Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Martin Steps Out!

There's no doubt in my mind that the biggest artist news ever in the history of comic books was when Jack "King" Kirby left his creations at Marvel and turned his attentions to DC where he created the awesome Fourth World.

That's the winner, but second on my personal list is when longtime MAD artist Don Martin, often labeled the "Maddest Artist" of all left the magazine to take up residence at its number one competitor Cracked.

Don Martin's offerings were always the ones I checked out first in an issue of MAD when I'd get my grubby mitts on one. It went like this usually -- Don Martin pages, Al Jaffee fold-out (without folding), Sergio Aragones pages, then onto other things like Dave Berg, and the satires by Angelo Torres and Mort Drucker. But whatever was in the mag, it was always Martin first. Then he left and his last page was the one above in MAD #277 (see the cover below).

In a few months (newsstand time) Cracked bellowed its acquisition with the greatest of tease by showcasing the great Don Martin on the cover of Cracked #235, something relatively rare in his long MAD career.

The story of how Cracked got Martin can be found here (at least in part) in a column by then Cracked editor Mort Todd. The truth is usually more complicated than one person's perception of it, but this rendering of the tale seems straightforward enough. Like Jack Kirby before him, Martin left for a lot of reasons, but mostly I suspect it was because he felt disrespected by the folks who had been making some good profit off his work for many years. Pride of self can make men and women do a lot they'd prefer not to do.

I picked up the awesomely large two-volume Don Martin MAD collection several years ago. I found it so ridiculously cheap I could not resist despite its mammoth stature. I need to get it out and keep it handy for those moments I need a laugh or two. Don Martin was always great for that.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

A Day In The Anti-Life - Red Menace!

It's with no small amount of sadness that I truly think that when the history of the current day is at long last written with the clarity of hindsight, when the immediate urges of partisanship have dimmed, we will at long last admit that our current Commander-In-Chief is in all likelihood an "agent of influence" of Russian government. It's a startling truth to admit, that our highest office could be occupied by a man so completely corrupted by his own personal demons as well as decades of financial shenanigans which have almost certainly put him in a supine position relative to the government of the detestable Putin. And the comfort he gets from legions of Republicans in his endeavors is shocking. This is a crowd that mocked Obama when he (wrongly) dismissed candidate Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia was the key "geopolitical threat" for the U.S. But when the odious Trump fellow-travels, they stand by oddly mute.

I admit I cannot know the extent of Trump's willful culpability, but like his abundantly evident racism, his words and deeds support only one interpretation. There's no doubt, just from the evidence of the public record, that the President puts his own personal aspirations ahead of those of the country, and that those personal desires seem often if not always to coincide with the desires of Moscow. The Russians work to undermine the elections in the United States (as well as other democratic countries across the globe), taking full advantage of increased technical tools as well as lapses of patriotism in the country which has been replaced by fealty to party. And they were rather more successful than they ever imagined. Did the Russians elect Trump? No. Americans did that, as a country filled with folks who have grown increasingly afraid of those who are different from the mythical American (read "white") of times gone by. The panic brought on in some by the first black President yielded our first openly racist one (at least in modern times) as hostile response to relentless waves of demographic change, a howl of angry regret for a world which never was.

As a country the United States and its citizens were misled before, when after another foreign attack on our homeland, the leadership told us that Iraq was the culprit. We went to war to "defend" ourselves, and the lies which took us there were not uncovered for several years, though the awful truth dawned sooner. Much of the current chaos in the world at large was created in no small part due to this reckless incursion. Now we are again a nation under attack, but our Dotard-In-Chief chooses for whatever reasons to ignore that attack, and that lack of any response is our country being misled yet again. Once before we took action against an enemy who had not actually attacked us much to our regret, now we ignore one who has. Time will tell how much regret this lack of resolve by those who purport to lead us.

The "so-called" President's own intelligence officers (not just the lowly Democrats) say without hesitation that the Russians have injected themselves into our political discourse and possibly into our political processes themselves. We are a country which has recognized a threat to our core, but we are bereft of a leader who will admit the obvious and who has ignored legislative efforts to respond in any meaningful way to those efforts. Whether he ignores the threat from fear of of damaging his fragile ego or whether he ignores it from a lack of willingness to confront uncomfortable realities, there's no doubt that he does the bidding of a foreign power and operates in a way which will make our democracy weaker. Can Donald Trump bring down the United States? I still say that's a largely ludicrous notion, but I no longer can rule it out completely. The "menace" is very real and it is possibly "red" as well.

SPECIAL NOTE: I composed the diatribe above before the indictments released from Robert Mueller's team arrived on Friday which confirmed (for the gonzo-Trumpers only -- everyone else already knew) that the Russians did indeed interfere with our electoral processes. I've noticed since that news dropped that the deniers have  now shifted from the position of it didn't happen to of course it did and by the way it was all Obama's fault. Typical.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

By George, That's A Corker!

To be honest I've been getting a little education on the significance of the mighty Mister Magoo.  Magoo for me was just a rather weird TV cartoon character, one of many, and he stood out because he was an irascible old codger in a universe filled with cute tykes and cute pups and such. That said, his role in the theater and the development of UPA (United Productions of America) as an alternative animation house to the mighty Disney was stuff I knew almost nothing about. Mr. Magoo - The Theatrical Collection 1949-1959 has all of Magoo's theatrical cartoons (including the feature length 1001 Arabian Nights in a separate case). It's a true bargain.

Mister Magoo was something of a powerhouse, an adult cartoon targeted at adults with both barrels. He was a human being in a universe of critters, living in a recognizable world in which his myopic antics seemed bizarre and peculiar and otherworldly but not utterly and completely impossible, though the adventures get broader as the cartoons develop. I learned in watching these vintage cartoons and the extras that Magoo was the barometer of cartoon comedy for the industry, a Magoo cartoon being used to calibrate the humor of test audiences. That's pretty impressive stuff, since that's not about art but money and Hollywood rarely diddles about with the bottom line. Also while at times some of the antics can get a bit repetitive, you can always look forward to the credits on these cartoons which can have their own delightful artistic qualities.

I've developed an appreciation for Magoo and am looking forward to moving into his first TV series, featuring more limited animation. I've been a fan of his Christmas Carol for many years, now I'm a fan through and through. Give me more Magoo.

Here are some fabulous Dell Comic book covers featuring Mr.Magoo and another UPA star, the sound-effects uttering Gerald McBoing Boing.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Magoo's Arabian Nights!

Mister Magoo is a great character -- a near-sighted cantankerous coot who blunders through world in full confidence that he has the complete picture when clearly he doesn't. UPA had a hit on their hands with the myopic animated star and they sought to capitalize not only with well-crafted short films, but a feature-length animation in the manner of Disney. So they took their star Magoo and blended him with the well-trod yarns of 1001 Arabian Nights and give us a diverting film which beautifully done and beautiful to watch.

The story is a simple one really, the handsome youth Aladdin falls in love with the Princess Yasminda who sadly is pledged in marriage to the wicked Wazir so that the kingdom can pay its debts. The Wazir in an attempt to get power learns that Magoo the uncle of Aladdin can lead him to a magic lamp and the jinni inside. Later the Wazir uses Aladdin to find the lamp but loses it and Aladdin himself gets control of the Jinni. It's helter-skelter from there and if I told you it had a happy ending, I'm sure you wouldn't be too surprised.

Aside from the antics of Magoo (my favorite moments are his entanglements with the thread of a flying carpet) we have a standard love story filled with magic. The real allure of this movie though is the animation style, which in the manner of UPA is less rendered than Disney or Warner Brothers and more stylized. The backgrounds are gorgeous pageants of color and line. This is the elegance of the movie which has great movement, but even better composition. Also a curiosity in this one is that the actress who performs the voice of Princess Yasminda was Kathryn Grant (Crosby) who had already portrayed Princess Parisa in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad the year before.

Highly recommended.  Here are some more images.

More Magoo to come tomorrow.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

In The Days Of The Gun!

Well we've had another school shooting. What was once upon a time a freakish and unthinkable event has now become a commonplace. I know this from firsthand evidence.

When the tragic events of Columbine occurred there was true shock and an utter transformation of how schools thought about day-to-day operations. Cameras became ubiquitous, security drills became mandatory, and police officers became a mainstay of many schools. I have worked in schools before and after Columbine and the differences are obvious. I've worked in schools with armed personnel as a regular feature of the day. I've led students in various kinds of security drills. At first we hid in the farthest corners with the doors locked and the curtains drawn and lights out. Then as time passed and panic diminished we just locked the door and took account of the students in the room. Later still we got orders to leave the curtains open so that the cops could search the building for culprits more effectively. We were trained to throw books and other items at attackers if all else had failed. And most importantly we were cautioned always to keep our heads on the swivel.

I work in a facility right now which has room numbers on the exterior walls of the building for the express purpose of assisting cops and other responders in the case of the inevitable attack. We were scheduled to have a security drill this week, but that has almost certainly been pushed back after the events in Florida.  But here is the thing that makes me know these shooter attacks, these mundane mass murders are now just part of the fabric of daily life; we had a moment of silence for the victims at my school, but otherwise things progressed normally. No crackdown on backpacks, no counseling services made available for especially stressed students, no urgent e-mails telling us to stay calm and go about our business. We just did. The day after the most recent school shooting, one of the top ten such crimes in American history, was almost identical to the day before, and that sober reality is the utter and complete tragedy of what has become life in these needlessly dangerous United States.

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Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger!

Sinbad and the The Eye of the Tiger is a diverting adventure tale with lots of delightful fantasy elements blended into it. It's hurt from the get-go by its lead Patrick Wayne. Sadly Wayne is simply not up to the role and while perfectly handsome enough lacks the acting chops to hang with pros like Patrick Troughton and Margaret Whiting. Fortunately for Wayne he has relative novices alongside him such as pretty Taryn Power and a lovely up and coming Jane Seymour. Both are absolutely lovely to look at, but their acting in this vehicle at least is pretty indifferent.

On the Harryhausen special effects front, this is a movie with strengths and weaknesses, but mostly lost opportunities. The Minoton which dominates a lot of screen time marches all the way to the top fo the world with the villains but then gets crushed moments before a potentially awesome battle with the Troglodyte who ends up fighting a Sabretooth tiger instead. Why not have both. Harryhausen has said this movie was a bit of a rush job, in response to good ticket sales on The Golden Voyage several years before and frankly it shows.

The show even fails to my mind to make full use of such awe-inspiring sights as Petra which is only glimpsed in the early parts of the movie. Apparently none of the main actors went to the location and that really damages the sense of wonder which could have been achieved there.

The story itself seems a patch job, too similar in many respects to the earlier Golden Voyage. This is the only one of the three Sinbad movies I got to see in the theater and I remember being diverted by it at the time. But having seen the others, the deficiencies in this entry are sadly all too apparent.

But the ladies were beauteous! Behold!

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad!

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad from 1973 is a diamond in the rough when it comes to Sinbad lore. John Phillip Law is my favorite of the three Captains Sinbad who appeared in the Schneer-Harryhausen fantasy films. He feels like a rogue who could be a hero.

He comes across as more legitimate visually and tonally than does Kerwin Mathews and both of them are much better actors than the later Patrick Wayne. Teamed with the exotic and attractive Caroline Munro and you have a delightful pair of protagonists to watch as the adventures unfold.

The villain of this one is Prince Koura played wonderfully by Tom Baker. Reports say that his performance here convinced the Doctor Who folks to give him that gig which made him a superstar among fantasy fans. If he'd never been Who, he'd still have been one of the best villains in a Sinbad movie. The way his magical efforts keep draining him as the movie progresses is remarkable to watch. I was also struck by the loyalty his man has for him throughout the film, which never waivers. Koura must have some characteristic which instills such loyalty, making him a worthy opponent.

The battle with the goddess Kali is among my favorite Harryhausen moments in any of his films and works beautifully in this one. I think I might like it a little better than the famous skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts...a little. The Centuar and the Griffin are fine as they go, but lack the visual impact of earlier Harryhausen beasts like the Cyclops or the Hydra.

This movie got the full adaptation treatment from Mighty Marvel in two issues of the science fiction comic Worlds Unknown. Clearly the folks at Marvel saw potential in crossing over these stories with fans of Conan.

And for fans of the lovely Caroline Munro here you go. First with the rest of the cast and then by her lovely lonesome.

Yum. More Sinbad tomorrow.

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