Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jack Cole

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the enigma of "Red" Holmdale and Gloomy Gus

1940s American popular culture produced works of breath-taking crudeness. This lumpen quality is sorely missing from present-day mass media.

While crude, berserk ideas still dominate our daily detritus, any visual imperfection or misjudgment is Photoshopped or vectorized into a conforming blandness.

Where are the "Red" Holmdales of today? I sorely wish there was material as slapdash, primitive and ill-conceived as the story we're about to share with you.

Herbert W. "Red" Holmdale was a journeyman comic book artist in the 1940s and 1950s. This article will give you a brief q.v. on Holmdale.

Holmdale's moisture-expelling, goggle-eyed characters look like something your cigar-smoking, sweaty uncle would draw on the margins of newspapers, or on napkins at a restaurant, to amuse uninterested children. His work has that All American, reg'lar feller quality also found in bus-station graffiti and high school yearbook illustrations.

Holmdale was a mainstay of the 1940s titles published by MLJ Comics. They are best known for their endless line of Archie teen comics. During WWII (the big one), MLJ struggled to find its place in the funnybook firmament. Their line of superhero comics was modestly successful--indeed, some die-hard collectors consider them hot stuff.

Although great cartoonists like Jack Cole and Mort Meskin worked for MLJ, the bulk of the company's comic book publishing was gruff, sloppy stuff, aimed at the LCD "mass market," with coherence merely a happy accident. What better place, then, for a "Red" Holmdale to ply his weary trade?

Holmdale's unsung masterwork is "Gloomy Gus," a most unusual series that appeared in the schizophrenic Top-Notch Laugh title. No other comic magazine best illustrates the market schism of wartime America. Kids wanted superheroes--this was known. They also apparently craved a "joke book" full of stereotypical goofballs. Top-Notch Laugh Comics delivered the goods.

Here's a very typical cover (by Holmdale) that shows this awkward and vain attempt to please all the kids, all the time:

For their dime, wartime kids got 68 careening pages of funnybook product. "Pokey Oakey" was a Li'l Abner imitation; "Senor Siesta" a caricatured Mexican. Other T-NL mainstays were Ed Goggin's horrendously drawn "Three Monkeyteers," effeminate high-school closet-case "Percy," private-eye spoof "Snoop McGook," cheesecake teen fun with "Suzie," and Bill Woggon's surprisingly elegant cartooning on the Western comedy "Dotty and Ditto."

For the serious side of "America's funniest joke book," MLJ offered the fallen star of The Black Hood, a masked avenger feature rendered without passion or reason.

And then there's "Gloomy Gus, the Homeless Ghost." American comics may have produced a more terminally Wrong-with-a-big-W feature, but if so it remains to be seen.

There were several screwball film comedies in the early 1940s about ghosts, death, the Hereafter and reincarnation. Here Comes Mr. Jordan or Heaven Can Wait may have inspired Holmdale to create his magnum opus.

The series' premise, perverse to its core, is easily grasped by reading this representative story, from Top-Notch Laugh #33, cover-dated February, 1943. Just read it and see for yourself:

Now, imagine yourself to be Alfred Rotella, of Long Island, New York. It's 1943. You eagerly await each new issue of Top-Notch Laugh-- specifically for "Gloomy Gus."

You are moved to write a letter to the editors of your favorite funnybook. An urge also compels you to mail in your photograph.

You wait...and wait...days pass...weeks pass...and then, one winter morning, your dream comes true. You get to tell the world how much "Gloomy Gus" means to you.

Alfred Rotella, life as you know it is now over. There are no more mountains to climb; no more rivers to ford. Step in front of the next moving streetcar and join "Gloomy Gus" in his existential top-notch laughs.

Friday, November 14, 2008

John K. on Animating in Taiwan in the 80's

"They couldn't believe how magical the animation and timing was in the old days and would ask me later to explain what happened to American entertainment. Why wasn't it good anymore?"

Friday, November 7, 2008


Derf's blog (in which he responds to his readers)
Derf's comics
Lots more

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tumbleblog Defined

Here, of course.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Patton Oswalt's High School Graduation Speech

"First off, I want to thank the teachers and faculty of Broad Run High School for first considering and then inviting me to speak here. It was flattering, I am touched and humbled, and you have made a grave mistake. . ."
The full speech is here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Mascot (part 2) - Ladislas Starewicz

The Devil's Ball sequence.

Terry Gilliam has mentioned this film as an influence. It's like watching one of Grandville's drawings come to life. In 1933, Starewicz was thought of as a children's filmmaker.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Perception is 90% Memory?

This excerpt from a recent article in the New Yorker is quite interesting. I wonder if it's true. I'm not as impressed as I used to be when someone quotes a scientific study to bolster his argument. I've worked in advertising long enough to know how easy it is to play with phrases like "scientists have found...".

Still, it feels to me like there is something worth considering in the claims made below. Certainly, most (perhaps all) stage magic depends on this "filling in" phenomenon. (Darius once remarked to me that he was getting tired of magic tricks because they all seemed to depend on just one thing: "hiding something.") I realized he was absolutely correct. Every great magic trick depends on the viewer automatically (and unconsciously) "filling in" for something that isn't there. Propaganda, marketing, advertising, public relations, philosophy, art, fiction, animation ... all work on the same principle. It's what happens when I look at the cracks in the floor or the bark on a tree and instantly see a cartoon face (or even an exquisitely drawn picture). In his book "Influence", Robert Cialdini calls this the "Click, Whir" effect.

Here's the excerpt:

...Or consider what neuroscientists call “the binding problem.” Tracking a dog as it runs behind a picket fence, all that your eyes receive is separated vertical images of the dog, with large slices missing. Yet somehow you perceive the mutt to be whole, an intact entity travelling through space. Put two dogs together behind the fence and you don’t think they’ve morphed into one. Your mind now configures the slices as two independent creatures.

The images in our mind are extraordinarily rich. We can tell if something is liquid or solid, heavy or light, dead or alive. But the information we work from is poor—a distorted, two-dimensional transmission with entire spots missing. So the mind fills in most of the picture. You can get a sense of this from brain-anatomy studies. If visual sensations were primarily received rather than constructed by the brain, you’d expect that most of the fibres going to the brain’s primary visual cortex would come from the retina. Instead, scientists have found that only twenty per cent do; eighty per cent come downward from regions of the brain governing functions like memory. Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals.

(End of excerpt)

It also occurs to me that this may be one reason why my life feels like it's passing by more quickly as I get older. With each new experience, I'm actually processing less and less new information. In other words, the larger my frame of reference, the more likely I am to depend on past experience to process what's happening right in front of me. The genuinely "new" sensory experiences I had in an hour of "kid time" are progressively crowded aside to share room with my past sensory experiences during an hour of "adult time".

What do you think?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches

The Man Who Made Cartoons Swing

It says here that Raymond Scott never actually composed music for cartoons. "In 1943 ... Scott sold his music publishing to Warner Bros. Carl Stalling, music director for Warner's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, was allowed to adapt anything in the Warner music catalog, and immediately began peppering his scores with Scott quotes."

According to his wife, Scott didn't even watch cartoons.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Philip Jose Farmer Reminisces on his Interview with Tarzan

Garfield Minus Garfield

To quote my friend Frank:
"Just when I'd lost faith in the human race, along came this website. This is sheer, blinding brilliance... enjoy a religious experience!"

How to Make a Screen Print

How to make a papier-mache pig

Gourmet Paper Mache Pig

Surveillance Pizza Order

Here's a must see flash movie on the ACLU website. Thanks Timothy.

The Evolution of Urinating Calvin

Last week I saw this on the rear window of a car. God help us.

Here are some more musings on this "weird form of modern folk art."

Here's what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

A likeness of Calvin appears on a set of decals with an arrow to signify urination. These are bootlegged images that became widely popular, and are disliked by many fans of Calvin and Hobbes because the images are contrary to the actual themes and atmosphere of the comic.

The original image shows Calvin filling a water balloon, not urinating.

The image of Calvin is here used in reference to his mischievousness. This constitutes one of the many copyright violations the strip has generated.

Another set of bootlegged decals show an image of Calvin genuflecting before (usually) an image of the Christian Crucifix. Ironically, this particular image of Calvin is taken from a strip wherein Calvin is offering a bowl of tapioca pudding to his television set.

Donald Westlake Science Fiction

Here is a collection of Science Fiction short stories by Donald Westlake. He explains that "there aren't enough of the stories to fill out a book, and I won't be doing any more, so this is where they'll be spending their afterlife."

Famous First Lines, Real and Imagined

Here are some interesting facts about a very interesting man. Fredric Brown often worked out the plots to his novels while taking long, solitary bus trips to nowhere and back. He is one of the three dedicatees in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (the other two are Philip Jose Farmer and Robert Cornog). Philip K. Dick was undoubtedly influenced by Brown. Ayn Rand praised him as "one of today's romanticists". Donald Westlake is also among his admirers.

He was also one of those authors who wrote wonderful opening lines. His novel Knock Three-One-Two begins with this: "He had a name, but it doesn't matter; call him the psycho."

Speaking of which, here is a rather tiresome list of Best First Lines chosen by the editors of American Book Review. I won't deny that some of these are really good, but many of them seem to have been chosen simply because they are the first lines of, ahem, IMPORTANT NOVELS. I also wonder how many of these would seem impressive if we didn't already know the story that was to follow. Is the first line of Catch 22 really all that great? It's the second line of that novel that seals the deal after all: "The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. " And, as usual, the Toni Morrison quote is just silly.

Here's another collection.
I think I prefer many of these.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose University sponsors the Bulwer Lytton contest for the best first line of an imaginary bad novel. There's a kind of snootiness about that contest that annoys me, however. Why settle for condescending imaginary first lines when you can read these from Harry Stephen Keeler?

Here's something cool: a collection of first lines from NanoWrimo novels .

And here's a mind bending collection that makes no claims about the merit of the line itself.

I can find no online collections of great novel dedications. I'll bet there are some gems out there.

Here's my favorite first line from a non-fiction book. Dariel Fitzkee's Showmanship for Magicians begins this way: "The fact that I feel there to be a definite need for this book is evidenced by my having written it."