Thursday, December 29, 2011


I just watched a terrific Netflix documentary called "I Like Killing Flies" about Shopsin's, a hole-in-the-wall Greenwich Village restaurant that's run by an eccentric cook who's famous for kicking people out when they don't obey "The Rules."

What are The Rules? Only the owner knows, he and a few regulars. One of those rules is the subject of this post: The Party of Five Rule. A New York poet named Robert Hershon wrote a poem about this rule, and it's a falling down classic. I'm going to  memorize it. See what you think....


you could put a chair at the end
or push the tables together
but don't bother
This banged-up little restaurant
where you would expect no rules at all
has a firm policy against seating
parties of five
And you know who you are
a party of five
it doesn't matter if one of you
offers to leave or if
you say you could split into
a party of three and a party of two
or if the five of you come back tomorrow
in Richard Nixon masks and try to pretend
that you don't know each other
it won't work: You're a party of five
even if you're a beloved regular
Even if the place is empty
Even if you bring logic to bear
Even if you're a tackle for the Chicago Bears
it won't work
You're a party of five
You will always be a party of five
A hundred blocks from here
a hundred years from now
you will still be a party of five
and you will never savor the soup
or compare the coffee or
hear the wisdom of the cook
and the wit of the waitress or
get to hum the old-time tunes
[among which you will find

no quintets.]

P.S.: Shopsin's recently moved to fancier digs, and that's what you see in the picture above. Long time Shopsin's fans might prefer the older greasy spoon location, which was unbelievably grimy and filthy. Good food, though.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I wish cartoonists would pay more attention to what people wear. Clothes are funny (above), though you'd never know it by looking at modern animation and newspaper strips. 

A hundred years ago main characters were drawn like clowns with outrageous clothes. I admit that's going too far, but I prefer that to the bland clothes cartoon characters wear today. 

The way I see it, characters should always dress to fit their occupation or physical type. Rich people should look rich, poor people should look poor. Texans should look like cowboys, fat people should look like opera singers, and skinny people should look like scarecrows. 

Cartoon characters should live in homes that reflect their professions. They should speak and act the way people in their profession speak and act. Everybody should be visibly attached to a profession, even if that profession is loafer.

Cartoonists should exaggerate. Slightly rich people (above) should look and act very rich.  Sneaky people should dress like professional sneaks, and not simply act that way while dressing normally. 

Unfortunately we live in an era whose fashion is dominated by geniuses like Calvin Klein.  Klein set himself to the task of making the common man look as elegant as the rich, and he pretty much succeeded. Now every working person looks good, but nobody looks funny anymore.

Er...well, maybe some people do. Thank God for emos, skaters and hip hoppers. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


FORGIVE ME!!!!! I haven't been able to post because my kid is visiting and my computer is in the room he's using. He's a sports guy and my computer table is full of athletic gear, smelly socks, hair gel, underwear, crumbs and the like. Having him here is delightful, but he sure does fill a room. I'll be back Wednesday, if not before.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Let's take a closer look at the Wally Wood architecture that I posted a few days ago. There was a lot going on there and one post wasn't enough to cover it.

Well, to begin with, we all know Wood is fond of tight spaces. He uses perspective cheats to make them appear more spacious, and that's a great technique. His spaces are simultaneously wide and cramped. There's no reason why real architecture can't do this. 

Wood intuitively knows that tight spaces and varying levels (above) are sheltering and nurturing. We naturally seek safety in places like that.  A house full of gullies and alcoves and ledges and interesting reveals fits the kind of creature we are.

Of course a home consisting of nothing but tight spaces would be claustrophobic. I like the way Wood opens up the space in front of the entrance. Immediately upon entering the house (or is it an apartment?) you're confronted with a choice: whether to walk down into the living room or up onto the second floor. From the vantage point of the door both choices are visible and enticing.

I know what you're thinking...that some modern architecture (sample above) already does all that...but does it?  The examples I've seen are usually botched, like the bed above. Granted, it sits on a level or a ledge of sorts but it's lost in a gigantic, impersonal space. None of Wood's sheltering here.

For contrast, observe how Wood handles his levels (above). The levels resemble solid blocks. They seem to protect the girl sleeping in the single bed at the bottom of the stairs. I'm guessing that's a guest bed, which is also useful for reading and lounging in the middle of the day. Spacious closets could be hidden in the blocks. There's actually a lot of potential closet space here.

The sleeping hipster on the top level sacks out on the comfortable wall-to-wall carpet that covers the floors, stairs and walls. Currently wall carpets are dust traps, and are probably unhealthy, but the day can't be far off when the right material will make them practical.

Most modern architects are too fond of empty space (above). Wood seldom made that mistake.

Here's a large space that almost works. It would work a lot better with a low, nurturing, Wally Wood ceiling that would emphasize the wideness of the room.

Sigh! There's more to say on this subject, but it'll have to wait til after Christmas. I've got presents to wrap!

Let me lay on you........

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Yeah, I know...these are the songs I put up every year at this time, and Mahalia Jackson's "O Holy Night" always tops the list. So shoot me...I love this stuff.

This (above) is done by the St. Thomas Children's Choir. Is that the same Church that we associate with Bach?

'Not the best version (above), I admit, but it's interesting to hear this piece sung more simply than it usually is. The title says the singer is Pavarotti, but is this really him?

My kids loved this Chipmunk song (above), and they played it over and over and over. It drove my wife nuts. One year she deliberately "lost" it, and the tearful kids made me go out into the freezing night to find another copy.

I just watched this (above) and it was buried under a clutter of annoying advertising. Sigh! What can we do? They've got us over a barrel. The video is too good to miss!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Wally Wood worked on a hipster version of "The Night Before Christmas." I don't have the poem at hand, but I have these three illustrations (above and below) to remind us of what a knack Wood had for modernism.

Wood would have made a terrific architect. That fireplace (above) is beautiful, and the tree that spans two floors is pretty neat. I love the brickwork in the foreground and the idea of a mat-framed print to set it off. I love how the whole place is on levels. What do you think of the cheetah skin beret on the guy on the lower right?

Here (above) are beatnik children all snug in their beds while visions of Abstract Expressionism dance in their heads. Being the kids of cool parents they naturally wear headphones and dark glasses to bed, and have little goatees.

Boy, even Santa's reindeer are hip!

That's all I had to say about Wood. How about a few non-Wood pictures to round the post out?

What do you think of this photo (above) from the Christmas sequence of "Meet Me in St. Louis?" I get sentimental when I see pictures like this. Imagine how great Christmas would be if you had this many kids...okay maybe half this number, say...five or six. I had two and it definitely wasn't enough.

Bored Santas (above) are a whole genre of photography.

So are kids recoiling in horror from Santa.

Above, a good card to send a tall friend.

Can't afford a Christmas tree?

Surprisingly, some modern-day hipsters (above) are pretty good purveyors of the Christmas spirit. I guess they have a flair for design and this is a holiday that rewards that. Come to think of it, Halloween is a haven for designers too.  The entire Fall and early Winter is a playground for artsy people like us.

Thinking about that reminds me of why I like Christmas so much. It's a time of the year that's steeped in profound tradition and sentiment, and it's simultaneously a fun celebration that's always trying to re-invent itself.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Sorry for the hasty Photoshopping! I'm swamped with things to do that relate to Christmas and my family! I'll stay on schedule though, even if I have to be a bit sloppy to do it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I started this piece with the intention of talking about Tenggren's toy paintings and I somehow digressed into a rant about Legos. I really should have split the piece into two separate articles, but I'm too sleepy to do a rewrite now. I hope you'll forgive me for allowing the post to remain the rambling platypus that it is. 

So...about Tenggren...he painted the beautiful picture above from "Pinocchio." I'm guessing that he, or a layout man, referenced toy sketches by Horvath. Anyway, whoever designed them would have had a great run as a toy designer in the 19th century. They're first rate!

I know what you're thinking...that Tenggren's toys were generic for their time (maybe 150 years ago), but were they? For comparison, here's (above) another Pinnochio picture painted by Claude Coates. Take a look at the toys. Now that's generic!

Back to Tenggren again. Most of these toys (above) are designed, they're not generic at all. When you look at it close, even the rocking horse in the foreground seems a little like a caricature of generic toy horses rather than the real thing.  

A lot of 19th century toys were sculptural and not very realistic. To us they seem like objects of art more than toys. They were so beautiful that I imagine parents were tempted to hold onto them long after the kids grew up and moved out. 

Horvath was a terrific designer of buildings. His version of Stromboli's Puppet Theater would have made a wonderful toy. It still would. If it was available in the toyshops when my kids were young, I'd have bought it for them. 

Some of the best toys we have today are by Lego (above). How do you like the Lego pirate ship, "Queen Anne's Revenge?"

Or this Lego castle?

Or the "Imperial Flagship" Above)?

The problem with Lego toys is that they're pricey and are made out of little blocks. Dads probably build the toys then kids take them apart, and once taken apart the essential pieces get lost forever.  Another problem is that the big, impressive sets are geared toward older kids, who are no longer the age that plays with toys. These sets are never in sync with the developmental stages of real children. 

One more gripe: what's with the cute little human characters? Pirates weren't cute. This is a concession made to hippie parents who foolishly wouldn't otherwise buy war toys for their kids. The little figures are nice and artistic, but they're not useful for kid fantasies. In fact, they were designed with the specific intention of thwarting kids war fantasies. What kind of toy is that? 

I still like Legos. The best of them are miniature works of art. I just wish molded plastic pirate ships et al were also available. There aren't many parts to lose in toys made that way, they're more inviting to fantasy, and they can be sold cheaper. 


Monday, December 12, 2011


Wow! Christmas shopping is a bear, isn't it?  Every year I resolve to shop early and every year I end up doing my shopping at the last minute.

Part of the reason is my family. It takes me forever to figure out what to give them. I have a family of philosophers who are all deeply committed to the holiday, but who all have disdain for materialism and presents. All except me, that is...I love presents. Give me a video game or a book and I'm happy as a bug. That's because I know the true meaning of Christmas. It's a holiday that unites profound spiritual values with an over-the-top mania for toys and parties. That's it! It's so simple...just a good old-fashioned contradiction. All the great ideas embody contradictions.

By the way: The second picture from the top is available on the net as a black and white poster. If you have your own business, or are thinking of starting one, you should consider putting this on your office wall. It depicts the retailers dream: customers who fight to get what you're selling because you did such a good job of presenting it.

Someone on the net (I can't remember who) is offering a slightly more expensive version that might be larger and printed on photographic paper.

I have a suggestion for a $16 gift from Amazon: how about this terrific 3 1/2 hr. DVD documentary on the Medici? I just watched the whole thing in one sitting and I was bowled over by it. The Medici are my new heroes.

The Medici weren't just another ambitious family. They had a collective vision which led them for 200 years to chip away at the Middle Ages and initiate the modern world. The last great Medici contribution was scientific...they gave the world Galileo and the scientific revolution.

They have a bad reputation today because a Medici Pope brought about the excesses that led to Martin Luther and the Reformation. That's unfortunate, but it seems like a misdemeanor when compared to the good that family did. They were amazingly moral when you consider that they didn't have to be. They were so appalled by the advocacy of deliberate deception in Machiavelli's gift copy of "The Prince" that they had the author beaten and thrown into the street.

After seeing this you'll wonder if the Medici were benign time travelers from the future.

Friday, December 09, 2011


'Gotta do some Christmas shopping! I'll be back on Tuesday, the 13th!

Bye the way, a friend called up to say he discovered a video I put up a couple of years ago on the subject of "Jane Eyre." Holy Cow! I forgot all about that! I just listened to it, and found it entertaining...not because of me, but because of the reference material that I played. Give it a listen and see what you think.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Yes, absolutely! Badly fitting wigs make any character look better. Of course the badly fitting hair doesn't have to be a fact, it's better if it's not. It can be the character's natural hair that just doesn't sit quite right on the head. 

The fact that humans have long, unruly strings growing out of the top of their heads is funny. Cartoonists ignore that at their own peril.

Even live action comedic actors (above) would benefit from wig-like hair. If you're Betty Boop or Cary Grant then the well-groomed wigless look is great, but really, how many people does that apply to?  For most comedians real hair needs to have a life of its own. It should be willful and should require constant adjustment.

There's more to say about cartoon hair, so I'll return to the subject again. Right now I want to announce that Steve Worth has a new animation site called "Animation Resources." Steve was the former webmaster of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, one of my favorite animation sites. The last time I looked the site was still up but it appeared to be inactive, and now Steve has taken up residence at this new address. There's lots and lots of valuable material there, with new articles being added all the time. Check it out!

Be there or be square!

Monday, December 05, 2011


How about a serious post for a change?

If I were an economist the area I'd focus on would be the quest for a market driven method of providing full employment, which I define as voluntary employment at a living wage for everybody who is willing and able to work. That doesn't sound like it would be too difficult to achieve but, believe it or not, no modern economic system, including our own, has ever pulled it off. Even communist countries which call themselves "workers' states" haven't been able to do it. There's plenty of unemployment in those countries, they just don't report it.

Oddly enough, the only country which is widely believed to have achieved it was Germany in the 1930s. But is that true? And if it is true, how did they manage to do it? How did they get out of the Depression so quickly and then create full employment besides? I know nothing about economics, but I just read a book on the subject, and I'll pass along the opinions of the author.

The book is "The Nazi Economic Recovery 1932-1938" by R. J. Overy (1982). Overy believes the recovery was a fake. Unemployed people were simply drafted into The Labor Service, where they were forced to work for an extremely low wage, usually on farms. Once they were in the service they weren't classified as unemployed anymore. According to Overy the real German economic miracle occurred in the 50s, and had nothing to do with Nazi policy.

The Nazis were said by some to be Keynesians because they also believed in big government spending to handle unemployment. The author, who's a Keynesian himself, was revolted by the idea. He says Keynes strongly believed that big government spending had to be accompanied by low taxes. The Nazis believed in high taxes. They didn't want consumers to spend money on things, they wanted them to save their money in banks where the Nazi's could make use of it.

Apparently the Nazis inherited what today we might call a "progressive" agenda from the Wiemar Republic. In Wiemar the government owned or controlled some big industries and when the Nazis took over they simply amplified that policy, gradually expanding it til even small business came under their control.

Add that to fact that Germany didn't try to export or import much during this period and was concerned mainly with self sufficiency wherever possible. Overy says this was disastrous for the country because it cut them off from foreign competition which, if they had engaged in it, would have forced the country to increase efficiency and to modernize. No wonder wartime Germany used slave labor. They were too inefficient to produce enough goods by normal methods.

Overy's book left me feeling sad for the Germans. They had a cruel leadership to be sure, but they were also an energetic, educated people handicapped by a system that just didn't work.