Thursday, July 30, 2009


I happened onto a copy of GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT, the feature-length animated cartoon out this week. Are all the DC DVD cartoons like this? It's is a very routine animated feature. Does not have the snap and crackle of BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD (which I was hoping for). It's not bad but it's nothing special either. Just a basic introduction to the character. Quickie origin at the beginning. A bunch of interplanetary goofs comprise the GL Corps. Sinestro is as handsome as ever and looks like he should be singing "Mack the Knife" at the Holiday Inn. Wait for the live action feature instead.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

HUMP DAY Q&A Department goes MONTHLY.....

Greetings, gentle reader:

HUMP DAY Q & A, my weekly shortie interview feature with a comics industry figure, will now appear monthly, resuming in August, as I get into crunch mode to finish up work on various commitments, including my next comic book release, CARTOON FLOPHOUSE FEATURING GREENBLATT THE GREAT! # 2 (to debut October 24 at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco).

So the blog carries on as usual on a semi-daily basis, HUMP DAY Q & A will now appear on the 2ND WEDNESDAY OF EVERY MONTH, and the order of the universe will be preserved for now.


The Management

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Attended a special screening of FUNNY PEOPLE last night at the Arclight, where they had a Q/A with Apatow afterwards.

Here's comes the money-saver review (but no spoilers, in case you're planning on going)....

I'm sorry to say that this movie is about as hilarious as its poster (which lowered my expectations for it). It's 2-and-a-half hours (what is it about that epic length this summer for every damn film?) of mushy melodrama wrapped in pointless f-bombs and a record for usage of the word "cock." It's just overkill with lame attempts at shock value. This movie puts the nail on the coffin for man-child comedies (to which some of you are probably saying "Good!").

Sandler's character is unlikable from the get-go to finish, so it's hard to care for what happens to him. Rogen is a straight man here. This is a tribute to his stand-up comedy world, so there's a long list of cameos in the film that I will not ruin for you, but it does little to buoy the comedy. The biggest highlight was Jonah Hill. Whenever Jonah Hill was onscreen, it perked up, but there aren't enough of those scenes. And the biggest surprise is that Apatow wrote a generic girlfriend role for his own wife. She's kind of wasted in this one, minus the zing and quips she had in KNOCKED UP.

In the interview portion of the evening, Apatow was a fun interview though. Ben Lyons (of the current version of "At the Movies") moderated the discussion, which went quite long for these things (but in this case, it was entertaining).

On the way out of the screening, Ed Helms (Andy on "The Office" and "The Hangover") walked past me briskly toward the Dome. Perhaps he was hurrying to meet Apatow? (Or kick his ass for making this film?)

Anyway, you've been warned! Although the poster should've been a major red flag!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Back in LA....>BACK ISSUE # 35 is out! My conversation with MIKE VOSBURG

Today I returned from my week-long stay in charming San Diego, where Comic-Con 40 was on! As always, it was all-at-once exhilarating, entertaining, enervating, and exhausting, overall exciting, and yes, everybody now: OVERWHELMING! Most of all, it was a nice excuse to catch up with a lot of friends and a couple of fans. I was pleased that out of all my work, including the EL GATO, CRIME MANGLER series, this year's best sellers were my CARTOON FLOPHOUSE # 1 FEATURING GREENBLATT THE GREAT! and the all-ages SILLY GOOSE. Good to see the current books finding some readers. A big thank you to everyone -friend and fan alike -including my buddies and fellow members at the SCCS-that I had a chance to share that week with...the new friends as well, will look forward to meeting up with you all again. My only quibble: never made it over to Old Town for dinner... probably a first for me in many years. But I'm sure it hasn't changed one iota (usually served corn or flour with guac or salsa).

While at San Diego, I noticed that BACK ISSUE # 35 is indeed out. If you follow my work in's magazine devoted to the '70s and '80s comics, this issue finds me in a Q/A conversation with the mighty MIKE VOSBURG, the Emmy Award-winning artist of such heroine books as SHE-HULK, ISIS, STARFIRE, MS. MARVEL and more, at his SoCal home. The Voz comes from that generation of Detroit artists which includes JIM STARLIN and AL MILGROM. Anyway, find it at your local shop or at This issue's theme: Villains!

And now, let's dance! Everybody to The Voz!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hooray for Cornell University!

My alma mater has gone Hogwarts wild! It ranks on a list of schools resembling Harry Potter's (not sure if this is a good thing, but it's nice to see Cornell ranked so highly....)

Ithaca is the most beautiful spot on the New York State map, by the way. If you're ever within driving distance, go, Go, GO!

BACK ISSUE! magazine # 36, 37, 38 -- MONSTERS, WWII and FAMILY issues

Blurbs for the upcoming slate of BACK ISSUE! magazine are up, in which I have multiple contributions. Here's what I've got going on in these fun issues.

Time for some horn-tooting......

Right now, BACK ISSUE! is about to release BI #35 (the Villains issue, my riveting talk with artist Mike Vosburg).

Then the big babies drop.

BACK ISSUE! #36 will be the MONSTERS issue. Check out the terrific Earl Norem cover of Werewolf By Night battling Morbius (shades of Giant-Size Werewolf By Night). In that issue, I've got a good size piece about STRANGE TALES THE GOLEM (and a healthy exploration of the Jewish Golem myth and other Marvel/DC Golem characters). I've also got an article about PHANTOM STRANGER foil DR. THIRTEEN (and his lovely wife, MARIE THIRTEEN). Then there's DINNER WITH TONY & TINA DeZUNIGA (which was delicious....).

BACK ISSUE # 37, the WORLD WAR II issue, features my UNKNOWN SOLDIER article, in which I go in search of artist GERRY TALAOC. The short-lived but great COMBAT KELLY AND THE DEADLY DOZEN is also in my crosshairs for this one. And I dug up some dirt on HOW TO DRAW THE MARVEL WAY after conversing with legendary Marvel artist JOHN ROMITA.

BACK ISSUE # 38 is the family-themed issue, to which I called out THE BROTHERS GRIMM, annoying antagonists from the SPIDER-WOMAN series.


I really admire J.K. Rowling. Any author who can get kids to read in this day and age---and at 800 pages at a clip---that's nothing to sneeze at. It's hard enough to get people to read a 22 page comic book. Rowling has achieved something very few authors in the 21st century can lay claim to: a literary phenomenon.
That said, I am one of the world's worst Harry Potter fans. I've only read the first book, and a couple chapters before the end, I got bored and gave up on it. Not because it was badly written or lacked imagination, it just didn't hook me in deep enough, and I felt I had better things to do (and better books to read...). Then I watched 5 minutes of the first Potter movie on TV and gave up on that whole series. In the post-SPIDER-MAN/IRON MAN/TRANSFORMERS world of movies, it takes more than a couple of 9-year-olds flying around on broomsticks to capture my imagination. I'm also tired of British fantasia: epic movie series which are transparently coded commentaries on British society, filled with cherub-faced boys and old bearded Shakespearean hacks. I didn't grow up in England so what do I know from boarding schools! I guess I'm not much of an Anglophile. So needless to say, I've never seen one Potter movie from beginning to end (not even movie # 3, which most critics deem the best of the series).
Until now. This weekend, my girlfriend (who is a big fan of the books and movies) and I went to see HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, the biggest movie on Earth (this week...). Again, I am not the ideal audience for this movie. So what did I think of it? Meh.
First off, it's at least a half hour too long. There's no reason why any movie---even this minor-league LORD OF THE RINGS---needs to be 2 and a half hours, just like TRANSFORMERS 2 didn't need to be 2 and a half hours (although I haven't seen that one yet). Two hours is plenty, why bludgeon the audience with overkill? They could've ditched the Quidditch game, for starters. Didn't they do that in four of the movies? And cut down some time on the ponderous moody scenes.
And Harry himself, not surprisingly I guess, is the blandest, most boring character in the movie. But even in SUPERMAN or SPIDER-MAN, they make Clark Kent and Peter Parker interesting. Can't they give this bespectacled hero any personality? No wonder Daniel Radcliffe is so bored, he's walking onto London stages starkers!
For most of the film, the inertia, the slow pace and the lack of much action lulled me in and out of sleep until the last 20 minutes, where things start to happen and things perk up. It ends off as kind of the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the series....interesting enough of a cliffhanger for me to admit to myself that I probably will see the next two movies, just to see how this whole magilla turns out.
If only I had done that with the last STAR WARS trilogy, beginning with ATTACK OF THE CLONES (because PHANTOM MENACE is a big, superfluous skip)....and with LORD OF THE RINGS, where if you just saw RETURN OF THE KING, which had everything the first two had but better, you got the idea (TWO TOWERS was painful to sit through!). $14 x 3=$42 that I would've have 140 hours of viewing time!
I'm glad I came in on movie # 6 of the Potter series, just in time to get into the exciting finale. Call me a Harry Potter carpetbagger!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Click on image to enlarge...and don't forget to do the Anaconda.

Remembering architectural photography pioneer JULIUS SHULMAN

It was a rainy afternoon, and the two of us sat on the patio of his treehouse-like Soriano home (adjacent to his home office) in the Hollywood Hills discussing his storied career....He was 92 and full of stories to tell and images to show.

Back in 2002, I had the pleasure of interviewing the great (and original) photographer, Modernist architecture romanticizer and Taschen Books darling JULIUS SHULMAN, who has passed away at the age of 98. Here is the resulting article:

Shulman brought the whole bold, wild and often wacky world of Modernism to life with his photos of exciting experiments by Schindler, Neutra, Koenig, Lautner and the aforementioned Soriano. My personal favorites are the homes of Albert Frey, pictured here, which Shulman's photos introduced me to. Shulman's body of work is now at the Getty and, more accessibly, in a dozen Taschen books (Taschen's main store is on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, with a second store at the Farmer's Market).

When you think about it, Shulman actually outlived Modernism, Googie, Tiki, and all of the rest of the regional architecture movements and lived to see a post-Modernism that constantly attempts to steal from them, pay tribute to them, reconfigure them. Good for Julius!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

HUMP DAY Q & A: Soundtrack Scholar JIMMY J. AQUINO

JIMMY J. AQUINO likes scoring.
Well, before I get him in trouble with his ladyfriends, I should clarify and say that he podcasts and blogs away on his passion: film scores and soundtracks.
A while back, we met at an Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco and I believe we bonded on the great work of JERRY FIELDING, who provided the score on most of SAM PECKINPAH’s movies, including my personal favorite, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (This must have been around 2004, because they had just released the CD of that film’s soundtrack and I remember talking to Jimmy about it).
Like me, Jimmy’s a fan of Paul Mooney, the Beastie Boys and old Marvel Comics. We don’t know each other all the well, but I’m guessing we probably have a lot of overlap in our pop culture taste.
He is currently touring as a contributor to the comics anthology SECRET IDENTITIES. If you’re in the Bay Area, go down and see him in person tomorrow night, Thurs., July 16 (info below).

=====What are some of your favorite movie and TV themes and what makes them so great?

The first soundtrack album I enjoyed hearing was a double LP of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK that my parents bought for my older brother when he was eight years old and I was three. The STAR WARS main title theme, "The Imperial March" and "Yoda's Theme" are the tracks I remember the most from that double album. Of those three, I like the beautifully written "Yoda's Theme" the most because it hasn't been overplayed like the other two themes.

But the love for film and TV themes didn't really begin until fourth grade, when I started placing a mono tape recorder next to the TV set speakers to record TV themes. I thought the TV theme mixtapes I compiled were the illest tapes. I had three or four tapes of catchy themes from shows ranging from MIAMI VICE to MTV's REMOTE CONTROL, the late '80s game show where Colin Quinn, Adam Sandler, Denis Leary and straight-to-video starlet Kari Wuhrer got their start. My collection of TV themes was superior to Tee Vee Toons' TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS LPs (they released only two volumes at the time) because I included themes from shows that were more recent (CRIME STORY, THE EQUALIZER) and the four different versions of the '60s STAR TREK main title theme, plus none of the themes on my tapes were lame re-recordings like the ones on the Tee Vee Toons LPs.

I eventually outgrew my hobby of taping themes off the TV set and moved on to soundtrack albums with far better sound quality (particularly Danny Elfman's powerful BATMAN score, Ennio Morricone's amazing ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST score and the TREK feature film soundtracks, which my family would sometimes give to me for Christmas because they knew how much I loved TREK)--and then hip-hop.

Sometimes, those two genres would overlap in interesting ways. Several of my favorite film and TV themes are ones that have been sampled by beatmakers or used as breaks by turntablists, like David Shire's funky main title theme from the original TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, any of Lalo Schifrin's equally funky themes from ENTER THE DRAGON and Dennis Coffey and Luchi De Jesus' BLACK BELT JONES theme, which Marley Marl sampled brilliantly in LL Cool J's "Jingling Baby."

In university, as my tastes in film grew, so did my tastes in music, especially film and TV score music. The big beat and electronica crazes were blowing up during those years, and they exposed me to the scores of frequently sampled Silver Age composers like Morricone, who ended up becoming my favorite film composer, Quincy Jones and John Barry.

Speaking of Barry, his supercool theme from THE PERSUADERS (a show I've never even watched) is one of my favorite TV themes, along with Yoko Kanno's badass "Tank!" main title theme from COWBOY BEBOP and the last of the great expositiony TV themes, the catchy '70s-style theme from THE KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY, which was written by Paul Shaffer and crooned Barry White-style by KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY scene-stealer Kevin Michael Richardson ("Eugene Gurkin was a janitorrr...").

My favorite unknown movie theme comes from Japan's Maiku Hama private eye trilogy (THE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE, THE STAIRWAY TO THE DISTANT PAST, THE TRAP). The Hama theme is reminiscent of BEBOP in terms of energy and coolness. Of the newer film and TV composers, I like the work of Michael Giacchino (LOST, STAR TREK) and Bear McCreary (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).

===== Do you have a favorite movie musical and if so, can you admit what it is?

I'm not a show tunes guy, but I rewatched SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT on my DVR a few months ago and couldn't help singing along to parts of "It's Easy, MMMKay," "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch" and Saddam Hussein's moving number "I Can Change."

And whenever TCM airs SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, it's difficult for me to change the channel because it's such an enjoyable satire about the shift from silent movies to talkies. My former colleague Richard von Busack put it best when he said SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is "a musical for persons allergic to musicals."

===== Which comic books from your formative years do you cherish to this day?

Unfortunately, most of those comics are trapped in a treasure chest inside my parents' garage, which I've been unable to pry open because I lost the key to the chest a few years ago. Those comics include DC's surprisingly good STAR TREK comics; the ALPHA FLIGHT storyline in which Madison Jeffries redesigned the ugly-looking Box robot with his power of metal transmutation and made the new Boxbot look so gangster; the early '90s DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN issues that were superbly drawn by Norm Breyfogle and the late Jim Aparo; and DC's '90s Milestone titles, which focused on superheroes of color and paved the way for SECRET IDENTITIES.

I'm glad I didn't stick my '80s G.I. JOE issues inside the chest a few years ago because I was able to dig up all five of those Larry Hama-scripted JOE issues and have Hama sign them when we were guest talents at the Asian American ComiCon last Saturday.

==== What can people expect at your SECRET IDENTITIES signing tomorrow night at the Giant Robot store in San Francisco (other than lots of T-shirts and toys surrounding you)?

A short guy with a big mouth.

Here's an example of what I'm like at a book signing. What you get is the same person you'd hear making wisecracks while introducing score cues on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel. At my first book signing at the Asian American ComiCon, a SECRET IDENTITIES fan who's half-Filipino and half-Indonesian said to us that in New Jersey, he was once mistaken for STAR TREK: VOYAGER cast member Garrett Wang, who's neither Filipino nor Indonesian and looks nothing like the guy. I said, "What are they? Blind? Fucking Jersey motherfuckers!"

The fans laughed. Then one of them said, "There ought to be an Asian American version of CLERKS." Actually, my webcomic THE PALACE is kind of like that, except the characters don't hate their jobs.

I'm more of a writer than an artist. However, if you ask me to draw something for you, I won't mind doing it. I hope you like Dick Tracy or Homer Simpson because those are the only characters I can draw.

J.J.’s Fistful of URLs:

The blog and webcomic:
The radio station: OR on iTunes Radio under "Eclectic," as "Fistful of Soundtracks"
The Twitter microblog:
The Secret Identities graphic novel:
THE KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY theme, from Kevin Michael Richardson's YouTube channel:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alec Baldwin has the right idea....

This from a promo for the one-hour interview show ROLE MODELS, on TCM, Saturday, July 18, 4 PM.

GENE WILDER is a comic acting genius. Most people know that from all of the Mel Brooks movies he's done, which are classics (THE PRODUCERS, BLAZING SADDLES, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN). But he also played in EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (the best of the segments in the Woody Allen anthology), WILLY WONKA (of course) and two of the funniest films, which he wrote and directed himself, the underrated THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' SMARTER BROTHER (w/Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise) and WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER (again with Dom DeLuise), two forays into absurdism that approaches the best of Brooks' stuff.

If you haven't seen the latter films, which I don't think ever really caught on, They come highly recommended, especially SHERLOCK HOLMES ("Hop! Hop...!")

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can't get enough POWERHOUSE PEPPER!

Who among us couldn't use a little Pep in our step every now and then?

Check out these great pages by one of my all-time favorites, the unstoppable BASIL WOLVERTON!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Can you tell I'm catching up on my movies via the magic of DVD rentals?

I don't have much to say about BABY MAMA. While the two leads are good sports (and I didn't realize that Greg Kinnear and Steve Martin were in this film, so that was a shocker), I thought the script may have been better if Tina Fey wrote the damn thing as well. It's not a bad comedy, but it's not a great one either. And Amy Proehler's white-trash character is not pushed far enough. She's kind of a smart dumb chick, so there's not enough contrast between the characters. They should have made her a total hillbilly or something. Also, the outcome for Fey's character is obvious from the minute Greg Kinnear steps in. I enjoyed HEY, LADIES on the soundtrack though!

I enjoyed DEFIANCE a lot. What holds it together are terrific performances by Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, two solid actors as two tough Polish-Jewish brothers not about to take Nazi occupation lying down.

Craig has sold me on James Bond, so now I'm always up for one of his films. He's always charismatic. (Should be interesting to see him play a villain in a comedy as Red Rackham in the upcoming TINTIN movie). While I didn't completely enjoy the Jewish-themed EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, which I thought was overlong and overly ponderous, Schreiber (who directed that film) was good in that, too. What's amazing is that DEFIANCE is based on a true story (I'm sure some liberties were taken for dramatic purposes, as this did come out of Hollywood). Given the well-known outcome of the Holocaust among the Jewish population (6,000,000 killed; another 6,000,000 non-Jews killed), this is a rare Holocaust movie in that the Jews are not depicted as total helpless victims and it doesn't have a completely downbeat ending. And because it's grounded in reality and not a wild cartoon fantasy revenge flick, like the upcoming INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will be (which is not a criticism of IB, just a different genre of film), there's something satisfying about the heroes here triumphing, as it may have mirrored real events (I don't know the facts about the real incidents so I'm not sure what's based on reality here). There's also much angst among the characters over the dangers of acting like the Nazis even as they attempt to defeat them. DEFIANCE is kind of a historical action film from an angle I've never really seen before in World War II films.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Meet the new John Williams....

I've always heard that the Beastie Boys were allergic to using their music commercially. They even made a big point of it in songs such as TRIPLE TROUBLE on TO THE 5 BOROUGHS. Remember?

To quoteth MCA:

Cause I'm a specializer, rhyme reviser
Ain't selling out to advertisers
What you get is what you see
And you won't see me out there advertising

But Beastie Boys tracks have been turning up in the stra-aa-a-aangest places lately. First, there was SABOTAGE, which popped up in the JJ Abrams STAR TREK film (to good effect, I might add, in that car chase scene, the implication being that the song had become a golden oldie in the future, which it should!).

The other night, I was watching BABY MAMA with Tina Fey and Amy Proehler. I throw out that embarrassing piece of information to highlight that, out of nowhere, HEY, LADIES from PAUL'S BOUTIQUE turns up. BABY MAMA???

The last time I heard Beastie Boys on a soundtrack (other than the TOUGHER THAN LEATHER movie) was in Steven Siegal's OUT FOR JUSTICE, where they slapped on NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN. But that made sense since the Beasties do not have any control over their first (and still their best) album, LICENSED TO ILL. Now suddenly, the Beasties are everywhere. What next? An entire AMERICAN IDOL?

RELATED: in my blog about my new favorite comedy discovery, SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS, I forgot to commend that the soundtrack features two of my favorites...DMX ("Where the Hood At") and THE VINES ("Get Free"). Man, that sweetened the deal!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


This film, by Todd Phillips, the director of ROAD TRIP, OLD SCHOOL, and THE HANGOVER, is least the first 85 % of it is. But what a fantastic 85%!

I thought it petered out/got tedious by the airport scene at the end, almost as if they didn't know how to wrap it up. By that point, the movie had begun to superficially resemble RUSHMORE with the rivalry for a woman's love between young ingenue and old confident guy. There are elements of other movies in here but it's still a lot of fun. And even a cameo by the annoying mugging mediocrity that is Ben Stiller (vying for the spot as Gen X's Robin Williams) could not derail this comedy, which has a million familiar faces in it, from Horatio Sanz and the Indian-American guy with the Anglo name on PARKS AND RECREATION, to the gap-toothed baldy from BEST WEEK EVER, David Cross, Sarah Silverman and Michael Clark Duncan, who as always is terrific in comedies (see TALLADEGA NIGHTS for his best comic acting performance). Fun cast (minus Stiller)! I didnt' remember much about this comedy, which kind of came and went during its theaterical release, so this was like the best you can ask for when picking out a DVD: solid entertainment and full of surprises.

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS also did Jon Heder a favor by erasing from my memory the godawfulness that was his other recent film, BLADES OF GLORY, which was one of the crappiest, slapped-together comedies I've seen in a long time with a dumber-than-dumb improbable premise (even for broad comedy...I'm gambling that even LAND OF THE LOST is a better Will Ferrell vehicle). I had just seen BLADES a few weeks ago and it damn near ruined my month.

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS may now rank as my favorite from the Phillips oeuvre. I haven't gotten around to seeing HANGOVER yet (which looks more OLD SCHOOL) but now I'm extra looking forward to it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This was the toughest Q&A I’ve ever had to post. YOU try narrowing down the visuals for this one, it’s an abundance of riches.
RAFAEL NAVARRO is one of the most gifted artists I’ve ever met. He’s a master, he’s got natural pizzazz, and his work is always dazzling at the least. In the last decade or so, he has honed his art, incorporating stylistic elements from his gigs storyboarding in animation (for such cartoons as “Spectacular Spider-Man,” “Scooby-Doo” and “Rugrats”).
But comic books is where his heart and his art is, first and foremost: SONAMBULO, his luchador detective series.
Raf and I are old friends with a lot of water, tequila and margaritas under the bridge. When we met in the mid-1990s, as members of our local cartoonist society in Los Angeles, CAPS , we were just about the only two American cartoonists riffing on old Mexican wrestler flicks: him via SONAMBULO and myself with my EL GATO, CRIME MANGLER series. Only Charles Burns’ great EL BORBAH was out there at the time. Cut to 2009, and there’s already been a glut of luchador superhero comic books and Mexican wrestler-themed films and cartoons (some of them dubious, most of which have crashed and burned). Not SONAMBULO: Raf will debut SONAMBULO LIVES! at San Diego Comic-Con in two weeks at his booth, # 2206 in the Independent Pavilion.
Raf and I were both members of the short-lived, now-legendary (and now-defunct) imprint Big Umbrella, with JAVIER HERNANDEZ (“El Muerto, Aztec Zombie”) and RHODE MONTIJO (“Pablo’s Inferno”), which fell apart (but not over a falling out).

(Here's a shot of me, Rhode, Brad Rader and Raf in San Francisco, up for 2009's WONDER CON, when we paid a visit to our favorite Bay Area ice cream palace, MITCHELL'S!)

Raf and I have contributed to each other’s lucha-themed comics. He illustrated (quite lushly) one of the stories I wrote for my 2003 anthology book, THE NINE LOVES OF EL GATO, CRIME MANGLER, contributed a space-age SONAMBULO strip to my FUTURESHOCK: EL GATO 2002 comic, and way back in 1999, he provided a pin-up (and executive produced) ¡HOLY GHOST EL GATO! (in which even our mutual friend’s cat Cosmo somehow earned a credit!). I contributed a story to his anthology, MASKS OF SONAMBULO.

Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate with Raf on the delayed-yet-fantastic full-color comic book GUMBY’S GANG STARRING POKEY (Wildcard Ink), which we finished last year and which will be a winner as soon as the company can get it out (and I’ll alert you to that as soon as I know). It’s a time-travel yarn which starts off on the right foot with this glorious painted cover by Mr. N.

Anyway, if you’re going down to San Diego, visit his table. He’ll no doubt be sketching away in his sketch book. In case you haven’t figure it out (and if you haven’t, check the prescription on your glasses), this man loves to draw!

---- Who are your 5 all-time favorite CAPTAIN AMERICA artists and what did each contribute to making the series great?

Hands down: Here's my personal favorite Cap artists (no particular order, other than when they started their runs):
1.) Jack Kirby- Always forever engraved as the true, and definitive interpretation of the sentinel of liberty...His Cap exemplified the most power, and dynamic energy even in the most subtlest of poses, as well as a dignifying character showing nobility, and pathos when needed...His was the mold that everyone has since followed. When I think of Cap coming to life, whether on paper, or now on screen, his is the one that comes to mind first. Wagnerian and as it is American, his is the most convincing.
2.) Jim Steranko- Handsome as it was equally powerful to Kirby’s, Jim’s Cap was very much the first, true modern interpretation of the character. He introduced fresh, bold, and untried storytelling ideas unheard of at the time, while keeping the original vision and integrity of what was previously established. Cap suddenly had a contemporary graphic sense equal to modern art at the time. Sadly, his run was so brief, but what little he did of the character has permanently placed him in the annals of comic history.
3.) Gene Colan- Again, following what had previously been done, Gene’s Cap captured both the modern and powerful graphics established before, but with a new twist: Atmosphere! His lighting, and sense of composition gave an amazingly new approach to the character, giving it an almost other worldly look and feel. To this day, his designs of the character and his weird villains have uniquely placed him in a category all on his own. Another important note is that he was the first artist to draw The Falcon.
4.) Frank Robbins- My first introduction to Captain America came from this man. His approach echoed back to an age of swashbuckling heroism found only in newspaper strips and movie serials. It was wonderful to see the excitement come to life with his brush and ink work created monthly as a child. Quite possibly my earliest art lesson ever, Robbins taught me to be bold and spontaneous while having the discipline of detail and texture. It was simply operatic and I will always cherish it.
5.) Gil Kane- With just a mere handful of Captain America stories to his credit, his work on the character truly came to play as a cover artist. Month after month, he depicted the character submerged in heinous peril, utter defeat, and eventually, triumphant victory over the forces of evil. With his exceptional poses and majestic anatomy, if there ever were an artist to bring such Grecian heroism and interpretive realism with such conviction and without falters it would be Kane.

---- Is your luchador detective character SONAMBULO alive or is he a ghost, or is it none of our business?

At the moment, we don’t know for sure…I’d like to say he’s just metaphysically misplaced!

---- Which movie is your favorite of all-time (this week...)?

This week as it was last week is still THE MARK OF ZORRO 1940 Starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell

--- Kirby, Steranko and Frazetta get into a brawl. Who would be the last man standing?

That’s tough to say! It’s like saying what’s my favorite ice cream flavor! But after a long, and epic battle, I’d say it would be either Jack or Frank, not because they’re any tougher than each other or Jim, but because if they’re not home in time for dinner, they’d have to face an even tougher opponent: their WIVES!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just Call Me "The MJ Memorial Grinch!"

I like Michael Jackson as much as the next guy, but why the hell is our broke City of Barrel-Wearing Angels , hot on the heels of splitting the tab on the $2 million dollar Lakers victory parade, footing a $4 million tab on this memorial? AEG should pay for it, but evidently the fact that they've invested so much into downtown with Live L.A. has given them a free pass.

How about charging fans for those tickets, even $10 a ticket, to defray costs? Those hardcore freak fans from Berlin or Tokyo will pay up the wazoo to be at that event. That's one way of reducing the tab on this event. Or how about having all of those participating celebrities hitting the PayPal button and kicking in on costs?

But don't drag all the rest of us into this mess. To quote my man MJ, "why don't they just leave us alone?!"

Or better yet, they should've held it in Gary, Indiana, which could probably use the big economic boost. At a time when our state is going under, and there is no money left in this city to pay municipal workers, many of whom are taking furlough days, why put our city through another deficit? Adding insult to injury, let's screw up these workers morning commute to work by not giving the city access to freeways and downtown while this was going on. Hear that hissing? That's the sound of thousands of struggling people's cars overheating because they're stuck in bad detour traffic.

All this city-footed fanfare doesn't make sense. As a tax-payer who may not get my state refund thanks to bureaucratic bungling, I find all of this disturbing.

This really has nothing to do with my feeling about MJ himself. Even if they were throwing this memorial for my favorite singer of all time, I would feel the same way. And like I said, I like his music, especially OFF THE WALL.

(As for the Lakers parade, I say either let the Lakers pay for that or, better yet, how about the losing team pay for the winner's parade? That would give each team more incentive to win the order to avoid paying for the other team's victory parade...Hear that, Orlando? You owe us 1 million dollars!)

Monday, July 6, 2009

FLASHBACK: The making of THE PARTY (1968)

Last June, I went on an odyssey to do a behind-the-scenes article for the Post on one of my favorite comedies, the cult classic 1968 BLAKE EDWARDS film, THE PARTY, starring PETER SELLERS. Things had begun to fall into place. Current honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades GAVIN MACLEOD, who had beautifully portrayed Sellers' foil in the film, shared his memories with me of working on the film. My buddy RICH CARRADINE's sister, Caitlyn, a dancer, had studied under YURI SMALTZOFF, who played the Mad Russian in the film. He proved invaluable for both anecdotes and visuals for my article.

Coincidentally, the film's produce, WALTER MIRISCH, was on a tour pumping his memoir and he made an appearance at the Westside Pavilion nearby my house. I thought this could make an epic, original piece of entertainment journalism.

The only obstacles: internally at Editorial. The editor-in-chief saw THE PARTY back in the day and had walked out on it (to my knowledge, the only person I've ever met who hated this treasured movie). My other editor had never seen it and did not have the strength to back me up on this movie she had no affinity for. The prospect of me unleashing a full-blown feature on the making of this film seemed dim.

Then my editor-in-chief posed a challenge: if I could track down Edwards and get a quote from him, he would give me the go-ahead. This was on a Thursday. On Friday, I called up Edwards' agency (one of the biggest) and, predictably, they did not return my call.

That weekend, Rich called me up with the news. Edwards was due to appear that coming Wednesday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica to talk about the double-feature being screened that night by the American Cinematheque: SO WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? and A SHOT IN THE DARK. I now had my in.

That Weds., I lingered a little later than usual at work since the movies were screening nearby the Palisades. On my way out, my editor-in-chief asked where I was off to. He nearly keeled over when I revealed I was off to get quotes from Edwards.

Long story short (too late!), I had my Blake Edwards quotes by Thursday morning. Below is the resulting article, which ran in the Post on June 25, 2008....

If that twist of fate were not beautiful enough, they had announced at the screening (where a frail Edwards, using a walker, arrived with wife JULIE ANDREWS) that the Cinematheque would be screening THE PARTY in a couple of weeks at the Aero, thus giving my article a bonus topical peg.

I'm particularly proud of this article, and I might add that, as a result of this article, a guy whose family home in Santa Monica Canyon was used for some opening footage in THE PARTY stepped forward with a photo album full of off-the-cuff shots of Edwards and Sellers in between scenes. Some of those photos ran in a subsequent article on films made in the Palisades and they are posted below. ----- Michael

'The Party' to Remember: Blake Edwards' Cult Classic Turns 40!

Forty Years Ago, Peter Sellers and Our Honorary Mayor Starred in the Ultimate Hollywood Satire

June 25, 2008

Michael Aushenker , Staff Writer

Forget 'The Love Guru.' And when the 'Borat' version surfaces, rent it when it comes to DVD.

There's no way either of these derivatives can rival the genuine article, arguably the best party movie and the funniest Hollywood send-up ever to come out of Hollywood.

'If I was going to do anything with any kind of commerciality, it would be that kind of comedy,' filmmaker Blake Edwards told the Palisadian-Post regarding his 1968 feature, 'The Party,' starring Peter Sellers and Claudine Longet. 'The Party' screens July 16 at the Aero Theatre on Montana Avenue, as part of a month-long American Cinematheque retrospective of Edwards' films in July.

Now recall that playing opposite Sellers''the klutzy cultural outsider Hrundi V. Bakshi''was our current honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades. Yes, Gavin MacLeod portrayed Hrundi's foil, enervated movie producer Charlie S. Divot.

'He kept you on his toes,' MacLeod, 77, recalled of acting with the late, great British comic actor. 'You never knew what he was gonna do.'

Remember that confrontation in which Divot shouts at Sellers' party-crasher, 'You're meshuggah!' To which a defensive Hrundi responds in his innocent East Indian lilt: 'I'm not your sugar!'

'Improvised!' MacLeod revealed.

On the 40th anniversary of this Hollywood comedy, let's take a behind-the-scenes look at the movie that still has a small legion of devoted fans saying, 'Birdie num num!'

Gwen Deglise, Aero programmer for the Cinematheque, which screens 'The Party' often, believes that the film's 'strong slapstick comedy' keeps local film buffs coming back. 'It's a great draw. Being in Hollywood and being in Los Angeles, it's delicious. 'The Party' is something that needs to be seen on the big screen with an audience.'

'The Party' originally hit theaters in April 1968, sandwiched in-between installments of those more-famous Edwards/Sellers 'Pink Panther' collaborations. But this comedy almost did not reach movie screens.

Both its star and its director were considered movie-industry liabilities. Sellers' health problems, coupled with his unpredictable personality, had contributed to Hollywood's wariness to bankrolling his films. Meanwhile, as 'Party''s producer, Walter Mirisch, writes in his recently published memoir, 'I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History,' 'Blake had achieved a reputation as a very expensive director, particularly after 'The Great Race.''

The 'Panther' pair was also feuding'with each other. But when Edwards gleaned his idea for 'Party' from one of several characters that Sellers portrayed in 'The Millionairess,' he could not deny that Sellers was the only man to play Hrundi. Likewise, when Sellers read Edwards' 63-page script, he loved it.

'These two men, who had vowed not to work together again, now couldn't wait to get started,' Mirisch wrote.

'To make the project more palatable to United Artists,' Mirisch continued, 'I succeeded in getting Peter and Blake to agree that if the cost exceeds $3 million, they would pledge their salaries toward the completion of the picture.'

Shot in June and July of 1967''on an old Samuel Goldwyn soundstage in West Hollywood'''The Party' was, by all accounts, a party-of-a-shoot, with Rita Hayworth's teenage daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Kahn, among the movie's partying extras, and three celebrity romances blossoming during the shoot.

What made 'The Party' such a magical movie was not its story but the details. Thin on plot, the Tinseltown satire follows Hrundi, a star-struck movie extra from India, as he unwittingly crashes a Hollywood party and inadvertently wreaks havoc on said shindig at a state-of-the-art mansion, equipped with electronically controlled gimmicks such as retracting bar counters, overhead speakers, and floors opening up to reveal a swimming pool. Against all odds, our accidental party-crasher finds love in na've French songbird Michele Monet (Claudine Longet). However, the hapless aspiring recording artist is dating Divot on the promise of career advancement. Hrundi wins over fellow cultural outsider Michele, even after inadvertently taking down the place by tinkering with the mansion's control box, and accidentally destroying the toilet, which floods the place.

Rivaling Sellers with one of 'The Party''s stand-out performances: Steve Franken as the increasingly inebriated butler, slathering on a layer of slapstick to the proceedings with his incontinent antics. Franken's interaction with his vexed supervisor, his drunken stroll through the shallow indoor pool, his struggle to rescue the roast chicken perched precariously atop a bewigged socialite's bouffant hairdo''all comedy gold.

Also memorable: Denny Miller as the culturally insensitive John Wayne-esque cowboy actor with the bone-crushing handshake, Wyoming Bill Kelso, and J. Edward McKinley as gruff studio head Fred Clutterbuck, whose home becomes chaos central. Oh, yeah''there's also a scene-stealing parrot ('Birdie num num!'), a painted elephant, and mad Russian dancers.

'We opened the door and we come in''the crazy Russians''and I'm the one in the red turtleneck,' said Yuri Smaltzoff, who portrayed Danilo. 'We had a dance scene that we filmed on the green. About 5 ' 7 minutes of dancing. I did all kinds of turns, closer to what's now breakdancing.'

An accomplished dancer who, from 1964-2004, ran the Ballet and Dance Art school in West Hollywood, Smaltzoff, 69, now resides in Studio City. But he was living in Beverly Hills when he got the call in 1967 from a friend performing in San Francisco that producers of a new movie were looking for some Russian dancers.

'We had just come to the United States at the end of 1963,' Smaltzoff recalls. 'I was working at the Metropolitan Opera here and doing the Pacific Dance Theatre and so on. 'There was a whole bunch of people, mostly American dancers' at the West Hollywood audition, recalled Smaltzoff, who landed a three-week dancing contract. 'We did not formally rehearse for the movie. Everyone was a pro.'

Smaltzoff (who, incidentally, appeared in a 1971 episode of 'Mission Impossible', starring the Palisadian Peter Graves, also titled 'The Party') remembered being on stand-by, watching them shoot 'the food scenes, with Stephen Franken and Peter Sellers doing his improvisations, and the chicken flying onto the woman's wig.

'When Claudine was singing, Peter would come out from behind the bushes, during that scene when he had to go to the bathroom ' it was all improvised.' Every time Sellers came up with new shtick, 'he had a [script] lady with a telephone book sized book and she would put it in the script.'

'The Party' was the first time people knew Blake was dating Julie [Andrews, who wed Edwards in 1969],' MacLeod recalled.

'I've been on many films since then and before,' Smaltzoff said. 'He kept a familial atmosphere. Every day, Julie Andrews was there just to watch Blake work.'

Another on-set presence was Sellers' third wife, Britt Ekland.

'She worried about him,' Smaltzoff said of the Swedish actress. The scene in which Sellers climbs out of a bathroom window and onto a roof, after busting the toilet and flooding the place, made Ekland nervous. 'They had big arguments. They were very temperamental, but she loved him and she was there every single day.'

Longet's great love, Andy Williams, was also present every day, 'dressed to the teeth, shaved, wearing very expensive stuff, shirts made out of snakeskin,' according to Smaltzoff. 'He was doting on her.'

'As soon as I got on the set,' Smaltzoff continued, 'we dancers wanted to be fit. I would do my warm-up. I had the girls join in. Claudine and the girls [were excercising] with it me.'

Evidently, more than a few crew members noticed.

'Blake called me in. I thought I was in trouble. He said to me, 'You know, you solved my problem. From the moment you came on the set, the crew didn't go out for lunch. They wanted to see the girls exercising. Now they're on time and I don't have to argue with them to come back from lunch.''

During lunch breaks, the famous actresses''Andrews, Longet and Ekland''formed a clique.

'They called it the Num Num Club,' Smaltzoff said. 'The girls would put food on this big table, where at the end was the parrot in the cage [from the 'Birdie num num' scene). They'd bring in homemade food in brown bags. They would switch the bags. They'd compete making the meals, desserts. This Num Num Club was a big deal on the set, which shows you the comaraderie. Truly a family affair.'

Edwards even stuck his fiddle-playing doctor into the film as a violinist.

Smaltzoff was originally contracted as a dancer for three weeks, but he also wound up collecting hazard pay and acting wages (as well as SAG membership) for playing opposite Sellers in a scene cut from the film. He made enough money to send his mother to Europe with $1,000, and he still receives 'Party' residuals''as recently as last month.

For this film, the party actually started a year before with the release of the 1967 film that Edwards (by his own admission) pays homage to: French actor/director Jacques Tati's 'Play Time.' Considered the iconic Tati's masterpiece, 'Play Time' is playful yet an ominous and prescient glimpse into society's increasingly technology-dependent future. 'Play Time' featured the return of Tati's signature character from 'Mr. Hulot's Holiday' and 'My Uncle' (years later, the Hulot character would inspire an English version in Mr. Bean). Tati painstakingly built the film's elaborate Modernist sets from scratch, including the climax's nightclub. In fact, the long 'Play Time' shoot (1964-67) bankrupted Tati for a decade afterwards.

Unfortunately for its director, 'Play Time' hit theaters during the student riots of 1967 and tanked at the French box office. But Edwards, who had seen an early cut, was quick to embrace the genius in Tati's epic and champion the 70 mm cosmopolitan comedy, which utilizes language only as atmospheric flourishes. Edwards was so taken by 'Play Time''s style that he originally intended to shoot his 'Party' sans dialogue''which explains why passages hang exclusively on Sellers' and Franken's physical comedy.

'I loved it,' Edwards, 85, told the Post, of Tati's film. 'How I transferred that adoration to 'The Party,' I'm not sure. When I was a kid, I had absorbed Laurel and Hardy, along with so many of those great silent films. It's just a whole body of things that informed it.'

Edwards paused, looked over at Andrews, and added, perhaps half-joking, 'The two people I found most inspirational on the movie were my therapist and my wife.'

Prior to the 1970s, when his star soared with a pair of memorable long-running TV roles, MacLeod had a long association with 'The Party''s legendary director, going back to movies 'High Time' and 'Operation Petticoat,' and the 'Peter Gunn' TV pilot. Naturally, MacLeod knew Edwards' career-long composer, Henry Mancini, who scored 'Party.' Mancini composed 'Tipsy' for Bugsy McKenna, MacLeod's inebriated bad guy on 'Mr. Lucky.'

'He was a director who trusted when you brought ideas,' MacLeod said of Edwards. 'Nothing was as loose as 'The Party.' You could rehearse it and then do it. He was innovative.'

MacLeod was 36, married with four kids, and living in Granada Hills when Edwards phoned in 1967.

'He said, 'I want you to do this character,'' MacLeod recalled. 'He sent me three pages. It was basically just an outline.

'Of course, that was what Sellers worked from. Blake had a monitor on top of the camera, we'd rehearse it, but redo the whole thing.'

Smaltzoff recalled that Edwards was the first filmmaker he had ever seen 'with a huge console' videotaping the dailies instead of waiting for filmed scenes to be developed, a process Jerry Lewis invented while directing 'The Ladies' Man.'

'Party''s opening, the doomed film shoot (one of the great comedy set-ups not to be ruined here), was filmed in Lancaster.

'Outside of the mansion, when I drove the Bentley in,' MacLeod recalled, 'that was way up in the Trousdale Estates, but the mansion set itself was all built on the [Goldwyn] soundstage.'

Despite Sellers' dark-skinned impersonation of an East Indian, 'The Party' is too sweet-natured to be racially insensitive.

Lest anyone be annoyed with Sellers' sympathetic portrayal of Hrundi (owner of a three-wheeler Morgan and a monkey named Apu), they will probably hit the roof over the Hindi caricatures in the just-released 'Love Guru.' Edwards appears to be editorializing via Miller's boorish movie star with the bone-crushing handshake, who seems to encapsulate a certain brand of culturally tone-deaf Americanism that wreaks of condescension and ignorance, as he refers to Hrundi as an 'Injun,' 'cute little fella,' and 'critter.' If anything, 'Party' sides with its dark horse protagonist, who ultimately triumphs over the patronizing partiers and wins Michele's comely hand.

Jason Simos, American representative for the Peter Sellers Appreciation Society (, works in publicity for Focus Features in New York. As he views it, 'Bakshi may be marginalized and (hilariously) disaster-prone, but, as he says late in the film in response to Divot's question/attack, 'Who do you think you are!' ' 'I do not think; I know who I am.''

The anarchic party motif appears to run throughout Edwards' oeuvre, from 'Breakfast at Tiffany's,' to 'Pink Panther' to 'What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?' Yet none could top 'Party''s over-the-top finale.

By the film's third act, those crazed Russians arrived to throw the mansion party into overdrive, and Clutterbuck's daughter returns with her college friends and a hippie-fied baby elephant painted over with peace slogans. When Hrundi explains that, where he comes from, elephant desecration is verboten, the teens giddily embark on washing the elephant, kicking up a soap storm of suds that overtakes the entire mansion. As the movie''and the bubbles''reach a crescendo, so does the chaos. Yes, this is one of those films where every character''including the elephant''falls into the swimming pool.

'It would take half a day or more to get the water out, and clean the pool [of elephant feces],' Smaltzoff said.

Miraculously, 'Party' came in just under $3 million.

April 4, 1968. 'The Party''s Westwood premiere was a muted affair, dampened by Martin Luther King's assassination that day. Talk about a 'Party'-killer!

At the time of its release, 'Party' garnered mixed reviews. Roger Ebert loved the film, save his reservations with the overstuffed ending. A Time magazine critic cited 'Party''s 'occasional humor,' commenting, 'most of the evening is just about as trite and tedious as a real-life party would have been with such a stereotyped guest list'the ad-lib approach'is not a swinging riot of originals but a parade of old reliables'This party, in short, is strictly for those who don't get around much.' The Village Voice's Elliott Stein wrote, "This overextended farce is an ingratiating tribute to silent slapstick comedy."

'I thought 'The Party' was going to be very successful financially, as well as critically,' Mirisch wrote, 'but it proved to be disappointing. It has, however, developed a good deal of cult status over the years.'

According to Simos, Stella McCartney, whose father, the Beatle Paul, was a friend of Sellers, recently hosted a celebrity-packed screening of 'The Party' at her Beverly Hills boutique.

'They could've done three films with the material they shot,' Smaltzoff observes. 'That's why they made those 'Pink Panther' films with the outtakes after Peter died.'

Today, talk of a 'Party' remake persists, with Sasha Baron Cohen ('Borat') attached. However, MacLeod, like many film buffs, is not eager to see Hollywood throw another 'Party.'

'There was an innocence about the movie,' MacLeod said, 'even with that toilet scene,' alluding to Sellers' Keaton-esque attempt to contain toilet paper roll that won't stop rolling. MacLeod feels that Edwards' idiosyncratic touches will get lost in the generational translation.

'I enjoyed working with Peter so much,' MacLeod said. 'It was just an honor to play with him. He was so gifted.'

By many accounts, including a recent HBO biopic, Sellers was difficult, and his professional relationship with Edwards was only one of convenience, furthered by the success of each 'Panther' movie. Smaltzoff does not remember witnessing tension between them.

'Peter had already had a heart attack just three months before and he was already a changed man,' Smaltzoff said. 'He would get nervous and cut people off. He would go talk on the phone'But when he came to work, Blake let him do whatever he wanted. Blake was an actor's director.'

Edwards offered the Post his slightly less diplomatic perspective.

'If I had one person that I would've liked killed, it would start with Peter Sellers and it would end with Peter Sellers.'

'The Party' screens on Wednesday, July 16, 9:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 260-1528. Tickets: $10. The film follows a 7:30 p.m. screening of Edwards' S.O.B. (1981). For a complete listing of American Cinematheque's month-long July tribute to Edwards, visit

A special thanks to Yuri Smaltzoff for providing the rare visuals used for this article.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

JULY 4TH: More adventures with a trip down memory lane....

I had a terrific Fourth of July weekend in Pacific Palisades, where I was covering the annual parade. It kicked off on Friday with an afternoon hike at Temescal Canyon, followed by a barbecue function at the polo grounds at Will Rogers State Park. I got to take a quickie tour of the Will Rogers house, perfectly preserved. It includes watercolors by Rogers' good friend, my favorite cowboy artist, Charles Russell.

When I was a kid, I adored Russell's art and his master illustrator's view of the American West. He was the Norman Rockwell of cowboys, and the fact that he was a true cowboy gave him a one-up over Remington, a Yalie whose work I didn't dig as much anyway. So I was quite entranced with the Russell watercolors and sculptures at the Rogers' house. That tour of Rogers' house is free by the way (not counting the $7 parking fee at the park).

That was July 3. On July 4, I covered the parade, which was overall more fun than last year's (my first year covering it), although I preferred last year's guest of honor, "Happy Days" actress Marion Ross, over this year's grand marshal, Ms. America.

A few barbecues later, my gf and I wound up at an El Medio party seeing the fireworks launched from PaliHi at 9 p.m. (as they do every year). Gavin turned up as one of the guests (dressed in the Evil Knievel-style bicentennial suit he wears every year in the parade). Rows of chairs were set up in the front lawn of the host's home, facing the high school just beyond across the street. However, the view was obstructed, so we spent a half an hour staring at silhouettes of the palm trees across the street, with fireworks exploding behind them. It was ridiculous and hilarious. But I don't want to sound like I'm ragging on the affair, the party was a lot of fun, and once you've seen fireworks, they don't really change much from year to year.

Facebook is a Pandora's box from the past. Above is a photo of myself (far right) and my longtime buddies Eric (white shirt, probably doing his best Cagney) and Rich (print shirt), circa our Fairfax High years, which a mutual friend posted. The metalhead in the back was someone I didn't know too well in h.s. This photo cracks me up, it's very Rat Pack meets Beastie Boys (with a touch of Twisted Sister).