July 28th, 2003

smokin'

The shape of Things to come

Good lord, choke, etc, it's been a week since my last journal entry. Mayhaps this be the suckest blog ever, pray tell. And zounds. What the hell is with this retardo-Stan Lee Shakespeare pirate talk..? I stop now.

So, what's new? Not much, what the hell do you think happens in a cartoonist's life, adventure? Intrigue? Well, some romance, if you're lucky, but no adventure or intrigue other than someone stole your art, a fed ex shipment got lost, etc. That's very mild intrigue, I grant you, but it can be intriguing. Nonetheless. Avast ye.

But there is some news, number one with a bullet in the head being that I am more or less finished, through, done, finis, phfft, with the Thing series. Save for a few revisions we might have to make after the lettering is finished, I have written my last. I remove the albatross from around my neck, the monkey from my back, the fog has lifted, I can see light at the end of the chunnel, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Bless the few of you who have been buying and enjoying the series, I do hope you are satisfied with the finale in #4, and I truly appreciate your readership and support of the series (the same goes for the Agent X arc and the two Captain America bits I did in the last year or so). I do want to make it clear that my frustration with the project actually had very little to do with Marvel, the creative process went awry, but not because of any editorial interference or policy or anything like that. And no, I don't want to talk about it, thanks for asking. That all being said, even though the process has been lunatic in nature, I think it's a solid book that reads well and tells a tale, and what's done is done. I don't really expect that the series will be collected into a trade, so if you're one of those folks who waits for the paperback, I don't give it great odds of happening. But then again, what were the odds Fight-Man would ever be in another comic?

Anyway, I've received a small amount of mail regarding my future plans at Marvel, which are -- well, I have no plans. And I don't think anyone up at Marvel is too hot to hire me for anything -- the series took longer than expected to finish and sold poorly, I get the feeling it's been relegated to another failed attemtp to do a book with indy creators, and another failed attempt at a nostalgia book, a double dose of dead in the water. So, I'm not seeing myself doing anything for the House of Ideas anytime in the near future. Although, you never know, I didn't think I'd ever do anything for them ever again after 1993. Actually, I had another project approved at Marvel last year, a one-shot humor book I was going to write, draw and letter, and Sarah was going to color. It was going to be called, "How to Draw Marvel Comics the Evan Dorkin Way", and basically, it was my own Not Brand Ecch, with some Dork-style short strips and gag panels thrown in. We were going to reprint the Skull and Zemo strip from Cap Red, White and Blue in full color, as well. If I'd been able to start it last year it probably would have made it through, but now my editor is gone and I'm on the Wizard Bottom Ten list of superhero creators or something, so I think everyone's just pretending it never happened, myself included. Unfortunately, I now have a folder of dopey Marvel gags rotting in my file cabinet. I can't even retrofit them for Bizarro or anything, maybe one or two of them can be worked up into a "How to Get Sued" panel for Dork, I dunno, no big deal. We all die with ideas in the file cabinet. Luckily I didn't get too far into any of the scripts, there's nothing worse than having a script you can't use anywhere because it's character-specific (we have a batch of Superman ideas gathering mold from the days of the animated series/comic, my favorite being a Solomon Grundy rethink which we were never able to put together before the comic was cancelled). Anyway, speaking of specific characters, unless I get labeled as box office poison and fired, I'm heading over to National Periodicals to tinker with some of their imaginary people, to Dark Horse to goof around with a few of Mike Mignola's creations, and back to my own drawing board to screw up my own crap. We shall see what comes of it.
smokin'

Way too much about bad movies/Cartoonists and the 1930's Census

We've been catching a lot of movies of late, not necessarily classics, but that depends on whose definition we're using of a classic. After knocking off from work we sit stupified, marveling at the wonders of our new DVR box, ripping through shows, skipping commercials, laughing like loons at how wonderful technology and materialism are. Here's a few things we've eyeballed this past week, for the sake of discussion, argument, or stupifaction. People enjoy talking about movies and tv much more than they do comics. Comics are stupid! What's to talk about? Wizard is dumb. The Journal is mean. Rah ha hah. Movies it is. And some tv.

Suicide Fleet - this was a real curio that TCM ran, 1931, starring Bill (Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd, Robert (Carl Denham from King Kong) Armstrong and the inimitable James Gleason (um, uhh, he's the grouchy, angular, frowning old cop in like, every b&w movie ever made. No, not Edgar Kennedy, that's the master of the slow burn, you idiot! And he's thick! James Gleason! Arsenic and Old Lace. The drunk old man in Night of the Hunter. James Gleason, get with it already!). Also starring Ginger Rogers, pre "We're in the Money", pre-fame, possibly her first star-billed feature role. Anyway, the three fellas all love Ginger, who sells candy at Coney Island (You get neato location shots of Coney Island, btw). They banter, swagger and say things like, "Heeeey", "Why, I oughta --!", and, "Aw, gee --" a lot. The first act is like a Little Rascals short made with adults, they just bicker and pull fast ones on one another. Pretty funny, if you like watching character actors polish off dusty old bits. I do. Then WAR is declared with Germany and the guys all sign up. But which war? It's confusing as heck. The period is off, so it doesn't seem like World War one. But it's 1931, and they're insulting the Kaiser. We kept wondering if it was a made-up war, it was confusing. There's U-boats later on. Were there U-boats in ww1? We didn't think so, but I'm no historian. Anyway, suddenly the plot kicks in, which is based ona story called The Mystery Ship (they tell you this in the credits). A Norweigan sailing ship is actually a German spy ship. This dramatic war tale is intercut with the three guys bantering and swaggering and pulling fast ones on one another in several ports of call. Finally, they are called on to be part of a suicide mission. Not really a suicide fleet, it's only one boat (and sometimes a set). A really odd, schizo movie, made enjoyable by location shooting, real use of naval hardware, bad model ships, and three old-time movie guys who are kind of fun to watch jerk around. A real novelty/curio, which we unfortunately couldn't find much information on in books or the internet.

The Comedy Of Terrors - I was sure this was a Corman quickie, like the Raven, etc, as it features Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and special guest ham (on purpose), Basil Rathbone. And a Richard Matheson script. And a lot of Poe refs. It even looks like one of his period quickies, but this is an AIP deal with Jacques Tourneur directing. A comedy about drunk undertaker Price drumming up his own business, all the old guys ham it up and it's pretty okay, if slow at times and hobbled by cheapness. But there's some funny business, some very black humor, a few heaving bosoms for the menfolk (and the ladyfolk that might like that), a cute orange tabby cat that gulps and reacts to jokes (?), and of course, Price is funny when he's over the top, and Lorre is always funny when he's old, besotten and mumbling ad libs. Karloff sits in chairs with the worst old man makeup this side of Shaw Brothers flicks. He doesn't do much, but they do spill crap on him. Old-timer bonus: Joe E. Brown pops up for three or foru minutes to do an Irish accent and one of his patented yells. I mark for guys who have a dopey schtick and are called on to work them in cameos. Like, practically everyone in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, World. Anyway, there are worse films, it's cute and unassuming and pretty literate for a stupid movie.

Minority Report - Oh, good lord, I think I'm still watching this. And A.I. What a mess, yikes. What was this thing, twelve hours? A routine cop flick dressed up in sci-fi clothing, a puffed-up piece of nonsense that doesn't satisfy on any level, not even as a vapid visual experience. Characters spit out expository gobbledygook in rapid-fire casual mutterings that perplex and irritate. When you can understand the gibberish, it's, well, gibberish. It takes forever for the film to actually start, you have to sit through a not very-compelling, overlong opening sequence that explains the high concept and sets up the ensuing rigamarole. Said rigamarole is also overblown and uncompelling. Your villain is pretty quickly pointed out for you, because he disappears and seems like the one person who isn't your villain, so, of course, in modern filmmaking that's your villain, nine times out of ten. Motive isn't as easy, but nothing is easy in this dreck, everything is labored, explained three times over, nonsensical. I didn't buy the future society, the Robocop/Starship Troopers media saturation/future-think touches seem old hat by now, the cop with problems cliches are well, cliches, despite the (supposedly) ginchy sci-fi trappings, and the odd slapstick humor bits with the eyes and the moldy food -- huh? I guess that seemed hilarious in the meetings, but I thought it was dead out of place. Also, this flick relies heavily on precognition, and readers of this journal know how much I can't stand the spate of films relying on visions and dreams to juice tired narratives and manipulate the viewers with "clever" endings and surprises. Wanna know what's going to happen in a film with psychic crap -- usually, not what the psychic crap predicts. You always know there's a dumb twist, so the surprise --if you are surprised -- isn't much of a payoff (see From Hell, The Gift, Dragonfly, or actually, don't see them). And as Sarah pointed out, if the precogs had a limited range, and there were only three of them, how was Pre-Crime going national? I must've missed that part in the morass of stupid talk that modern screenwriters love, proving their research and smarts with a string of jargon. The filmmakers know their script, they know their concept, but they seem incapablel of seeing that the material is bloated, insipid and not tranferring to the audience, who have to take this junk all in while new ridiculous information is being thrown their way. Spielberg is nowhere to be seen here, as far as the direction goes, at times it seems like some anonymous hack straight from music videos helmed this. Spielberg used to know how to honestly manipulate an audience, if that's possible, at the very least he delivered impeccable machines that functioned and did what they were supposed to. Scare, thrill, awe. At least A.I. (aka, AIEEE!) has some compelling shots and visuals to keep you interested, sort of. This was just as irritating, but it didn't have anything working for me at all. I really think people need to lay off Philip K Dick short stories, I like Dick, but I like his craziness and identity/reality mindfucks on the page, on screen they boil down to hooey and jargon, I mean, parts of this clinker mirror the earlier, just as bad but not as obnoxious (or insufferably long) Imposter stinker, with Gary Sinise. Wronged man, unsure of everything, has to get back inside some dopey complex to retrieve some hoo-ha, while everyone is after him, and his wife atdns by, blah blah blah. Blade Runner had problems, but it has style and an entire book to go on, all these short stories offer is a cool high concept that doesn't necessarily translate well to film, and they all seem like the same story, they just just different budgets and art directors. And don't get me started on Total Recall. Anyway, I like crap, but not pretentious, overblown crap, at least it should be pretentious, overblown giddy crap, like, say, a Paul Verhoeven (sp) future bit. Just don't get me started on Total Recall.

We also watched Yongary, Monster From the Deep. I know, I know, how do I take apart anything in pop culture when I'm watching Yongary, Monster of the Deep? My opinion license should be revoked. Applesauce to that, baby, I love me my monster movies, good, bad, and lousy. This is a '60's South Korean whack at the man in a rubber suit genre. After a semi-pointless and drawn out space shot sequence, there's an earthquake in China and out pops Yongary. There was what looked like an atomic explosion, but we couldn't figure out exactly what that had to do with anything, a Red CHinese bomb test? Padding the film out with stock footage? Anyway, Yongary. He's a Monster From the Deep. Rah, rah, smash, boom, etc, he busts up real fakey sets and stomps around while piss-poor rear projection and superimposition occurs. It isn't super, just an imposition. Baddum bum. As for our MFTD, he resembles a poor-man's Daiei Gamera monster, which is a poor man's Toho monster, which is etc etc. The suit has a fat tail with obvious strings on the end holding it up, skinny legs, and cartoony glowing eyes and a horn that occasionally glows. He eats gas and oil. NO real ecological message is attempted, unlike the Toho guff about "saving the earth". Anyway (I really use "anyway" far too much, don't I?), there's some wonderfully awful dumb stuff with the kid and our heroes, and then more Yongary with the HO scale sets, and then they figure out how to kill him and they're sort of sad but they laugh anyway because they won, so what if thousands are dead, covered in styrofoam debris? Korean Kaiju highlights -
1) Yongary itching and dancing with the required spunky kid in shorts. A riot.
2) The always-amazing "model airplanes flying right into the monster" gambit. Never works.
3) When some planes fire on Yongary, the explosives on the suit actually blow off pieces of the costume, which fly away like frisbees. I had to watch that one twice. A showstopper.
4) In a similar vein, the cheap suit gets set on fire several times after pyro stunts, which makes you wonder what the hell was happening to the poor bastard burning in the suit.

Overall, I give Yongary a thumbs up. It's high order crap! I know I saw it as a kid during "Monster Week" on the 4:30 movie, but I can't remember it. I am sure I loved it.

On a final note, bumming around on-line looking for Marx Brothers DVD info, we started to stumble across other films that are criminally out of print or unavailable on disc. Here's a few pop culture travesties of justice, the DVD MIA: Preston Sturge's Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Palm Beach Story, Hail the Conquering Hero and Christmas in July (Sullivan's Travels is available thru Criterion, so get that arm and leg ready). Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (aka, The Big Carnival), Double Indemnity. And of course, the early Marx Brothers films, and the Universal Horro films of the '30's/'40's. WTF? I can get Air Bud in fifteen freakin' versions, but not this stuff? Hopefully, saner heads will prevail and these movies will be re-issued/issued asap.

On that note, the Billy Wilder boxed set is out. Or has been out, I'm slow on these things. Nine films, I think, most of them good, I think, the not so good ones still interesting (I think -- although I don't really like Irma La Douce all that much, which is a shame, as I really like Jack Lemmon and the young, pre-mental Shirley MacLaine) A lot of films, all from MGM, if I remember correctly, so you get some classics, but he made so many good films for a batch of studios, so you don't get everything. What a sentence. Cripes.

My, but I'm chatty tonight? Post-project high, I guess. One last thing and we're done --

Oh, BTW - RIP Bob "Texaco" Hope. I didn't care for his politics but he made some funny films and he put his money where his mouth is (was?) with the USO tours. I know Hope became very uncool after a time and lefty revival theaters didn't like to run his stuff because of his right-wingedness, but I was a fan of his work. As a kid I really dug the Paleface films and the Road movies and even his lousy specials. I still like his old movies and his old-time performer vibe. Luckily I don't watch network tv, so I'll be spared endless refrains of, "Thanks for the Memories". They never play the best version, anyway.

Okay, end of post. I was going to prattle on about how Sarah got all whooped up investigating our families in the 1930's census that AOL has been hawking, and how we tracked down some cartoonists via those documents (we're positive we found John and Marie Severin, Will Elder (Wolf Eisneberg), Steve Ditko (I wonder if he considers it an invasion of privacy), Jack COle and Walt Kelly. Couldn't find Kirby, or Stan Lieber, or Harvey Kurtzman or the Gaines, based on what biographical info I could find in my books, we never got so nutty that we started doing on-line searches, etc. Anyway, I guess I just posted about that. Funny me. Back to work I go.