Saturday, August 15, 2009


When I was a kid my family spent two weeks of every year at the seaside resorts in New Jersey. My parents always favored Atlantic City but through constant pleading and promises to ace my homework, I was frequently able to steer them to the more kid-friendly Wildwood.

The trip from Philadelphia to Wildwood was made on a train pulled by a real, smoke-belching steam locomotive. All the cars had sliding windows and, when we kids weren't busy chasing each other we'd be hanging out the window, trying to grab leaves from nearby trees. After a few hours of farms and forest, the ground turned sandy and marshy, indicating that we were entering the coastal zone. There a curtain of solemnity fell on the train as the locomotive pulled us slowly over wooden trestles crossing desolate plains of quicksand. Every kid believed there were hundreds of bodies just below the surface.

Finally the train pulled into Wildwood Station and we located our hotel and got checked in. I remember how the linen on the beds always smelled like sea salt and how sand got into everything despite the best efforts of the staff.

I was always chomping at the bit to run up to the boardwalk and get my first glimpse of the ocean, but the adults seemed to get a fiendish pleasure out of delaying that, so for hours I'd have to be satisfied with fleeting glimpses. From a block away the boardwalk struck me as a boundary demarcating the end of the world. I half expected that just beyond the point that I could see was a giant waterfall where the Earth's water tumbled into outer space.

When I finally got to go to the boardwalk I'd run to the rail, and what I saw did not disappoint: a wide-screen, panoramic vista of the awesome Atlantic Ocean and the vast, blue sky above it. I'd squint to see if I could see the curvature of the Earth. I couldn't but I was still vividly reminded that I was standing on the surface of a small planet making its way around a star.

The boardwalk could look kind of tacky at first glance, and my parents were always appalled the first time they saw it. No doubt they wished they'd gone to Atlantic City instead. If you want to see why, take a look at the 15 second video above.

In an effort to delay my immersion into Wildwood culture, my parents always dragged me to their favorite fishing pier first. It was okay, but I couldn't see the point of a pier without a roller coaster on it. It was fun to watch the fishermen, though. The ocean there contained a lot more sea life in those days and lots of fisherman had sizable fish swimming in buckets beside them.

Since we're on the subject of fishing piers I'll digress for a moment to vilify the stupid yuppies who build shaded concrete piers. This is a grievous violation of pier tradition. It's true that wood is hopelessly fragile when exposed to the elements, but that vulnerability is what makes it special. When you walk on it you can't help but meditate on the impermanence of things and the grandeur of nature. How do you get that from concrete?

Anyway, I'd finally get free of my parents, and undertake to see if there was anything new on the pier since I saw it last (that's not anyone I know above, it's just some guy). I'd walk the length of the long boardwalk from end to end, making note of where the special places were...special as in stores that sold rubber shrunken heads and magic tricks.

Here's (above) the way the boardwalk looked when I was a kid: lots of shooting galleries, pizza and clams, big gambling wheels, novelty stores, Big Daddy Roth shirts, buckets and shovels, rubber chickens, sunglasses, ship captain caps, stuffed alligator babies playing ukuleles, and the like.

My favorite place was a dark, cavernous arcade with a canvas roof which contained some really old-fashioned carnival attractions. In one you threw balls at a target, and if you hit it a little pig was released from a cage, slid down a ramp, then ran backstage. In another the same thing happened only instead of a pig, it was an evil clown who insulted passers-by. In yet another one you gave a crow (above) a quarter and he took it in his beak, climbed some stairs to a Japanese pagoda, grabbed a fortune from a satchel, then climbed down the steps and handed it to you.

There were always alligator wrestlers, too. The barker and the hand-painted posters all around made the alligators look huge and ferocious (above) , but in real life they were tiny and I wondered how they could stand having fat Seminole indians sit on them. There were horse shows, beauty contests (I wasn't allowed in there) and...Oh, did I mention caricaturists? I spent a LOT of time watching them.

I later heard that this arcade was a gift to my generation from an elderly businessman who undertook to preserve the feel of the older amusement parks, even at the expense of big profits. Boy, we Wildwood kids owe him a lot. We were changed by him.

By far the most common stores then and now were these shops where you could buy sunglasses and day glow "I'm Standing Next to Stupid" shirts. When I was a kid I used to wonder how the proprietors could be so dumb as to stock the same merchandise that everybody else was selling.

On the other hand, I thought that even these debased people possessed some mystical knowledge that only beach people knew. I imagined that they had short-wave sets which informed them of ship disasters, piracy and sea monsters. I'd root around these stores looking for something different like old cutlasses or the eggs of sea dinosaurs.

The beaches were really crowded, and littered with seaweed and crab skeletons. Each new wave brought a kazillion burrowing clams onto the beach, and when I waded into the water I would sometime see tiny eels swimming around me, snapping at the strings on my bathing suit. Once I saw a shark next to my leg which was only about a foot long and appeared to be scared of people.

Like every other kid I frequently stayed out in the sun too long and had many painful bouts with sunburn. On those days I was grounded and had to stay at the hotel for most of the day. We stayed at small hotels that were more like houses than hotels, and all these places had white porches with rocking chairs. I'd sit there and read comics and Mad magazine and listen to screams from the roller coasters.

Occasionally I'd awkwardly talk to girls who were also staying at the hotel, surely one of the thrills of my little kid life, just talking to them...but I digress again.

Some of the best piers were disorganized, sloppy mutts with rides and popcorn stands in no special order, just wherever they were able to squeeze something else in.

This reminds me that seashore piers before my time (above) used to be elaborate affairs with ornate buildings and labyrinths of weird auction rooms and cigar shops. Unfortunately I missed most of that. Atlantic City's Steel Pier was somewhat like that, but that pier was always burning down, and was eventually simplified beyond recognition.

There were lots of dark rides. I hung around these constantly, believing that there was some mysterious lesson to be derived from them.

When I was a kid I thought there was no better job on Earth than designing dark rides. Using ordinary materials, somehow designers could cause a rent in the fabric of the universe that would connect the ride with the spirit world or with weird creatures on Mars who were plotting to invade the Earth. Ordinary people thought the rides were just for entertainment, but the designers knew better.

Every summer I renewed my resolve to one day live in a house that was designed like a fun house. Thinking about this now fills me with remorse. Today I live in a house that's pretty typical and not at all up to the high standards of weirdness of my childhood.

I'm getting tired of writing, so I'll end with the observation that what made the seashore special was that all the shooting galleries and pizza parlors were right next door to the mysterious and menacing Atlantic Ocean. Lots of restaurants displayed giant whale bones. I never saw a whale at Wildwood, but my father saw one from a fishing boat. I'm envious.


Fans frequently ask, "What happened to Clampett after he left Warner Bros?" Here's an article by Milt Gray that attempts to answer that. Be sure to click to enlarge.

At first glance, it's hard to imagine why Bob left Warners. In his last year there he directed an almost unbroken string of masterpieces, including: "Piggy Bank Robbery," "Book Review," and "Kitty Kornered." He had an ideal situation there, with Scribner and McKimson animating for him, Warren Foster writing, Mel Blanc doing voices, and the services of Carl Stalling and the Warner Brothers house orchestra...the same orchestra used by Steiner, Waxman and Korngold. So what happened? Why did he leave?

It's my belief that Jones and Freleng convinced the studio that Clampett's flamboyant approach to films was incompatible with the new, more sedate and formulaic studio style that these directors favored. Leon Schlesinger had recently left, and without a protector, Bob was left to face the wolves alone. This is pure and utter speculation on my part, without a shred of evidence, but it gels with my understanding of big studio politics.

I talked to Milt about this and he underscored what was in his article, namely that Bob left because he was hot to start his own cartoon studio the way Lantz and Disney had, and that he was anxious to get in on the ground floor of the new medium, television. Bob had witnessed the birth of radio which had a decade of extreme creativity before executives moved in and put a wet blanket on it, and we can guess that he thought TV would experience a similar creative spurt.

Actually TV had only a brief creative life at the start because it inherited an already existing executive infrastructure from radio. Poor Bob collided with these people early and was forced to make extensive changes in the animated Beany and Cecil at his own expense.

So who's right? Milt or me? Milt knows more about all this than I do, and had a much longer personal association with Bob. My own belief is that we're both right, but my version of the story rests on assumptions and I won't blame anyone who remains skeptical.

Two years after Bob left Warners he got an offer from Republic to take charge of their cartoon division, and make cartoons there. He was promised creative freedom but that never really materialized, and Republic...for reasons having nothing to do with Bob...decided to stop making theatrical cartoons. The closest thing to a finished cartoon in his own style was "Grand Old Nag (above)," which was so compromised and unClampett-like that he declined to use his real name in the direction credit. You can see this film on YouTube, and a version with commentary on Cartoon Brew.

Clampett's next endeavor was Beany and Cecil, and that's mostly what Milt writes about below. The article first appeared in Apatoons magazine.

That's it for the article, but there's more to say. The long awaited "Beany and Cecil Special Edition Volume 2" DVD should be in the stores on September 8th!

But why wait for the stores when you can buy Volume 2 right now from the Beany and Cecil web site? Actually, you can also get Volume 1 there. Rob Clampett says he found a limited supply of Volume 1 unopened in the family warehouse. He's offering to sell one per customer to anyone who buys a copy of Volume 2. Volume 2 sells for $24.95 + Shipping. Volumes 1 & 2 (purchased together) sell for $54.95 + Shipping. Wow! What a deal! Volume 1 is long out of print and gets high prices on ebay. Here's a chance to get it for 25 bucks!

Info on the contents can be had from the new Beany and Cecil web site:

Volume 1 was worth twice the price for the special features alone, and Volume 2 promises to be a similar bargain. I've heard the audio history on Volume two, and it's riveting!

Monday, August 10, 2009


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I'm always amazed when someone tells me that melodrama died in the late 1890s. Actually it's alive and well, even today. I don't mean in soap operas, I mean in most mainstream films and novels. What was the recent Academy Award winner, "Slum Dog Millionaire," but a re-hash of the old story of the virtuous orphan abused by an evil skinflint?

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that if you want to learn how to write stories, you better make your peace with the conventions of melodrama. For one thing, you better learn how to love cruel stepfathers, scheming misers, generous benefactors, smooth villains, stolen children, lost wills, missing heirs, disguises, plots overheard, people thought dead returning to life, and all the rest.

I wish I'd learned melodramatic writing in school. Here's (below) a fantasy of mine, where an imaginary teacher hands out the kind of assignment I'd have killed to get:

TEACHER: "A nice girl from a mid-west farm has come to New York to see if she can get a part in a Broadway play. She's talented but she doesn't know anybody in the city and her money's running out. We pick her up when she's standing in a line outside a theater waiting for an audition.

An awkward young man comes out and she inadvertently causes him to drop his copy of the script into the mud. When she helps him pick it up she loses her place in line and ungraciously blames him for it. He asks who she is and she impulsively says that she's a big star who's slumming by reading for the part. When he leaves she discovers that the man she's just alienated is the leading man in the play.

The assignment? Make an outline of the conversation they have outside the theater. A little humor is okay, but don't don't make fun of the genre, and make it a scene the audience won't soon forget."

STUDENTS: "But it's cheesy! Nobody can write stuff like that with a straight face anymore!"

TEACHER: "You not only have to write it, but you have to write it with conviction. And it has to be good!

STUDENTS: (Groans).

Saturday, August 08, 2009


According to a study cited on the current Arts & Letters Daily site (link on the sidebar), women are evolving to become more beautiful over time and men are not. We men are just as ugly as we've always been. How the heck did that state of affairs ever come about?

I take this problem seriously because it's bound to make women more dissatisfied with men, and that kind of thing is reaching crisis proportions already. Think about it, women are currently more likely than men to attend university, have steady jobs, etc.; every day the average man looks less attractive as a life partner. One day this could lead women to repudiate the average guy. They'll look for an alternative to the army of ugly, unemployed men, and the alternative will be....

...Johnny Depp...or men who are rich or handsome like Johnny Depp. As a group, women will follow their instincts and flock to the handful of highly desirable men while ignoring the others. In other words, women will overturn monogamy (one wife).

The effect of this will be a new social order. When you think about it, monogamy is a male invention. Civilized men invented it so that we would all get one woman, instead of the natural state where a few men got all the girls (above).

Let's face it, young women are instinctively attracted to a handful of male superstars. That's great for the superstars but a horrible for the rest of us. I assume the average man used to live the way some apes live now, with one bull impregnating all the females and the other males living a life of quiet desperation.

All of us average men owe a great debt to some male genius in the distant past who figured out monogamy, where each man was able to get a wife of his own, and the Johnny Depps of the world were forced to share...a pretty cool system when you think about it, regardless of what Hugh Hefner thinks. But would a future society dominated by frustrated women support this male agenda?

Maybe not. If ever women decide to go back to the harem system again then things will change in unexpected ways. For one thing, we average men would be forced into a fierce competition for the handful of leftovers that Johnny Depp didn't want. In that event, expect to see lots of muscle guys (above) on the street.

Even the guys who deliver your pizza (above) will look like Jack Kirby's drawings of Greek Gods.

But all the consequences wouldn't be negative. For one thing, the average man would over time become very handsome. We'd be born that way. That's because only the most handsome men would attract mates in a female-driven polygamous state. Ugly men just wouldn't have children. Soon you'd see more handsome men on the street than beautiful women...

...unlike now (above). I should end here, but I can't resist the speculation that monogamy is responsible for the current proliferation of ugly men. Since monogamy guaranteed the legions of ugly men a woman and a family, the genetic contribution of the small number of handsome men was reduced to insignificance. Polygamy (many wives) on the other hand, would put the handsome man on top again.

So monogamy produces ugly men and beautiful women, and polygamy produces beautiful men and ugly women. It follows that if If cavemen were polygamous, which I believe they were, then the male cavemen were probably extraordinarily handsome, and the female cavemen were all Plain Janes...the opposite of what's on the famous Raquel Welch poster (above).

Me, I still prefer the one wife idea. That's because I'd rather be ugly and have a family, than be handsome but lonely and sex-starved. Remember that only the top 10% or so of these handsome men would have mates.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I would never ever, ever, get a tattoo for the simple reason that no artist is likely to come up with a design that can rival the mystery and profundity of unadorned human skin. Even so, I can't help but have opinions about it. You have to admit they are kind of interesting.

The best tattoos are the ones from cultures that have been tattooing themselves for hundreds of years like the South Sea islanders. That's a Maori tattoo in the picture above.

You could use muted pastel colors instead of black, as in the blue and white sketch above. I don't think you'd get you much respect from people like The Hell's Angels, but other artists would appreciate it.

Here's (above) a design inspired by 50s album cover artist, James Flora. Flora's art has a graphic look that seems to fit tattoo design.

Here's the same design with color.

According to the Flora blog, that's where I got these pictures, the tattoo artist was asked to combine the Pete Jolly album cover above, with the one of "Mambo for Cats" below. Interesting choice.

The problem with pictures like this (above) is that they contain so much line work that you'd need a large area of skin to make them read. Maybe the wearer should have chosen a detail rather than the whole picture.

Holy Mackerel...a Ren & Stimpy tattoo! Nice, but the color's a bit intense.

I like tattoos that are close to the natural skin color. That way you see the wearer first, take in his personality, then see the tattoo...which after all, is just an embellishment.

John Kricfalusi would be a much sought-after tattoo designer if he ever decided to try it. The subdued color on this fan drawing from a John original (above) would look great on skin.

Here's another Flora deign. If it were shorter and a little longer I could see it as a band around the wrist, like a watchband.

More Flora (above) tattoos. Some type of dog like this would be great for girls. I'd use details from the bottom picture, not the whole thing.

I work in the TV industry so if I were getting a tattoo maybe a Flora TV wouldn't be out of line. I'd just have to remember to avoid the biker bars.

Two Flora designs (above) for a small-size tattoo, the bottom one for a girl. The problem is that Flora's designs benefit from a clean, sharp line, and that's probably hard to draw on rubbery human skin. Maybe these Flora designs are harder to reproduce than they look.

Thinking about this makes me wonder how tattoo artists practice. Do they tattoo supermarket chickens?

This sax player would make a good tattoo, maybe at the size it's reproduced here. But what if the artist goofs up? What if he hiccups? There's no eraser on the tattoo needle, no undo button. Thinking about this gives me new resolve to reserve my own arm for pimples and ugly scars like the Good Lord intended.

P.S. Two commenters said I gave the short shrift to cartoon character tattoos...or tattoos inspired by cartoons. I have to admit that a black and white cartoony battleship like the one Popeye had on his chest could look pretty good.

One commenter said he was thinking of doing Albert the Alligator smoking a cigar...another good choice. But, come to think of it, Albert was drawn by Walt Kelly who was a master of the thick and thin line. You're not likely to find a tattoo artist who can match that.