Sunday, August 15, 2010


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:

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Jonathan Winters (above) is an interesting guy. You can spend a lifetime in the entertainment business and never come up with an appealing character, and here's   Jonathan Winters who comes up with new ones by the cartload every time he speaks. What was his secret?

I'm not sure. Maybe it had something to do with Winters being mischievous.  People like that quality. Maybe that's why mischievous people make good joke tellers. They make you aware of the absurdity of the fact that you just dropped something important to listen to something that's going to be incredibly stupid.

I don't remember many jokes, and I'm not really good at telling them. What I do remember is the way they were told. I love the way joke tellers look both ways then grab your arm and lean in furtively. I love the whole ritual that's associated with joke telling. Mischievous people are experts at creating the atmosphere that precedes a joke.

In animation you know you've got a good character if you start laughing before he even talks. Good characters have ignorant charisma. Funny things happen just because they're in the room.  The air fills with electricity and potential just because a force of nature has arrived, and is checking out the room. For me the joke is of far less importance than the set up.

John achieved this with Ren and Stimpy. In his best period Winters achieved it every time he opened his mouth.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


All three of these YouTube videos are of Jonathan Winters, from the period when he first started to do improv on TV.

He was far and away the greatest hero of my childhood. Unfortunately he was only on late at night when I wasn't allowed to watch.  To see him I had to wait til my folks went to sleep, then sneak downstairs in the dark, taking care to avoid creaking floorboards and barking pets.  I'd feel around for the TV controls in the dark, then with infinite patience slowly turn on the set, with the brightness and sound almost as low as they could be.

The films you see here include some of the very same sketches that I watched in the dark. I never saw them with this clarity, though. The screen was always so black that I could barely make out the shapes as human, and I had to press my ear hard against the speaker to hear what was happening. My grandfather was a light sleeper and more than once he caught me and terrible yelling ensued.  Then there were the ghosts, but I won't go into that.  

I guess you appreciate what you have to make sacrifices for. All these videos have great meaning for me.
I read somewhere that the young Bach had to do something similar in order to get access to his dad's music library. His father was certain that his oldest son would be the musically gifted one, and didn't want Bach, the little kid, to get a taste for something that was so obviously beyond his meagre ability.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


The book (above).....

....and the author (above), Robert Crumb.

He chose his subject well.  Genesis is a true masterpiece, arguably the best book of its kind ever written, regardless of the religious convictions of the reader. It's also pretty doggone weird.

The weird parts start with the old age of Noah.

Noah (above, click to enlarge)) has too much to drink and falls asleep naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham,  happens to see his father  naked and tells his brothers about it, maybe (I'm not sure) in a humorous way.  The brothers are appalled and take pains to cover the father before he's seen by anyone else.  

When Noah awakens and sees what happened, he's outraged  and condemns  Ham's son to slavery.  Why Noah chose such an extreme punishment, and why he took it out on Ham's kid isn't clear. There's tons of Jewish and Christian commentary on this, but I'm not familiar with it. 

I don't think it's fair to say that God justifies slavery in this story. At this point in history the Jewish faith doesn't exist yet. Genesis is chronicling the prehistory of that religion, when Hebrews shared most of the beliefs and prejudices of the society around them. The writer has God take a special interest in them, but we don't yet know where that interest will lead. Even's weird.

Afterwards, God is compelled to take sides in endless disputes among the Hebrews.  A deity who recently had been involved with the creation of the universe and was steeped in the mechanics of black holes and such, was forced to mediate zillions of oddball disputes among sheepherders.

Surprisingly we don't question it, maybe because the atmosphere in Genesis is alive with growing potential.  In the writer's view, these people are being nudged inch by inch toward a more sophisticated law and a higher destiny.  It's what Merlin tried to do to Arthur and his friends in the film "Excalibur."

Surprisingly Crumb tells this story with great understatement and empathy.  The book is worth having.


Tuesday, August 03, 2010


The dandizette is a female English dandy. Their peek period coincided with that of the male dandy, roughly  from 1810 to 1820. 

Dandizettes hung out with male dandies.  Even though they were women, some of them adapted the speech and habits of male dandies.  That's bizarre when you remember that male dandies were imitating women.  It's a case of women imitating men who were imitating women.  Geez!

Wait a minute, let me backtrack.  I implied that all dandies were gays, and I didn't mean to say that.  I imagine that the great majority of dandies were heterosexual and completely masculine. Disraeli was a dandy. Dickens was something of a dandy in his youth. Even so, I feel justified in hazarding a guess that gay men had something to do with the founding of dandyism. They started it, but a big portion of it passed into the hands of heterosexuals. 


Dandizettes are with us even today, witness John Allison's "Fop Catcher" (above) (copyright John Allison 2009).  Some modern girls just like to hang out with dandies. I'm not talking about hetero girls who have gay men friends. That's different. I'm talking about hetero dandizettes who fall in love exclusively with male hetero dandies. 

Is anybody following what I'm saying here? I wrote it, and even I have trouble understanding it. 

Girls are strange. They seem to prefer men who are  either ultra-masculine, or who look and act like girls. No doubt the truth is more complicated, but I make no claim to possessing the truth. 


Were dandies of the Regency period really as over the top as they were portrayed in etchings?

I hope so. It makes the period much more interesting.

While we're on the subject of dandies, I think I'll take a shot at answering  Paul's comment about whether or not metrosexuals are todays dandies. It's an interesting topic.  

I do think that Regency dandies will be found to have had a greater intellectual impact on succeeding generations than metrosexuals, and that's because they were better versed in culture.  Go to iTunes and listen to  Stephen Fry's podcast on language.  Fry doesn't dress like a dandy, but he was influenced by that culture, and you'll hear for yourself how powerful dandyism is when its allied to a good classical education.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Who's your pick for the best living American novelist? Wait, just to be fair let me amend that to the best practicing living novelist. Don Delillo? Bret Easton Ellis? Tom Wolfe?  Let me weigh in with my own pick. So far as I'm able to tell, the best novels being written now are genre novels, and the best genre novelists are crime writers Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy. 

It's confusing because these guys write alike, look alike, and their names even sound alike.  Both believe in lean, dialogue driven prose with minimal third person narrative. 

I remember when books that were mostly dialogue began to make big sales. Everybody thought it was the end of civilization because we took it as a sign that  modern audiences were too dumb to appreciate good narrative. I used to think that too, but I've since changed my mind. The fact is that only a few writers of the 20th Century were ever any good at narrative. The ones that weren't plodded along in that vein, because they thought it was expected of them, and that produced some pretty bad books. Like Taylor Caldwell's, for example.  Try reading a couple of random lines from "Ceremony of the Innocent" (1976), reproduced below (click to enlarge)........

Do you see what I mean? Professional but boring is how I'd describe it (above). A real sleeping pill. Now sample (below) the leaner, more effective style used in Elmore Leonard's "Get Shorty" (1990).........

Nice, huh? Dialogue carries the scene, and it works beautifully. Leonard's a good practitioner of the new style. Shakespeare told his stories with dialogue, and so can we, provided the dialogue is good. 

My only criticism of this lean style is that in our time it's worked best in genre novels with flamboyant, over-the-top characters. Will it work for other types? Only time will tell. 

Leonard's a terrific stylist and amazingly he's willing to share how he does it.  Here, from the internet, is an abridged version of Leonard's top ten tips for writers. It starts with an admonition to avoid adverbs, then goes on to.........

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his bookArctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
5 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

BTW: I added something important to the Bette Davis post immediately below, to the part about Mankiewicz. Take a look!