speaks from a liberal point of view! That's right, Reaganites, I've never abandoned my juvenile, teenage pothead views on society's problems. I give money to homeless alcoholics, I fully support pornographers and prostitutes, and I root for the drug dealers when I watch The Wire. I may even marry a couple of drag queens and adopt a Mexican kid just to piss you off. Feel free to pray for my everlasting soul if you must.
This doodle technically qualifies as a Bedbug. I dreamed the strip idea, woke up at 3 am, giggling and scrambling for a pen. It really, really irks me that my subconscious is so much funnier than I am.
The cover artwork for the Lyrix Xchange cassette, wherein Songmaster General Caleb Fraid and I wrote and recorded songs using each other's lyrics. Caleb's natural tunesmanship so outclassed my own that I still can't bring myself to release an official CD version of the tape. (Someday, I'm just going to hold my breath and plunge right into a box set release of all my old, ratty 4-track recordings and be done with it. But not today.)
You can tell I'm not used to this sort of tonal rendering, but it was an experiment I wanted to try (and may try again). I drew the whole thing as line art in ink and made a halftone copy, so light the lines were barely visible, on cardstock paper. Then I used the faded linework as a guide and went to work on the paper with whatever pencils I had lying around. Since I never do this kind of shading and such, it looks a lot to me like the stoner art I used to doodle in high school. In other words, an underdeveloped technique.
Note my acoustic bass guitar, a then-new purchase from the pawn shop down the road. I still use it today, in spite of its horrible buzzing and fret clicking. Can't throw out a perfectly good bass.
Fan art drawing of Avatar, created by Terry Collins and Al Bigley. At least he used to be Avatar. Trademark conflicts with some comic book imprint or other forced the boys to change his name to Geminar before the book was published by Image. Geminar can be seen these days as the host of Bigley's excellent how-to book on cartooning effects, Draw Comics Like a Pro (which, as we all know, is short for prostititute).
Unfinished strip from 2001. The final panel adequately expresses my critical evaluation. I have no idea what was supposed to be in the word balloons - surrealistic gibberish, no doubt. A product of desperation and creative malaise. I'm sure to engage is more of this exact type of pointlessness in the future. In fact, that's a promise.
Cut paper experiment from 2000. I have no idea where this appeared - maybe a cover for Charleston City Paper? Something to do with summer reading, obviously. I think the message here is "reading is gay".
Anyway, this was the sort of thing I used to do to achieve color before I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the digital age. The piece was xeroxed onto various sheets of colored paper, which were then cut out and reaasembled. I think I picked up this stunt from Bob Staake, who also "went digital" around the same time. You can see where the rubber cement has discolored the paper over the years. Trust me, when it was new, it was vibrant and stunning.
Strong Ever Meulen influence in the figures here. Well, maybe YOU can't see it, but I know where my head was.
Don't know what to tell you about this one. I probably drew this during one of my frequent nervous breakdowns. It's one of my favorites. On the left is an early version of El Guano, a character that pops up often in my sketchbooks, but has yet to materialize in print. One problem is, just like with Avatar, I discovered that Rick Veitch also has a character called El Guano (in Maximortal, I think). Rick ran so many of my Bedbugs strips in his Rare Bit Fiends comic back in the day, I'd hate to piss him off.
But hell, what can I do? His name is El Guano, he can't help that.
We had a good time at the outdoor Art Mart today, though I only threw together a few Beat and Supermen portfolios at the last minute to hog a small piece of Melissa's table. We are sunburnt and exhausted, but it was good hang with real people for change, instead of you imaginary internet gremlins.
Anyway, Hub-Bub is here: http://www.hub-bub.com/
I drove into Cowpens for another Podunk day of babysitting dumbfounded mouthbreathers while playing the Minutemen CD I snagged in the used bin last week. It’s the first two albums from D. Boon and the boys on dear, old SST. Yeah, I know Greg Ginn sold out Negativland over the whole U2 lawsuit and I’m not supposed to like SST anymore, but you don’t wreck teen nostalgia that easily. The records have that raw, flat Spot production that makes a Southern Californian punk record from 1981 sound the way it should, bringing me back to my days of wandering the suburban wilderness in search of someone who would buy me beer.
My contribution to the upcoming "ABC Show" at the Showroom Gallery here in Spartanburg. I've been experimenting with CMYK color separation-type effects using graphic elements other than dot patterns (in this case, the letter Q). I'm pretty irritated that the patterns are uneven, leaving those visible streaks in the color, but I'm still working on the problem.
The letter Q, by the way, evolved from an ancient Egyptian symbol for "monkey", hence the monkey.
No one believes it happened, I can’t find proof that it happened, but I damn well know it happened because I saw it. Sometime in the ‘80s – don’t ask me exactly when – George Carlin appeared on the Tonight Show. Johnny introduced him, he walked out to applause, sat on a stool…and said nothing for about 5 or 6 minutes.
At this point, thrdgll.com is essentially the same old crap, but I did misappropriate a few classic illustrations to dress up the joint that you may enjoy:
There's so many things to feel and see while you're awake
They're just out of reach, out of grasp, yeah out of reach
And just as many, maybe more, the minute that you sleep
So I got to throw my preach
Skeleton breath, scorpion blush
I have a crush on your skeleton
Watch out, unsuspecting stranger
You'll fall off the log, headfirst into dreams, end up screaming
This will comb the wolf and that will comb the fog
What will peen the rain what will preen the hog
Oh, you mean earth and hell over you
And laugh at your tire tracks if you get up
Skeleton makes good
- Don Van Vliet
I raised my head from the pillow and asked Melissa, "Who's the butter and egg man?"
"YOU are, baby", she replied.
Satisfied with this, I went back to sleep.
("Butter and Egg Man" was a play written by George S. Kaufman in the '20s. I've never seen it.)
(Yet another re-do. I was momentarily possessed with the urge to crosshatch, but I'm back to the digital age. Plus I made Tessie's correction - he is a urine-soaked Indian, not Mexican. Sorry for the interruption - I'll have brand new stuff up someday, just you wait!)
No big whoop. Nothing that troublesome Smedley could ever do would upset the good Cap'n. He was just kickin' back, enjoying that peaceful, easy feelin'. But look at the poor bastard today:
Dude, what happened to you? Diet pills? PCP? Are you simply so amped up on your own, sugary product that you can't even hold the spoon steady?
I mean, look at this freak! Is he hooked up to car battery? He's obviously in the throes of some sort of manic episode, shaking and hyper ventilating like that. I ask you, do you want this man near your children? I say, never trust a character who's eyebrows won't stay attached to his head.
And it's not just the good Cap'n. Take a look at the cereal aisle. Almost all your old favorites look like amphetamine addicts these days, their bulging eyes and waggling tongues indicating a fit of screaming night terrors.
Personally, it's not putting me in the mood for cereal.
He understood that television could not be complex. The format was rigid; sponsor’s commercials had to appear in exactly the right spot, interrupting the story on the same beat each week. Worse, a complete story had wrap itself up in only 30 minutes, hardly time to gum up the works with ambiguous character development or multi-faceted issues. Television only had time for the simplest of ideologies, and anything too oblique was likely to upset the consumer confidence so necessary for TV’s bottom line. Television’s morality worked best in black and white. Two genres were ideal for the rigid new medium; the Western and the cop show.
It was perfect. A cop’s job is to solve crimes. All you needed to understand the premise of Dragnet was Joe Friday’s weekly opening monologue, where he explained, “I’m a cop.” A new crime each week, borrowed from the actual police files of the LAPD, plugged smoothly into the conflict/commercial/resolution formula of TV. And one thing Jack Webb had mastered was formula. He was the Henry Ford of television, applying no-frills, factory production methods to the art of the TV series. Dragnet opened and closed with the same voiceovers in every episode. Joe Friday’s story narration, written to mimic the reading of a dry police report, never strayed from its journal entry style (“Tuesday, April 19. It was hot in Los Angeles. We were on a routine stakeout on West 17th Street. The boss is Captain Brown. My partner is Bill Gannon. My name’s Friday.”). One imagines Dragnet scripts were pre-printed with a fill-in-the-blank format.
Stock shots often filled a good 25% of any given episode. Friday and Gannon (and Frank Smith before him) wore the same suits invariably, so the stock shots of the two men entering police headquarters or driving down Ventura Blvd. would always match. Sets were so spare as to often simply be one blank wall representing the interior of an apartment or business. If the scriptwriter (often Webb himself under a number of pseudonyms) were feeling apologetic, he might have a character explain the lack of furniture with, “We just moved in yesterday…and right away someone robs the place!”
To cut down on costly rehearsal time, Webb had his actors read from Teleprompters, further enhancing the minimal, monotone delivery that Dragnet was famous for. He kept a stable of actors close by to avoid unnecessary casting calls. The same handful of Dragnet regulars appear in a wide variety of roles. Virginia Gregg might appear as a con artist one week and a con artist’s victim the next. Many actors who appeared on Dragnet in the ‘50s returned to the series for its color episodes in the late ‘60s. But beyond Friday and Gannon, there is little consistency in the cast. Art Balinger might play Captain Didion in one episode and Captain Brown two weeks later. Webb knew you wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care if you did. The important thing was to get it done quickly and cheaply and get it on the air.
Close-ups helped. In the early days, Webb recognized that TV screens were small, and close-ups of faces or simple objects had the best chance of registering on a blurry little Philco. But it also cut down on costly backdrops. Some Dragnet episodes seem to consist entirely of nodding heads in close-up, batting dry, Teleprompted dialogue back and forth. When the series returned for its color run, some early episodes sported surprisingly lavish sets. But you can see when Webb becomes budget conscious again and returns to the blank walls, empty rooms and perpetual close-ups.
And this factory production, this penny-pinching art direction, is part of the show’s eternal charm. It is simple and formulaic to the point of insanity. But its simplicity is both visual and philosophical, particularly in the color episodes. Dragnet of the 1950s, despite its bizarre allegiance to the mundane, has a certain noir coolness on occasion. Webb knew the cinematic value of low-angled shots and sinister shadows, though they rarely came into play in stories about stolen purses or lost dogs. Joe Friday, though strictly a by-the-book man of the badge, seemed to inhabit the same LA that kicked Philip Marlowe in the gut. Though he never said it, Friday’s tough street lingo suggested he had a passing familiarity with hard drinks and loose women (Webb’s other hit radio character, the jazz jamming Pete Kelly, left nothing to doubt about his connections to the seedy underbelly of the big city).
But, by the late ‘60s, any subtle hint that Joe Friday was anything but the very embodiment of wholesome, Republican law and order went out the window. And it’s here, in the turbulent world of war protests and generation gaps, that the severe simplicity of the Dragnet Method fully flowers. No longer is the show simply a gritty drama about unwashed ex-cons knocking over liquor stores, Dragnet in the 1960’s becomes a propaganda vehicle for the LAPD, a “scared straight” PSA extolling the virtues of The Establishment to a viewership confused by the counterculture. Hippies, drug-addicted kids, LSD gurus, protesters and thinly-disguised Black Panthers are now the primary villains.
In addition to his awkward one-liners (“Unless you’re growing, sit down!”), Joe Friday is now prone to lectures. College professors and their confused students appear as empty-headed straw men, pitching Joe softballs about the harmlessness of marijuana, then sheepishly gazing at their feet when the wise Policeman’s superior logic knocks them out of the park. There are no two truths allowed on Dragnet. The public, whether flower children, crime victims, reporters, parents or simply concerned citizens are Wrong. Dangerously, stupidly wrong. Explaining basic concepts about social justice becomes Joe Friday’s full time job. It’s a wonder he finds the time to solve any crime with all the lecturing he’s now forced to do, straightening out citizens of all stripes about good parenting, police brutality and, especially, the danger of drugs.
Apparently, for an aging Jack Webb, it was no longer enough to gossip over the fence about criminals and their nefarious deeds. Formulaic simplicity wasn’t just a method of producing TV shows on the cheap; it was the founding principle that would clear up any confusion about morality from the freaks and the dropouts. Those close-ups and spare sets weren’t just frugality, they were meant to eliminate any confusing details, to keep us focused on a clear, simple message. The cop show was perfect for TV drama, but it was also the perfect educational film for America’s values. If there were any doubt about who was espousing a wrongheaded view of reality, that person appeared at the end of the program, looking shameful against a dull, gray wall, while a disembodied voice delivered their punishment. You are invited to wag a finger at the screen in judgment.
Did Webb merely bring the necessary simplicity of television to its obvious conclusion? Or was he a man who wanted to remake reality, to remove all the unessential details from his man-made reflection of the world until his personal Truth was revealed? Dragnet is hilarious, its simplicity of form and ideology so extreme as to be taken seriously only by the most brutally numbskulled. But Webb has the last laugh. Dragnet’s world is so streamlined as to be almost perfect. If we could change anything about it now, if we tried to impose any form of complexity into its near Randian cohesion, we would instantly ruin it. An episode of Dragnet where Joe Friday experiments with LSD, discovers police corruption that goes unpunished or faces an intellectual opponent he cannot match could never be shoehorned in without rendering the rest of the series null and void. Dragnet constructs a formula for reality that is unquestionable. Something that can only happen on television.
And, to make matters worse, I broke my own rule about dedicating precious manhours to pop culture criticism. Believe me, the last thing I want is to waste your time with my opinions of Episode One or Lost. I've got bigger fish to clean, I assure you.
Forgive me. I've been too sick to do anything but watch DVDs and too cranky to do anything but bitch. (But seriously, that New Frontier crap chaps my ass.)
Since Puke Day, I've stayed remarkably ill, only with varying symptoms. At this stage, the fever is still up and down, causing a delightfully entertaining delerium. I've come up with a little mantra to repeat internally to send my feverish brain to sleep: Fuzzy Bumble Turnbull. Try it, it works.
Now my throat is so sore I can't swallow. The doctor says it's not strep, but I know from strep. This is strep. Last night I managed to eat two pieces of buttered toast. I can't tell you how excited I was about that.
Naturally, I've been watching lots of video. Not having broadcast television, I will occasionally utilize Netflix to check out some tv programs I've been curious about. They're nearly always annoying enough that I have to berate and ridicule the poor, deluded doofus who made that particular recommendation, but I have only myself to blame for watching the Best of the Colbert Report. Look, I'm no expert on political satire, but good-natured guest appearances by the extradinarily evil Henry Kissinger and Bill O'Reilly tend to take the sting out of the parody, don't they? And anyway, I'm seeing very little in the way of political satire at all on this DVD, just Stephen Colbert milking his quickly-tiresome "I'm the center of the universe" schtick. His initial "Truthiness" broadcast brilliantly pinpointed the frightening possibilities of our modern, fact-free culture, but beyond that, the show devolves into guitar shredding contests and flirting with Jane Fonda.
Even more irritating is the DC New Frontier DVD, or as I like to call it, Watchman Lite. I hated the book, so my expectations were low. Darwyn Cooke obviously has talent, but he's got that Bruce Timm cookie cutter thing going on where there's one standard male figure and one standard female figure. The DVD makes thing worse by adding the identical facial shading to every head, regardless of how the light source is moving.
Worse is the "story". Can anyone explain to me the appeal of these ultra-depressing, apocalyptic retellings of the DC and Marvel histories? Don't bother, I already know the answer: they appeal to the modern 30-something comics dork who insists that his childish super hero comics include plenty of heavy, brooding, ultra-goth content to help justify his continued interest. This bozo had to give up reading Curious George books as a an adult because the Man with the Yellow Hat was never reimagined as a cyborg government agent who orchestrated the Bay of Pigs.
Part of the fun of Watchman was it's ridiculous level of cynism, including the rewriting of history as a much darker reality thanks to the pressence of these super goons. New Frontier attempts to preserve DC's publishing timeline while shoehorning their heroes into actual American history. Not only does Cooke refuse to acknowledge that the arrival of super heroes makes moot America's post-war achievements, he actually expects the stirring speeches of John F. Kennedy to have some relevance in a bullshit comic book story about Superman fighting dinosaurs. The juxtaposition is not only laughable, it's completely insulting to JFK and the spirit of the age.
Super heroes are imaginary, people. They fight mad scientists with death rays and giant robots designed to destroy the city. They don't fight in Vietnam, they don't sit in on the Watergate hearings, they don't capture Charles Manson and they don't sift through the rubble on 9/11.
Bigger, better musing and/or Thrdgll AV material yet to come. Just testing the new system for the moment.