Sunday, August 29, 2010


Indisputably in my opinion, the golden age of newspaper comics occurred in the two decades before WWI. It was an era before formulas became locked in,  when the field attracted first-rate artists like the one above (click to enlarge).  Hmmm...well maybe some formulas were locked in.  Editors couldn't get enough of Katzenjammer Kids-type stories where kids torment adults. 

Arists that weren't first rate made up for it by being downright weird (above).  Here the fruits and vegetables have a picnic, which is disrupted by a cow who eats them. 

Editorial cartoons were terrific in this period. How do you like this one (above) by Herriman? No wonder he was a favorite of Hearst.

Some of these pre-war cartoons were incredibly violent.  Here (above) a woman is threatened by a mugger and she sticks him with a pin.... in the stomach! Ouch! Good drawings, though. 

I love visual stories like this (above).  The storyteller was a continuing character, but the strips structure was loose enough to permit almost anything.  There was room for imagination. In later years regular characters in predictable situations dominated, and artists were expected to use the same setting, day after day after dreary day.

This is a sore point with me. I wish current editors wouldn't put so much emphasis on regular characters in rigidly defined situations.  Aren't you glad that Mad allowed the young Don Martin to draw whatever took his fancy, regular characters or not? Aren't you glad that he wasn't shoe-horned into a sitcom format?

I have a lot of tolerance for racial and ethnic humor when it's funny and not mean-spirited, but even I cringe at strips like the one above.  I include it here because it's so well drawn. 

More strips like these can be seen at Allan Holtz's "Stripper's Guide:"

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Anna Magnani is arguably the best actress of the film era.  What a treat to see her in a film (clip, above) with Marlin Brando in his best period. The film: Tennessee Williams' "The Fugitive Kind."

Magnani's great here. Brando has to get out of town to escape the law, but Magnani thinks he's leaving to be with another woman. When he tries to push past her she grabs his precious guitar and won't let go. That's such a Magnani thing to do! She fights for her man. She won't take no for an answer. He slaps her and she just takes the slaps and holds on.

But Brando knows he's got a real woman. In another sequence (on YouTube, not shown here) a beautiful girl throws herself at him and he says disdainfully: "Look at your wrists, they're so thin. I could snap them like a twig with two fingers. That's not the way a real woman is." The real woman is Anna Magnani, who has wrists like Popeye.

My only criticism is that the script doesn't give Magnani enough to say. She needed more lines. Maybe the studio was afraid Magnani would outshine Brando. Or maybe Williams slipped up. Maybe Magnani couldn't learn enough English. I wish I knew.

From another film, here's (above) Magnani playing a wife whose husband is taken away by the fascists, maybe to be shot. Magnani's a real woman. When her man is threatened she battles her way through a gauntlet of armed soldiers to get him back. When you see this you say to yourself, "Now that's what love is. If you're not willing to do that for your significant other, then you're not really in love."

Here's (above) Magnani and a beau taking a walk in the woods. What's so special about a walk you ask, but when Magnani does a scene everything is special. Her feigned helplessness is beautiful to behold. Watch the first minute and a half, and don't be put off by the documentary footage that begins it.

Thinking about "The Fugitive Kind" reminded me of Brando's performance in that film. Here's (above) the standout first sequence of that film, beloved by caricaturists and impressionists everywhere. It's one of Brandos funniest.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's tempting to think of the 50s the way the fashion magazines portray that period (above), with every woman wearing space-age fashions.  i don't think that's the way it was, not in the early 50s, anyway.  So far as I can tell, most women then dressed simply, the way women dressed in the forties.  They all looked like Milt Gross women. 

Women of this period who couldn't afford Mink coats wore mink "stoles" instead.  Stoles  were entire dead animals: face, paws and tails, stitched together and draped over the shoulder.

But change was in the air. There must have been a lot of new wealth around because, by the mid fifties,  more and more women began to dress the way they did in magazines.  They even began to mimic the poses they saw there.  They'd linger coquettishly in doorways,  languorously lean on things, and playfully walk along anything elevated,  just to show off their new clothes.

Then as now,  photography always favors models who  look other-worldly (above),  and seem to have disdain for the human race.

I imagine that fashionable 50s women must have followed suit by snubbing  everyone around them.  If there were no strangers to snub, then they snubbed a friend.

"Brain" coats became popular at this time.  Somebody invented a fabric that looked like the kind of fur that poodles have, the kind that's curled into black brain convolutions.  The coat above is only partially brain-covered, as if the poodle it was removed from had mange. It looks good though.

Some high fashion never filtered down to street level, thank God.  Paris tried to foist ugly, tent dresses on women, and they refused to accept them.

Girdle ads of the period (above) are fascinating.  Models had to strike classical poses, frequently next to pillars.  They were very classy and aloof.

That's very odd, because the dresses that were made to show off the conservative girdles (above) were often outrageously sexy.

Lots of girls I knew when I was a little kid wore dresses like the  "Chubettes" one above.  The ad says they were for  "chubby lasses." Gee, maybe I live around a lot of fat girls.

Were pajamas (above) an invention of the fifties? I love wearing them, but I confess that in an entire lifetime I've never had a pair that fit.

If you can trust the magazines and films of the period, transparent baby doll nighties (above) were all the fashion. None of the women in my family wore them but when I a kid was I was convinced that all the beautiful women in the neighborhood had them, and thinking about it drove me nuts.

By the late 50s all that magazine fashion had evolved into the rock & roll look. What a decade! It started with the conservative Milt Gross look of the 40s,  morphed into Paris-influenced magazine fashion, and ended with the "Long Bang Fall (above)." Geez!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Thanks to recommendations from commenters Paul Penna and Mr. Goodson2, I just rented this film (above) from Netflix, and I'm happy to report that it's SENSATIONAL....a must see film for fans of noir, direction, mise-en-scene and Stirling Hayden.

The trailer's on YouTube, but take my advice and skip it. It makes the film appear amateurish and boring, which it isn't. Instead take a look at this short video (above) about the film's director, Andre De Toth. He's the same guy who directed the underrated horror film, "House of Wax."

Jack Warner wanted to use Humphrey Bogart here, but De Toth held out for Sterling Hayden (not shown above), and it's a good thing he did. Hayden delivers what may be his best ever performance here.  I'd kill to do his detective character in animation.  That guy with the cards (above) does a pretty good job, too.

The film is wonderfully composed and shot (much better than in the example above), which is doubly amazing when you consider that it was made on location in only 14 days.  De Toth is obviously the guiding genius, but I want to find out who did the camera work and lighting.  I even want to know who scouted the locations. De Toth's Los Angeles is like nothing you've ever seen before. 

Extras on the disk include "Decoy," a flawed but interesting noir film from 1946. The film runs out of gas fairly quickly, but the first 15 or 20 minutes are hilarious.  Also included is a Crime Wave commentary by none other than crime novelist, James Ellroy.  John K watched it with me and hated it because every time Ellroy saw something he liked he dog-panted into the microphone. I kinda liked it myself. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Before I start, let me apologize for taking the Pizza Boy story down. It's only temporary. I'll put up an improved version soon, and I think you'll like it a lot better. I had trouble with Beta Blogger, which isn't set up for the kind of photo stories I like to do, but it gets better every day and, can't argue with the price. Thanks to Roberto, Jorge, Rooni, Fritz and Ben for the kind comments on that post.

Fortunately, I have another pizza story ready to go, this one taken from real life...

A few days ago I had dinner in a pizzeria and I noticed what appeared to be a dad and his four kids wolfing down pizza in the booth next to me.  They seemed like a nice family and I gave in to the temptation to eavesdrop.  I'm glad I did, because what they said was fascinating!

I only heard bits of it. If I got it right, the dad had a small contracting business, which fit the way he looked: like the actor, Ned Beatty.  He seemed like an average Joe, a nice guy who was probably skilled and did good work.  He wasn't very eloquent or talkative but you could tell that he was enjoying his kids immensely.  

Three of kids talked mostly to each other about video games, friends,  rock music; the usual things ten year- olds talk about. The fourth kid, the one closest to the dad, was animatedly telling him about his internet business, which was buying and selling sci-fi figurines on ebay.  The kid was bragging about the deals he made.  He relished the details and the dad obviously relished hearing about them. 

So what, you ask, made this dinner so special? 

It was special because the kid seemed to genuinely enjoy talking to his dad.  Let that sink in for a minute. He actually thought talking to the old man was fun.  When's the last time you saw that? I guess he thought of himself as a businessman, just like his dad, and it was fun for him to compare notes with a sympathetic peer.  

The dad, who had the kind of stiff, cigar store indian face that most men have, was nevertheless beaming.  He was in Seventh Heaven because his son was talking to him just for the sheer pleasure of it, and maybe because he knew he could be useful to a son like that, and would never have to worry that the kid would grow up rudderless or penniless.  I got the feeling that the dad would remember that night as one of the best in his entire life.

When the family got up to go,  I felt like shaking the kids hand and giving him my wallet. What a gift he gave to his father! What a son! What a night!  

Thursday, August 19, 2010


It occurred to me that in my post on writers James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard I forgot to include a sample of Ellroy's writing. Ill make up for that here with a couple of brief Ellroy interviews.  He writes the way he talks, so this should give you an idea of what the writing's like.

Ellroy talks in short sentenses with short words.  It's a very lean style.  In the interviews he comes off as obsessive, which doesn't surprise me.  I think all good literary stylists have compulsive disorders.  They write whether they get paid for it or not. You have to write an awful. awful lot to get the kind of feel for words that they have.

The trick is to avoid getting seduced by your own beautiful words, and to never neglect the content. Good writing is always about something that's worth knowing.

YouTube has several videos where Ellroy talks about Elizabeth Short, the famous "Black Dahlia" whose corpse was found surgically cut in half in Hollywood in the forties. His own mother was murdered when Ellroy was a kid, some (not Ellroy) believe by the same killer. The two murders are always on Ellroy's mind. I'm surprised that Ellroy is able to keep focused on a subject he's spoken and written about so frequently through the years. Maybe this is another example of how you have to be an an obsessive compulsive in order to write well.

 Maybe the tragic crimes gave him a nucleus around which he could grow a compulsion. Maybe the best writers need compulsions for fuel and deliberately set about to acquire and nurture them. Or maybe I'm trying to over explain something that's simple and doesn't need an explanation. I don't know. Anyway, I love the way Ellroy talks.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I hate filler. I hate it in books, cartoons, films, name it. Filler sucks.

I particularly hate it in books. The other day I was in a used book store and I was infinitely saddened to  see how many books were overwritten, or were stretched out versions of what should have been  long magazine articles.  You can blame publishing's woes on computers and TV,  but that's not the whole story.  The truth is that the reading public is also re-acting negatively to the glut of wordy, needlessly long and expensive books which have come out since the late forties.

Why all the filler, and why did it appear in that time period? I don't know. I only know that books (excepting biographies) were tighter before WWII.

You see the filler problem everywhere. It's in art books which are full of super wide margins and wasted white space. It's in histories which hardly ever address themselves to what readers want to know. I don't want a book with a sappy title like "Brother Against Brother: The Civil War." I want a book called "Why the South Lost the Civil War," or "Why Sherman was an Ineffective General." 

 Maybe publishers are too focused on coming up with the one expensive big seller that will appeal to everybody and make lots of money. Maybe they'd do better if they issued a larger number of books at a much cheaper price, with more specific titles.

BTW: The filler book store I visited wasn't "The Iliad" in North Hollywood, which is pictured above. The Iliad has as much disdain for filler as I do.  

Sunday, August 15, 2010





BUTTERCUP: "Only two slots left, and there's dozens of girls ahead of us. It doesn't look good!"


INTERVIEWER: "Nice job, Lily! You sing and dance, you know your philosophy, and you're able to handle tough questions. Congratulations! As of this moment, you're a PHILOSOPHY GIRL! Report to Theory Mansion on Monday and we'll introduce you to the gang!"

LILY: "GASP! I can't believe it! it's been my dream since I was a kid! Thank you! Oh, THANK YOU!"

BUTTERCUP: "Aaaaargh! Oh, there's only ONE spot left!"

BUTTERCUP: "Lily, you gotta help us out here. We're DESPERATE! Please, please; what questions did they ask!?  They wanted to know about the Positivists, right?"

LILY: "The Positivists? No, not the Positivists.  They were mainly interested in the manly Greek and Roman thinkers...some Enlightenment people...a little on Ayn Rand. "

BUTTERCUP: "Oh yeah, Ayn Rand.... (GULP!) AYN RAND!!!???? I haven't read ANY of her books!!!"

SUNFLOWER: "Neither have I! She was a follower of Nietzsche, wasn't she?"

DAISY: "Nietzsche!? Rand REPUDIATED Nietzsche! She liked him for a while in her youth, and that was it."

GLADYS: "EEEEWW!!!! Who let a KID in here!? Beat it, Pee Wee. You're too young to be a Philosophy Girl!"



VIOLET: "Well, maybe she's right, Gladys.  Rand says we're born with fundamental rights, which no  Nietzchean Superman or Leviathan state can morally withdraw."

IRIS: " 'Sounds good Violet, but the Utilitarians had another way of looking at it.  They said the  purpose of the state is to bring about the most happiness for the most people.  It would be hard for the state to do that unless it had a lot of power. "

PETUNIA: "But who decides what makes you happy?  Hitler?  Stalin? Rand says it's not the job of the state to make you happy. It's the job of the state to protect your right to make yourself happy, whatever way you choose, provided you respect the rights of others to do the same. It's right here in the Declaration of Independence...our 'inalienable right to life, liberty and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS!' "



MAGNOLIA (VO): "I don't know, I think she's kinda cute."

GLADYS (VO): "See if you think so when you end up having to clean her turtle bowl!"

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Well, slightly exaggerating.  Above, the heroine of Milt Gray's new web comic, "Ms. Viagri Ampleten."
Sepia sketches by John Kricfalusi

Greetings Theory Cornerites! Uncle Eddie here.  That's me above, second from the left. You know, we've interviewed many celebrities on this site: Sammy, Dean, Frank, and even Bob Clampett, but none has been as tall as our present subject, Simpsons timing director, animator, Clampett fan and web cartoonist, the 6' 6" "Tower of Power," MILT GRAY. "Hi MILT!"

MILT : "Hi, Uncle Eddie! Wanna see my latest drawing of Viagri Ampleten?"

UNCLE EDDIE: "Sure! Wow! She certainly is...(gulp!)...ample. So this is your new web comic character! She's a spy, right?"

MILT: "Well, not exactly. She's a free agent. Sometimes she works for the government, and sometimes for private people. She takes on the really dangerous assignments that no one else wants to touch." 

UNCLE EDDIE: "How does she decide what jobs to take?"

MILT: "Good question. Well, she's more likely to take a job that gives her scope to follow her hobby, which is sex. She's on a crusade to liberate people from their sex hangups."

UNCLE EDDIE: "Uh oh! There goes your 'G' rating."

MILT: "'Not worried. I'm after whatever rating makes sense for the stories I'm telling.  I figure the readers will tell me how graphic I should go."

UNCLE EDDIE: "How did you figure out the format?  There can't be many web comics that scan the way yours does."

MILT: "Yeah, it works great, doesn't it? It came about because the project started as an animated cartoon, and the panels were meant to be layouts. That's why they're all the same size. When I decided to do a web comic instead, it seemed like a natural outgrowth of that to put them in a column and let the reader scroll down. I guess I was lucky, because everybody seems to like it that way."

UNCLE EDDIE: "How did you color it?"

MILT: "Well, I xeroxed the original drawings down to a size my scanner could take, then I just fed them in.  The color was done on Photoshop by my color stylist, Cynthia Macintosh. 

UNCLE EDDIE: "I'll put a few of the panels up (that's them above, cropped badly by me, and in a different format than the one Milt uses. I was just too sleepy to do it right).  Boy, you can tell that an animator drew them."

MILT: "Thanks. There's a lot that's different about this comic. I hope it influences things. The web is a great vehicle for comics, and it'll get even better if we continue to experiment."

Milts web comic: