Tag Archives: comics

A Christmas Day Homage to Peanuts

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I have decided to revive Russellpop from it’s early grave. I just got through reading an excellent biography of Charles Schultz entitled Schultz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. As I was growing up I identified with Charlie Brown and Linus. I understood the underlying loneliness and dark humor beneath what seemed at first to just be a family-friendly cartoon. Actually it was the first newspaper cartoon which reflected life as it is, with all of it’s disappointment and sad wistful longing for a world that never existed to begin with. Peanuts wasn’t always great, and as Schultz grew older his strip lost it’s edge, and became much more sentimental. But in the fifties and sixties he spoke for the baby boom generation, introducing a comic strip ‘anti-hero’. Today is Christmas and instead of writing about my usual crappy feelings on this holiday, I thought it appropriate to write a little about Peanuts, after all the best known Peanuts cartoon was actually the Christmas special which aired in 1965 and has since become a regular holiday event. Unfortunately most of the animated films of Peanuts which followed were dreadful, with the exception of the Halloween special which was excellent, and the second Christmas special which was almost as good as the first. But most of what followed is unwatchable. As I killed time on this holiday, browsing through old Peanuts cartoons (I am embarrassed to say that I have hardback copies of all of the Peanuts strips from the beginning (1950) through 1970.) As I read them I wished that many of the classic ones could be animated, brought to life with color, and voices, and movement. Then, as I browsed Youtube for Peanuts related material, I discovered that in 2008, 20 motion comics were made based on some of the best strips from 1964. They were made with the blessing of the Charles Schultz estate, and they are excellent. Even though they are not fully animated, you would never notice it. Peanuts is a very simple, basic comic and so the animation required is minimal anyway. But the color and the voices which sound identical to the voices used on the classic Peanuts animated films, are excellent. Very special care is taken to preserve the integrity of the original Schultz drawings. In some cases, the humor comes across even more strongly when animated.  I hope more of these will be made. I have noticed that they got mixed reviews, negative from those who would rather the old strips were not messed with, and positive from those who like how those classic strips were enhanced by this motion comic process. Not all comics lend themselves to this kind of treatment, but because Peanuts had a simple visual structure, it lends itself well to this format. I would encourage you to read the biography of Charles Schultz I mentioned, which contains some surprising information which flies in the face of what is traditionally thought about Schultz. For instance, even though he was quite religious in his younger years, teaching Sunday school and including religious themes at times in his strip, he came to dislike evangelical Christianity and any kind of mass commercialism of Christianity. He developed a kind of melancholy view of life, wistful, longing for a past that really only existed in his imagination. He never thought he amounted to very much, and thought, at the age of 75 that it was a total waste of time to have spent all his life drawing a comic strip. He was not particularly fond of children, and thought that children were anything but innocent, that actually they could be very cruel. He kept returning to the loneliness and hurt of his childhood right up to when he died. His comic strip meant a lot to me when I was a child. I never thought of myself as a child, rather I thought I was a small adult, and Peanuts captured my point of view exactly. Here are four short motion comics of some of my favorite strips from 1964.

Moon Girl

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Moon Girl was a Golden Age comic from the forties. It has become a bit of a cult classic. It began as an adventure comic, then morphed into more of a romance, then finally with Moon Girl #5 it morphed into a horror comic, setting the trend which became EC’s trademark genre. It was published by EC Comics, and has since fallen into public domain. Don’t you just love those little blue hot pants with the crescent moon on the side? In 2010 she re-emerged as a comiXology series. But it is the classic Moon Girl that I want to blog about.  Her basic premise is actually quite lame. A moon rock gives her superhuman powers, and her real name? Claire Lune of course! It is unclear who created her. but it may have been Maxwell Gaines the founder of EC Comics. She made her debut shortly before his death in a boating accident. The better known, Bill Gaines, his son, inherited EC Comics, and also helped found Mad Magazine.

She was roughly modeled after Wonder Woman. Gardner Fox, who normally wrote for DC Comics, was her primary writer. Her primary artist was Sheldon Moldoff, who also had worked for DC. She was a princess from Samarkand, and would never marry a man who could not defeat her in battle. She served as a powerful role model for girls who had a bit of a gothic side. This is primarily because of her last comic, “The Corpse With Will Power” which paved the way for EC’s horror comics. Her primary nemesis was Satana depicted below.

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In Praise of Starman

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An awesome Starman action figure I can't find anywhere

 STARMAN, The forgotten Super Hero

Remember the original DC Comics’ Starman? I’m not talking about his son, Jack, who had his own Starman comic in the nineties, and may still for all I know. I am concerned here with Ted Knight, the scientist who invented the gravity rod, which was replaced by the cosmic rod. He didn’t have any super powers, it was all in the rod. Did you hear that ladies? But, primarily, as a child, I just liked his costume. Even though the yellow star on the red costume seems a bit Communist to me now. I liked the Buck Rogers fin on his head. The artist, Jack Burnley gave Starman that noble sort of Prince Valiant look, which I liked. I didn’t care about the plot. He was fun to look at. But there are some interesting facts about Starman worth noting. Did you know that he was involved in the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb? He was so distraught over what he had helped create that he suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for many years. Although Starman had his own comic briefly, he was chiefly seen as a member of the Justice Society of America, the original DC gathering of super heroes which fought the Nazis and Japan among other things. Once in a while, DC would bring back the Justice Society, until finally, in the twenty first century they have their own comic once again. Starman’s son, Jack, became the new Starman in the nineties, but he didn’t have the nifty costume. The plots were better, though, but then, comics in recent decades have been more for adults than children. So I thought I would share my love of an often forgotten DC superhero of the golden age. Here are three panels of Starman comics.

The world driven insane by a band of metaphysical villains? I think this actually happened!

 


Enid

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Enid my Eternal Muse

This post is in praise of Enid, a character from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World, which was made into a great cult film starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johannson. Thora is brilliant in this film. I fell in love with her portrayal of Enid. Enid is me. I am Enid, She is my inner female, without a doubt. If I were a woman, I would be Enid. She is witty, sexy, and kind of otherworldly. You can’t hope to really get to know her, you can only marvel at her existence. Daniel Clowes’ version is a bit darker than the film version. Thora brings a sweetness to the character, hidden beneath her constant stream of sarcasm. This is the Enid I prefer. She wants everyone to think she doesn’t give a damn, but secretly she cares. A lot! Just like me.

Hey! Look! I'm Batgirl!

Enid spots this fetish item in a porn shop and cannot resist putting it on. She sees humor in the sordid, as do I. Hey, look I’m Batgirl! She doesn’t say that in the film, but she should have! Daniel Clowes created an enigma with the Enid character. You want to get inside her head and examine her brain. She is drawn to the rejected, the lonely, the crazy lost souls of Ghost World. Ghost World is clearly her world. She is vibrantly alive, surrounded by ghosts.

I was struck by the scene shown below, in which Enid and her friend talk to the crazy old guy that always sits at an abandoned bustop. They try to explain that the bus doesn’t stop there anymore, but he insists it does. At the end of the film, a bus does arrive at this bustop and Enid boards it. This bus is from ‘another place’, as David Lynch would put it, and now Enid is where she belongs, far far away from the dismal Ghost World the rest of us have to endure. She is dressed in red, which is rich in symbolic meaning which I won’t go into here.

I feel as though I know Enid, as though she is a real person. I can feel her presence, commenting acidly on our current cultural stupidity. She pretends to be shocked, but she never is. Nothing gets past Enid.

Bustop in Limbo

The movie doesn’t give us the pleasure of seeing Enid as a little girl, although Clowes’ did a few Ghost World comics with little Enid. I bought a great Little Enid action figure which I have to share with you, because it is unbearably cute.

Isn't she cute?

It was unfortunate that the film did not include the reason for the film’s name. The name Ghost World came from graffiti the girls saw scrawled on a garage door. I love that image. It could have been at the end of the opening credits or something. If only they could have had me there to advise them!

Finally, I will leave you with a great shot from the film. The genius of this film was in capturing how kids fresh out of high school really look and act. Enid is the essence of cool, but also a confused young woman too wise for her years.

The Dark Knight

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I was listening to Danny Elfman’s opening credits music for the first Tim Burton Batman film, when I came across a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. A man in Oakland had been walking his tiny little eight pound terrier, when he was approached by a couple of thugs. These guys thought the Red Sox cap and red sweater meant this man belonged to a gang, and proceeded to beat the crap out of him. When the little dog, named Shadow, began barking and trying to protect his owner, the thugs stomped the little dog to death. The music swelled in my headphones as a perfect accompaniment to my rage over this gross injustice. A little dog! What threat did he pose? I wanted to kill those thugs with my bare hands. Such is the birth of Batman.

Batman has remained popular since his inception in  1939, on the eve of the Second World War, because he is us. A human being outraged by the outrageous evil in our everyday lives. His parents were gunned down senselessly, and so the young Bruce Wayne devised a way to strike fear into the hearts of such thugs. Batman appeals to the vigilante within us, but he has a code of conduct. He does not carry a gun, and avoids killing if at all possible. The genius of Batman lies in the fact that although he’s quite gothic, at least in the beginning, and today, he is a beacon of hope within the darkness in which he dwells. He has been represented in various ways throughout his career, but the dark knight is probably the most resonant, especially in today’s dark times. Batman was born in the Depression, as was Superman, and he fought for the underdog. Of course, Bruce Wayne is a rich playboy, but unlike Donald Trump, Bruce Wayne could be imagined visiting an Occupy Wall Street demonstration to offer his qualified support. The wealth was a device to enable Bruce Wayne to support himself while being Batman, and to have a very expensive Batcave lair, with an undoubtedly expensive Batmobile, Batplane, and even a Batsubmarine.

The early Batman comics, which are among my favorites, are spooky. Shadows loom large, and his cape gave Batman a spectral majesty. He was quite operatic, with the cowl and cape, and connects us with antiheroes in literature and film, such as the Phantom of the Opera. He is not an evil figure, and yet he evokes Dracula. His appearance owes a debt to the German expressionists, and stimulates a complex array of emotions, much of it subconscious. But to me, as a snot-nosed kid, he just looked cool.

Unlike Superman, Batman was vulnerable. You could easily imagine him getting killed or hurt. It wasn’t until recently with his ongoing battle with Bain, that Batman actually gets badly hurt. I had to suspend my disbelief, as a child, when Batman managed to escape from harm with bullets flying all around him. His utility belt also stretched my imagination to the breaking point. Just how much stuff is in there? Why does he always have the most improbable thing in his belt just when he needs it? Of course, I realized that comics are not logical.

  Then there is the matter of the eyes. There aren’t any!! I can recall a fairly recent Batman comic which made fun of this fact, with another character commenting on the creepiness of the white space in place of eyes. Actually it just adds to the uncanny quality of Batman. When Bruce dons the costume and cowl, he becomes a magical icon from out of our collective unconscious, and such icons don’t have eyes. All psychologists know this. It was one of the few things that Freud and Jung agreed on.

Because Batman had no special powers, he always represented us. We could put ourselves into the story much  more effectively with Batman than Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, or Wonder Woman. With them there was always a gimmick, which was fun, but with Batman you could really imagine how you would fair in that comic book world. I could learn martial arts just like Bruce did. I could manage to keep my massive cape out of the way as I engaged in fisticuffs with a bunch of loons with very poor aim.

With the Silver Age of Batman (the fifties and early sixties) he lost his original mysterious quality and become a much friendlier, but also goofier hero. The stories became much more outlandish, but as a kid I didn’t really care. The Silver Age was packed with all kinds of great characters. Never mind that you see Batman in outer space with no helmet, somehow avoiding death by suffocation. Never mind that he joined the Justice League and spent a lot of the time standing about, listening to the other superheroes discuss strategy.

  Undoubtedly one of the best things about Batman was his car. I mean, none of the other heroes had cars, didn’t need them, but Batman had the very cool Batmobile. My favorite has to be the Silver Age Batmobile, I mean the bat fin and the cowl on the front is kitsch paradise as far as I am concerned. It has that Buck Rogers 1930’s chic going for it. Seeing that awesome car barreling through the streets of Gotham is great to recreate in your imagination and I did for many years.

Batman created the car himself in 1950, and the panel above shows Robin’s reaction. Ten years ahead? You bet! Fuel-injected overdrive, bullet resistant glass, state of the art intercom, and whitewalls. It was a heavy vehicle and only someone with Batman’s strength could handle a standard transmission. Power steering? That’s for sissies!

There have been other Batmobiles since (see above) but they don’t compare to the original. In fact, what the heck is that last thing? That isn’t the Batmobile, it’s some kind of Humvee from Hell.

  There was a campy mid-sixties Batman tv show, which I didn’t particularly like as a kid. It wasn’t Batman. It was Adam West. I got involved in other things and lost track of Batman until the awesome Batman cartoons of the nineties on Cartoon Network. There had been Batman cartoons before, but Super Friends was not the kind of cartoon I craved. I never watched them. The great film treatment by Tim Burton resparked my interest in the Dark Knight. I did think Michael Keaton was miscast, but Jack Nicholson played a memorable Joker, unmatched until Heath Ledger created an equally memorable Joker. The cartoons of the nineties however managed to capture the hip quality of Batman, and the artwork was superb, matching the look of much of both the Golden and Silver Age. He became a character somewhat removed from the others, unlike the family friendly Batman of the Silver Age. He retained his dark allure, and the voice was perfect.

Batman is still going strong today, although he has become a bit too dark for my taste. I liked the grey outfit with the blue cape and the bat on the chest, both with or without the yellow oval. In the latest movie versions, and even in the comics he is becoming too macho. I don’t like the super buff transformer outfit he wears. I would like to see him become more of a human being once again.

This is not Batman. This is Adam West. This is not Robin. This is Bert Ward.