October 27, 2009

J.R. Williams' "Vampire Cowboys"

The contributors to Rip Off Comix #26 (March 1990) accepted an unusual challenge: to create a comic strip based on the theme "vampire cowboys." Here is the entry from Alternative Comix fave, J.R. Williams.

October 26, 2009

Harvey, The Friendly Ghost

Maybe it's because Halloween is just around the corner, but I am absolutely convinced ( wink wink) that Harvey Kurtzman's ghost is following me around, as evidenced by the three random encounters I had with him last week.

It all started last Sunday morning when, week's labor done, I stretched out on my bed and gingerly opened the wonderful new book, The Toon Treasury Of Classic Children's Comics. Edited by Art Spiegelman & Francoise Mouly, this baby is chock full of the kind of comics I wish were still being produced for kids of all ages today, by creators such as my main man Sheldon Mayer, Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, and, of course, Harvey Kurtzman, who is represented by his "Egghead Doodle" and "Hey Look!" strips. If you love the comic book medium at all, you either already have this book or are rapidly saving your lunch money to acquire a copy. It smells nice too. While we're on the subject, you can find more wonderful kid-friendly comics on the new blog called, appropriately enough, The Big Blog Of Kids' Comics!

The next evening, Pooh Bear and I sat down to watch the the first installment of Monty Python's latest final rip-off (they really mean it for sure this time!, Part XVI), "Monty Python: Almost The Truth: The Lawyer's Cut" and I was a bit startled when Terry Gilliam started talking about, you guessed it, Harvey. It seems Kurtzman had given Gilliam one of his first pro assignments, working as an editor on the magazine Help! after seeing Terry's Kurtzman-inspired revamp of Fang!, his college publication. In fact, it was at Help! that Gilliam first crossed paths with John Cleese, who was recruited to star in one of the magazines oft-featured fumetti bits.
A few days later, I stopped by Wal-Mart, stop two in what would eventually be a four destination search for the elusive new Plastic Man dvd collection ( more on that later). I failed to find Plas, but my eyes were drawn to the affordably priced reissue of Rankin Bass' 1967 classic, Mad Monster Party. I had lost my previous copy in what I refer to, starting now, as "The Great DVD Sacrifice of Ought Eight." Imagine my surprise when, while scanning the credits on the back, I came across the name of...Harvey Kurtzman. Yes, he was one-third of the screenplay team, the others being Len Korobkin and Forrest J. Ackerman. Here, watch the trailer while my chill bumps go down.

The only conclusion I can draw by this string of coincidences is that Kurtzman wants to see more of his work spotlighted here on Easily Mused, to remind folks that he had a hand in a lot of things that are now considered classic. So if you see a lot more Kurtzman work around these parts, remember, I didn't choose him, he chose me.

Since my other current obsession is The Beatles: Rock Band, here's master satirist Kurtzman's first take on The Fab Four ( or as he calls 'em, "The Bleatles"), in a 1965 Little Annie Fanny strip, featuring "a little help from his friends" Will Elder, Russ Heath, and Al Jaffee. It's gear, far out, and groovy, but that Annie chick has a nice set of bazooms, so if you are easily offended, please shield your eyes whilst reading. Ok, Harvey, satisfied??? Oh... right, thanks. I forgot to mention that you can feast your eyes on more Kurtzman treasures in Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle's recently published 256 page hardcover, The Art Of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius Of Comics. I haven't read it yet, but I feel compelled to order it soon. B(h)oo Hah!

October 21, 2009

Plastic Man Pandemonium!

Yesterday saw the release of Plastic Man: The Complete Collection, a 4-Disc DVD set from Warner Home Video featuring the original 35 episodes of Ruby-Spears' Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show. I was six when this show debuted in 1979, and I remember it as one of the first Saturday Morning Cartoons that captured my fertile imagination. Even at that young age, I realized I would never fly like a bird or a plane or Superman. Stretching, however, was completely feasible. I'm sure at some point while watching this show, the spoon I used to gobble up my Sugar Smacks or Apple Jacks must have slipped from my grubby little fingers onto the chartreuse deep-pile carpet. At this point, I would have utilized this remarkable superpower to help me retrieve it, probably with only seconds to spare before the global death ray would have been triggered, destroying all mankind! Those of you who are Saturday Morning veterans, you'll understand.

One of the great things about this series is that it featured the voice talents of Michael Bell, who is certainly on the short list of great voice actors ever. Toon Zone reporter Xum Yukinori has just posted a lively interview with Mr. Bell and it offers more than a glimpse into the world of cartoon voiceovers, then and now.

For more Plastic Man coolness, pay a visit to Plastic Man Platitudes, a site dedicated to all things Eel O'Brian, including some nifty fan art.

Of course, the source for all this excitement is the late great Jack Cole, a man whose life and work ( including many Golden Age Plastic Man comic scans) is the constant focus of Paul Tumey's excellent blog, Cole's Comics.

If I might humbly add, I posted the Plastic Man tale from Police Comics #77 (April 1948) in January and you can find that tale, featuring the villainy of a chap named Skullface, right here.

It should be noted that the wonderful Alex Toth designed header at the top of this entry is not associated with the Ruby-Spears' series at all. It is a model sheet for the Hanna-Barbera 1973 Superfriends series in which Plas had a rather lame one episode cameo, retrieving a mouse from the inside of a computer. Still, any excuse to display Toth art works for me!

All but the most fervent completists should be okay with the new DVD collection's omission of the mildly entertaining Baby Plas and Plastic Family segments from the later seasons. These were all conveniently posted on YouTube but have recently "mysteriously vanished," except this one, which I will predict will also "mysteriously vanish" real soon, so view it now, or perhaps never.

October 20, 2009

George Tuska's "Sacrifice Play"

And now a tip of the fedora to artist George Tuska, the master craftsman who passed away last week at the age of 93. This war story appeared in the very last issue of Fawcett's Whiz Comics.

Whiz Comics #155 (June 1953)

October 15, 2009

There Are But Five Munchkins...

...and if you are even the least bit sentimental (like me), they may very well steal your heart. This is a recent video interview found on Newsweek.com.

October 13, 2009

I'm Back, And I Brought Torchy!

Good morning, fellow travelers! I apologize for my absence these last few days, but last week's topic of "America" sent me into full-blown navel-gazing mode. I promise to revisit the topic at a later date, when I have more to share.

This blog has been a great thing for me. For one thing, I enjoy sharing my pop-culture passions with you. I feel very connected to some very wonderful people. Beyond that though, I have learned so much about myself. One thing I realize now is that there are definite reasons why I like the stuff I like, and I should never be ashamed or embarrassed by my tastes. Nor should you. These cultural artifacts have taught me a lot about the world I live in, and I am infinitely better off for the experience. It has not at all been wasted time.

I'm very excited about my future plans for this blog, as I now feel that I have a calling to bring people together for the betterment of mankind, at least culturally speaking. And I say this with all humility, because I do not worship at the altar of ego. Perhaps this is a good time to say thank you to the 46 people who have chosen to follow this blog, and to the many others who have visited. It is a distinct privilege to cross paths with you!

This morning, I am sharing with you some Bill Ward goodness. Bill, who left us in 1998, was one of the major purveyors of Good Girl Art, comics that emphasize the allure of attractive women, and his most famous creation is undoubtedly Torchy. Torchy was so hot that one time she went to work at a prison, and guys started breaking in. See for yourself!

From Modern Comics #69 (January 1948)

October 8, 2009

Dr. Americalove ( Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Join The Fight Against Lobbyists)

I've often noticed that when people my age wax nostalgic about growing up in the 70's and 80's, they often only talk about their favorite toys, or tv shows, or movies. That is quite understandable, considering that my generation is fairly defined by it's pop culture touchstones. I am trying to think of ways that America was better in those days without being overly nostalgic or merely thinking in pop culture terms. It's awfully hard to do.

You know what I really miss about those days? Family get-togethers. Easter. Thanksgiving. Christmas. I can still picture my Mom and Uncle standing at opposite ends of Grandma Lois' kitchen table, pulling it out to add the center leaf. My family, like every family, was full of colorful characters, who loved to gab and joke and laugh while passing the mashed potatoes around. It was the same situation at Grandma Sudie's house. I'm not sure what "Family Values" is defined as nowadays. I do know that my family members often helped each other to accomplish goals, big and small. I know there was a feeling of unity, love, and human kindness that made life wonderful.

This is not to say there were not arguments and secrets and rifts. Every family has those. But we had those things as a family. Today, more and more families are estranged. It is like we are all on individual journies now. In my family, the separation happened slowly. As the burdens of life increased, it seemed to get harder and harder still to find the time to break bread with our loved ones. I did not see much of my family after I got married for the first time. 60 hour work weeks can do that to a guy.

You see, I think there is a tendency for Americans to let the greedy bastards who write our checks also change the way we live our lives, and it's not a good trade-off. Imagine an America where everyone could have a job working less hours and making more money. There would be plenty of time to rekindle family ties if the people at the very top didn't have an unholy desire to own EVERYTHING. It's hard to get along in today's Monopoly society, where a few people own everything from Park Place to Marvin Gardens, while others are forced to sell their bodies to buy fast food dinners.

This, in my opinion, is the fundamental flaw of capitalism. It works great for building a society, but then the Law Of Diminishing Returns sets in. Because there are winners and losers. Say Burt's Ice Cream becomes extremely popular. Burt gets richer and richer and is able to have all the finest things in life. The same goes for his children, who are able to go to the finest colleges to get degrees as lawyers. It is a fairly safe bet that Burt's great-great-great grandchildren will prosper, if they don't squander their inheritances.

Now take Ernie. Ernie's Ice Cream doesn't do so well. His business fails. Even if the fault is entirely with Ernie, because his ice cream tasted like rancid underwear, Ernie's children will still enter their American lives at a considerable disadvantage to Burt's children. If America is supposed to be a land of equal opportunity, then Houston, we have a problem. Because as the cycle continues, Burt and his succeeding generations will do better and better, unless they face an unlikely crisis. And Ernie's succeeding generations will do worse and worse, unless there is an unlikely miracle.

Of course, most Americans are materialistic. That goes without saying. But most Americans don't have to have mansions and a fleet of cars and butlers and private jets. We all know the difference between needs and wants. I need fresh air to breathe. I want the new Beatles: Rock Band game. I need healthy food to eat, although I want to eat fish 'n'chips in London someday.

I, like most Americans, am a proud individual. I do not want a handout, and I don't know many people who do. But folks who work hard for 50 years deserve better than to have their pensions raided. Folks who work hard, even if they don't go to college, should be able to afford a home for their family and they should not live in fear that some health-related issue will lead to that home being foreclosed on.

It is clear what needs to happen in America. We must outlaw lobbying. Not reform it. Outlaw it. Because rich people should not have more power to influence Congress than poor people. Because people should not run for office as a get rich quick scheme. They should run for office to represent the needs of the people they are sent to represent.

This must be the focus of the revolution. To end influence peddling in Washington. If we can, we will reform healthcare, end wars that only benefit greedy profiteers, and secure a better future for each and every American child being born today.

I know I am not the first person to come to this conclusion, but you have just witnessed a real-time epiphany. Does anyone want to join me in learning more about the efforts that must surely already be in place to end influence peddling? For my children's sake, I sure hope so.

October 5, 2009

America, Land Of The Fear

In 1973, cartoonist Robert Crumb published a cartoon called "The Desperate Character" in Zap Comix #6.

Crumb and his comix existed then, as they do today, on the fringes of American society. The average middle-class American was largely unaware of his existence, or if they were aware, considered him merely a peddler of pornographic filth.
Robert Crumb certainly was obsessed with sex, and many of his strips reflected his predilections. However, what a few people realized was that his work often contained important truths, too.
By the time this strip appeared, The Summer Of Love had been over for a good five years. The Peace Movement, though somewhat influential, had been reduced to a mass market merchandising tool. Hippies had seen the writing on the wall and, disillusioned by what they saw happening in society, by and large let their idealistic notions vanish into the ever-increasingly polluted air. The "Me" Decade was picking up steam.
Robert Crumb, basking in the freedom of relative obscurity (compared to, say, Charles Schulz), was a gifted visionary free to express his innermost thoughts, desires, and fears.
He viewed with complete clarity the disaster that was looming for America. The corruption of ethics. The futility of Vietnam, and war in general. The pollution of our air and water by greedy capitalists. The proliferation of nuclear weapons. The general apathy that was developing in Americans...
If only Crumb's important comics had not been kept on the fringes. Maybe they could have jolted Americans out of their tv-induced stupors. Maybe Americans could have banded together, put aside their cultural, religious, and generational differences long enough to keep a molehill from turning into a mountain.
I am sometimes afraid of the future. I know I am not alone. I wonder what will become of me and my loved ones, especially my amazing daughters. They were born in a post-911 world, a world where fear comes in a thousand varieties.
The biggest fear I have is that my girls will one day long for the "good ol' days" of the Naughties, as some are calling this first decade of the new millenium. How much worse could it get for these contentious and scandalous times to be thought back on with fond nostalgia? It could happen.
After all, Robert Crumb's vision of fear and despair preceded my birth by only a few months. I spent the first six and a half years of my life growing up in the 70's. Sheltered by my parents and my own blissful ignorance, America seemed to be a better place to live then. Nostalgia aside, it was better then, at least in some ways. I'll count them in my next post, but for now, let's all light some incense and mellow out on citizen Pat Connor's groovy 1973 Disneyworld home movie reels. It's a moment of zen to help us refocus our chakras, or something like that.

Don't Start The Revolution Without Me!

I attended a screening of Michael Moore's new movie "Capitalism: A Love Story" yesterday afternoon and was greatly moved by it. To be sure, Moore is a polarizing figure in a very polarized country. Most of the people who see his films are already in agreement with his stances on subjects like gun control, healthcare, the corporate takeover of America. The people he most needs to reach are the people who have been lead to believe (by means of propaganda) that he is a fat Godless monster who brainwashes decent Americans into growing Hitler moustaches and probably sets babies on fire for fun. Fear, we surely have learned, is the ultimate marketing device for the corrupt.

At the end of the film, Michael states plainly that he doesn't think he can go on fighting for social justice alone. He wants Americans to get involved in mapping the destiny of their beloved country, to stand up and be counted. Until I saw this great film, I admit I had felt totally helpless to affect the dire course or events that is surreally transpiring in America today. As of today, however, I am going to seek out ways to add my voice to the voices that are demanding a transformation in our society. I consider it not a burden, but an absolute duty to get off my butt and help reverse the machinations of evil that have caused so much suffering among my brothers and sisters.

As a starting point, this week, Easily Mused is going radical. I am going to contemplate what has made America great and what will restore it's vitality for my children's children and their children. There will be lots of comics, music, and video postings to inform, provoke, and hopefully inspire your best impulses as good citizens, but more importantly, as people of good conscience.

Some of you may have given up hope and are resigned to your bleak fate. Well, 95% of this country's monetary wealth might be in the hands of the 1% that considers us nothing more than chattel, but the greatness of America, and Americans, is not in bank accounts and diamond studded yachts. It's in our convictions, our humanity, and our desire for all people to breathe the sweet air of liberty.

All voices are welcome here. Post your comments and join the discussion!

October 2, 2009

A Funny Animal Crossover Event

"Sheldon Mayer Week" rolls on with a bit of a curiosity, a Dizzy Dog story with cameos from The Crow from "The Fox And The Crow" and Fenimore Frog from "The Dodo And The Frog." You'll also see a later version of McSnurtle The Turtle, who, in an earlier incarnation, oft donned a winged helmet as The Terrific Whatzit, a funny animal version of the Golden Age Flash. Enjoy!

Funny Stuff #61 (July-Aug 1951)