Archive - July 2003

July 30th, 2003

As a public service, I'd like to alert those of you who care that the Turner Classic Movie network--TCM--has reconfigured their broadcast schedule for tomorrow, Thursday, July 31st, to pay tribute to the recently departed Mr. Bob Hope. Here's what we got...

11AM The Road To Hong Kong (1962)

1PM A Global Affair (1964)

2:30PM Call Me Bwana (1963)

4:15PM I'll Take Sweden (1965)

6:00PM Bachelor In Paradise (1961)

...all times Eastern, and with the last film ending shortly before 8, that's just about nine hours of Hope! Of course, it's nowhere NEAR the choicest nine hours of Bob's cinematic oeuvre, but apparently that's all the fine folks at TCM have available to them! The TRUE classics from the thirties, forties, and yes, even the fifties--someone else must have the rights to THOSE gems tied up mighty tightly, I'll wager! Because, you know, the programming geniuses at TCM usually screen such well chosen fare from those long-ago decades, but in this particular instance, I suppose they'll have to make do with what little currently resides in their obviously Hope-depleted library.

No matter. I'll be taping them all, and, yes, eventually watching them, too!! I suggest you do the same, if only to hear Bob warble the rock and roll stylings of the title tune to "Call Me Bwana"!! I guarantee you, gang, you won't believe your ears!!

And what about the cable channel that once stood for American Movie Classics--AMC--but these days more likely is indicative of their somewhat less lofty standards--Any Movie Counts? Yup, they're hopping on the Hope Bandwagon as well, and while they're as bereft of the earliest jewels as their competition seems to be, they DID manage to slip in a few near classics (Hey! Just like the OLD days!?!..) We start the day with a one hour documentary...

7:10AM Bob Hope:The Road To The Top (1998)

8:10AM How To Commit Marriage (1969)

10:05AM Paris Holiday (1958)

12:15AM Road To Bali (1952)

2:10PM The Seven Little Foys (1955)

4:05PM Son of Paleface (1952)

6:05PM The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farell (1968)

...ending as well at 8PM, accounting for almost 13 lucky hours of Hope (with, unluckily, commercials included...)!! Oh sure, the 1968 and 1969 flicks--costarring Phyllis Diller and Jackie Gleason, respectively--make TCM's selections seem like cinematic treasures by comparison, but the better choices are actually found on AMC. "Son of Paleface" is a bona fide classic, and the one movie to watch if you can only watch one. But try and find time for "Road To Bali" as well--seeing Bob and Bing face off against the killer squid Boga Ten is worth the price of admission! (Which, after all, is nothing!!) "The Seven Little Foys" could stand a look-see too. I'm just wondering when somebody is going to kill two birds with one stone--you should pardon the expression--and rerun "The Iron Petticoat", Hope and the similarly recently departed Katherine Hepburn's mid-fifties take on "Ninochka"? Now, THAT I've gotta see someday!...

(...and Larry King, after two star-studded shows devoted to a wide ranging group of Hope friends, family, and amiable associates these past two nights, will feature clips from several past interviews with the legendary comic icon come this Friday night. Just so you know...)

(...and not to be rude or anything, but didn't Bing Crosby's no-longer-quite-so-young widow Kathryn, look a little...odd last night? I mean, her eyelids looked as if they were held open much the same way Malcolm McDowell's character in "A Clockwork Orange" were, only without the tangible restraints?!? But I wanna tell ya...)

July 28th, 2003

I had a lot of things planned for today. We'd dropped Julie off at Girl Scout Camp yesterday afternoon, and I figured I'd finally have some time to myself. I had pages I wanted to ink, things I wanted to write--why, even some new ideas I wanted to try my hand at developing. Well, that all pretty much went out the window when the phone rang earlier this morning.

I was blissfully sleeping in when the tell-tale jangle of the phone echoed throughout the house at the ungodly hour of ten after nine. Luckily,Lynn was already up, watching "Regis and Kelly" (as we are both wont to do hereabouts) so I merely rolled over, figured she'd answer it, and I'd haul myself into up into the world of wakefulness soon enough, but not quite right now. It was probably just her mom, anyway, or maybe someone from work. No concern of mine...

"That was Rocco..." she came in and told me straight away.

I quickly sat up, quizzically. "Rocco? What's he calling this early for?"

"Bob Hope died. He just saw it on the Internet."

"No!?", I said, hastily crawling out of my slumber quarters.

"You're awake now, aren't you?" Lynn observed, and by the time we'd gotten to the other room, ABC was running a pre-recorded obit for the century old comedy legend narrated by Barbara Walters in place of the standard morning show antics of Regis and Kelly. It was true. Bob Hope was gone.

(And so, incidentally, was friend Rocco, having gotten off the line. Lynn had delivered the news, but the good Mr. Nigro had made good on a decade-plus old promise to me. It all grew out of a vacation trip Lynn and I took to the Caribbean island of Guadalupe a few years before our daughter was born. While we were spending time in paradise, the First Lady of American Comedy, Lucille Ball, passed away, and we were totally unaware of the event and all the attendant hoopla and tributes that accompanied her demise. Quirky though it may seem, I surely didn't want to miss any of the attention lavished on the iconic Hope when he inevitably departed on that final Road trip under similar circumstances, and had Rocco give me his solemn promise he'd cover me if such a sad event were to occur whilst I was out of town and away from a television set. Well, that certainly wasn't the case here today, but I suppose he just felt the ingrained need to pass along the information to me as soon as he heard it. Thanks, Rocco. You have served me well. Now, consider yourself released from your obligation...)

Needless to say, I stationed myself in front of the tube and settled in for several hours, switching back and forth from CNN, MSNBC and the Fox Newschannel, just taking in all the accolades from Bob's many friends and associates. Reminiscences from several of his writers, Phyllis Diller, Alan King, Dick Cavett--even Dr. Joyce Brothers--were welcome. I could've done without the rather self-serving tribute from Fox's Geraldo Rivera, however...

Eventually, some time around noon, I managed to get to the drawing board, and did some inking. Still, the TV droned on. It seemed to be an almost eerie replay of the coverage the news networks afforded the former Leslie Townes Hope back on May 29th when he hit the century mark. While it would seem to be hard to get overly emotional about someone who expires at such a lofty age--hey, they made it that far! Good for them!--but nonetheless, the occasional tear did indeed find itself welled up in the corner of this old softies eye, I gotta confess.

Those of you who were here with me for the big 100th birthday celebration shouldn't be at all surprised at my reaction. I really loved the guy. Yeah, I came of age in the sixties, and that was hardly Hope's most stellar decade. But please understand--my lifelong appreciation wasn't garnered from "Cancel My Reservation" or "Call Me B'wana". Nope, I fell in love with the fast-talking cowardly braggart lurking throughout such gems as "The Lemon Drop Kid", "My Favorite Brunette", "The Great Lover","The Paleface", "Son of Paleface", and, of course, those memorable "Road" pictures costarring Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. THIS is the stuff that inspired--besides myself--none other than THE quintessential comedian of the swinging sixties, Woody Allen, to develop his own, soon-to-be classic, persona.

And even as the sixties wore on, and Bob was increasingly viewed as a hawk, an ally of the Nixon White House, an old fogey, a totally unhip throwback to a seemingly archaic era of show biz, I kept watching. Yeah, those skits he staged on his variety shows could be truly cringe-inducing, and to tell the truth, at a certain point, even I couldn't abide them any more. But I ALWAYS tuned in to hear his opening monolog. This is where Bob Hope, even in his later years, still managed to excel. Whatever the quality of the quips--and they ranged all the way from hilarious to classic groaners--his expert delivery always put them over. It didn't matter that Bob was obviously reading them off of cue cards. The twinkle in his eye, the nuance in his voice, that overall superb timing he possessed--the sum of these elements added up to always coax a smile from me regardless of the actual humor content of the material. Sometimes, it truly IS the jokester, not the joke, y'know...

Fact is, as I may've mentioned in the past, in recent years, I've become more and more enamored of Bob Hope's warbling abilities-- and yes, several collections of Bob's musical mementos are piping outta the ol' CD player even as I type these words--and while I make no claims for him being a classic crooner, the guy's singing wasn't bad by any means. Besides, there's just something tremendously reassuring about simply hearing his voice. Heck, there was just something tremendously reassuring simply knowing that he was around--somewhere!--as he had been my entire life. I suppose I shouldn't be too shocked that now he no longer is, but that doesn't mean I'm not gonna miss him, because, yeah, I am, I sure am...

I think I'll wrap this up pretty much the same way every other person who paused today to pay tribute to the greatest entertainer of the Twentieth Century--yes, you've heard it countless times elsewhere, yes, it could be considered a tad bit too easy, maybe even trite, but in the end I feel compelled to join the chorus and say for the record--

Thanks for the memories, Bob!


July 27th, 2003

I've always been fascinated by Jerry Lewis. Not necessarily amused, but definitely fascinated.

Unlike a vast majority of celebrities of his stature, Jerry seems pathologically incapable of keeping his raging ego at bay, at least maintaining SOME semblance of humility while appearing before his adoring (and otherwise) public. The fact is, you just never know WHAT'S gonna come out of his mouth next!?! Which is why I was so upset when I realized I'd forgotten to tape Fox's "Pulse" newsmagazine program the other night, as it featured an interview of Jerry by Bill O'Reilly. Not to worry, though--I DID manage to tape that same evening's edition of "Jimmy Kimmel Live".

Y'see, at the outset of most every show, Jimmy shows clips of mock-worthy television moments broadcast earlier that very evening. For reasons that'll soon become quite obvious, the Kimmel braintrust chose an exchange between O'Reilly and Lewis that, well, will haunt me til the day I die!! (Okay, exaggeration. But if it's good enough for ol' Jer?...)

For those who missed it, here's my carefully transcribed word-for-word portion of that interview. To further enhance your enjoyment of this give and take, bear in mind we're dealing with bloated Jerry here. Apparently, some medicine the comic legend's been taking in recent years has caused his once slim frame to swell appreciably. No matter. We're just glad Jerry's feeling better, right gang? So, here we go. O'Reilly was asking the fifties icon about some of his contemporaries...

Bill O'Reilly: Marilyn Monroe?...

Jerry Lewis: Nicest, sweetest, most wonderful girl in the world. Troubled, but a marvelous lady.

O'Reilly: Involved with JFK?

Lewis: NO!!

O'Reilly: To no extent?

Lewis: No! Nor Bobby. NO!!

O'Reilly: And how do you know this?

Lewis: HOW do I know? Because she was involved with ME!!

O'Reilly(incredulously): Was she REALLY involved with you?

Lewis (defiantly): YEAH!!

O'Reilly (still not totally sold): Sexually?

Lewis (looks to the side, grunts to himself, then turns and answers sarcastically...): I wasn't looking at her photos. She was NICE by the way...(at which point, he looks into the camera and sleazily--and yes, somewhat spastically--begins winking his eye in a knowing manner...)

...At which point, the clip ends, and Jimmy finishes it off with a trademark wiseguy remark ("Well, now we know why she killed herself!..."), but I sat there, stunned--Jerry had topped himself!! Denying that the Kennedy boys had ever been the sultry siren's mattress mates would be news in and of itself, but the alternative truly made one's head spin--"Hey LAAAADDDDDYYY--that's right! You! The greatest sex symbol of the Twentieth Century--sleep with me, okay lady? I'm Jerry Lewis. after all!..."

I immediately sent this news out to several friends, and shortly after received this intriguing response from the witty and talented cartoonist, Bill Alger. Besides reminding me of an earlier (and more believable) dalliance with another famous funnyman, Bill offered this...

"So Jerry now slept with Marilyn. And so did Milton Berle. Any more comedians? Bob Hope? Senor Wences?..."

Well, Bill, I'm reasonably certain ol' ski nose was otherwise engaged in an (alleged, in case Dolores is reading this) affair with Hollywood's Number Two Marilyn--Maxwell--during the ex-Mrs. Dimaggio's heyday, but as for the gentlemen who kept his comedic partner tucked away safely in a box, well, if such a torrid affair ever DID take place, it may've gone



(..and at this point, I don't even want to consider what I read in Batman creator Bob Kane's autobiography several years back!! I seem to recall he insisted that he once trysted with the pre-fame Norma Jean. Of course, he also insisted for years he was the only one drawing the adventures of the Dynamic Duo, so...)

July 24th, 2003

Why so few posts lately? Well, if you'll allow me to be a bit self-indulgent here--yes, even more so than usual--I'll give you a quick rundown of the last seven days here at the Hembeck chalet...

Last Friday afternoon, we picked up Julie after her six day stay at Girl Scout Camp, and stopped for dinner at a pleasant--if unexceptional--little roadside bistro with the vaguely intimidating name of "GoodFellas". Finding Joe Pesci nowhere in evidence, we sat back, enjoyed our meal, and listened to tales of Julie's camping exploits. Accompanied for the first time by one of her closest friends, a girl by the name of Jennifer making her initial venture off into the wilds of sleep-over camp, Julie had a funtastic week away from us.(Ditto, kid, ditto...) Back home, she soon found her laptop, her Michael Jackson CDs (which is a whole 'NOTHER story for a whole 'nother time!...), and, after half-heartedly helping Lynn and I unpack her stuff ("But I'm tired--I didn't get that much sleep this past week, y'know..."), she quickly settled in with her electronic friends. I myself began the never-ending cycle of laundry and tried to mentally prepare for what I suspected would be a very full week ahead. Oh, if only I knew how right I was!?!...

Saturday morning. Lynn went off to procure her weekly allotment of organic vegetables from the local farm commune we've staked a share in. That left me to take Julie to her horseback riding lesson, usually pencilled in for Friday afternoon's, but due to the circumstances, moved back a day. As she'd only been riding for several months, I stuck around to observe and make sure she didn't fall off Buddy, the sleepy old mare she was riding. When her turn in the saddle was finished, I left Julie there--at her request--to hang around, do some work, and just generally schmooze the with the stable's inhabitants, human and otherwise. I drove home--luckily, a trip of a mere five minutes duration--to vacuum the ol' swimming pool!

When I finished that happy little chore an hour later, boom--it was back in the car and off to pick up my daughter! And then prepare for the imminent arrival of my in-laws, all two of them, Grandma Terry and Brother Bob. Although it was five days past the fact on the calendar, this, again due to the previously alluded to circumstances, was the day chosen by all to celebrate Lynn's recent birthday. While there was a time when Julie's interest could once be sustained by relatives alone, she's now at the age where having an additional friend around is not only desirable, it's almost imperative! No problem. We're a small family, a teeny tiny clan, so there's always room at the dinner table for another plate. So, at around one o'clock, Grandma, Bob, and good friend Courtney arrived at our party palace just about the same time.

Luckily for all, it was a warm day, and much splishing and splashing was done out back in the pool. Crystal from up the block arrived unannounced mid-afternoon, making what amounts around here to being a cameo appearance. She stayed a few hours, took a dip, and left before dinner. Crystal, we hardly knew ye! Eventually, we were all treated to a delicious dinner of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding cooked up by the Birthday Girl's mom, followed with a scrumpt-diddly-icious chocolate cake!? Yum-MY!

Nothing of particular interest occurred during their visit, though I did have an amusing exchange with bro-in-law Bob. As he's done at several recent family get-togethers, in the course of our conversation, he's inquired as to if I'd posted anything new on the web-site recently. Why, yes indeed I have, as I once again told him, and repeated the info that we have in fact a "New On Site" section that enumerates those very updates. I paused, and then asked him to confirm what I'd long come to suspect, "You haven't looked at the site since it went up in January, have you Bob?" Uh, no. Hey, that's okay--we have a fairly different set of interests, after all, and a lot of what I write about would most certainly bore him. But I'm well aware that he spends a considerable amount of time online, and was in fact very encouraging when Lynn and I were planning the launch of our site, so I've gotta admit to being mildly puzzled as to why curiosity--if nothing else--hasn't brought him back for a peek or two in these past six months? No surprise, though--I've found that my site is enjoyed most by people who've never met me--or at least, don't live anywhere nearby--as just about all, if not ALL, my local buddies most likely haven't checked in since opening night!?!. Ah well, who's got the time to read this drivel, anyway, right? (Oh, yeah--YOU!?! Oops. I forgot. Heh. And don't you think I don't appreciate it, oh faceless one!...)

So, to finish up Saturday, the Moss family left around 7, Courtney at 10:15. On then to Sunday...

Julie's attempt to garner a return visit from Courtney was foiled by an unexpected breakdown of her mom's van after arrangements had been made. In fact, with her mom off on a quick trip to help relatives on Monday, Courtney was left in charge of her two younger sisters while her dad's at work. Essentially, that meant no more Courtney for the remainder of the week, though she did continue to call and speak with Julie at length most every day. With her taken out of the rotation, Julie attempted to summon the sisters next door, but they were still recovering from a big family party they threw the previous day--and unlike us, they certainly DO have a big family--and indicated that they were still cleaning up the debris. Still, Christina was excited to tell Julie she'd gotten ahold of some way cool sparklers and said she'd call her back in the evening so as to get together and set the night on fire . All fine and good, but what about now, thought my impatient progeny? After all, she was heading back off to camp in one short week--NOW was the time to see her friends, wasn't it?

So she called Deanna, her oldest friend (since first grade). While she lives but two-minutes away as the car drives, Deanna is sometimes pretty difficult to get pin down. Her and her family are always doing something, it would seem. But this day, Julie was in luck--Deanna was indeed available! Except...

Her younger sister, as it turned out, had nothing lined up for herself, y'see, and it's not considered fair play if one has an activity and the other doesn't in their particular household. No problem, sayeth Julie--bring Jesse along and she can swim too!! It wouldn't be the first time, though as they've gotten older, these tandem visits didn't occur as often as they once did. But occur one did Sunday, and the sisters immersed themselves in our pool from 3 in the afternoon until just before dinner time at 6.

After supper, I attempted to sneak in a long overdue mowing of the lawn before darkness fell, only to be prevented from completing the back yard in addition to the front by the happy news from Lynn that my good pal Charlie Johnson--whom readers here will recognize as the creator of the legendary Flying Frog--had returned my earlier call and would be home that very evening, available to speak with me! Oboy! I finished up the last little portion of the front lawn, jumped quickly in the pool to cool off, showered rapidly, and just as I was about to dial up Charlie and speak to one of my all-time bestest buddies for the first time in years and years, the phone rang.

Good to her word, it was Christina. Julie grabbed some shoes and--whoosh--out the door she sprinted to the neighbors house. She stayed there for the next two plus hours, almost half of which time I spent catching up with my erstwhile college chum, Charlie, having finally gotten an opportunity to get at that phone! It was, as you might well imagine, a wonderful conversation! We'll have to do it again--and soon, pal, soon!...

Monday started slowly, as I had a sneaking suspicion it would. So I suggested, hey, why don't we go out to the local Perkins restaurant for lunch, huh, kid? A little father/daughter bonding time couldn't hurt, after all--especially not WITH pancakes!! MmmMMM--now that's filial fun with food! The rest of the afternoon was spent, incongruously, very quietly at home. Shortly after dinner, however, Elizabeth, the older neighbor sister rang up with some questions for Julie about going off into the Seventh Grade come the fall. Being one year ahead of her, Julie diligently gathered up some books and information and proceeded to take them over--minutes before a nasty thunderstorm hit!! No, we didn't lose power, but yes, we came pretty darn close. And the thing just never seemed to go away! I actually drove over in my car--NEXT DOOR!?!--to get my little sweetie a few hours later at 11 o'clock!! She may very well have melted otherwise, y'know?...

Tuesday, ah Tuesday. It started with a visit to the doctor for Julie accompanied by both Lynn and myself. She'd had a recurring nasal infection over the winter, please understand, and this was our second visit to a specialist in a concerted effort to get to the bottom of the situation. Returning home, the girls next door soon came over to swim after lunch. Which we did, if only for an hour, eventually to be chased from the water by even more rumblings of far-away thunder. Funny thing--sometimes we wouldn't see the sisters for weeks on end, and then boom--three days in a row! The bad news was that when the three kids wound up inside, it got them to plotting and planning once again their unplanned yard sale, an ongoing fantasy of theirs. They once again carted out some of Julie and Christina's old clothes, divided them up into various piles, each designated in a different (over)price(d) range, and then even lugged out some of her old kiddie books out to sell!?! Sentimentalist that I am, there were a few I flat out refused to allow Julie to part with--hey, even if SHE didn't give a hoot, I sure didn't want to let that Fuzzy Little Kitty book--with REAL honest to gosh fuzz!!--go! No sir, not at all.

My biggest concern is that they're gonna drag all that stuff out front on our lawn, on our only moderately traveled road, waste their time on a perfectly good Saturday afternoon, and with no advertising, and get virtually no results. And of course, a lot of the grunt work would be expected to be performed by, well, take a guess, why don'tcha? About the only saving grace to this ill-conceived plan was that the poor weather outlook over the next couple of days kept it from becoming an almost instant reality (yes, they wanted to do it right then and there, that very afternoon!?! Girls, remember those rumblings that chased us out of the pool not so long ago?...) Christina and Elizabeth went home at 5:30 that day, and outside of calling to say they were unavailable that evening, they haven't been heard from since. Odds are those carefully arranged boxes of clothes and books will remain unheeded downstairs next to my piles and piles of comics come the weekend, and that's probably a good thing. But these kids with their pie-in-the-sky money-making plans!?! Yeesh...

Because of the threatening forecast, we called off our regular weekly volleyball game that night. Between September and May, we play inside a local school gym, but in the summer we're forced to go at it in the great outdoors. Obviously, rain invariably puts the kibosh on those plans, so instead I took the opportunity to speak at length with two friends on the phone that afternoon and evening, Terry Austin and Rocco Nigro. I told Terry I had finally posted news of his collection of drawings the day before (a piece I'd actually written a few weeks earlier, but waited until Lynn had the time to do all the complicated links and such before posting it), and he told me at length about an extremely peculiar "Ren and Stimpy" cartoon starring both a live action and an animated Ralph Bakshi that recently ran on TNN, the "first" network for men. I've never been a "Ren and Stimpy" fan, but if only to satisfy my curiosity, I now feel the need to tune in (and should you feel the need to satisfy YOUR curiosity, you can click here to find out all about Terry's tome and how to get your grubby little mitts on a copy! Yowsah!) Later, Rocco and I talked about, well, about a lot of the same stuff we talk about here. Save for the baseball sequences, the Roc keeps up on his "Fred Sez"--and why not? It's big-time fun seeing your name repeatedly flashing across a computer screen, isn't it, bud?

Wednesday arrived, and soon after Julie dragged her sorry butt outta bed at the ungodly hour of 11:45, she was on the phone to Lisa. Good ol' Lisa. Shortly before one o'clock, Lisa was dropped off by her mom, and she stayed with us all the way until 8:45. As always, there was mucho swimming, meaning my attendance--if not necessarily my participation--was mandatory. But it was a swell day, so what the heck--in I went! Meanwhile, calls came in from the housebound Courtney, as well as Chelsea, yet another member of the repertory company. She hadn't seen Julie in a month, and wanted my girl to come on over to her house, but unfortunately that was going to be impossible this day, plans having already been made. Attempts were later made to plan for Thursday, but signals were missed and lines were dropped, so nothing was settled. Still, Julie and Lisa had a typically great time, and after dinner, I even managed to slip out to do some much needed grocery shopping while Lynn watched the girls. I arrived home minutes before Lisa's dad came to pick her up, after which I FINALLY sat back with Lynn, turned on the tube and relaxed...

That brings us to today, Thursday. Another late night spawned another yet late wake-up for Julie, though it helped that Courtney roused her out of bed to chat with the little slug-a-bed. A subsequent try to engage Chelsea for the day gave Julie the impression that she'd be unavailable, so she settled in with her laptop, and I began to type up this seemingly endless rundown. Two paragraphs in, Julie strolled into the room and announced we were going to the mall. I begged to differ, but she ultimately nailed me with the unequivocal fact that earlier in the week I had indeed said we'd go shopping one fine day if things ever slowed down. Still, it wasn't my first choice of activities, and just as the discussion got somewhat contentious, the phone rang. It was Chelsea. She was, it turned out, available. And Julie wanted her over here, because, natch it's more fun over here!? Okay, sure. She had slept over Chelsea's house several times this past winter, so who am I to say no to a visit here for her? And using that logic, there was no way I could ever turn down a sleepover in these environs tonight when she called back attempting to clear up the confusion as to whether it was an overnight visit or not (well, it WASN'T, but now it sure was...) Soon after, she arrived, we swam, and now here I am, back in, pecking away...

The plan is for her mom to pick her up Friday at 10am. The fact that Lynn's taking Julie for a cat scan at 11:30 is the only thing that'd prevent her visit from spilling over deep into the afternoon. And at 4:15, it's time for me to accompany Julie to yet another riding lesson. Will there be a kid here in the few hours that fall between those two activities? Nothing's scheduled yet, but really, what do YOU think? About the only regular we HAVEN'T seen this past week has been Jennifer, but considering she had to hear Julie yammer on and on for a week out there in the wilds of Camp Kaufman, can you really blame her for taking a break? I sure can't...

Don't get me wrong--taxing though it may be at times, I like having Julie's friends around. They're all good kids, and they interact comfortably with us adults, so there's no strain whatsoever having them over. If it weren't for my seasonal lifeguard duties, it really wouldn't take up much of my time at all.

As it was, I still somehow managed to complete several pages of art, prepared some further material for an upcoming assignment, did some commission work (though I have two pieces yet to complete, after which, the slate is clear, so check out the sales area and order to your hearts content, art lovers!), and even snuck in some fun stuff. I continued to dip into my DC Archives, began reading Carmine Infantino's autobiography (now THERE'S a topic well worthy of future discussion!), zipped through a month of Newsweeks and the latest MOJO magazine, watched some TV, including my first ever Harold Lloyd flick ("Why Worry?"), and monitored the progress (or lack thereof) of my poor down-trodden Metsies. And THAT, folks, is why I haven't been posting lately!

But camp beckons again this Sunday, followed by a week of IBM Excite Camp (a five-day program for hand-picked girls (by their schools science teachers), a totally FREE indoctrination exercise, where she'll be going in and coming home with her mom as Lynn goes to work that week, meaning it'll be very much like a school week in regards to her being out of the house most of the day), and then comes the third and final week of Girl Scout Camp. So I guess Julie just felt the burning need to pack in as much fun as possible these past seven days with her friends before she goes off to, well, have fun with a whole bunch of strangers!?!

Y'know, kinda like (but not actually) the sorta fun I'm having with you folks? Only minus the mosquitoes...

July 20th, 2003

Terry Austin has many things.

The award-winning inker, renowned for his legendary tenures embellishing John Byrne's pencils on X-MEN and Marshall Rogers lead scratchings on a series of DETECTIVE COMICS issues that comprised a very influential Batman story arc--as well as numerous jobs expertly rendered in ink in the many years since--has enormous talent. Just look at the comics, folks.

Terry also has a diligent work ethic, an unheralded ability to pencil, an under-appreciated scripting sense, and a sincere affection for the entire comics medium. Plus, he's got tons of fun stuff, the likes of which all obsessed collectors are familiar with. Most importantly, Terry has a delightfully pleasant manner about him, which in turn accounts for all the devoted friends Mr. A has amassed over the years. Happily,I count myself amongst them.

What DOESN'T Terry have, you ask? Why, something you and I, by now, take entirely for granted. That's right--Terry Austin doesn't own a computer! And all indications are that he won't be purchasing one anytime soon, folks. Does that make Terry a bad person? Why no, of course it doesn't. What it DOES make Terry is a friend in need, and as a friend indeed, here I am!!

Y'see, the esteemed comics veteran has recently published his very own self the proud tome,"Austin Art 60 Pages of Drawings by Terry Austin"! Taking his lead from trails blazed by artistes the likes of Dave Stevens and William Stout, Terry is offering up a personally chosen selection of some of his best, his most unusual, and of course his most obscure pieces, illustrations that he has both pencilled and inked over the past several decades! Yes! There's comic book faves like the X-men, the Fantastic Four, the Metal Men, Cloak and Dagger, Batman and even the three lovely (?) ladies who hosted DC'S WITCHING HOUR title. You'll also find Atlas-era funny animals, show biz personalities, Star Wars characters, sci-fi and fantasy scenarios, personal fave Popeye, and yes, even several lovely ladies very much in danger of catching their deaths via the cold! Undraped they may be, but "Hustler" it ain't. Tasteful, ever tasteful. As are ALL the scribblings selected by Mr. A, I might add. It's a swell package, one I'd highly recommend to all you art lovers out there.

Where exactly do I come in? Well, unless you're fortunate enough to catch Terry sitting behind a table at your local comics convention, gleefully hawking his wares, you'd be plumb out of luck, because, as I said, the illustrious illustrator is computer bereft. So, being the swell fella that I am, I've generously offered to shrill for my long-time buddy here at the site! I've even decided to permanently install a "Terry Austin Art Book" section herein! (At least, until we sell out!...) Click the highlighted words to find out all the ordering information necessary to garner yourself a copy. You'll find several other artistic examples posted there as well, so go, oh curious one! Get yourself a personally autographed copy of a really fine collection of fun and fantasy art!

And when you do send that order in, tell him Fred sent ya, okay? As I mentioned, Terry has a boatload of friends, and several others are going this route for him as well. He made a solemn promise to me that whoever sells the most copies for him gets--OBOY!--ice cream! So c'mon, people! MmmMMM! I can almost taste that Rocky Road now!!...

July 16th, 2003

Shortly after completing second grade, I attended several weeks of a local Summer Day Camp. Newsflash--I absolutely hated it, and never felt the desire to go again.

For one thing, I found myself thrown in with a buncha boys I didn't even know, with but a single exception--and that kid I didn't like at ALL!! It wasn't as if I were hurting for playmates locally, either, please understand. There were a half dozen or more agreeable kids my own age well within walking distance and readily available for entertainment purposes, so why try mixing it up with a group of strangers who were openly suspicious of the rather shy Little Freddy? About the only good thing that came out of the whole affair was that I hitched a ride daily to camp with the son of Henry Heisenbuttel, my parents accountant who, more importantly, also ran the small local general store where I bought all my comics!!
Ah yes, comics. You were probably wondering when THEY'D enter the picture, weren't you? Well, my vivid memories of coming home from a hard day at camp and finding a new issue of SUPERMAN'S GIRL FRIEND, LOIS LANE on display, one that wasn't there when we left that very morning--now THAT'S a fond bit of reminiscence, lemme tell ya!! And besides that, who needed to go back to camp again after I plunked down a quarter that selfsame season for the Dell Giant, NANCY AND SLUGGO SUMMER CAMP (#45,1961)?
Ah yes, comics. You were probably wondering when THEY'D enter the picture, weren't you? Well, my vivid memories of coming home from a hard day at camp and finding a new issue of SUPERMAN'S GIRL FRIEND, LOIS LANE on display, one that wasn't there when we left that very morning--now THAT'S a fond bit of reminiscence, lemme tell ya!! And besides that, who needed to go back to camp again after I plunked down a quarter that selfsame season for the Dell Giant, NANCY AND SLUGGO SUMMER CAMP (#45,1961)?

I LOVE this comic! Written and layed out by one of the medium's greatest genius's, John Stanley, it tells the story of Nancy and her friends going off to summer camp and the amusing adventures that naturally ensue. Although the triple sized edition is divided up into short segments, each separate tale segues smoothly into the next (disembarkment into arrival, late night antics followed by a hectic breakfast, and so forth) that the effect is of one, epic-like (dare I say it?) graphic novel!! Plus, it's FUNNY!! Darn funny! More famous for his exemplary work on Marge's LITTLE LULU, Stanley nonetheless brought his perfect comic timing and skewed viewpoint to Ernie Bushmiller's iconic kiddies as well, and, for the duration of his tenure on the title, made them his own! (Oh, and the artwork is way nifty as well, but I'm not at all sure who did it. Anyone know?...)

With me, this book was a perennial--year in and year out, whenever summer rolled around, I was certain to drag it out and give it yet another rereading, pleasantly enjoying the camp experience from a safe distance! Once again chuckling at rich kid Rollo's preposterously elaborate tree house, rooting on Nancy and the girls as they beat bully Tweak and his pals in a canoe race, and becoming vaguely unsettled as Nancy watches odd bunkmate Oona Goosepimple slip away to a strange land populated by nasty little creatures called the Yo Yos--THAT sure beat trying to learn to swim on a cold Monday morning in chilly water while vainly attempting to dodge jellyfish! There were several other annual editions of this Camp fun, published both before and after the one I bought from Heisenbuttel's General Store which I've since been able to track down, and be assured they're also of the very same high quality, but for purely nostalgic reasons, THIS is the one I'll always treasure! And why not? Even at this late date, it still holds surprises for me...

See that panel above? See the title? Well, for years and years and years, I just naturally assumed that "Camp Fafamama" was a slurring of "Father/Mother", but as I was scanning this illo in, I suddenly realized, forty years on, I was WRONG. It's actually a slurred version of "Far from mama", proving once again that sometimes the obvious is far too subtle for me!?!

And the obvious reason I've chosen this topic today is NOT merely to stroll down memory lane yet once again, but to subtly mention that dear daughter Julie herself is away at camp this week! Unlike her old man, the kid would rather be at camp than read about it between the covers of some musty old funny-book! Hey, more power to her! One thing she didn't inherit from either Lynn or I is our inherent shyness, which is just fine (unfortunately, our mutual; love of reading--comics and elsewise--managed to slip past her as well...)

It's Girl Scout camp, and it's no namby-pamby day camp either, nosiree--it's a full-fledged overnight camp! We know she's up for it, since this is her third summer excursion into the wilds with her cookie-pushing sisters! The first time out, she went for a single week. Last year, that expanded to two, and this year? That's right--three weeks!! But lest you misunderstand, that's not three weeks running. She's signed up for one week on, one off, then back, then off again, and then the third and final week with the Scouts. Hey, even if she scheduled three in a row, the way they handle things up at Camp Kaufman (and before that, at the more atmospherically named Camp Waneeshi) is to check the girls in on Sundays around 3 in the afternoon, sending everybody--even those pencilled in for the following week--back home around 5:30 on Friday. Then, you just repeat and go back on Sunday. Guess it gives the kids time to have their parents do their laundry. Whatever.

So Julie's gone now. There's a sense of peace and quiet pervading the premises that's calming yet eerily unsettling. After all, if I don't get sufficient work done this week, just WHO am I gonna blame? But in the end, it's a good deal for everybody. Julie, after all, LOVES camp, and in fact asked to go for as many weeks as we'd let her (AND be willing to pay for!...). She just basks in having other kids around her morning, noon, and night, a reaction, I suppose, to growing up as an only child. Hey, I was an only child, too, y'know! But I guess reading about the escapades of a pint-sized skin head named "Sluggo" just isn't enough for everybody, now is it?

Have fun kid, and see ya soon!...

July 14th, 2003

In the words of the immortal Gomer Pyle, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!!"

It happened just about 13 years ago. Dear wife Lynn was about 6 weeks from delivering our wonderful--and one and only--bundle of joy, daughter Julie. Why I decided that this, of all summers, was the proper one in which to throw my sweetie a surprise birthday party, I don't rightly know. Perhaps I was overcome by the emotions of the impending event and wanted to turn the entire season into one long magical interlude. Whatever. What I DIDN'T expect was that I'd be the one who got the REAL surprise...

Ever try throwing a surprise party? C'mon, you've seen 'em on TV--we all have. Of course, there they're over and done with in 30 minutes (minus commercials) When you attempt it in real life, it's a whole lot of work, and of course, much of it is of the furtive variety. This, I must admit, was actually quite fun for me, as I'm not usually called upon to be sneaky, but I surprisingly discovered that, if necessary, I indeed had a bit of a knack for it!?! (Gee, I sure hope that statement isn't used against me in court someday!?!...)

To mount such an event, one needs co-conspirators, and special mention should be given here to the two who helped me the most. One, naturally, was my mother-in-law, Terry. Although not overly enthused at the idea ("Why not just have a regular party?"), she nonetheless helped tremendously with the preparations and much of the cooking, specifically the delicious ceremonial birthday cake. Much of the rest of the menu was prepared by moi during the afternoons whilst Lynn was at work and then hurriedly taken across the street and stored about two blocks away at the garret-like apartment of the world renowned painter Joe Chiodo. Yes, THAT Joe Chiodo, fantasy fans. The amiable and talented brush man landed in my neck of the woods for about a year and a half prior to ultimately abandoning the area due to the (comparatively) harsh winter temperatures and headed back to his native California for warmth, fame, fortune, and his own happy little family. Everyone hereabouts was fond of Joe, and he proved invaluable in sequestering surreptitious salads!! Bet they never had you do THAT at Image Comics, pal!?!...

Anyway, here was the plan: Lynn's birthday fell on a Friday. Just coincidentally, one of those regularly scheduled checkups they give the pregnant ladies fell on that very afternoon. I figured as soon as we took off for the doc, Mom Moss could start letting the guests in, and they could while away the time waiting for our return practicing their jumping-out-and-yelling-surprise moves. The way I had it planned, after the routine check-up, I'd propose we go to a quiet dinner at her favorite local Chinese restaurant, but inasmuch as we were passing our house on the way out to eat, I'd suddenly suggest we stop off at the house due to a call from nature coming in on the priority line. Her being pregnant and all, my final ruse would be to suggest that she take the opportunity to use the facilities as well. As those of you familiar with ladies heavy with child will attest, trips to the potty usually occur systematically, like clockwork. So, we simply walk in the door, and then we're happily ambushed by the 20 or so folks I managed to engage in my little round of subterfuge. Good plan, huh? I thought so, too, but as it turned out, there was one person I didn't run my clever ideas by. That's right--the doctor...

We went into the examination room. Everything had been going just fine with the pregnancy up to this point, so pardon me if I figured this would all just be routine, and my mind was more on what I imagined what was then currently transpiring back at our home than on what the doctor was actually saying. That is, until he started to show some increasing concern about the situation..

"Your blood pressure has gone way up since your last visit, Lynn. I'd strongly advise you to stop going to work as of right now, because for the duration of this pregnancy, you need to rest, to remain calm, and TO AVOID EXCITEMENT!!!"

Well, thanks doc, thanks a LOT. No cake for YOU! Geez, you can imagine what MY reaction was to this diagnosis!?! I had me a house full of people just ready to leap out and--unbeknownst to them--most likely scare Lynn into breaking her water!?! What the heck was I gonna do? Oh sure, I could've told her the truth and prepared her for the onslaught, but that just didn't seem, well, right. All that preparation and all, y'know? I mean, when do you ever get to REALLY pull off a surprise party? It ain't easy, and if you blow it once, well, from that point on, you're ALWAYS under suspicion. No second chances, pal. So no, perhaps a bit selfishly, I didn't say anything. However, I should note that, due to the sawbones's pronouncement, my own anticipatory emotions had veered sharply from the expected glee to an overridingly dull nerve-racking dread..


Yes, she was.

No, nothing bad came of it.

Yes, it was a delightful party.

No, I haven't attempted it since.

And yes, today is again Lynn's birthday--happy birthday, darlin'! And as long as I don't scare the bejeebers outta you, here's wishing you many, many more!!

July 12th, 2003

If only Paul Lynde were still alive!!...

With the plethora of big-budget films being extracted from the vast canon of Marvel Comics properties, it's only a matter of time before some enterprising producer snaps up the recent--and notorious--RAWHIDE KID "Slap Leather" limited series written by Ron Zimmerman and drawn by John Severin, and who better to slip into the Kid's togs than the late funnyman most renowned for his oh-so-gay delivery of double-entendres whilst ensconced in the center of "The Hollywood Square's" three-dimensional game board?" Okay, maybe he didn't have the BODY for the part, but he most certainly had the attitude--you hear me girlfriend?

All right, I'll admit it--I put off reading this now infamous project for awhile due to the trepidation I felt from all the publicity it garnered. "Hey kids! The Rawhide Kid is GAY!?!" This revelation got the ol' ranny into Jay Leno's monolog, but would it get him back in the hearts of us oldtimers? Truth is, I might well have passed on the whole thing entirely if not for the legendary John Severin being attached to it. Now I'm grateful I didn't, because, much to my surprise, I loved it! Loved it loved it LOVED IT!

Please understand that as many phobias as I might have--and there are a passel--homophobia has never been one of them. That aspect of the project never bothered me nearly as much as it seemed to stick in the craw of a lot of other aging fan-boys ("fan-men"?...) Okay, perhaps having someone of the stature of, say, a Reed Richards come out of the closet may've been a bit jarring, if only for the overall implications to long set-in-stone comics history, but in the Marvel Pantheon, the Kid falls somewhere in the gap between Irving Forbush and Willie Lumpkin, so go ahead fellas, have fun! My concern was that was this going to be demeaning, stupid, and not at all funny? Well, occasionally, it WAS stupid--though in a humorous way--but my other fears came to naught.

The basic plot has farmer-turned sheriff, Matt Morgan, fall victim to Cisco Pike and his gang, reduced to a coward in the eyes of his young son and the town he's pledged to protect, saved from death only by the timely intervention of the Rawhide Kid. The Kid eventually rejects the outlaw gang's overtures and instead signs on temporarily as the Sheriff's deputy. This all leads to a climactic confrontation and a restoration of faith. In other words, your typical garden variety western tale. The fun, y'see, is all in the details, particularly the Kid's pitch-perfect dialog.

Sure, there's a certain amount of stereotypical aspects to be found in the Kid's banter, but really, when dealing with gay characters in a comedic manner, when ISN'T there? Importantly, the joke never seemed to be ON our protagonist, but resided in the fact that while the rest of the characters seemed to be mostly oblivious to the Kid's non-mainstream proclivities, we readers were in on the cowboy's sly little secret.. And despite the brazen warning plastered across each cover--"Parental Advisory Explicit Content"--you'd probably find racier material on a rerun of "Will and Grace" broadcast during the dinner hour!?! Johnny Bart may be gay this time out (no pun intended) but for the duration of this story, at least, our color-coordinated cowpoke remains happily celibate. Those of you anticipating Roman-style orgies will be sadly disappointed, but those looking for a good-natured hero to inspire and entertain, well, YOU'VE come to the right place!

Because while the Kid is portrayed with decidedly super-human fighting and shooting abilities--just as he was in the more demure Lee/Kirby run back in '61 and '62--he acts matter-of-fact regarding his breathtaking abilities, never arrogant. Plus, he always does the right thing, and always for admirable reasons. What separates our boy from a wooden, 1958-type variety super-hero is the playfully bitchy tone his dialog takes! He may get exasperated at times, but he never acts mean. Truth is, compared to various retoolings so many longtime iconic characters have suffered through these past two decades, the Rawhide Kid comes through his modest little relaunch as a far more appealing character than a majority of the poor saps who had all sorts of slings and arrows thrust upon them before they could be reintroduced to the public. Remember when poor ol' Hal Jordan killed a pedestrian while driving drunk? Or Hawkman, the hopeless druggie? Geez--and fans get upset because an old western star they barely considered part of Marvel history was retroactively declared homosexual? As Mr. Bart himself would say, "PLEASE!"

Not everything works. For instance, I could've done without all the barely veiled send-ups of the likes of George W. Bush, Don Knotts, Ed Asner, the Cartwright brothers and other assorted real-life --or reel-life--personalities cluttering up the proceedings, mostly just taking me out of the environment so skillfully built by Zimmerman and Severin. However, despite this qualm, there's a scene near the end of the first issue that absolutely had me guffawing, and it dealt with various famous wild west personages. Y'see, a group of star-struck kids follow our famous gunslinger back to his campfire, and before long, they're quizzing the red-headed ranny regarding his contemporaries, a discussion our boy is more than happy to partake in. Yes, they're gossiping! About the Lone Ranger the Kid offers: "I think the mask and powder blue outfit are fantastic. I can certainly see why that Indian follows him around." Then, in the next panel, he's asked, "Mr. Rawhide, did you ever meet Billy the Kid?", to which he scrunches up his face as if he's smelling a dead polecat and replies tersely, "Met him. DIDN'T like him. End of story."

Whether or not all this would've worked as well in the hands of any other artist besides the supremely talented Mr. Severin, we'll never know, but I suspect it'd be plumb difficult finding someone as uniquely qualified to bring this particular farce to life. Drawing equally on his past work illustrating countless Atlas western comics in the late fifties and the subsequent decades of cartooning for CRACKED magazine in the years since, John Severin brings a welcome degree of familiarity to the character and the genre combined with the seasoned ability to graphically put over a joke. And most impressively, Severin is able to embellish Zimmerman's bon mots with the just the right expression, subtly nuanced but never over the top. A less skilled penciller might've went broad (you should pardon the expression) on some of Rawhide's lines, thereby eroding the central character's dignity, and encouraging the reader to laugh AT him, not WITH him. Thankfully, that's NOT the way it got came across. Yeah, I suppose they could've done this series without Severin, but I doubt it would've seemed anywhere near as good.

Could they have done this series without the Rawhide Kid himself? After all, that was the argument I often heard from naysayers before the book debuted--"Why not just make up a character out of whole cloth (preferably leather) and not mess with an established one?" Well, maybe, but honestly, would anyone have CARED had Marvel issued a press release saying their new cowboy, The Leather Kid, was gay? I don't think so. They needed the stunt aspect of it for it to work, I'm convinced of that now. They're just lucky it DID work. A great deal of credit goes to scripter Ron Zimmerman for that. As I said, the book made me laugh out loud several times, and believe me when I tell you that's not a common occurrence whence reading. Why, he even provided for a great curtain laugh, the kind you see in a good movie where a minor but distinctive member of the cast suddenly turns up at the eleventh hour in a new and wholly unexpected role. Without blowing the joke, this hilarious transformation can be spotted in a full page crowd scene towards the end of the last issue, and really left me laughing! Kudos to Zimmerman! I'm gonna have to watch for his stuff in the future. Already he's written a whole lot funnier piece than that OTHER Zimmerman--Bob--ever did!?...

Great art I expected. Laughs aplenty and lovable characters--who'd a' thot? Try it folks. To quote the immortal Flintstones theme, "You'll have a gay old time!"

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

July 9th, 2003

I've always been impressed with the writing of Bruce Jones. His work spinning short stories for Warren's horror anthologies in the seventies made him a worthy peer--virtually the only one, I'd wager--of predecessor Archie Goodwin and EC Comics legend Al Feldstein in that deceptively difficult area of comics creativity. After those three, who else was there, really?

As wonderful an accomplishment as that may've been, there was one, even more extraordinary feat the gent managed, and for that, we have to go back to the now-distant days when I faithfully if more than occasionally begrudgingly read each and every comic put out by both Marvel and DC. In all those many, long, long years, Bruce Jones was the only man who ever--EVER!!--inspired me to utter the following almost impossible to fathom sequence of sentences:" Oboy! Look! A new issue of KA-ZAR is out!! I just can't wait to read it!!" Which is why, despite my recent malaise regarding new comics, about which I've blathered on several times here in the past, despite this blase attitude, I've been faithfully purchasing his recent run helming Marvel's good ol' INCREDIBLE HULK title. And y'know what? This past week, I even got around to finally reading them!?!...

21 issues, to be exact--number 34 of the (obviously) renumbered series right on up through number 54. (I have two additional issues on hand, but the reason I have yet to read these pair of stragglers will be dealt with anon.) I had been reading various DC Archive editions almost exclusively in recent months, but all the publicity surrounding the new Hulk flick (which, no, I still haven't seen yet. I'll be sure and tell you when I do, worry not) combined with maybe just one too many dopey Golden Age Black Canary tales inspired me to instead spend some time with a book I'd been hearing a fair amount of peripheral buzz about. ( Understand that if I know I'm going to eventually read--or view--something, I try my level best to stay away from specifics concerning the material so as not to diffuse any enjoyment various surprise aspects might hold. In other words, don't tell me how it ends, okay?) Plus, these books didn't look like they'd take all that long to plow through, y'know? Hey, if I DIDN'T wind up liking 'em, at least I wouldn't have wasted very much time on 'em, right?...

Along the way, I learned something fairly startling about comics in the 21st century, Marvel Comics at least. Seems you can't read 'em the way we used to read 'em back when I was growing up in the sixties. Just try following this series on a monthly basis as the issues are issued, and brother, you're bound to be hopelessly confused awful quickly. Continued stories have long been a trademark of the House of Ideas, sure, but the way THESE Hulk comics are structured goes way beyond the nature of serials past. Each issue, you see, is designed as a chapter of a larger story arc, an arc that's clearly intended to be collected in either a hard or soft cover book collection (or maybe both if it's popular enough) This would be right on the heels of the 32 pagers initial publication, mind you. Since the Marvel Masterplan seems to be to please the random Barnes and Noble customer more so than the faithful comics shop patron, any attempts at recapping what went before--that subtle literary art writers once needed to master before they could successfully oversee an ongoing series--is nowhere to be found.

Mind you, I don't blame this on Jones. He's obviously giving Marvel exactly what they want--6, 5, and 4 issue arcs that they can seamlessly slip into larger, more lucrative packages that make for exciting extended scenarios. After all, what does the fellow who plunks down his thirty bucks need with tiresome, usually awkward recapped exposition forced unnaturally into the mouths of the tome's protagonists if he in fact has that very last sequence right there at hand, hmm? My buddy Rocco Nigro knew better than to shell out any cash for the first ten issues of Jones tenure. Instead, he forked over the 3 Hamiltons for the nice glitzy package, sans ads, but still comprising the first 6 John Romita Jr./Tom Palmer issues as well as the following 4 issue sequence by Lee Weeks/Tom Palmer, and he's happy as a clam. (Please, no Aquaman jokes, Vinny!...) Conversely, I know a long time reader (no names please) who stubbornly adheres to his deeply ingrained reading habits. Meaning, he reads each Hulk comic when it comes out, and then inevitably complains that he can't remember what happened in the last issue, and that there were no attempts at filling in what came before for the forgetful reader nor even a cursory introduction of the cast.

He has a point. What if some kid goes to the Ang Lee Hulk movie and is then inspired to run out and pick up a Stan Lee Hulk comic (hey, it COULD happen)? And this is what he gets--one of more than a handful of Jones issues in his now two year run in which the big green galoot doesn't appear on more than a single page! Instead, our new potential fan finds himself smack dab in the middle of a never-ending story concerning Bruce Banner's attempts to clear himself of a crime he didn't commit while on the run? Think HE'LL come back for more? Only if the Hulk was sharing a double feature with "The Fugitive" folks!!

To their credit, I must add, Marvel must've belatedly realized at least a small portion of this problem, since, commencing with the 47th issue (Jones 14th), they began including a detailed page providing all the necessary information a newcomer would need to (somewhat) comfortably jump in with both feet. But apparently it took them just over a year to come up with this fairly basic idea.

You just can't read comics like you did in the olden days. Uh uh. You can take the Rocco approach--"Just the deluxe editions, please"--or you can be like me, showing restraint, waiting for the issues to pile up, and various sequences to conclude (and that's why I haven't read those last two Hulks I still have on hand--haveta wait til the arc is done, don'tcha know?) But even with the recap page starting things off, you can't read 'em monthly. That way leads madness. The intro section is nice if it's your very first issue, but otherwise, if you don't wait for the overall story to end, well, it's probably gonna lose a whole lot of it's impact. And while Jones' story ain't exactly a world beater, it'd be a shame not to be able to fully appreciate the seasoned craft that went in to spinning it...

Ah yes, the stories. Or should I say, "story"? Because after 21 separate editions, we're pretty much dealing with one big slowly enfolding scenario. Key word--"slowly". Bruce Banner is on the run. He's wanted for the murder of a child, a victim of one of his emerald alter ego's mindless rampages. Only he discovers he didn't do it, the kid's still alive, but being held as a human pawn by a shadowy organization whose main desire is to capture the Hulk so that they might have access to his gamma irradiated blood for their own nefarious experiments. Stuart Immonen and Scott Koblish provide the art for the third arc, running six issues, followed by five issues illustrated by Mike Deodato Jr., the sum total of which will undoubtedly comprise what will certainly be Rocco's next hardcover purchase.

The artwork is top notch throughout. Even Deodato--an artist who I'd never really warmed up to--comes through nicely. The other three pencillers are longtime favorites--though I don't think Weeks generally gets enough credit from folks for his continuously strong work--and all deliver the goods. Freed of the necessity of drawing overly muscled specimens in garish tight fitting outfits, each of the illustrators seem to comfortably relax and provide real purty pictures dealing with their mostly naturalistic subject matter. Oh sure, they each have to draw a really big green guy once in awhile, but you'd be surprised just how infrequently the titular star of the book turns up in the almost two dozen issues at hand. Fact is, the very last one in the fourth story arc, #54, is the only issue that even comes close to featuring the Jade Giant on more than half the books pages!?! Guess that's what happens when you engage in a climactic battle with our old pal, the Abomination. Of course, most of the chapters leading up to that tussle dealt with skinny ol' Bruce getting to be real friendly-like--and I DO mean friendly--with the ex-Mrs. Abomination, affording the final confrontation between the Gruesome Green Goliaths a bit more, ah, juice than previous encounters might've provided. The whole love (lust?...)triangle aspect--a longtime Bruce Jones trademark, utilized in a rather novel manner herein. Bruce Banner--stud. Who'd a thought it?...

The casual brutality found throughout the series did wear me down after awhile, but so what else is new? Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you gotta, but must there be a double digit body count in every doggone issue? Does a bad guy have to kill an innocent bystander every month? Or maybe slay a slew of his or her own subordinates just to prove how massively evil he or she is? And in a world populated with so many heartless killers, are we really to believe that, after all these years, the authorities are finally going after the Hulk full force because a kid was (supposedly) killed by some falling debris from one of his fortnightly rampages? I mean, everybody else is out and about drilling folks who stumble into their paths though their respective foreheads, and yet it's the big green guy everyone's after? Because, we're implicitly led to believe, in all the years of Hulking out, this little fellow is the first fatality caused by his wanton mindless destruction? Maybe I could buy that conceit in a 1967 Stan Lee classic where the alleged murder would've been the tale's sole act of (supposed) violence, but in this era of relentless bloodshed, it seems almost hypocritical to get worked over a small act of manslaughter (and, as we eventually found out, it wasn't even that). The cops should be hunting down all those serial killers the Shadow Organization has on their payroll, not poor ol' Doc Banner!?! Agh--there's just too much violence in comics these days--there's just too much violence EVERYWHERE these days! Yup, it's confirmed--I'm an old guy!...

A few words about the covers by Kaare Andrews: they're wonderful! A few more: they're highly imaginative and at times, even whimsical. The logo is creatively twisted around each and every month, and while a fair share look like what you might readily expect a Hulk cover to look like--albeit really well done--there always seems to be a curve coming round the bend when this talented artist composes cover scenes featuring the Green Gamma Guy in various homages to the likes of Steranko, Norman Rockwell, the "Apocalypse Now" poster art, kid's sugar coated cereal boxes, and--my favorite--children's book superstar, Maurice Sendak!?! The art is beautifully realized, and sometimes it's the only clear look the reader gets of the Hulk that particular month! Hey Rocco--if they ain't including these in your fancy-schmancy hardcovers, you're getting gypped, buddy!?!

So, did I like Bruce Jones Hulk? Well, yeah, I suppose so. I liked his CREEPY and EERIE stories better, but that was when I was younger and less jaded (no pun intended), so who knows how that fits into the equation? The thing reads well enough, it keeps moving and it holds your interest. I'll say this--I've never read a Hulk series like it, and whether that's for better or worse depends on your expectations. If you're looking for the sort of child-like monster and the mindless mayhem that exemplified the Trimpe era, well, you're bound to be disappointed. But Jones is still a talented writer, and this is a good, if not great comic. How does his take stack up against Hulk writers of the past you might ask? Well, if someone were to say to me, " Fred, would you kindly tell me what your all time favorite Hulk era was?", my answer would invariably be "Do I HAVE to?" Frankly, the Grumpy Giant has never been a fave rave of mine, and I've only followed his antics over the years because A.)he's a true Marvel icon, and B.)for a long time, I was a truly compulsive comics reader. I'm not anymore, and I guess the fact that I'd still, despite all my above quoted qualms, be interested in reading more Bruce Jones HULKs, well, that says it all! (,,yeah--that I'm becoming compulsive again!...)

Now I think I'll get back to the rest of those Black Canary stories if you don't mind. I wanna see if she uses her special power to talk to birds again! Gosh, that Bob Kanigher had such crazy ideas!...

July 7th, 2003

Admittedly, he wasn't my first, he won't be my last, and while he certainly wasn't my everything, I, along with most folks of my vintage, have my own fond memories of the late Barry White, surely one of the greatest and most uniquely sensuous soul singers of this or any other generation. Can I help it if my prime recollection of the man is just a tad bit more... peculiar than most?...

Oh, I was there when the Low Voice of Love chalked up such unforgettable hits as "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up", "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love", and "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More" back in the seventies--and yes, I do own a fairly comprehensive greatest hits CD--but what comes to mind when I think of the imposing baritone was something that occurred a good ten years after his initial peak as a chartbusting star. And it happened, of all places, on the old "Late Night With David Letterman" program...

It was 1984 or 1985. Dave's show was still new and fresh, still broadcast by NBC, and still on at 12:30 AM. All manner of absurd running gags permeated the proceedings, one of which was the recurring promise by the show's host to tune in to an always indeterminate future episode that would spotlight "Camping With Barry White Night"!?! A wacky concept in and of itself, one never truly expected the show to follow through on this silly notion. Just mentioning it was worthy of a laugh or two, and I'd just bet the Letterman producers never thought they'd ever get the ultra-cool White to play along with such a silly scenario, but to the surprise of all, they did. And as memorable as the actual show was, it was the circumstances under which I watched it that seared it into my memory forevermore...

Between the time my mom died in 1983 and my dad subsequently passed away later in 1987, I, as an only child, would drive the three hours down to the old homestead to provide my father with a little company for a few days every 3 to 6 weeks. Now, already in his eighties at the time, dad was not, nor had he probably ever been, a hip guy. I certainly don't profess to be cutting edge, but compared to Fred Senior, uh huh--yes, I was. Yet, dad always liked comedy, and it was one of the few areas where we came anywhere close to sharing tastes. We both enjoyed the talk show format, and found the groundbreaking antics of Steve Allen to be particularly funny. However, as I grew older, my sensibilities in entertainment veered sharply towards the rock and roll attitude, while his stayed firmly in the Vegas arena. Ironically, I've belatedly come to appreciate the Rat Pack ethos (while maintaining a rock solid love of rock, mind you), but I hadn't yet developed that appreciation back when the old fella was still alive. And I really couldn't imagine he was at all equipped to fully enjoy the then-radical ironic detachment of David Letterman. But, there we were, just hanging out after a fairly long New York Mets game one fine evening, and instead of hitting the sack as he usually did, dad decided to stay up after Johnny Carson ended and find out just what all the fuss was about this new guy he'd been reading about in the papers...

Understand that for whatever reason, I always felt a little bit uncomfortable viewing something geared to the younger generation with my dad. His befuddlement at what transpired up on the screen was usually audible, and if I reacted positively to something he didn't get, well, that reaction all the more added to his confusion. Mind you, he wasn't nasty about it, just non-plussed at this new brand of show biz shenanigans. He'd mumble something about not getting it, and expect me to explain it to him. I in turn mumbled something non-committal back, and sat there just dreading the next cross examination. And the night we finally watched Letterman together, well, guess what the main feature was?...

Yup, it was "Camping With Barry White Night". When Dave announced this at the outset of the show, the audience, primed for this event for days, maybe even weeks, howled as if it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. Dad didn't understand--why was everyone laughing so hard? I explained the running gag as best I could, but soon I was facing an even tougher task--just who WAS Barry White anyway? And just where was the humor in seeing a large black man with a deep sinuous voice cavorting around a makeshift set of tents with several of the show's regulars over on stage left throughout the entirety of the episode? But dad ultimately proved to be a good sport and went along with this silliness, forcing a bemused chuckle here and there. The real problem for the two generations of Hembecks wasn't Barry serenading the group around a faux campfire, but instead was the stand-up comic making his Letterman debut that eventful night. BobCat Goldthwait. Yes, BobCat Goldthwait.

He had long stringy hair, bloodshot eyes virtually popping out of his head, and that exaggerated, nails-on-a-chalkboard voice he's long employed in delivering his material. And, oh, the material!! Drugs, sex, and rock and roll--all spewed out in a far rawer manner than even I was used to at that point in comedic history. With each taboo testing gag, I shrunk further and further down into my seat, my dad sitting over my left shoulder slightly behind me on his couch. I couldn't bear to look. Barry White telling ghost stories to some extras--maybe that I had a chance to explain, if only barely, but THIS?? I probably would've been more uncomfortable taking in a screening of "Deep Throat" with my pop, but only slightly. Y'know, I don't think he said much of anything about BobCat's spot ( a comedian who, incidentally, became more and more mainstream each time I saw him in the years that followed), but I do recall that when, at show's end, Dave gathered all his guests around his cheesy tent set-up for a singalong, and Goldthwait belatedly came out to join the group, dad pointed at the screen excitedly and said, "Look! There's that guy again!" Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, I wasn't asking. I was just happy the show was finally over and, mercifully, I could go to bed.

Here's the honest to gosh true postscript: about a year later, on another visit, we once again were up late and once again dad was ready for more fun after Johnny, Ed, and Doc were done. He never stayed up that late on his own, but he seemed to enjoy maintaining my nocturnal hours, if only for a few days at a time. Apparently then, his last brush with Letterman hadn't deterred him from taking in another episode. Only, believe it or not, and I ain't lyin'--IT WAS THE VERY SAME EXACT EPISODE!?! Yipes! I almost immediately realized this somewhat distressing fact, but dad didn't care. He was primed to watch it, and by golly, watch it we did. Again. Somehow, it didn't seem quite so stressful the second time through, but in truth, I could've easily done without the repeat. Especially when BobCat took the stage...

Reflecting back on that broadcast, what I think I learned upon it's immediate viewing was that not only was Barry White a fine musician, but an awful good sport as well to let them goof on him so thoroughly. And after writing this I realize my dad took in this strange exhibition a whole lot more good naturedly than I initially gave him credit for. Hey, he wouldn't have watched it twice if he didn't find SOME humor in the whole "Camping With Barry White" bit, y'know?

Well, as noted earlier, dad went off to those camp grounds in the sky quite a few years back. The great Barry White, sadly, has finally joined him. He will be missed.

Dave? He suffered almost as dire a fate. He's on CBS these days...

July 4th, 2003

Happy Birthday, America!

I trust you all had a fine time celebrating the fourth of July? I did. As always, given half a chance to party, I try my best to make the most of it. Yup, I'm one of those folks who just loves the ritualistic traditions of holidays, ANY holidays!!

And why not? Some folks I know take the position that one day is just as good as another, they're all the same anyhow, so why bother to make one out to be any different, any better, than any other? Well, okay, that may well be true--but it's also BORING. Bee oh are eye en gee. Boring. So what if somebody sometime somewhere for some reason decreed that it was duly time to celebrate Presidents of the past and that day would come every February? Was that such a bad idea? I ask you, does it really kill us to, once a year, put on a white-powdered wing, chop down a cherry tree, and stand up precariously in a boat? No, not at all! I say it's the least any of us can do!

Why, I know a handful of curmudgeon's who are sound asleep way before Dick Clark presides over the dropping of the ball each New Year's Eve, Rockin' or otherwise. The only tree these sourpusses have at Christmas are in their front yards. Gosh, they won't buy even a dollar's worth of teeth-rotting candy to dispense to neighborhood children on Halloween, sweet little youngsters they'd otherwise never get to see. They purposely dine on lasagna on the third Thursday of every November, stay out of the shadows on Groundhog's Day, and never even tune in--much less make a pledge to--the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day!?! Come on people--have some FUN! Yeah, I know a lot of holiday traditions seem silly and arbitrary--is it really necessary to play a Frank Zappa record every Mother's Day, for instance?--but that's part of their charm! There are enough non-holidays on the calendar, after all--why not savor the ones available to you?

Me? I spent most of this day in the pool with Lynn, her mom, Julie, and her friend Courtney. Being that the mercury topped 90 degrees, this was indeed the proper plan of action. And while poolside, I blasted the Beach Boys out of the boom box, as listening to those magical melodies is in itself a July 4th tradition. Proving the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, Julie, of her very own volition (while using my money for the ingredients, natch) baked a cake to celebrate the day, and gaudily decorated it with, yes, red, white and blue icing!?! AND the two girls stopped just long enough to watch, appropriately, "Independence Day"!! Hey, tell you what--if I get a chance later, I hope to sneak a Captain America comic into MY busy schedule...

As far as fireworks go, well, there are none in this area tonight, but come Sunday evening, we plan to go and view a local display in the next town over. I never did go in for the illegal sort, I hasten to add, the kind you blow up your very own self. For one thing, I'm not overly enamored of really loud noises really close up, and additionally, I've always been inordinately fond of all ten of my fingers, so not for me, see?

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go cue up some patriotic tunes. Hmm--Simon and Garfunkel's "America" is the first one that comes to mind...

July 2nd, 2003

I felt a little bit guilty going into that library the other day and nosing all around. But I'm glad I did.

As you can probably imagine, I've got my very own collection of books here at the Hembeck homestead, and I'm not just talking about the comical variety. Please understand, try as I might, there's an awful lot of 'em that've NEVER been read--and who knows what the odds are of them ever BEING read--so the LAST thing I need to do is visit my local library and make some additional withdrawals. But I did, and, like I said, I'm glad.

Y'see, Julie was returning some texts she'd needed for final exams, and it being a miserable, rainy day and all (have I mentioned the excessive precipitation we've been getting in these parts recently? Oh,I have...) she decided she wanted to go in and browse awhile. Okay with me. This brought back some nice memories--the two of us used to go for story hour each and every week back when she 3, 4, and 5 years old. But since we moved to this area just before first grade commenced, our library visits have come rarely and then only out of necessity.

Julie's almost thirteen now, so we soon found ourselves in the Young Adults section. After perusing the offerings--Julie chose two to take out--we visited, just for old times sake, the Children's area. My thoroughly adolescent child got some thoroughly adolescent giggles when she happened across a picture book attempting ever so gently to explain just exactly where babies come from to very small children. Lotsa yocks. After the cheap chuckles had subsided, we wandered into the aisles of stacks, and the plain letters printed on the spine of a large book suddenly caught my eye. It read, simply, "Bill Peet An Autobiography".

Now most of the biographical information you'll find in this section is of the Benjamin Franklin--Harriet Tubman--Justin Timberlake variety. An autobiography in it's own self seems somehow incongruous, especially one written by someone who's name isn't immediately recognizable. But somehow, the moniker sounded vaguely familiar, and purely out of curiosity if nothing else, I reached up and took it down off the shelf.

I may be an expert of sorts concerning the wild and wacky world of comic books (I said I MAY be--I'm making no definitive claims here), but aside from a deep and abiding love of SpongeBob SquarePants and the Simpsons, one thing I'll never purport to be is any sort of authority on the field of animation. If I were, I wouldn't have been so surprised by what I found. A quick skim of the book I now held in my hands provided evidence that this Mr. Peet had had a long and celebrated career working for none other than Walt Disney himself. And the large type accompanying the drawings (at least one on each and every page) proved that, though written for a younger audience, our erstwhile animator wasn't pulling any punches when it came to depicting the many--and often sour--moods of his former boss, the legendary Mr. D.

Yeah, I said "former". Turns out our young Mr. Peet joined the Mouse Factory in 1937 at age 22, staying 27 years until finally leaving in 1964. During his last few years there, he began what became an incredibly successful career writing and illustrating his own children's books (Julie and I probably read any number of them back when we regularly patronized the local library, accounting for the deja vu regarding the name) In all, he had 35 published before his death at 87 in 2002. This biography, a Caldecott Honor Award Winner, came out in 1989.

His Disney career started at the lowliest of positions, in-betweening Donald Duck shorts, and culminated with extensive writing and artistic contributions to "101 Dalmatians", "The Sword in the Stone", and "The Jungle Book". There are plenty of anecdotes about the many Disney classics that fell in between those signposts as well. And always, there's Walt. The complex Mr. Disney turns up often in the book, such as on the page I've reproduced below, found midway through the tome--and midway through Peet's career. While keeping things suitable for the children's audience he had by then successfully built up, Peet certainly didn't sugarcoat matters much either...
All in all, it proved to be a quick but fascinating read, one I heartily recommend to anyone even mildly interested in animation, or the creative process in general. I learned a great deal about what things were like in the pioneering days of animated cartoons, and how one man's artistic ability seemed to just grow and organically lead him through various different phases of a long and fruitful career. Y'know, if Julie were only a little bit younger, maybe we'd go on back and look into some of his other titles. Heck, maybe I will anyway--after all, can a guy who reads as many comics as I do truly claim he's outgrown children's books? I mean, really?

I'll just have to draw the line at attending story hours, okay?...

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