Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
K-AH! Thirteen episodes (IMDB says eighteen-B)
B-The thing I remember most about that show--sadly--is all the negative publicity about it being just a clone of THE COSBY SHOW. I mean, did that have an effect? Was it a happy set?
K-Oh, it had a terrible effect. It was a terrible effect on Flip (Wilson). He was smoking a lot of hash on the show and just very unhappy. He'd sleep in his car. They did want him to be Cosby but...the stupid, stupid thing is trying to get him to fit into something he's not. They gave him a show...the thing he did well...you know this guy could be in his office whatever job he had and then dressing as Geraldine at home. I mean it is so STUPID! It just never worked. You know the group the Groundlings?
K-I was just gonna tell you something Phil Hartman said about me. I'm one of the original Groundlings, my son, Chris Kattan, is a second generation Groundling. In the beginning it was really hard for me to fit in. What happens is it just does not work to take somebody who does something in one and then put them into a group. I tried to fit, tried to do what they wanted me to do, and then we had a split in the group and a bunch of us left. The original director and myself in that bunch and then a bunch stayed. Now we're all amiable again. Phil Hartman when he was alive was a dear friend of mine, he said, "Y'know Kip, if you wanna fit in a group scene, it's like tryin' to put the wind in a box." I remember him saying that. It has to be that. Unless you find someone who lets you do what you do and enhances what you do... I teach, you know. I'm a teacher and that's what I teach.
B-As far as the Groundlings, how and when did you get involved with them during a successful TV career?
K-Well, I saw the show. I was getting divorced and had not worked so much in TV during the marriage. I did LOVE AMERICAN STYLE and Bill Cosby's old show, a couple of those. Everything was fine. I was working in marketing. I went on an interview with a friend of mine, Tracy Newman. She's now producing THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JIM, she did CHEERS, she won an Emmy for ELLEN. She said, "Hey, Kip!" 'cause she used to see me do stand-up at the Troubadour. She said, "Come on down, be my guest this weekend, they have this new group, the Groundlings that I'm in, come see the show. Maybe you'll wanna join the group." Well, my heart just burst when I saw the group. I've never seen anything like it in my life. People improvising. Taking an audience suggestion and doing something with it.
B-Who was in the group at that point?
K-Well, Larraine Newman, Tracy was her sister...maybe Jack Soo had just left. I know he was in it early, even before me. Anyway, I started going to classes and doing the show. You went to classes and did the show. It took awhile to apprentice and get through, to find my way onstage. I had a way of improvising where something would be fantastic and then I couldn't follow through. It's taken a long time and this is what I teach now! To get a handle on how to teach a technique of spontaneity is a most difficult thing. To understand what that is and understand how to teach people to do that is really an amazing thing to me. I invite your readers, anyone who's gonna be in L.A., I have an incredible class that I teach at the casting service in Santa Monica. It's currently running and I do privates as well. So anyway, I got involved with them and started doing shows at the old Oxford theater on Western. Then we moved and created the Groundling Theater literally on Melrose where it is now. As a matter of fact, I'm going back in a new show next week.
B-Very cool! IMDB says you were in PATTON around that same time. Where were you in...
K- I did looping. That and THE SAND PEBBLES. They sent me down to work for Robert Wise. All I remembered him from at the time was that he was editor on Orson Welles films and then I talked to him about Orson Welles and he wasn't interested. I said, "Did you do...MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS!!??" and he said, "Yes, I did but what we want from you now is play this lieutenant in the field." So I was this lieutenant in the field. I put it in my resume. It looks good.
B-How did you move into animation voice acting? What led you to that? Commercials?
K-Yes! On camera first, then I would do some voice-overs for the spot itself. Then what I was doing to get all the work from Hanna-Barbera and animation...I'd do spots for voice-overs here and there for one thing and another. What happened was, I was in an acting class...Actually, I had an improv class and in the improv class were some non-actors such as Gordon Hunt, who is Helen Hunt's father. Helen was in the class, too. I've known her since she was a kid.
B-Now that's new information to me! I know who Gordon Hunt is from Hanna Barbera but I had no idea he was Helen Hunt's dad.
K-Ah! Well, he was and is. I've known Helen since she was...as a matter of fact, she and I went to Disneyland once on NewYear's Eve, just as friends, and I remember at twelve we danced to, "Oh Mickey, you're so fine..." (laughter) Anyway, this class was amazing. Helen was in it and this girl Melanie Chartoff who was on a show called FRIDAYS and Chris was in it! I'd be taking care of him and he'd come with me to class when he was nine years old. Amazing class. Amazing! Sometimes there were 32 people in it, 40 people. You never knew what was gonna happen. One time, he had me get up. I do a character that's a combination of Jessel and Jolson. He's an old-time comic. "And he tawks like dis" So I taught Gordon Hunt how to tell a joke and it was so hysterical 'cause every time he'd come out and say, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, " I'd find something wrong with that. Took him six minutes to get "ladies and gentlemen" right. And then the joke--the whole thing ran ten seconds but it took him about an hour to get it right! It was just beyond belief funny. So anyway, I get a call from my commercial agency, "You're gonna do a voice on CAPTAIN CAVEMAN." I never heard of CAPTAIN CAVEMAN so I go around to Hanna Barbera and there's Mel Blanc and I'm the guest villain. That's all. They put me in it and I started doing that. Then they put me in one thing or another and I started doing THE SMURFS. They never tell you if you've got something, you know? So I show up, they say, "Yeah, you're gonna play a smurf." So I go down and they like my character who (in character) "talked like THIS!" Originally, Tailor was the closest thing to a Jewish smurf they could have. They speed up the voice. It has to be higher so (in character) "instead of talking like this," he talked like THIS" and then they speed it up just a bit. "So he became a little precious." They said he was a little too Jewish, then a little too fey, so they toned it down and it became Tailor. By the way, they had a lot of smurfs be a smurf just for one show So I did that one show and from that show came nine years of work. So that's amazing. My son got me for my birthday an original cel of Tailor with all the original background, too.
B-Oh, really? Very cool!
K-Plus, I went to a party for (SMURFS creator) Peyo when I was doing THE SMURFS and he autographed one (sketch) of my character and he wrote, "For Kip, the voice of my Smurf."
B-Oh, that's great!
K-I was so honored.
B-When you did it, did you work with the other voice actors? I know June Foray said she was sometimes recorded separately.
K-June was a dear friend of mine. She's still alive, isn't she?
K-How old is she now?
B-92 next month.
K-She was a guest at my class so many times! When they came to sessions (for SMURFS), June was always prim and proper... Paul Winchell was always a hero of mine and I hung out with him alot.
B-He got a lot of bad press when he died.
B-A lot of people didn't like him. Bad personality, they said, bad temper.
K-He had a mental breakdown, too.
K-Back in the forties. He told me. He had a very big...did he have a radio show?
B-I think so but he was much bigger on television.
K-Well, anyway he was extremely hot at one point and he had a date with Hedy Lamarr and he told me he just forgot and started roaming the streets. Did you ever read his book about the Bible?
K-Said there's no such thing as God or something like that.
B-Definitely an eclectic, eccentric person.
K-Plus he created this artificial heart and how to feed starving people--he had a solution for feeding these nations that were starving and...
B-On top of all that, he was the best ventriloquist, too! I never could see his lips move.
K-I knew his wife, too. Well, he'd go back and forth, married, not married, living alone, living seperately...anyway, he was a great, great friend. You know, Stan Laurel again--he had four marriages, two of which were to the same person--he just was the sweetest man and he would say to me, "You know I'm watching these premieres, lad, and everyone's saying the movie they worked on was a lot of fun. I've been in this business eighty years and not one minute was FUN!" (laughter) "They're not FUN! None of this is FUN!" (laughter) But he wrote all the gags and directed the films, you know?
B-I've read that the reason that he and Ollie never had a falling out was that Ollie left all that to Stan while he just happily went to the races. Worked for both of 'em.
K-They also had overlapping contracts so they couldn't get out of contracts. Did you know that Stan Laurel had been Charlie Chaplin's understudy?
K-And that Chaplin dissed him? You know that story? When he was Chaplin's understudy with (Fred) Karno, before he left England he said, "Stan, come over and see me. I'll do it for you. I'll put you in the movies." So later he goes--Stan Laurel alone--and he finds where Chaplin is after a long search. He's having lunch with a young nymphet at a restaurant in downtown L. A., which was terrible now but it was great then. So anyway, he passes a note to the maître de. It says, "Hello, Charlie. Remember me? Stan." What happened was the maître de gives Chaplin the note, he looks at the note, looks at the girl, tears up the note and continues the conversation. That's it. That was it for Charlie. Then thirteen years later he sees Stan and he goes up and says, "I'm the greatest fan you ever had. Love your movies!"
K- I was very, very fortunate to meet these other people who gave me advice. Stan Laurel and I used to talk with each other on the phone and I'd tape him. He called me one day and I have it still--transferred it to CD--and he's talking about twenty minutes. He's giving me advice on my act and I'm contradicting him! I'm saying, "No, you don't understand. What I'm doing is I'm trying for a new type of comedy here." Stan says, "That's fine for a little theater but I wouldn't sit there on a little stool."--this was during Shelly Berman when everybody was sitting on a little stool. I said, "Yeah, but you don't know what I'm trying to convey." He says, "It doesn't matter what you're trying to convey." I played all this for my son before he got on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and he said, "How can you be talking to Stan Laurel like THAT?"
B-(laughter) That's certainly what I was thinking!
K-Well, I was 22. Chris said, "But you're talking to STAN LAUREL!" The other reason is I don't listen.
B-(laughter) You've done a lot of things in show biz and you obviously still are. What is your favorite thing that you've done?
K-Well, I liked the SMURFS because it was for kids and had a good moral. I don't know if it's my favorite thing I've ever done. When I got that part in PLAYHOUSE 90...a thirteen minute live scene on the top-rated dramatic show in television was unbelievable! That was an enormous coup. STUDIO ONE, too. Those were highly rated dramatic shows where they were like plays--you had to go in, never miss a cue, take your mark, say your lines, finish and leave. It just was astonishing and there's been nothing like it. The first major thing I did was called THE WALTER WINCHELL FILE (March 21, 1958). I was seventeen or eighteen and I had the starring role. I was in every shot. It was supposedly the story of a cub reporter who came to the big city to be like Walter Winchell. Every reporter wanted to be like Walter Winchell, of course. He saw a murder committed by...Dan Blocker was the murderer...and Dan Blocker started to chase him around the city. The kid would hide her and there...go to a party and some woman tried to make love to him and this guy gets tossed and turned and beaten up and the killer's still chasing him and he gets him cornered in a phone booth with Walter Winchell! This to me at such an early age--this was at Paramount--3 day shoot without a breath and that, where there wasn't a moment off, was oddly fitting. I did a lot better when I had starring roles than I did when I sat around and waited for my line.
B-I can imagine.
K-I'll leave you with this. I'll tell you something about this business. You wanna know what it is? It's selling water by the river. You know what that is? Here I am at a river and you're selling me water. "How much is that water?" "Well, I can give you a good deal. It's much better than the water right here." And he just got it from the river. You know what I'm saying? It's not BAD! NOT A BAD THING!! It's bullshit but that doesn't make it something better or worse than anything else. It's water by the river! I also came up with this phrase--"Nobody knows what they're doing and don't take it personally."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I'm on record as being a big fan of character actors. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Kip King, a man who has been working in show business since the mid-fifties, often in small but memorable roles in television and film. As I've noted, my son and I have been watching episodes of the Adam West BATMAN series. Last week, we watched an atypical episode in which one of the Joker's henchmen was actually given a character, a personality and even scenes away from his "boss." And he made the most of the role, creating a well-acted, funny and memorable minion for the clown prince of crime. It got my attention. I looked him up. Kip King. Hey, I knew that name! He was Tailor Smurf on THE SMURFS! He also appeared on many TV series episodes, both classics and completely forgotten ones. Oh, and he's also the father of currently popular actor Chris Kattan. I took the chance of contacting him for a brief interview about BATMAN and THE SMURFS but before I knew it, I was in the middle of a long, rambling and wonderful conversation with this man who knew and worked with nearly everybody from Jack Benny and Stan Laurel to Tom Hanks and Keanu Reaves. Here's part one in which we discuss, amongst other things, old time radio, Stan Laurel, Red Skelton and Cesar Romero's mustache. Let me know what you think and if you'd be interested in seeing more character actor interviews here at the Library.
BOOKSTEVE-Okay, since we have to start somewhere, how did you get involved in show business in the first place?
KIP KING-Oh my God. This is gonna be a seven hour interview! (laughter) Well, I came out here from Chicago. I was an amateur magician and ventriloquist and came out here in 1952 when I was...my parents got divorced and I was fifteen. We moved to Hollywood. I'd always dreamt of being in the movies and within one year of moving in, I had a television series at CBS called THE ALDRICH FAMILY. At the age of sixteen. Co-STARRING and under contract to CBS.
B-Who did you play on it?
K-Homer. Homer Brown.
B-You're not gonna believe this! I played Homer Brown on stage with Ezra Stone who played the original Henry Aldrich!
K-Where was this?
B-Radio re-creation in Cincinnati about sixteen years ago, the year before his death.
K-Ezra directed me in MY LIVING DOLL.
B-He was marvelous!
K-My friend Ronnie Schell kept saying, "Visit Ezra Stone. Visit Ezra Stone." He wrote me a letter after I did LIVING DOLL complimenting me on the part. Very few directors do that.
B-I thought Ezra was one of the most nurturing people as far as acting goes. I've done a lot of the radio re-creations in the past twenty years and usually you get a script, you get up there and you read but Ezra sat down with me beforehand and told me to always play off the other actors even if you're reading from a script.
K-Jackie Kelk. Did you ever meet him?
B-Did not. I know he was doing the re-creations around that same time but he never came to the convention.
K-Well, he was very self-defeating. He lived in the Valley. You know SPERDVAC?
K-I've been a member of SPERDVAC for ages 'cause I'm a big fan. Jackie Kelk was going to one of the conventions and he was in AA and...he's dead now but he kept referring to it. Very self-defeating. He was not proud of himself. I think he had a slip--not at the time but I mean, he slipped off. He had some bad years and he was very self-defeating. A lot of the people in old-time radio had their GOOD time and then they lost it. They didn't as human beings grow out of that.
K-You know what I'm saying? They didn't know what to do with their lives without the gig. I talked to John Milton Kennedy, LUX RADIO THEATRE host (announcer) and he just had nothing to say except anecdotes about LUX--about working. To me they're very sad because I think work is a means to an end and it's not the end in itself. This was quite sad for me.
B-Bob Hastings, whom I've worked with over the years at Cincinnati, isn't like that.
K-I worked with Bob on some re-creations of early television shows that somebody wanted to market. I would play, like, Dean Martin and he would be some sort of announcer and...yes, and ARCHIE ANDREWS...the other guy who did Jughead...
K-Yes, he also did re-creations but Bob Hastings always had a lot to do. He was in McHALE'S NAVY wasn't he?
B-Yeah. I always say I've learned more about acting from sitting next to Bob at these re-creations! This year's guest was Eddie Carroll.
K-Oh! Eddie is a DEAR friend!
B-He was marvelous! Very enjoyable.
K-We did "Dueling Benny's." Bob Lynnes had Hal Goldman on one time and I call on the phone and I say, (as Jack Benny), "Hello, Hal. This's Jack Benny and I...didn't like the script today...and I'll tell you why. It's not your fault and it's not mine...or these damn GLASSES!" And you know, I play these things back and it's a dead ringer. A dead Ring-er! So Eddie and I would be out doing interviews for a commercial and I'd say, (as Jack), "Well, I'm first!" and he'd say, "Well, I signed in!" and I'd say, "Well you signed in with another name!" "Don't let him get the part!" (laughter) Go ahead with your questions or this is gonna take six years!
B-Okay, then, what were some of your favorite experiences in early television?
K-Well, I tell ya, it was absolutely amazing to be thrust into this stuff. One of the weirdest things was I ad-libbed on PLAYHOUSE 90. And almost killed the show! The director, Buzz Kulik, said, "I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe what you did. Later on--years later--I happened to see this PLAYHOUSE 90 and it actually worked! It was called "A Trip to Paradise." (March 26, 1959) Burt Brinckerhoff and myself and supporting us were Robert Blake, Dyan Cannon...they were all teenagers! Anyway, In the beginning we had this thirteen minute scene--LIVE--he's talking about this girl he met, Ellie, and how beautiful she was and there's this whole thing...there's a murder and Ellie this and...after that I'm out of the whole show until the end of the show, right? So I see him again and he's been through...they've beaten him up. He's walking with a limp. He's got a hat on and I see him on the boardwalk and I say, "Ray! Ray!" and he turns around...They'd never rehearsed with bandages! I never even saw...So I say, "Oh, you got cut up there." (laughter) I ad-libbed that! I said "You got cut up..." when I saw the tape--but what I had thought I said was, "Oh, you got a little cut there." So, the guy had been really beaten up and I thought I'd said, "Oh, you got a little cut there." But when I saw it all those years later, it worked. Plus, I ad-libbed on THE JACK BENNY SHOW, too! Now this was never, ever, ever done! Benny Rubin came over to me after and said, "I don't know what you just did but no one's ever done this." and luckily Jack says, "All right, keep it in!" Now this was Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner as guests. (March 6, 1960) I was supposed to deliver them a telegram and Jack Benny was teaching them Method acting. So they were all very deeply involved in whatever their dialogue was in this rehearsal for a television show that Jack was directing as a Method director. They were dressed as beatniks, right?
K-So he said, "Action" and Wagner says, "I wish that you would get some notice of what's going to happen." She says, "I'm waiting, I'm waiting." and I'm supposed to ring the bell and say "Telegram."
K-So I ring the bell, they open the door and I go, "Tele-GRAM!" And it absolutely worked. You know, I thought, I would be Method acting, too! No one had ever ad-libbed on THE JACK BENNY SHOW.
B-That's what I had always thought. (laughter)Speaking of great comedians, I read somewhere that you worked with Stan Laurel. Where was that?
K-Oh, Stan Laurel was my mentor!
K-I met him through Jerry Lewis. I was in the Jerry Lewis comedy workshop before I went in the Army and he said "You know, I just talked to Stan Laurel today." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah. He's in the phone book. Why don't you call him?" And he was! He was in the phone book in Santa Monica.
B-I heard Dick Van Dyke did that, too.
K-Yeah. Every star visited Stan but a lot of them, all they did was they brought their shit. Stuff to show him. But Chuck McCann and I became good friends of his. He left me his bow tie and cigarette case and we were very close. When I went to England, he opened the doors for me and went to the Command Performance. He was really the first movie star that I ever knew that was emotionally fit. Everybody else was fucked up to be honest with you. I was with Red Skelton for thirteen shows. He had me fired on the last show.
B-I've never heard much good about Red.
K-Really? I'm glad. He was a real son of a bitch. One day I was in the hall during rehearsal and I was humming a song. And Red says, "What's that?" I said, "I'm making up this song." He had me hum it and he said, "That was really nice." That night, David Rose premiered a new composition by Red Skelton...MY song!
B-Sadly, I believe it.
K- He stole it. Absolutely true. Dave O'Brien was one of his writers...from the Pete Smith shorts. And Seymour Burns directed him and he directed THE ALDRICH FAMILY. The first pilot. We made two pilots. The first was live on kinescope and I'd love to get it. No one has it. The second I'd also love to get was made for Desilu, Lucy and Desi bought the rights. We made the pilot and we did three camera--with an audience and it was ready to go on slate with CBS in the fall and instead they put on GUNSMOKE...which I understand did pretty well.
B-Wow. Well, let's move up to 1966. What about BATMAN?
B-Were you familiar with the show at all? Had it already become the phenomenon that it became?
K-It was JUST hitting its peak. A friend of mine, Stanley Ralph Ross, had written some of the scripts. I don't know if you know who he is?
B-Oh, of course!
K-He was a good friend and he just called Larry Stewart who I knew from before and he was casting it and Larry called me in for this BATMAN show and I had seen it. I liked it and I read for this and...you know it just fit like a glove. It just was one of those things! I've done several shows that just fit! MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and a lot of work on the Desilu lot after I did a lot of live TV. I did all the live shows for seven years. Then I started doing filmed stuff like BEN CASEY...well, anyway, let's stick with Desilu. Well this wasn't Desilu, this was...
K-Yeah. Where I did TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH. So....I got the part and it just turned out to be enormously supportive. The rest of the cast except for Cesar Romero who was pretty much of an asshole.
K-Well, okay, I won't call him an asshole. He wasn't a bad guy. He just was removed. Didn't want to participate with anyone else. "AH, yah! This make-up hurts. I'll do it and get outa here!" He didn't visit. So strike "asshole." Sorry, folks. Cesar Romero was not an asshole! I had written a show for Betty Hutton with him! I wrote THE BETTY HUTTON SHOW...I'm sorry to keep digressing but I was hired as an actor, became her lover and wrote the show so that's an interesting story in itself.
B-I was going to ask how you got involved in writing and why you never did more of it.
K-(laughter) Well, because I wrote during the writers' strike! Wasn't a member of the union!
B-Thaaaat would explain that.
K-Well, I wrote this show for her and Cesar Romero and (on BATMAN) I said, "I wrote that show for you, remember?" and he said, (in Cesar Romero's voice), "I do so many." The Joker worked very well for him, though, didn't it?
B-That's very true but according to some sources, that role was originally meant for Jose Ferrer!
K-Was it?? (laughter)
B-That's what I've read.
K-Quite possibly true. He didn't do any of those though, did he?
B-No, which is too bad because his son, Miguel, went on to be a big comics fan. Imagine if his dad had been the Joker! Up close could you see Cesar's mustache?
K-Oh, of course.
B-Maybe it's because I was a kid but I never did and now that's all I see when I look at him in that makeup! My son and I have been watching a lot of old episodes lately.
K-How old's your son?
K-Oh my God, cool!
B-The whole thing is that some of them were just ridiculous and silly but the early ones especially were really entertaining and good! Most of the humor in them came from everybody being serious. You, on the other hand, actually managed to be funny in it on purpose.
K-This was an ideal situation, to play a character who was...well, to play a character! Literally, a character. I WAS serious but I was able to do it in and out of the box at the same time.
B-Well, it stands out because so many of the other episodes those henchmen are just there. Sometimes two, sometimes four.You never know anything about them but their names and that's often only because they wear them on their shirts! But you actually got in a characterization.
K-Yeah, it really worked. I mean, I had a crush on Donna Loren....my character did. Everything was working. Also, we all got along very well. Would you know who that other guy was...the big guy who played the oaf with me? I can't remember his name.
K-Very nice. Quite removed and I know very much into psychedelics I think.
B-Well, it was that time, wasn't it?
K-Adam I knew from THE DETECTIVES and he was one of the nicest people I know. He had a sense of humor about his lack of ability all the time. Ever since he started. I mean, he has made a living NOT doing it well! BATMAN worked out so well for him it just was a miracle. It's wonderful. He's the sweetest guy in the world. He'll do anything Cesar Romero didn't do!
B-I remember at the time we all believed in Batman. All of us kids took him seriously when he said, "Make sure you buckle your seat belts, citizens," and all that. Wasn't like he was being silly at all or being ironic about it.
K- It was good stuff. Worked on so many levels.
B-During the fight scenes, how much of that was you and how much stuntmen?
K-I would say, almost 50-50. Obviously the close-ups were me. The heavy stuff was the stuntmen. I took the last few punches and fell but the medium and long-shots were them.
B-When they did the two episodes that were on Wednesday and Thursday, did they shoot them as one and just cut them into two?
K-No, each part was shot...part one first, then part two. It was directed by Oscar Rudolph who directed me in MY FAVORITE MARTIAN.
The illustrations of Kip in this piece come from episodes of the television series LONGSTREET (with Bruce Lee), MAN WITH A CAMERA (with Charles Bronson), BOSOM BUDDIES (with Tom Hanks) and BATMAN. The lovely late in life triptych of Stanley was borrowed from a wonderful site called http://lettersfromstan.com/stan_history.html . The photo of Eddie Carroll and Bob Hastings (with booksteve himself in the background!) was snapped by my lovely wife, Rene earlier this year.
Coming tomorrow, the second and final part of my interview with Kip King in which we discuss SMURFS, the Groundlings, looping and more on Stan Laurel! While you wait, check out Kip's website at http://www.kipking.actorsite.com/ .
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
First of all, the format. It's a novelty, pure and simple. When it comes right down to it, only a couple of the strips are even using it to their advantage. What matters here is the art and the stories. Here's my take:
BATMAN by Robins and Mulvihill. I don't know these guys at all and they're not doing much to convince me that I should. This is moving at a snail's pace and outside of a terrific new Bat-logo I find little reason to recommend this strip. *
KAMANDI by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook. In my opinion, this is the best this title has to offer. Structured like an old-fashioned FLASH GORDON or PRINCE VALIANT page, the colors are vibrant, the plot interesting and the pacing enough to keep one interested from week to week. The art itself is quite detailed. ****
SUPERMAN by Arcudi and Bermejo. Interestingly drawn in a near photographic style, I don't have a clue what's been going on here these past three weeks. *
DEADMAN by Bullock, Heuck and Stewart. More of a plot than most but still little movement. Highly stylized page design and crisp art make this one enjoyable and the writing seems to maintain the traditional version of the character. ***
GREEN LANTERN by Busiek and Quinones. A bit disappointing so far but at least it's advancing fairly quickly. Seems to be almost a spinoff of NEW FRONTIER as it's clearly set in the past well beyond current DCU continuity. Dialogue is good, art just okay. **
METAMORPHO by Gaiman and Allred. Great looking art here from the MADMAN creator but each page is a splash. Can we expect even Neil to tell a real story in a dozen splash pages (with unfunny little fanboy jokes as a bottom strip)? Knowing him, it's possible...but he should start soon if he really plans on pulling it off. **
TEEN TITANS by Berganza and Galloway. At least something's actually happening here but not enough to make me recall the plot from week to week. The dull, pseudo-anime art doesn't help either. ----
STRANGE ADVENTURES by Pope and Villarrubia. A truly ugly strip with art that reminds me of Brendan McCarthy (except that I LIKE Brendan McCarthy). This is like no version of Adam Strange you've ever seen. That said, this is one of the more memorable strips from week to week with constant action. *
SUPERGIRL by Palmiotti and Conner. The art is ultra-cute and the story's also cute but we're going on four weeks now with our heroine simply chasing the super pets. **
METAL MEN by Didio, Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan. The most traditional strip here and also the best paced plot. The characterizations are spot-on and the combination of artists is an absolute joy! ****
WONDER WOMAN by Caldwell. A frickin' mess! An ugly logo, hard to read lettering and a nearly impossible to follow layout make this strip a chore to get through every week and when you do you can't be sure what--if anything--happened. The only good thing is that Caldwell gives you no reason to care either. What a waste. ----
SGT. ROCK by the Kuberts. At least while Rock's been beaten up for three weeks in a row, the plot is moving a long a little. Kubert's style, although simplified with age as is the case with most of the great comics illustrators, still leads to an amazing bit of work that one can appreciate for both its storytelling and its art. ***
FLASH by Kerschl, Fletcher, Leigh and McCaig. This one looks like a real Sunday strip, complete with a bottom strip that ties in to it. It's the Barry Allen Flash and the story thus far, while a tad slower than you might expect from the fastest man alive, is a fun bit with both Flash and his real identity--together and separately! ***
CATWOMAN AND THE DEMON-by Simonson, Stelfreeze and Wands. A seemingly pointless combination of characters here but an intriguing, quickly moving plot and unusual art from Stelfreeze add to the fact that these creators may yet make this one a real winner. **
HAWKMAN by Baker. A new look for the character, some very interesting coloring and a lot of action right out of the gate on this one. ****
Okay, then. What's good is real good and a few others still have potential. With relatively few strips, however, I'd have to say the lesser strips are making me think twice about whether to bother sticking with WEDNESDAY COMICS. Even though the choice of strips would seem in part at least aimed at the older fan I just don't care about most of these characters. Perhaps more sadly, all of the creators, as I stated above, seem at a loss to figure out how to get me to do so.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Not sure how I ended up with one of the posters from that 1st Cincinnati con but here it is...sort of. Because of it's size, I've had to scan it in sections. Sorry. Still, cool pop art looking Human Torch. No earthly idea the artist.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Surely the song "Something in the Air" by the group Thunderclap Newman holds some sort of record for being on the most movie and television soundtracks beginning with 1969's THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. The group, originally consisting of only three members, was handpicked by the Who's Pete Townshend as a vehicle for his friend Speedy Keen. Keyboards were done by a Jazz drummer named Andy Newman while later Wings member Jimmy McCulloch, then age 15, took guitar. Townshend himself produced their debut album and played various instruments on this and other tracks. The group, augmented with a couple other musicians, played a very few live gigs before self-destructing but here's their original promo film (ie: music video) for what has been called the greatest one-hit wonder of them all!
VIDEO WATCHDOG's Tim Lucas posted this 1967 film trailer on FACEBOOK yesterday and it has become my new favorite thing. It's an Italian film shot in swinging London with a French leading man and a Swedish leading lady (CANDY's Ewa Aulin). So stylish as to be a world unto itself, this is a type of filmmaking that was much more prevalent then than now and I for one miss the artsy and genuine artistic feel of films like this. Now I have to see the movie itself!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Normally I shy away from full story reprints but I'm assured from at least two folks that this story, originally published in Harvey's JOE PALOOKA # 15 in late 1947, is in the public domain so... JOE PALOOKA was a perhaps surprisingly long-running comic book that mostly reprinted the newspaper exploits of the title boxer. The back-up strips were usually Palooka-related also but in the mid-forties, artist Bob Powell who had done THE SHADOW strip and, for awhile, MISTER MYSTIC in Will Eisner's SPIRIT sections, began doing a strip entitled CHICKIE RICKS THE FLYING FOOL. The first page of ATOMA tells us that it was Powell who wanted to see if a sci-fi strip would go over. Apparently it didn't. In spite of the innovative number layouts on each page (to cover up for the more sparse than normal backgrounds perhaps?)and the fact that the whole thing is clearly setting up a series, GCD lists this as the only appearance of ATOMA. Powell would do some impressive work at Harvey on THE MAN IN BLACK as well as in some crime and horror comics. In the sixties, he, along with Wallace Wood, designed the infamous MARS ATTACKS cards. He ended up doing some unusual work on secondary features at Marvel, then moved on to SICK, one of the many imitation MAD magazines. He died in 1967.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
In real life, we were watching all the countdowns and splashdowns and ticker tape parades for Gemini and Mercury space heroes such as Col. John Glenn. The first book report I ever did in school (5th grade) was on a book entitled WHAT COL. GLENN DID ALL DAY (or something like that). When Apollo 8 actually orbited the moon at Christmas of 1968 the world seemed to just stop for a few moments when the astronauts read passages from GENESIS. If you were there you know what I mean and if not, you could never fully understand. Just for a brief few seconds in that turbulent decade, there seemed to be hope.
Then came Apollo 11. From liftoff, we watched every almost unbelievable moment. Walter Cronkite on CBS and Frank Reynolds on ABC were both equally fascinated as they reported it all to us in long uninterrupted news coverage that pre-empted regular TV schedules. I remember thinking it seemed like an absolutely endless amount of time before they landed and then again before Neil Armstrong stepped off the LEM and took that "giant leap for mankind." But I saw it. I SAW the first human ever step on the moon and I saw a million fantasies become reality in that moment.
After that it was all Nixon and moon rocks and space pens and Tang and the moon landings became, if you can believe it, routine. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee revisited the concept in FANTASTIC FOUR # 98 some months after the lunar landing. The issue found the FF actually going to the moon (where they had been several times before by that point) in order to fight a menace that threatened to prevent Apollo 11's landing! Even as a child, that made no sense. When the Red Ghost and the Human Torch had already been on the moon, what difference did it make for Neil Armstrong to go. Reality and fantasy had become one and comics would learn to steer clear of too many real world developments after that. It just didn't work.
Later still came the questioning, the conspiracy theories, the politics that kept us from returning to the moon or beyond, the admission by NASA of just how close the landing module came to crashing, astronaut Buzz Aldrin's admissions of alcoholism, Col. Armstrong's refusal to discuss the most historic moment of the century. Reality again. Maybe we've backslid. Maybe we haven't progressed as well as we'd expected. Maybe, as some say, we don't even have the technology to get to the moon today if we wanted to. None of that matters in the end because those of us who were there that day know that it happened! Those of us who were there had the best head trip the sixties ever offered!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Like many folks my age it seems, I have always counted BATMAN # 180 ("Death Knocks Three Times") as the first book of my official comic book collection. Long before that, however, my dad would bring me a handful of CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST comics every time he would happen to see them on sale anywhere. Maybe it was because CASPER was also one of my favorite cartoon series but I've always had a special affection for the little guy. Turns out he turns sixty this year and Dark Horse will be celebrating later in the year with this special reprint. In the meantime, head over to Jon's Random Acts of Geekery at http://waffyjon.blogspot.com/2009/07/by-10s-friendly-ghost-casper-part-1.html to catch some CASPER by the tens! While you're there, congratulate Jon on his newly adopted daughter! Seen here is my own son about ten years ago at approximately age three proudly absconding with a couple favorite titles from my background longboxes!