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Journeying Through Some Old Mystery/Horror Comics, Part 1 April 8, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Books, Cats.
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I recently bought a boatload of old 1960s-1970s Gold Key horror/mystery comic book scans from this guy’s online store, and have been plowing through them.

It’s been a lot of childhood nostalgia, as well as a lot of memory-poking of old stories and the actual old comic books I’ve got boxed up & totally unorganized (perhaps a summer project might be going through them all & fixing that). The actual copies of these things are pretty tough to find and aren’t too cheap, so the digitized deal is quite the good one, if you enjoy this sort of crap.

And I certainly do!

I started out reading the complete run of the Dark Shadows series, all 35 of ’em. I have one actual issue of the thing, bought by my mom since we were both fans of the actual show at the time, and it disappointed both of us.

And in reading the rest, the reasons for that disappointment so many years ago still stand – while the Gold Key DS series reproduces a few of the characters from the show & utilizes vampire/werewolf/witchcraft plotlines, it doesn’t have the tone of the show at all. The art is also poor – the only character who looks like her TV counterpart is Joan Bennett’s Elizabeth. Barnabas the vampire is the main character & hero of the thing, but Julia’s role from the TV show is reduced to nothing, and Angelique only turns up a few times to torment him as a ghost. And they don’t look anything like Grayson Hall and Lara Parker, nor does Barnabas look like Jonathan Frid.

Later comic book versions of the thing I perused on Amazon are far truer to the look & feel of the 1966 TV series, and anything beats the forced campiness of the Tim Burton movie. I trudged through them, a couple of the stories weren’t too bad, but overall, weak tea.

Then I started on two different comics I had a few issues of back in the day – The Twilight Zone and Ripley’s True Ghost Stories. Both of these titles began in the early 1960s and ended around 1980 or so.

The T-Zones have a wider range of stories, from offbeat scifi to eerie revenge tales, similar to the TV show. A comic Rod Serling serves as narrator, and while the art is generic, there are clear attempts by the artists to crib the look of some characters from familiar faces of TV actors who you’d expect to turn up on the show. While many of the stories are formulaic and hit a real dead spot in the mid 1970s before recovering somewhat before the title ended, a lot of them are pretty good. Much like the show, you can categorize the stories into various sub-genres: someone changes identity (either via clothes, bodies, faces, masks, etc) and things go right or more often wrong; someone gets wishes granted and things go wrong; someone enters the past/alternate dimension/reality and must escape;weird unreal stuff happens to someone ordinary and then we find out we’re not in an ordinary world, a la “Eye of the Beholder,” etc.

The Ripley’s stories are all along similar lines – someone in the present or the past comes across some place that’s haunted, some local or creepy caretaker tells them the sad story of some wrongful death that resulted in the ghost, and they either GTFO or find a way to put the spirit to rest. The best of these are either the creepiest, such as one tale of a voodoo shaman with a sugar cane harvesting zombie army who try to dig their way back into their own graves, or ones where the “believe it or not” aspect is most likely true – like the story of two graverobbers who accidentally revive the “corpse” whose jewels they try to steal – a young woman who then returns home after being mistaken for dead and several years later gives birth to Sir Walter Scott.

I’m moving through the Grimm’s Ghost Stories series and the Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery ones now, more on those later. In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite stories from the collection so far… read it & you’ll see why I’ve always liked it.  It’s written (uncredited) by the legendary comic writer Len Wein. Link to PDF: A Thing About Cats

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Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Robin Yount (Fleer) March 21, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Not sure what the graphic designers of this beauty were thinking. “Let’s give Robin a longer neck, and put him into a CONCEPT LANDSCAPE! I can SEE IT NOW!!!! A UNIVERSE OF BASEBALLS!!!! With Robin Yount, all-star shortstop, first ballot hall of famer, SURVEYING THE PLANETARY UNIVERSE OF BASEBALLS LIKE A HAPPY GREEK GOD…”

Seriously, wtf is up with this card?

I like the idea of surrealist influenced baseball card art, though. They should have done more of it, or hired Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and so forth to design their cards. Yount’s ’92 Fleer bizarro card reminds me of Dali’s Galatea with all those floating spheres, maybe a little of a Magritte sky of fluffy clouds.

Or just replace that green apple in front of the guy’s face with a baseball, perhaps.

Baseball cards would be a lot more interesting if they were done in styles of great artists and well known paintings. A team photo staged as Velazquez’ “Las Meninas.” Michaelangelo’s God giving life to Adam as one of those “Casey Teaches” type cards with Reggie Jackson in heaven with the ’77 Yanks touching Aaron Judge’s finger in Eden. Perhaps Clayton Kershaw could pose as the “Dodger Blue Boy.”

I’d start buying bubblegum packs again, for what that’s worth.

 

A Rainy Day Post March 21, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General.
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Gustave_Caillebotte_-_Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day_-_Google_Art_Project

What I assume will be the final big ol’ rainstorm for this rainy season in SoCal is underway. I’ll get about 5 inches where I live (which is what Stormy Daniels said, HIYO!) but some of those burn areas are gonna get a lot more, and mudslides loom. Ugh.

Earlier this year, I had my drains retrofitted and added a back-up drain line from low laying yard to street, one that would NOT pass through a rather invasive network of pepper tree roots. Last year’s version of this storm only lasted 1 day and not 2 like this one will, but it produced a small lake in my backyard that I do not want repeated. I look forward to my new system passing this test. Though being EXTRA PARANOID, I also have the back-up safety valve option of this pump ready to go, if somehow the roots previously clogging my gutter drains all grew back in the last couple of months.

My freeway drive in this mess won’t be as pleasant as Caillebotte’s pleasant stroll through Paris. I love how he gets the little puddles between the cobblestones, especially versus the shine on the sidewalk, and the overall cloudy/rainy day dullness of the colors.

Take five minutes, JUST FIVE LOUSY MINUTES, COME ON, DAMN YOU, and watch this:

 

It’s a lot less crowded than my drive home will be.

An Artist For A Friday: Raoul Dufy March 16, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art.
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vence-1923

“Venice 1923” by Raoul Dufy

Dufy (1877-1953) was a wonderful painter of bright and colorful scenes. Go to different sites and see how he’s categorized in all sorts of different ways since he mixes styles and doesn’t go through set time periods where he concentrates on any one, a la Picasso. He mixes elements of Post-Impressionism with Fauvism and Cubism, along with tell-tale influences of other artists like Monet, Matisse, and Pissarro.

Look at those those trees in the Venice painting and you’ll see the Van Gogh in him.  I love the universe depicted in his Venice. I love how the buildings appear stacked upon each other in false perspective, the way a Medieval town would be depicted in a Medieval painting before true mathematical linear perspective was developed.  Only the colors wouldn’t be so bright and lively. I love the simple wavy lines of the clouds, something I’d expect in a watercolor by a 2nd grader. And I love the feel of it all, a depiction of Venice from the outside, emphasizing ground and trees and greenery and buildings, instead of what we always see and always expect – canals, bridges and gondolas. The only hint of a canal here bends around the city, as a border of sorts – and it’s in the distance.

I want to go there right now and eat pasta and drink wine and pet Italian cats. Thanks, Raoul.

He’s got lots more to show you, too. Enjoy.

Let’s Hear It For Cris Shapan February 25, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Art, Movies, Music, Television.
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Perhaps while surfing online,  you’ve come across some amazingly campy magazine cover, or album cover, maybe it was a pulp book from a long-ago celeb and couldn’t believe it existed…

Well, that’s because it probably doesn’t, except in the work of graphic artist Cris Shapan.

I highly recommend following Shapan’s Facebook Page where he regularly posts this stuff, as well as his Funny Or Die page.

The style of humor reminds me a lot of Drew Friedman, who loves to pick out his favorite childhood celebrities and illustrate them all too realistically in bizarre settings. Check out “Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets” for example.

I’m surprised he doesn’t maintain some sort of regular website containing all this stuff, it looks like he’s content to use Facebook. My other theory is that this guy clearly gets his jollies posting this stuff & then kicking back to watch people repost it thinking it’s real. Shapan’s handle on the recognizable & realistic graphic designs of the stuff he’s goofing on from yesteryear is amazing. The colors, fonts, details of wear & tear, etc. are absolutely wonderful. Look at the wax paper lighting effects on that Avery Schreiber bubble gum pack (I wish I had one of those!) giving it real texture and depth. Great stuff.

Nice to see he gets work in Hollywood, hopefully they’l let him apply his comedy genius somewhere.

“They don’t write like that anymore…” – Greg Kihn

Good Morning: Feb 21,2018 February 21, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General, Uncategorized.
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A quote for the day:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.  The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it.

– H.L. Mencken

That’s why I only deal with REAL hobgoblins on this blog, baby.

How about some fighting cats from Baroque-era Antwerp? Some things never change….

still-life-with-fighting-cats-workshop-of-frans-snyders

Frans Snyders was a wonderful Dutch painter of still lifes, mostly with lots n’ lots of dead animals all over them. And I’m guessing he was a cat lover, judging from the numbers of cats he depicts in his work.

All his animals look ANGRY, dead or alive. I guess that’s one way of getting drama out of a still life.

Those cats are probably just playing, tho.

Study-of-a-Cat-s-Head

I love this one… it’s like when Satan decided Cerberus needed a playmate and got another pet.

Now don’t scratch the couch, Mr. Tibbles, I’ll move you….OH MY GOD, HE’S GOT MY ARM, HELP HELP HELP NOT MY NECK OHGODITSTHEJUGULAR ARRGGGHHHHHH…..

Meh. Cat’s probably just playing.

The Fates Drive Me To A Yardsale August 27, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Baseball, Books.
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dome-of-the-cathedral-1420-1436The only reason I saw the neon green sign pointing towards a local sale was because I took a right turn and not a left, since a car was heading towards me and I didn’t feel like stopping and waiting. I figured I’d take the equidistant alternate route to get to my first errand stop, Home Depot.

That’s right… Home Depot, on a Saturday. All part of being the manly man I am.

Anyway, I saw the sign and figured why-the-hell-not, and drove the extra block to where I saw a driveway lined with assorted chazerei.

And then the actions of the fates became more clear.

I looked through the sole box of books sitting in the driveway and found a couple of big illustrated kid books about boats & sailing I earmarked for my nephew. I noticed the ENTIRE box of books centered around boating, the sea, or Captain Horatio Hornblower.

I asked the price, and the guy told me he had more books they were planning to sell next week, and he let me take a look. Turns out it was all his father-in-law’s stuff and they were selling it all off.

More books on the sea and boating. A box of Louis L’Amour novels.

But then a box of hardcover anthologies of old comics – Li’l Abner, Dick Tracy, Superman, etc. I chatted with the guy and told him he ought to look some of them up to see if they worth more than a couple of bucks. Then I found what looked like one of the old Collier series of Hemingway from the late 30s or whatever, as well as some old book of Civil War Songs published in 1889.

Nope, did NOT buy them for 25 cents a pop & flip them for thousands on ebay, I told the guy he ought to look up what they’re actually worth, and THAT little bit of charm got me some major discounting on the sailing books and two books on Renaissance Architecture I’m looking forward to, Brunellschi’s Dome and The Feud That Sparked The Renaissance, about Brunelleschi’s rivalry with Ghiberti.  I loved visiting Florence some years ago. Maybe these two volumes will take me back there for a while, for fifty cents a pop.

And then, as my conversation with the guy went from Florence to art to history to where I’m from, we somehow found ourselves in baseball, and I got the entire biography of the yardsaler, who turned out to be a former pro baseball player who got bottled up in the Orioles organization of the early ’70s since they were overloaded with pitchers already. He had the bad luck to land in the farm system of a team with FOUR twenty game winners on their starting staff. Oy!

He recounted some stories from his minor league days, his later coaching days and so forth, but what stuck with me turned out to be something I’d almost expect from any former pro athlete.

He could recite all of his stats from more than 40 years ago.

His walk to strikeout ratio, his innings pitched, the then-future major leaguers he defeated in Class A and Class AA games in 1972, what the score was each time, you name it. I’m sure he could have told me the pitch sequence to every batter he faced if I’d asked.

We talked a bit about how the game had changed, especially for pitchers.  He told me how be blew out his rotator cuff and back before they figured out how to fix Tommy John and how it basically ended his baseball career.  It was an entertaining chat with another guy who misses playing actual hardball a lot more than I do, which is saying something.

And then Home Depot beckoned. The new a/c unit at Castle Wagstaff takes a different filter size than its predecessor. It will provide respite from the triple digit temps outside while I read my books on Florence and drink wine, perhaps. Maybe then I won’t miss playing baseball as much.

My Eyes! My Brain! My Schvantz! Okay, okay, not my schvantz… July 14, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General.
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Granted, they left out the post office line moving quickly and Cary Grant actually winning an Oscar and any attractive woman actually smiling back at me instead of getting a restraining order, but…

Check out these 29 very cool optical illusions. 

Number 17 is exceptionally freaky, even if I’ve seen it before.

Almost as freaky as this

cat-muscle-bag-illusion

 

Admit it, you’d kill for LOLCAT abs. Kill a mouse, anyway.

Call Me Mr. Helpful January 10, 2013

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General, Writing.
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helpcat

The other day the Los Angeles Daily News asked for reader suggestions as to how they might retool their comics & puzzle pages in the coming year. So, I wrote them the following email, from which I’ve yet to get any sort of response:

You asked for it, you got it! With today’s football games getting boring, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts on your “streamlining” the comics pages for 2013.

For me, the strips that are mostly funny are Pearls Before Swine, and the collection of single-panel jobs which all seem to follow in the wake of the old Far Side weirdness, like F Minus, Brevity, Off The Mark, Rubes, Bizarro and Argyle Sweater. As long as any of those guys are batting .300 with good jokes, there’ll be something worth a laugh each day. Keep ‘em all.

I also make a point of reading specific comics in your paper for different reasons. For example, I’m fascinated by Funky Winkerbean. What started out decades ago as a silly comic centered around dorky high schoolers with jokes based largely on puns and high school marching band clichés has devolved into a maudlin soap opera complete with limbs lost in drunken car accidents, cancer deaths, frustrating career disappointments, parents with alzheimers, and the main character’s constant battles with alcoholism and his abject failure as a father. I’m hoping that Tom Batiuk continues to get more and more depressing and the strip will finally reach its inevitableRequiem For A Dream-type pinnacle in terms of the ways he’s been torturing his characters. In any case, I read that strip every single day, and every day I keep shaking my head. Whatever you do, keep running it. It’s not easy to be amazed, after all.

(more…)

A New Treasure Trove October 28, 2010

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Blogroll, General, Movies, Music, Television.
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I just discovered this site, The Pop History Dig – loaded with interesting articles on all things American pop culture history.

I’ve been exploring it for a while this evening, and it’s loaded with stuff on silent film, sports, advertising… all sorts of cool stuff, well researched, documented & presented. Big thumbs up!