Saturday, September 30, 2006

This is Pop Culture: Lost Recap

This is Pop Culture provides the Cliff Notes: "If you haven't been watching reruns or DVDs, here's a brief refresher on what happened last season."

Spider-Man Rockomic on YouTube!

MMM: Robert Downey Jr. cast as Tony Stark

Make Mine Marvel carries the Hollywood Reporter story--cool!: "According to the Hollywod reporter Robert Downey JR. will be playing Tony Stark...
Robert Downey Jr. is suiting up to star in 'Iron Man,' the first feature film to be produced independently by Marvel Entertainment. Jon Favreau is directing the movie, which will be distributed by Paramount Pictures. Downey will portray Tony Stark, a billionaire industrialist and genius inventor who is kidnapped and forced to build a devastating weapon. Using his intelligence and ingenuity, Stark instead builds a high-tech suit of armor and escapes captivity. Upon his return to the U.S., he uncovers a plot with global implications and must don his armor and protect the world. The comic debuted in the 1960s, and Iron Man's origin involved Stark being a prisoner of the Viet Cong. The movie version, written by Art Marcum & Matt Holloway and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, will be set in today's geopolitical climate."

AJC Review of Comic Art #8 - and Seth Bonus

WORDS AND PICTURES - - I briefly reviewed this when I bought it (and I did enjoy it, though some of the articles in the magazine are quite obscure). Here's the AJC's take from their biweekly comics column: "Comic Art #8 / Forty Cartoon Books of Interest. Buenaventura Press, $19.95. Mature readers (nudity).

Recently I complained to a friend about the way the Internet has undercut rare book prices. As a collector with a large library, I know one collection's diminished value means bargains for many collectors. Canadian cartoonist Seth explores this in his chapbook 'Forty Cartoon Books of Interest.'

Seth, whose own collection provided the 40 volumes described, has stuff that dates back to the mid-19th century. Of 'The Foreign Tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson,' from 1854, he writes, 'I bought this online recently for fifty bucks! How is that possible? Does no one else want these books?'

That's possible, but it might be undone if many folks read Seth's pieces, including an allegory of black life in the 1940s called 'It Shouldn't Happen,' and one on the influential French cartoonist Caran d'Ache.

'Forty Cartoon Books of Interest' is a supplement to the summer volume of the superb magazine Comic Art. In addition to the wholly worthwhile extra by Seth, the current issue has articles on New Yorker cover artist Richard McGuire, pulp illustrator Edd Cartier and the history of cartooning's word or (as it's called here) speech balloon. Be sure your copy has the Seth book with it, as they can be easily separated. And beware waiting too long, as they might become collectors' items."

AJC: Android preaches faith in God on Battlestar Galactica

A new mission for sci-fi | "The stunning blonde in the clinging red dress had just triggered the near annihilation of the entire human race when she embraced a shaken survivor and whispered in his ear:

'God is love.'

That's what Number Six, the android who looks like a Victoria's Secret model, declared in a pivotal scene from the Sci-Fi Channel's hit show 'Battlestar Galactica.' Her statement of faith came while she was trying to convert an atheist to her belief in the 'one true God' —- after a toe-curling sexual tryst.

That scene offers a glimpse into why critics and fans are calling 'Battlestar Galactica' one of the most provocative explorations of religion on television today. Androids are nothing new in sci-fi. But an android who believes humans need to convert or be exterminated is an audacious leap.

'Battlestar Galactica,' which returns for its third season at 9 p.m. Friday, is more interested in exploring some of the most incendiary issues in religion and ethics than in spaceship captains sporting tights, or funny-looking aliens."

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Last Newhart

Evanier had this on his excellent blog, and I thought I'd share it with you. One of the funniest, most surprising series finales--I saw it the first time!

80 Years of a Magazine on a Hard Drive?

80 Years of a Magazine on a Hard Drive? It’s the Talk of the Town - New York Times: "If E. B. White and Joseph Mitchell had known that their essays would end up on metal platters spinning at 5,400 r.p.m., they would probably have asked for a bit more per word. Their writing — along with articles by hundreds of other contributors to The New Yorker — is now collected on one 3-by-5-inch portable hard drive.

The 80-gigabyte drive has Eustace Tilley, the magazine’s top-hatted symbol, engraved on the case. It connects to Macs or PC’s using a U.S.B. cable and contains 4,164 issues of The New Yorker, dating back to 1925. The drive has 20 gigabytes set aside for updates that will be available online.

The $299 device is available at Installation is simple: plug it in, allow it to install a special reader on your computer and then search or browse issues by author, date or content. Each article appears just as it did in decades past, and the archive includes all the advertisements, cover art and, of course, the cartoons."

I saw the ad for this in the latest paper issue of the magazine... very cool idea. Of course when would you ever read it? I did just get the complete cartoons, on a DVD, and that will take years to go through...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Comics This Week

Today I picked up:

- Stan Lee Meets the Amazing Spider-Man -- a new series with Stan Lee as a character meeting some of his fave characters in stories. This one has a story written by Stan, another written by Joss Whedon, a Fred Hembeck page, and a Spidey reprint from 1970 by Stan and John Romita. Silly fun.

- The Eternals #4 of 6.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #100 -- Haven't read this series in a few years but had to buy the big one.

- Ramayan 3392 AD #1, another book from Virgin Comics, this one sort of retelling a great Indian creation myth.

- X-Men First Class #1, which I passed on last week but read some very positive reviews, so we'll see.

- Best of all: Essential Thor Vol 3 -- hoo hah! Reprinting some of my favorite comics, Thor #137-166 by Lee and Kirby.

Then tonight, the Margaret Mitchell House a block away hosted yet another cartoon-related guest speaker: Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker (to which I, ahem, subscribe--and not just for the cartoons). He gave a slide show of lots of great cartoons, showing how they're made, what works and doesn't, etc. Fascinating. I also picked up there (and had him autograph) the new trade paper edition of The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, which instead of 2 CDs now has a DVD with more than 70,000 cartoons (all ever published, to date, almost), which is a couple thousand more than the hardcover that came out a couple of years ago. Fun stuff.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

'Boondocks' comic strip to end in November

'Via surprise: "'The Boondocks,' the edgy comic strip by Aaron McGruder that's currently in reruns, will end in November, Universal Press Syndicate announced Monday."

Monday, September 25, 2006

SCI FI Wire: Silver Surfer to be digitized in FF2

SCI FI Wire reports: "The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Doug Jones will provide performance and movement references for the Silver Surfer in the upcoming sequel film The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and that New Zealand's Weta Digital will provide the character's visual effects for the Fox movie.

Jones will take part in a process similar to that in which Andy Serkis portrayed Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The voice casting of Silver Surfer has yet to be determined, the trade paper reported.

Weta (King Kong) has developed an advanced computer-generated-animation process that employs motion-capture techniques updated to add further dimensionality to the liquid-metal hero. "

Aldo Kelrast, RIP

I was surprised that this happened. Shocked! The Comics Curmudgeon links to two tribute YouTube's the weirder of the two.

USATODAY: 'Heroes' has the power to engage and confuse - 'Heroes' has the power to engage and confuse: "Dense, dark, a little dreary and yet oddly intriguing, Heroes seems destined to attract an audience that is more loyal than large. A distinctive, dark-knight comic book brought to life, Heroes clearly isn't for everyone, but that's all right: Every show doesn't have to be for everyone. What matters is that Heroes is likely to please viewers who like genre series, even when those series take themselves a tad too seriously."

I'm looking forward to this. I hear Yahoo has the whole first episode up already.

Dial B: New 10-Part Series on...Ira Schnapp?

DIAL B for BLOG has a big announcement (after Robbie's been absent for so long, it's worth the wait...right? Absolutely! You have to check it out now! "Ira R. Schnapp was an eyewitness to the first-ever appearance of the Man of Steel. He also saw the debuts of the Caped Crusader, the Scarlet Speedster, the Emerald Gladiator, and the Amazing Amazon... in person. He was there the day Barry Allen raced across the bridge between the earths and became the Flash of Two Worlds. He saw the mightiest heroes of comics' Golden Age unite for the first time to form the Justice Society of America. And he witnessed the unforgettable first meeting of the JSA and Justice League of America with his own eyes. Through it all, there was one constant, and one constant alone: IRA SCHNAPP.

Hang on, reader -- you are about to experience a jaw-dropping new ten-part series that will forever change the way you look at DC comics..."

ABC News: Heroes and Villains Share Space at Major Comic-Book Exhibit

ABC News has an article and the video of their recent news story: "The 'Peanuts' gang joins Popeye and Captain America in a comic-book exhibit that is so large, it is housed in two East Coast museums, after a run in two California galleries.

'We're really elevating this medium to the level of fine art, which it actually should be,' said curator Ali Gass of The Jewish Museum in Manhattan.

'When you look, you really see that these are phenomenal artists first and foremost.'

'Masters of American Comics' traces the history of comics by highlighting the work of 14 of the most influential American comic artists."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A look at how some adults enjoy childish pursuits

(re*ju*ve*niles) - from "(re*ju*ve*niles)
n., pl. 1. Otherwise responsible adults whose inner child is out and about; 2. game players, toy collectors, fun seekers and other grown-up pursuers of youthful buzz. See also: kidults"

Check out some good examples.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

NYT: The theology of superheroes

Religion and Comic Books: Where Did Superman’s Theology Come From? - New York Times: "When Rabbi Simcha Weinstein leads Rosh Hashanah services this weekend at the B’nai Avraham synagogue in Brooklyn Heights, he will read a liturgy deeply concerned with the concept of teshuva, or repentance. And when Rabbi Weinstein speaks of repentance, he often thinks of a young man he met decades ago by the name of Peter Parker.

Parker had been walking home after competing in a wrestling match, vain in the aftermath of his victory, and as a robber dashed past him, he did nothing. That same robber proceeded to attack and kill Parker’s uncle.

Coming upon the scene, the nephew was struck by such guilt and remorse that he resolved to spend the rest of his life fighting crime.

As any fan of comic books, including Rabbi Weinstein, would recognize, Peter Parker is Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and drawn initially by Jack Kirby and then Steve Ditko. Parker’s moment of moral awakening occurred in the first issue of the Spider-Man strip, published in 1962 and discovered by Rabbi Weinstein during his own boyhood in the early 80’s.

Something else that Rabbi Weinstein came to learn much more recently was that Lee and Kirby were Jewish — born Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg, respectively. So it seemed to the rabbi no accident that their comic resonated with a quintessentially Jewish theological theme.

That insight, among others drawn from Rabbi Weinstein’s study of the classic superhero comics, infuses a new book, “Up, Up and Oy Vey!” The volume, which has nearly sold out its first run of 5,000 copies, contends that writer-artists of the classic comics, many of them Jewish, were influenced by their religious heritage in devising characters and plots."

Friday, September 22, 2006

NYT on Marvel's latest Civil War news

Arts, Briefly - New York Times - Reporting on the latest issue of a miniseries event I have studiously avoided, and it sounds like I'm glad I did. Characters acting totally out of, well, character, a cloned Thor, dead heroes...sigh... by the way, it may be too late, but SPOILER ALERT! "“Civil War,” the limited series from Marvel Comics that pits heroes against one another as they take sides on the government’s Superhuman Registration Act, has resulted in another rift, and a death. In issue No. 4, which went on sale yesterday, Invisible Woman packed her bags and left Mr. Fantastic and their children. That couple are half of the Fantastic Four. Invisible Woman’s decision stemmed from her husband’s use of a superpowered clone who killed Goliath, an antiregistration hero, in battle. The series, and its exploration of war, has been successful for Marvel, with sales of the first installment exceeding 300,000 copies. Issues No. 2 and 3 each sold just short of that. Invisible Woman’s Dear Reed letter to her husband read, in part: “I also didn’t want your last memory of me to be tainted with all the blazing fights we’ve had in recent weeks. Hence the oily fish dinner (good brain food), the bottle of your favorite claret (an excellent antioxidant) and making love one final time (good for the immune system).”"

5 Men in a Limo

Promo for an awards show featuring the top 5 movie preview voiceover starts. Fun!

CBR: The Yellow Submarine Comic Book that never was

Comic Book Resources has the info and some sample pages--gorgeous!: "Nineteen years [after John Lennon's death], now an artist working for Matt Groening and Bongo Comics, [Bill] Morrison was approached by Dark Horse Comics to contribute his own piece of Beatles history: A new adaptation of the 'Yellow Submarine' in comic book form.

'I guess it would have been early in 1999. The DVD was released in September of '99, and I remember the comic adaptation was being timed to coincide with the DVD release.'"

Apparently somebody at Apple Records had a change of heart, and that was that. Sad.

AJC: Ringel on All the King's Men

I recently saw the original Oscar-winning film, for the first time, on TCM and enjoyed it thoroughly. Then almost immediately afterwards, I watched the trailer for this new version online--and was struck at how stinky it seemed, even from the trailer! Looks like my instincts were right: "The verdict: A dreadful, ego-driven botch.

There's one Penn too many in Sean Penn's remake of 'All the King's Men,' and it's not Robert Penn Warren.

Warren wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book that provided the basis for this film and the Oscar-winning 1949 version that won best picture, best supporting actress and, most especially, best actor for Broderick Crawford's towering portrayal of Willie Stark.

In the book, Stark is a thinly fictionalized version of Depression-era Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, whose man-of-the-people mob rule and megalomaniacal ambition made him one of the most memorable —- and memorably corrupt —- politicians in American history.

Willie is a big, juicy, red-meat role, and it's no wonder Penn would want to play it. It's pretty much because of Penn's yen for the part that this remake exists.

And it's appalling. Mostly because Penn is appalling. He has no sense of Willie's charm, of what drew people to him. Instead, he's all bluster and paunch. When giving a speech, his eccentric body language recalls John Belushi as Joe Cocker or, better still, Elaine's dancing on 'Seinfeld.' There's no richness here, no layers, just a one-note ego trip in which the camera circles Penn's florid, ranting face, coming in for a series of full-screen close-ups while the music swells.

This isn't acting. It's caricature. Instead of Willie Stark, we get Foghorn Leghorn."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's coming...

450 Cartoonists Urge Poland to Return Auschwitz Paintings

Kansas City infoZine News has the story, and keep reading to see some of the folks who have signed so far, including my pals Stan Lee and Michael Chabon: "Four hundred and fifty cartoonists and comic book creators from around the world have signed a petition urging a Polish museum to return eight portraits to the elderly California artist who painted them in Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.

The petition is the latest development in an ongoing international conflict over the paintings.

Mrs. Dina Babbitt, 83, now of Fenton, Calif., was deported to Auschwitz as a teenager in 1943, but her life was spared after the war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele learned of a mural of Snow White that she had painted in the children's barracks. Mengele ordered her to paint portraits of some of the victims of his savage medical experiments. In the 1970s, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a Polish government institution on the site of the former death camp, acquired eight of the paintings, but refuses to give them back to Mrs. Babbitt.

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which organized the cartoonists' petition, said: 'Holocaust survivors have a right to reclaim their belongings. Four years ago, Congress declared that the paintings belong to Mrs. Babbitt, and instructed the State Department to intervene. Yet Poland refuses to budge, and the State Department has not acted. This must change.'"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Comics This Week

I am trying to keep my spending to a minimum, and so I put a number of new books back on the shelves this week, but I still had some major purchases:

- Union Jack #1 from Marvel, a 4-part limited series. I enjoy this B character so we'll see what the modern take is.

- Marvel Spotlight on Kirby and Lee. Most of the books in this series have focused on modern day writers and artists, so this is a kick. Full length interview with Stan and a tribute to Kirby. With lots of illos.

- Godland Trade paperback Vol. 2. I picked up the individual copies of the first half of this series, which is like Kirby on acid. Great fun. Love Tom Scioli's work. I skipped the individual issues to wait for this collection.

- The Batman Chronicles Vol. 2. This is DCs second in a series presenting "Every Batman story in exact chronological order!" The first vol. was great fun, and these stories, unlike the first volume, I don't know if I've ever read before.

Boston Globe interviews Stan the Man

The powers that be - The Boston Globe: "At Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, 83, helped create a roster of superheroes and archfiends -- Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Doctor Doom, The Mighty Thor, Sub-Mariner -- longer than Mister Fantastic's arm. Now comes ``Stan Lee's Amazing Marvel Universe,' a hardcover retrospective of 50 Marvel-ous moments spanning 1941-97. Written by longtime colleague Roy Thomas, the package contains audio commentary (batteries included) by Lee himself. Having recently settled a legal battle over profits from Marvel-related movies (he won a reported $10 million judgment), Lee has focused on projects like the Sci-Fi Channel series ``Who Wants to Be a Superhero?' Pop! spoke with the Spidey man by phone from his West Coast office."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Luckovich live

Mike Luckovich gave a presentation at Atlanta's Margaret Mitchell House tonight, as part of the Center for Southern Literature program, and I enjoyed being there very much. Mike brought his whole family, wife Margo and three of his four kids I guess (the other is in college), plus Cynthia Tucker and Jay Bookman of the AJC editorial staff.

Mike was hilarious, showing some recent cartoons with commentary (including a sneak preview of tomorrow's), talking about how he comes up with ideas (usually on deadline in a panic), and reading from his new cartoon collection, FOUR MORE WARS! He also took questions and generally just had a good time. Needless to say my copy of his new book is autographed now.

Mike is a brilliant cartoonist, and the Pulitzer judges obviously agree, giving him his second such Prize this year. His fellow cartoonists also gave him their highest honor, the Reuben, and the National Cartoonists Society convention this year. He manages to nail the truth with good humor (though it's often painful humor). Kudos to Mike Luckovich!

By the way, here's the link to Mike's AJC blog.

And you can order Mike's book through Amazon--see the ad in the column at right.

PW: Spike TV holds pop culture awards

The story from Publishers Weekly: "Spike TV will hold its first annual Scream Awards on October 10 to honor well-known individuals in the worlds of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and comic books. Fans can visit to vote for their favorite artists, writers, superheroes and plot twists. Comic writers Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar, Frank Miller, Paul Pope and Brian K. Vaughn have all been nominated in the Best Comic Book Writer category. Charlie Adlard, Doug Braithwaite, Alex Ross, Sean Phillips, Paul Pope, and Frank Quietly have been nominated in the Best Comic Book Artist category."

Monday, September 18, 2006

CR: NYT on Kirby

The Comics Reporter has the links: "George Gene Gustines provides the New York Times with his analysis of the late, great Jack Kirby's work on Fantastic Four #51 in its latest close-reading slidehow." Go check it out!

BBC: Stunning finds of fish and coral

BBC NEWS has the story of new species discovered in the South Pacific...and check out the photos of new species found in the "lost world" jungle in Indonesia--cool! "Discoveries of hugely diverse fish and coral species in the Indonesian archipelago have amazed researchers.

The Bird's Head region in Papua may be the most biologically diverse in all the oceans, say scientists from Conservation International (CI).

Among 50 species believed to be new are bottom-dwelling 'walking' sharks and 'flasher' wrasse, which feature colourful male courting displays."

Casino Royale trailer up

NYT Op-Ed: How Star Trek shaped my values

An op-ed by Ronald Moore (a writer for "Battlestar Galactica") in the New York Times: "“Star Trek” painted a noble, heroic vision of the future, and that vision became my lodestar."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tucker Time: Movie Review: Crank

We'll turn it over to another buddy whose movie reviews I always find interesting--though he tends to walk out of movies far more frequently than I do (so far, never)... presenting, Lyle Tucker, and his review of the movie:

with Jason Stratham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo,
Efren Ramirez and Dwight Yoakam.

Take your Advil along - you'll probably need it. This is a
LOUD and extremely *jerky* movie - rarely does the
camera sit still long enough to allow you to catch your
bearings - it is an hour-and-a-half-hour long MTV-cut,
cinema verite, shaky-as-hell steady-cam assault on the
eyes and ears. That being said, it's really not too bad.
Still, I'd seriously consider taking some headache meds
before checking it out.

If you've seen the commercials you know that our "hero"
Chev Chelios is given something called a Beijing Cocktail
which will kill him in an hour, less if he doesn't stop moving
(yes, consider this SPEED but with a human instead of a
bus) - okay, actually, if his adrenaline level drops. Ostensibly,
then, our hero, that dependable old chestnut known as the
Retiring Hitman, has an hour with which to exact his revenge.
It turns out to be longer than that, thanks to external and in-
ternal circumstances, but suffice it to say that the action is
indeed CRANKed up to virtual non-stop action.

Stratham is more than up to this kind of task. He pretty much
carries the movie, but is ably assisted by Amy Smart and Efren
Ramirez (most popularly known as "Pedro" from Napoleon
Dynamite). Jose Pablo Cantillo plays Statham's main nemesis
and does a fine job convincing you he's an on-the-edge psycho
street punk. And it's always good to see Dwight Yoakam in a
minor but enjoyable part (whom I first caught on-screen in the
lamentably unknown, Minus Man - with Owen Wilson, Brian Cox
and Mercedes Ruehl).

I *almost* walked out on this. It took the movie awhile to
find its legs, or more accurately, its humor - but, once it
did, it became one hellaciously funny ride, a dark comedy
that at times enters territory few movies have in the past
(let me just say that the scene which takes place in China-
town will most likely rank up there with Meg Ryan's fake
orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally). The ending
of the movie is pitch perfect, wrapping the action up in a
satisfying and logical manner. Despite the headache I
was sporting, I was glad I didn't walk out.

Make no mistake, this is an adult film for those who like
their action gritty and graphic - don't be bringing the kiddies
along to this one.

Krazy Kat and the spinach crisis

I happened to read this strip this morning in the Krazy & Ignatz volume 1937-38 (published by Fantagraphics)and thought it was rather timely, although nearly 70 years old!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

CBC: Canadian comics

My buddy James (see below) posted a link to an email list we're both on, and you may be interested in it too--it's the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s archives of stories about comics in Canada, from an audio report on Dr. Wertham and the evils of comic books to an interview with Seth. Check 'em out.

Cassara's Corner: CD and DVD reviews

Occasionally we'll turn this space over to our farflung arts correspondents, including my friend James Cassara from Asheville, NC, who shares some reviews on music CDs and DVDs... enjoy!

The Clash, Rude Boy - DVD
It's the economically depressed, racially volatile English spring of 1978, and heavy-boozing Ray is a roadie for the Clash at the height of their powers. While this deliriously flawed film lacks any real narrative (or even much in the way of cohesion) it’s pumped up by massive jolts of adrenaline as the Clash storm from one night to the next. It’s the performances which save the day and Rude Boy, as uneven as it is, makes clear why the initial surge of punk rock was as much a social as a musical imperative. In a few short years the band would achieve global acclaim via London Calling, but here, captured in the nascent years, lies a rough hewn eloquence the world has yet to again witness. ***

Chuck Berry, Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll! Expanded DVD
During the explosive birth of rock and roll as we know it, Chuck Berry was the man-lean and mean, with a string of self-penned hits that reinvented our conception of what a music performer should be. Elvis might have had that sneer but Berry had the swagger; his animal sexuality was as menacing as it was enticing and you‘d better watch out because his music might just as easily draw you as a moth toward the flame. In 1986, in honor of his sixtieth birthday, a concert was assembled at St. Louis' Fox Theatre-the very place where Berry had been turned away as a boy during segregation, and blocks from the courthouse where, as Berry says, "my forefathers were sold." In front of a ready-to-riot crowd, the concert brilliantly captures Berry's unflagging power as a guitar virtuoso, as well as his audacity in literally duck walking circles around a bemused Linda Ronstadt. But what makes this a great film are the before the show happenings: Keith Richards, musical director of the celebration, nearly driven to tears by Berry's ball-breaking insistence that Richards bend a note just right; Jerry Lee Lewis' admission of his own mother telling him Berry was the true king of rock and roll; and a still-heroin addicted Eric Clapton’s glassy eyed confession that he “didn‘t know a thing about Black men until Chuck Berry."

Equally fascinating is watching Berry handle his own business-traveling without backing band or entourage, demanding to be paid what he's worth-thus proving he also pioneered rock and roll's potent do-it-yourself work ethic. Given the royal status of its’ participants director Taylor Hackford still manages to keep this an intimate affair, giving us a revealing document of an original rock and roll immortal. Released in expanded format (addition concert footage and backstage interviews) Hail! Hail! is the real deal, setting a standard that will likely hold for years to come. ****1/2

Johnny Cash, Live In Denmark - DVD
Iconic singer and songwriter Johnny Cash was in the midst of an early 1970’s Scandinavian tour when he was invited to star in a concert special for Danish television. Taped on a simple (and admittedly tacky) set, before a small but enthusiastic audience and without the announcers or production numbers that often dogged his shows, the broadcast preserved Cash's road performance as it was presented at the time. With appearances from his touring partners June Carter Cash, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins and The Statler Brothers. Man In Black — Live In Denmark 1971 features Cash at his most exposed and assured, perfunctorily performing such crowd pleasers as "A Boy Named Sue", "Sunday Morning Coming Down", and "I Walk The Line. The end result might be a bit predictable but the obvious affection between participants, not to mention loving duets with Perkins and June Carter, preclude this being merely another document of a time gone by. ***

Ronnie Milsap, Columbia/legacy
While there has been no scarcity of Ronnie Milsap collections over the years (in fact they nearly outnumber his albums of original material) until now there has yet been a compilation that wisely balances the chameleon like phases of his long career. Given how many are out there-all of which are cataloged in the liner notes to this volume-the obvious question is “Why one more?” The natural response should be that while this collection can hardly be dubbed essential, it is quite welcome. It's an expertly chosen and sequenced collection of Milsap's best work, from 1973's "(All Together Now) Let's Fall Apart" and running all the way to 1989's "A Woman in Love." Most of this material was on 40 #1 Hits, so if you already own that, there's not much need for this. Still this set has a slight edge over the previous compilation, largely because it has a greater concentration of his prime material making it an extremely listenable affair; its non-chronological sequencing works for it, since it emphasizes the consistently high quality of his top selling singles at a time when most country artists were scored mega-hits with some of the worst rubbish Nashville had to offer. So, even if there is a surplus of Milsap collections out on the market, this outstanding set indeed proves that, for the right buyer, there's always room for another good one. ***1/2

The John Doe Thing, For The Rest of Us (reissued) - Yep Roc
In 1997 John Doe was without a record deal and seemingly at odds with the music industry which, as the former leader of X, he’d once helped breathe new life into. Rather than retreat, he did what he’d always done best; gather together a few friends, dig up some new material, and make music. With Smokey Hormel on guitar, Joey Waronker on drums, and Pete Way serving as producer Doe cut a batch of songs, releasing five as an EP. Eight years later, he’s has reissued the material in expanded form with five unreleased tracks from the same sessions, essentially filling it out to a full album. The added songs are very much in the same vein as the original EP material; these tunes are at once tough and intelligently expressionistic, with a flinty beat poet influence in the lyrics and music that's lean and raw even when it's pretty. On numbers like "Zero" and "This Loving Thing" (the latter co-written with Dave Grohl) Doe shows off his temperate side, reminding us that love lost is still the most powerful love of all. He also isn't afraid to lean into some good old pumped up and abrasive punk rock, with "Bad, Bad Feeling" and "Come Home" ranking alongside the most vital stuff he's released since X called it a day. A thread of weathered introspection runs through these ten songs and if this isn't the most finely crafted music of Doe's solo work it comes close. It has the brave and adventurous spirit of a man putting his heart and soul on tape, with little concern about who might hear it or how they'll react. Ragged but right, For the Best of Us ranks with the most actual and affecting music of John Doe's solo career. ****

David Ross McDonald, Knuckle, Brass, and Bone
While best known as the drummer for the Australian band The Waifs McDonald has continued to churn out distinct and likeable music on his own. Drawing from the indigenous sounds he heard as a youth Knuckle, Brass, and Bones tenders up an inviting set of sparsely arranged and anthropologically intact tunes that explore the inevitable conflicts between culture and commerce, progress and displacement, and (mostly) forgiveness and ego. His own singing is effectual and direct while McDonald’s guitar skills continue to improve with each new offering. Wisely wanting to spread the word McDonald offers up free downloads from his web site at Once you’re hooked his albums are easily obtainable via various links on his site. Needless to say each is worth seeking out.

Dave Alvin, West Of The West - Yep Roc Records
Dave Alvin is a Californian through and through, and nowhere is this more evident than on the pair of discs he has recorded for Yep Roc. He’s built a career out of creating tunes which brilliantly reflect the cultural melting pot of his home state, fusing blues, rockabilly, folk, country, jazz and R&B influences with the passion of an archivist and the fire of a born rock and roller. He’s no doubt a better songwriter and guitarist than a singer, but here he’s opted to play the role of interpreter, playing homage to a dozen other tunesmiths from the Golden State while tossing in one of his own compositions for good measure. Beyond geography one might wonder what Tom Waits, John Fogerty, and Brian Wilson have in common but in some way each offers a thumbnail sketch of one side of California. Merle Haggard's "Kern River" is a compassionate but rough and tumble memoir of life in the West Coast labor camps while Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend" is a witty portrait of the decadence and ennui of 1970s Los Angeles. The dichotomy of such tunes matched against Wilson's "Surfer Girl"-with its innocent daydream of the beach as a place where summer vacation never ends and true love is always rewarded-works surprisingly well. Thematically this is heady stuff, even a bit too much so, but Alvin has the wisdom not to force the issues too hard, wringing an understated passion out of even the least likely material. While in many respects he’s still best described as a songwriter who sings, Alvin knows how to tell a story, and he's picked some dandies for this album. It's hard not to wish he’d had a whole album of new songs to offer (his lone original stands tall among some very distinguished company here), but West of the West finds him honoring a stellar pantheon of California songwriters while showing that, on a good day, he can easily stand side by side with them with any of them. ***1/2

NYT Op-Ed: Old people should not be allowed to watch TV

My Plan to Save Network Television by Charlie Hauck, an op-ed in the NYT today, is tongue in cheek (I hope) because I have somehow slid out of the prime demo myself: "Many assume that mature viewers, with their $2 trillion a year in spending power, would be welcomed by the networks. Well, they aren’t. Advertisers want to lock in viewers’ buying habits early in life, not struggle with them to change brands in their last few decades. The key demographic in the weekly Nielsen ratings report is 18-49. Anyone outside that range is undesirable. People over 49 do not buy interesting products. They detract from the hip environment advertisers seek. The shows they watch tend not to become “water cooler” shows. They are not, as one media buyer puts it, “an opportunity audience.”

The majestic glacier that is network television is very gradually melting. Many young viewers, particularly males in their 20’s, have been stolen away by such lures as the Internet, iPods, the Xbox and opera. This makes the young people who do watch all the more valuable to advertisers. They have far greater disposable income than older people, and they actually dispose of it. Advertisers gladly pay steep premiums for those young eyes. But it is more difficult to single them out when older viewers clutter the demographics.

The fact is, mature viewers are threatening the well-being of network television. I have a bold but common-sense suggestion: old people should not be allowed to watch TV."

Friday, September 15, 2006

No bankruptcy for Air America, yet

I heard a bit of Al Franken today on the radio, announcing that, ha ha, Air America was not going bankrupt, at least today. He played clips of Bill O'Reilly and Mike Gallagher talking about why this liberal radio experiment had failed. Only it hadn't. Yet.

In Atlanta, the local AA affiliate got bought out, and now it essentially is some quirky guy's iPod of the air. I enjoy listening occasionally, but a little goes a long way. They do still carry Franken at noon.

Anyway, AA has announced a new program lineup. They've dropped Springer (he'll be syndicated only) and moved some things around, and added a new show. Here's the announcement via email:

Beginning September 18, 2006, radio powerhouse “The Young Turks” will bring a new sound and energy to the progressive airwaves as Air America Radio Network’s new morning drive-time program.

Hosts Cenk Uygur, Ben Mankiewicz and Jill Pike will move their popular politically based talk show to broadcast on the nationally syndicated Air America Radio Network and XM Satellite Radio. Recognized as Sirius Satellite Radio’s first original programming and the first live video web TV show.

5am-6am The Mark Riley Show
6am-9am The Young Turks
9am-12noon The Sam Seder Show
12noon-3pm The Al Franken Show
3pm-6pm The Randi Rhodes Show
6pm-8pm The Rachel Maddow Show
8pm-9pm “Politically Direct” w/ David Bender
9pm-10pm “Ecotalk” w/ Betsy Rosenberg

Chicago Reader: The Onion's new design

I find newspaper design fascinating, and The Onion hilarious, so thought I'd share this review.: "There’s a washed-out look to the new front page that says one of two things, either “We’re not as funny as we used to be” or “We are, but you’re going to have to work a little harder to get the joke.”

Rick Martin, the art director who came up with the design that the Onion introduced about two months ago, told me the paper passed the acid test of a serious makeover—some readers canceled their subscriptions. Not many, he admitted, but as a free paper that most of its audience reads online, the Onion has to scrape hard for readers with subscriptions to cancel.

I too thought the Onion had blundered, but my youngest daughter studied Martin’s new design and announced that she got it. Think of the old Onion as a send-up of the Sun-Times, she instructed, and the new Onion as a send-up of the Tribune. “They’ve upped the ante,” she said. The red nose has been removed. “They’ve gone Colbert.”"

FDA Warns Against Bagged Spinach, E. Coli Outbreak In At Least 9 States Prompts Caution Against Vegetable - CBS News

FDA Warns Against Bagged Spinach, E. Coli Outbreak In At Least 9 States Prompts Caution Against Vegetable - CBS News: "Consumers nationwide should not eat fresh bagged spinach, say health officials probing a multi-state outbreak of E. coli that killed at least one person and made dozens of others sick."

Of course, last night I made myself a huge spinach salad. It was delicious. Stay tuned.

NYT: More humiliation for Pluto

More humiliation for Pluto via "The dwarf planet formerly known as Xena received a new name on Thursday, while Pluto was given a number to reflect the loss of its status as a planet.

Michael E. Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology who discovered the distant ball of ice and rock that he nicknamed Xena, chose the name Eris, after the goddess of discord and strife in Greek mythology. The International Astronomical Union made the name official Thursday.

'It is absolutely the perfect name,' Brown said, given the continuing discord among astronomers and the public over whether Pluto should have retained its planetary status.

In mythology, Eris ignited discord that led to the Trojan War.

'She causes strife by causing arguments among men, by making them think their opinions are right and everyone else's is wrong,' Brown said. 'It really is just perfect.'

Pluto, now that it is no longer a planet, has been assigned the number 1340340 in the catalog of minor planets."

We are really pissing off the Plutonians. Beware.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Sparrow

The other day I finished reading an incredible novel, which has been out some time (and actually has a sequel) but I'd never heard of: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.

It's the story of a Jesuit mission to the first planet on which life was found (by radio waves of singing broadcasts). It's absolutely stunningly written, the characters are so memorable. It's rough and real and if you have faith will stretch it near breaking. Though I found it faith strengthening. Regardless, it will make you think, and that's a good thing.

One of the most satisfying books, though totally discombobulating, that I have read in a long time. Amazingly creative. I was just captivated.

I can't wait to read the sequel now, Children of God.

Ernie Colon

You may have noticed I carry an Amazon ad for the new 9/11 Commission Report: Graphic Novel edition, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.

I had a dream about Ernie last night. Just saw him nearby, and said hi to him. I have never met him, but some years ago we had an email correspondence and he was such a great guy. I even pitched a children's book to him to illustrate, which he agreed to do, but I could never go anywhere with it. He generously shared some odds and ends of his art with me that he found in his studio, and which I still have and enjoy.

I enjoyed Ernie's work even as a kid, as he was one of the major artists on the Harvey Comics line--Casper, Richie Rich, etc. When he moved over to Marvel and DC (his Arak series with Roy Thomas I thoroughly enjoyed), I followed him. He also did some killer work for Warren in Creepy and Eerie. I always thought his style was unique and fun but also slightly edgy and wicked. Funny for an old Harvey artist! But he was such a friendly guy, and I regret now losing track of him.

So when I saw that his new book had hit the New York Times bestseller list, I was so happy for him. I'm reading it myself right now. It's very illuminating. I recommend it highly (so does Stan Lee, on the back cover).

Morning Reading

Here's what I'm reading these days in the morning before I get ready for work (and after reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):

- Forward Day by Day, the Episcopal daily devotional booklet (written this month, though they never announce the writers, by the Dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta)

- Celtic Daily Prayer, a breviary. I have been reading Phyllis Tickle's "Praying the Hours" for Summer, but decided to switch for a while

- A Year with Thomas Merton, with daily selections from his writings

- Things Seen and Unseen by Nora Gallagher, her wonderful memoir of a year in the community of an Episcopal church in Santa Barbara, California

- Sometimes I also read a bit from The Shark God, by Charles Montgomery, a travel journalist who retraces his great grandfather's steps in the South Pacific islands (he was an Anglican missionary)--fascinating and beautifully written

- I also usually read a few pages from the latest Krazy and Ignatz comic strip collection from Fantagraphics, just for fun

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Unseen Marx Brothers

Mark Evanier has the story, YouTube has the video: "Here's the history on this one: The Marx Brothers made their Broadway debut in a 1924 revue called I'll Say She Is. The show was never filmed or recorded and much about it is lost. In fact, I'm not even sure anyone alive can explain the title. (In interviews, even when he was lucid, Groucho couldn't.) One of the big comedy scenes was the opener, which involved the four brothers going to a talent agent to audition. The sketch had rhymed dialogue and in it, each of them did an impression of Joe Frisco, a famous stuttering comedian of the day who was also known for his distinctive style of dancing. ...

Got all that? Good. Now, flash forward to 1931 when the Brothers Marx were making movies for Paramount and the studio was staging a big publicity campaign to promote its wares. This involved producing a documentary called The House That Shadows Built, detailing the (then) brief history of the studio and showing clips from upcoming films. It was considered desirable to include a preview of the next Marx movie, Monkey Business. Problem: Filming had not yet commenced on Monkey Business so there was no clip. Solution: Make one.

Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo went onto a Paramount soundstage one day and filmed a scene that could be passed off as an excerpt from their upcoming feature. It was the talent agent sketch from I'll Say She Is with a couple of modifications. One was that since Joe Frisco was not a major Paramount star and Maurice Chevalier was, the impressions were changed from Frisco to Frenchman. In doing this, they created the only recorded remnant, such as it is, from I'll Say She Is. Take a look..."

TP: Air America to declare bankruptcy...sigh...

Think Progress - EXCLUSIVE: Air America To Declare Bankruptcy, But Progressive Radio Remains Strong: "Air America Radio will announce a major restructuring on Friday, which is expected to include a bankruptcy filing, three independent sources have told ThinkProgress.

Air America could remain on the air under the deal, but significant personnel changes are already in the works. Sources say five Air America employees were laid off yesterday and were told there would be no severance without capital infusion or bankruptcy. Also, Air America has ended its relationship with host Jerry Springer.

The right wing is sure to seize on Air America’s financial woes as a sign that progressive talk radio is unpopular. In fact, Air America succeeded at creating something that didn’t exist: the progressive talk radio format. That format is now established and strong and will continue with or without Air America. Indeed, many of the country’s most successful and widely-syndicated progressive talk hosts — Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller, for instance — aren’t even associated with Air America."

Comics this week

It's a rainy, dreary day in Atlanta but the weather didn't keep me from visiting the Oxford Comics store at lunchtime. There was a crew there filming a scene from a movie or TV show or something (low budget though!), so the place was pretty crazy.

I picked up:

- The Escapists #3--really enjoying this series, which spun out of the Escapist anthology series published by Dark Horse and featuring the hero Michael Chabon invented for his faux history of the comic book industry captured so elegantly in the Pulitzer-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

- Comic Art Magazine #8--the first of its new format, a huge 176-page squarebound volume in full color, with an additional small volume by Seth on "40 Cartoon Books of Interest" shrink-wrapped in. This publication, which used to come out every 4 or 6 months, I'm not sure, will now be an annual. I rarely purchased earlier issues because the articles were on such obscure topics, but this one looks wonderful. And all for less than $20. Here's the list of contents.

Nora Ephron: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Dinner - New York Times

Nora Ephron has a funny op-ed in the NYT today about various restaurant frustrations and I could identify with most of them. The other night I had dinner at a great steak place in Atlanta, and ordered prime rib medium. I never get prime rib, but hey. When it came out, it was as well done as could be. I never send stuff back in a restaurant! But this was egregious. I told the waiter, who brought the manager, and she was happy to take it back. I ate my baked potato while waiting for the medium slice of prime rib. It came back out. Still well done, but with the slightest trace of pink when you cut into to. I assured them it was fine anyway.

BBC: Green tea cuts fatal illness risk

BBC NEWS reports on a Japanese study, and hey, I like green tea: "Drinking green tea can substantially cut the risk of dying from a range of illnesses, a Japanese study has found.

The research, which looked at over 40,000 people, found the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease was cut by more than a quarter.

But British heart experts said the benefits may be linked to the whole Japanese diet, which is healthier than that eaten in the west."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Atlantic: Superhero Worship

The Atlantic magazine has a major piece of movie superheroes this month: "Superhero comics have been around since Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer ruled the back lot, but only recently has Hollywood realized the natural connection between superhero comics and movies. It’s not just that both are simultaneously visual and verbal media; that formal connection would apply equally to the “serious” graphic novels and sequential art that want nothing to do with crime fighters in form- fitting outfits. Cinema isn’t just a good medium for translating graphic novels. It’s specifically a good medium for superheroes. On a fundamental, emotional level, super�heroes, whether in print or on film, serve the same function for their audience as Golden Age movie stars did for theirs: they create glamour."

Chabon Sings!

The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay posts a link to an mp3 that is slightly embarrassing to the Pultizer-Prize winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (and my pal) Michael Chabon: "An MP3 has surfaced of Michael Chabon on vocals in a 1980s Pittsburgh punk band called The Bats.

Sam Matthews, who played guitar for the band, posted the MP3 on his MySpace page earlier this week. The song, 'Yesterday Does Not Rule,' was recorded in June 1984.

'Yes, it is me, I'm sorry to say,' Chabon said in an e-mail. 'Oy, vey, I sound AWFUL! The other Bats all sound pretty good, but I totally ruin the track. How embarrassing! Thank God I never pursued that line of work any further!'

Other band members included Lee Skirboll on bass, Mark Magee Miller on drums, and Ruth Ann Schmidt on guitar."

Can't wait for Lost

My big brother has been more into Lost than I have, but I still can't wait to get back into it. There have been some websites to carry us through the summer, including Somebody has wonderfully put together all 70 segments of a secret video exposing the work of the Hanso Foundation, and it's at YouTube.

Marvel's Thor to Return

Newsarama has an interview with J. Michael Straczynski about his plans to bring Thor back to the Marvel comics schedule: "While it probably won’t come as any great surprise to Marvel fans writer J. Michael Straczynski will serve as the creative force behind Marvel’s upcoming Thor revival, spinning partly out of the writer’s own work in Fantastic Four and partly out of Civil War, official confirmation comes after literally years of waiting for fans of the character.

So with the news newly minted, we figured it was time for a sit-down with JMS for the writer’s first open conversation about the upcoming Thor ongoing series…"

I'm thrilled. Thor is one of my all-time favorite characters (after Spider-Man), and is one of the reasons I got into comics in the mid-60s!

Cool new stuff coming from Apple

BBC NEWS: Apple targets TV and film market: "Computer firm Apple has announced plans it hopes will put it at the heart of consumers' home entertainment systems.

On Tuesday it unveiled a device which will stream music and video wirelessly between televisons and computers.

The plug-in hardware is due to be released early next year and has been given the temporary name of iTV.

As well as announcing updates of its best-selling iPod music players, Apple also launched a new service allowing users to download films."

What's going on here

I've been doing a blog since before the 2004 election, CephasWorld (link at the right), and I've been doing it anonymously, pretty much, although usually just my friends checked it out. I decided to keep that pretty much political and do the rest of the fun stuff here, and talk about my books and "real life" a bit more. I hope you'll visit both blogs often, and join in the fun.

Where I wish I was right now

My new friend Michael in Germany just got back from an Italian vacation (jealous, yes). He sent this photo of proof that he actually read my last book (from start to finish!) on his vacation. See another photo from his camera on my other blog, CephasWorld (link at right).

Monkees' 40th Anniversary

40 years ago tonight! "The Monkees" debuted on NBC at 7:30 P.M., Monday, September 12, 1966. And I watched it. I was 12 and thought they were so cool. Plus one of them had my name. Within a couple of years, my best buds and I had formed a basement rock band, and we covered a lot of Monkees songs. And Beatles. And made up our own. I have no musical talent, but was a "lead singer" and actually played the, get this, tambourine and maracas. 40 years ago! Sheesh.