Tuesday, June 30, 2015


 The book that inspired this post is "Maxims and Instructions for the Boiler Room" by N. Hawkins, copyrighted 1897 to 1903. That's roughly 115 years ago when earthy, gritty, beer-drinking eccentrics dominated the field and were fiercely proud of what they did for a living. The author's enthusiasm is infectious. Spend only an hour or two with the book and you'll want to drop what you're doing and beg for a job on the nearest boiler.

He starts by paying homage to the great boiler men of the past: Evans, Stephenson and Robert Fulton. Stephenson is especially interesting because he was illiterate til he was 18 and some of his inventions were presumed to be stolen because he had such a gruff exterior.

Hawkins begins his book by explaining what goes through his mind when he arrives at the shop, smells the air, and looks around:

That's beautiful, isn' it? Few things are more interesting in print than a man explaining his passion for his work. Imagine what Shakespeare or Eugene O'Neil could have done with raw material like this!

I guess I don't have room to discuss another unusual book I've come across: Wernher Von Braun's "Mars Project." The book was published in 1948 and outlines Von Braun's dream of going to Mars and back with 4 - 6 V2 type rockets lashed together. The trip would take 9 months each way with only a small time spent on the planet's surface.

If you've never heard of this it may be because Von Braun believed an Earth-orbiting space station had to be built first, and he was talked out of that by a young American engineer from the Grumman company.

Friday, June 26, 2015


This post is going to make amateur gardeners mad.  I'm not an amateur gardener myself for the simple reason that I don't know enough to be an amateur. Even so, I have my opinions:

Q: "Is this (above) a beautiful lawn?"
A: "NO!!! It's a neat lawn, which is not the same thing!"

This is a beautiful lawn! Beautiful lawns require trees and interesting borders.

Q: "Are these plants (above) beautiful?"
A: "NO!!!!! The flowers are beautiful but the stems are gnarly. Not only that but they're often planted far apart with awkward, empty spaces inbetween."

I never plant roses myself because the stems are so unappealing but I get an idea of what works from seeing what other people do. It's easy to see that rose bushes need to be closer together and the ugly stems need to be covered by shorter plants  (or maybe miniature roses in containers). It's true that roses produce more flowers when they have lots of room, but they still do okay with less space.

BTW: the purple flowers above aren't roses but they're close enough to illustrate my point.

Q: "Can a fence save a drab lawn?"
A: "NO! No fence can compensate for an ugly lawn, and some fences are downright ugly."

If you feel the need to separate your house from the street try a small retaining wall like the one above. You'll need a couple of truckloads of dirt and some old bricks. 

Q: "Will a garden of winding paths through little green balls satisfy?"
A: "NO, not unless you have fantasies of being a giant who stomps hapless villagers." 

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


This is a post about economy of movement, the idea that all screen movement should have a specific purpose, and that superfluous movement should be avoided. By way of a negative example, here's (above) a speaker whose gestures are overwrought and distracting. Actually, it's kinda funny if you only watch for a minute or two. Repeating the same exaggerated gesture over and over is a good way to convey nervousness.

Here's an example (above) of the opposite: Madeline Kahn delivers her monologue beautifully when she's stiff as a board with only slight movement of the body. Most of the acting is in the face. I love face acting.

Here's an example (above and below) that combines minimalism with maximalism. The gestures are flamboyant at the same time they're pose-to-pose. It works great! Geez, I remember the first time I saw this. I nearly fell out of my chair.

Economy of motion is a powerful technique. John used it in Ren and Stimpy with  devastating effect. Even so, the wrong person might take it too far. I'm thinking of the acting class where the student lost points because he gestured with his hand when he spoke the line: "Why don't you sit down and take a load off your feet?" Purists would say that he should have indicated the chair with a simple nod of the head.

Haw! Minimalists hate hands. Actors are sometimes told to think of their hands as mittens without individual fingers. The theory is that splaying the fingers would call too much attention to them.

A purist would never get up out of a chair the way many people do, by leaning forward and pushing up off the knees. A purist gets up by simply...standing. It takes a bit of practice but purists like it because doing it smooth like that makes the act unobtrusive. After all, for them the dialogue is the important thing. The body is just a delivery system.

Even better (for the minimalists) is if the stander puts his hands in his pockets as he rises. That gets the despised hands out of the way. When the stand is completed the actor immediately begins to walk...no dawdling! No hand gestures!

So what's the Theory Corner take on all this? I love doing things with hands so minimizing them is probably not in the cards for me, but it's a fascinating idea, especialy when applied to secondary characters. I'm dying to have some excuse to play with it.

BTW: I knock motion theorists here but some of them are about putting interesting motion into an act, rather than taking it out. I'll write about them in a seperate post.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


It pains me more than I can say but I might be moving out of LA in 6 months or so. It especially hurts because I love this city like no other. It's a city that in its modern incarnation was built by people like me, for people like me. Here you can make a living doing outrageous things that you'd be tarred and feathered for anywhere else. I exaggerate, of course, but its wonderful to live in a place that invites that. 

Most of all I'll miss my friends. Some are in the Warners group caricature (above) that Bruce did. They're generous, enthusiastic, exciting people who I care about immensely. This city is a magnet for talented people from all over the world, and its amazing how wonderful many of them turn out to be. 

On top of that, I love the city itself. With all its urban problems there's still a sense in which everything is new and being tried for the first time. Even now there's still what Bob Clampett called a "Gold Rush" feeling in the air.

I'll miss the audacity that abounds here. Readers who live here will know what I mean when I say that I'll miss the Angelyne billboards. San Francisco used to be home to a beloved eccentric who called himself "The Emperor of San Francisco." Everyone in the city loved the guy and when he turned up at official ceremonies his visit was regarded as bringing good luck. That's what Angelyne used to be for LA.

I'll also miss the ubiquitous Cliff May-type ranch houses. I won't see many of those where I'm going. Cheerful, playful houses like this (above) only make sense in a fun place like LA. 

Where am I going? [Sigh!] To...to the farm belt. I certainly admire the people there and if I'm lucky they might regard me as a tolerable oddity...but I don't think I'll ever be accepted as a member of the pack.

Good old L.A.! How many people realize how great you are?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


The whole subject of carnival sideshows interests me, why I don't know.  Maybe it's because the people you see on exhibit there are artistic amplifications of what actually exists on the streets. We like to see sideshow attractions for the same reason we like stories: we all like to be reminded of the endless variety of people in the world.

Circus clowns and sideshow comics seem to have gotten a lot of ideas from cartoonists, but which came first: the performers or the cartoons? .

The act that anchored the sideshow was usually the fat man or fat woman. Unlike some of the other acts the fat man was a performer. He was expected to put on a show and put the audience in a mood to see the other acts.

 Professionally fat people aren't the fattest people you'll ever see, they're just people who know how to caricature the fat they do have. The best of them are skilled entertainers just like Oliver Hardy or Jackie Gleason.

Professional fat has to be learned. For one thing you have to learn how to exaggerate your silhouette. In the picture above the fat man sits with his arms and legs way out and the fat woman sits in a way that deliberately forms a circle or a heart. There's probably a funny fat way to walk, to pick up a small object, and to cut an orange. You have to learn it all.

I imagine you also have to develop a fat personality. A fat man might have the most even temperament in the world but when the stage lights are on he either has to be jolly or over-the-top-cynical and foul mouthed. There's no inbetween.

Ditto for professionally thin people. They either have to come off as chick magnets or gay: there's no inbetween. When I was a kid the thin man I saw was eloquent and funny, and could dance a little like the young Fred Astaire.

The best sideshow people were performers. That's why it's so tragic that reformers try to close down these shows. They're trying to put an end to a sophisticated medium with long and honorable traditions.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


I temporarily put down Mike Barrier's book on comics in order to finish two books that are due at the library this week. One is a sleazy but unintentionally funny womans novel called "Scandals," and the other is a scary non-fiction book about Putin's Russia called "Nothing Is True, Everything Is Possible."Here's (below) an excerpt from Scandals. See what you think. 

It starts with a nice house in Brentwood (above). Mona's husband is away on a business trip and she's invited her husband's young protege Peter Hamilton over for cocktails. It reads....

Absently Mona put the Perrier it her lips, swallowed and took a deep drag off the pall Mall. "You know, Peter, if it weren't for my bosom I think Jack would just walk out without saying 'Boo!' "
"No. Do you really think so?"
"Just ring that bell on the table, and I'll show you what I'm going to do to Mr. Jack Logan before we're finished."

Peter lifted the bell. Crystal chimes pealed and Wang hurried into the room.
"Wang," Mona commanded, "I want you to do your trick. Your trick, please, Wang...for Mr. Hamilton."

Wang hissed and bowed. He whirled back into the kitchen then reappeared carrying a long two-by-four. He put the piece of wood over a gap in the fireplace , nonchalantly stepped back, and then attacked.
Loosing a wild streak, Wang jumped forward and swung the heel of his hand in an arc. When hand met wood, the latter splintered, the two ends flying up in the air.
"Whew!" Peter said, "some trick."
"Wang," Mona said, clucking delightedly, "that was marvelous. Thank you ever so much. You see?" she asked Peter.

"But seriously," Peter said, "you'd never use that weapon on Jack Logan, would you?"
"I might. Peter, come in the pool."

He shook his head. "I should hit the road, Mona."
"Peter, you've got nothing to do. Come on in the pool. You look all hot and bothered." She winked at him. "It's me, I know. I give off a sexual discharge." Her nose twitched. "Electrical, I mean."
He could not disagree. Mona, possibly excited by Wang's show of force, had become a nimbus, prepared to swallow the whole world of men.


Wow! Mona became a "nimbus," whatever that is. And the names...MOANa, Peter, Wang...I can't believe the writer did that. And the Mona character actually retains a salaried tough guy to keep her husband in line. Unbelievable! Someone should do a book about what housewives were reading in this period!

Hmmmmm....it looks like I don't have room to talk about the Russian book. Oh, well...next time!


This (above) is from a deleted scene where Sally finally realizes what the Worm's intentions are. I did the sketch and Tuck Tucker did a genius job on the clean-up. The scene was deleted for time.

These last two drawings are inbetweens from the brilliant animation Glenn Kennedy did on the Worm addressing the audience in the beginning of the film. He had great teardrop theories and a beautiful, cartoony line that made me regret the necessity to color the scene.

The originals of the drawings you see here, along with a bunch of others, were stolen from the studio before they could be copied. Glenn was able to do the missing parts over again, and he did a great job, but I still preferred the first drawings. Here's (above and below) a couple of originals that the audience never saw.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Don't you love sideshow banners? Half the time they're better than the exhibits they promote.
Compare the old-time banner at the top to the recently made one above. Is it just me or are these later graphics too slick, too dependent on the lettering?

They're clearly influenced by underground comics.

Some of the newer banners (above) are even influenced by manga.

I liked carnival banners better when they were made by ex-sign painters who could draw human figures, but just barely.

I like the way the old banners were executed on canvas with what looks like thinned house paint. The lettering was deliberately understated.

I like the way the thin man is caricatured in this picture. The man is suave. He's proud to be skinny.

 By way of comparison, the banner above is too realistic. The fat girl looks too much like a real fat person. Her weight doesn't suggest any entertainment value.

This (above) is more like it. The proportions are deliberately caricatured and unrealistic. This girl's fat and proud. She feels sorry for you because you aren't fat.

On the other hand, maybe the real girl actually looked like that. It strikes me that when I was a little kid I actually saw someone like that. Maybe carnival fat people used to be a breed apart in that they had different proportions than most fat people. Maybe the professionally fat, the people who made their living at it, knew how to cultivate a silhouette like the one in the picture above.

Anyway, the myth persists that carnival artists can't draw. That's not true.  If they couldn't you'd get banners like the one above, which wouldn't be useful to anybody.

I said banner artists could only just barely draw, but I take that back. They were actually pretty skilled, but in a style that was self-effacing and came from a folk art tradition. 

It's funny how every medium that's been around for a while develops a style that fits it like a glove. By way of an example, here's (above) the familiar "X-Ray Specs" which used to be widely advertised. If the illustration above had been used for an ad I don't think it would have sold the product very well. It's too sophisticated. You can't sell a lowbrow product with highbrow graphics.

On the other hand, this badly-drawn art (above) wouldn't do the job either. It makes the product look shoddy and the seller seem untrustworthy.

Here's (above) the perfect compromise, the one that caught on with the public. The principals of art are observed but the artist still comes off as primitive. He projects the image of a trickster, a joke teller; someone who's not above using the product himself.

You won't realize how good the original artist was until you compare what he did with later artists (above) who tried the same thing. The later artists couldn't create an iconic image. Drawing iconic is a rare and under-rated skill. I wish I could take lessons from somebody who knows how.

The later X-Ray Spec artists were eventually dumped in favor of the original artist and new art (above) was commissioned. It was iconic but the old pizazz was gone. The original art caught the artist at his dazzling apex. What catastrophe happened to him afterward? Alcoholism? Alimony? Disillusionment? Formal art education? I don't know.

So what am I getting at here? 'Just the notion that the style of art should fit the unique medium the art is created for.