Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ring in the New Year like you're GREENBLATT THE GREAT!



A SPECIAL NEW YEAR'S MESSAGE FROM THE CARTOONIST

This just in....

Hello, everyone!

I'd like to wish all the best in 2010 to my family, friends, colleagues and heroes. You're all part of my world...and I am part of yours! Ain't that wild?

Okay, look, we're all in this together, so let's try to make the most of this, alright? If you're reading this, it's probably for free (at the library) so stop whining and make milkshake out of milk and get out there and make 2010 more than just a cheap sequel to "Space Odyssey."

In the spirit of the holidays, I hoist a nice flute of Shplotz ketchup your way! Guzzle up and enjoy!

Happy New Year,

MICHAEL AUSHENKER

Here's an extra dose of GREENBLATT THE GREAT! nonsense to ring in the New Year in style (click on image to enlarge):





P.S. -- F*ck you, Charles Dickens!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Horn-Tooters!

They say that "context is critical." Well, thanks to TWO AND A HALF MEN, I now understand how subversive, depraved, and criminal to children the new ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS movie is.



There's a TWO AND A HALF MEN commercial that runs in perpetuity in the Los Angeles market in which Jon Cryer's character brags, "I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I'm dating two women." To which Charlie Sheen's character says something like, "You're dating two women and you're still tooting your own horn?" Well, you don't need a Sexologist to explain the innuendo of this golden piece of writing.



This commercial has been running 4-EVER, like 90 times a day, on KTLA. Well, like a great running gag, the above TWO AND A HALF MEN TV promo ran again last week, and it was quickly followed by a short commercial for the new kiddie film, ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL, in which Alvin goes, "I'm tooting my own horn!," followed by the mimic of a trumpet blowing and a gesture with his hands in a way that I can now safely interpret as shady, suggestive and obscene.

Thank you, TWO AND A HALF MEN, unlikely morality police!

Monday, December 28, 2009

AVATAR afterthoughts: SPOILER ALERT! Read only AFTER seeing the movie (if you plan to)



SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

I overall enjoyed AVATAR despite the fact that it was a pastiche of various tropes and it seemed to crib from a few sources: primarily, the DANCES WITH WOLVES/LAST SAMURAI/POCAHONTAS template (in which the outsider joins a tribe, is detested at first, and then must prove himself), a general LORD OF THE RINGS-type fantasy world, and the original STAR WARS (as a schematic structure).



I thought director James Cameron did a great job of creating that world and it was pretty thorough and convincing. But in the last section of the film, it really becomes subliminal "Star Wars" -you've got the Han Solo-type renegade (Michelle Rodriguez) coming to the aid of the male and female hero...






....the wise elder (Sigourney Weaver) dying a la Obi-Wan and rousing the hero to action...the big do-or-die mission at the end that must be pulled off....




...and the big baddie getting into the vehicle to finish the job himself (as Vader did in the original). He was even breathing heavily into that oxygen mask at the end, making Vader sounds. I thought that was a funny tribute.





So did the derivative aspects of AVATAR stop me from enjoying it? No!

The long running time almost did though. It gets a little soft in the middle between all hell breaks loose and the action kicks in.

At the same time, perhaps it's necessary to lull us viewers into this incredible world -- which again, is very convincing -- before laying the smackdown, and Cameron wanted to do it at his own pace, not Hollywood pace. Cameron also does a good job of articulating his geopolitical and pan environmental views. AVATAR is very much a metaphor for the state of the world, and perhaps that's part of why people are relating to this film.

And relating they are. I find it astounding that Cameron seems on the road to pulling this hat trick twice; as with TITANIC, which had a very unusual, slow-burn box office trend before becoming the highest-grossing movie ever made (at $1 Billion), AVATAR has already grossed $600 worldwide (in 10 days!) and only dropped 3 percent in its box office from the first weekend to the second, even swiping away the weekend crown from close second-runner SHERLOCK HOLMES. That suggests that AVATAR is being borne on great word of mouth, as usually there's a huge drop-off by week two after the hardcore fans have rushed to see a new film.

I didn't like the character designs from the clips I saw on AVATAR before I saw it, but once I saw the movie, I became immersed in it and kind of bought into it. So overall, it was enjoyable, if not exactly a classic.

MUNICH, WOLVERINE movie review haiku



X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009)

Too much Wolverine
Make him then try to kill him
Not enough logic



MUNICH (2005)

Director mismatched
Too much talk not enough speed
Did Friedkin say no?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

This week's comic: GREENBLATT THE GREAT!



Click on image to enlarge...

AVATAR movie review haiku



Sci-fi mash-up of
"Dances With Wolves" and "Star Wars"
Grows on you by end


Monday, December 21, 2009

Spotlight on artist GERRY TALAOC!



If the current issue of BACK ISSUE! # 37, on stands now through mid-January, is significant for one thing, it may be the return of artist GERRY TALAOC. True, I wrote the article, on one of his most significant comic book titles, The Unknown Soldier, which became my vehicle for interviewing Mr. Talaoc and giving him some long overdue attention. However, this statement is not as self-serving as it sounds (although I am certainly very proud to have a hand in finding Mr. Talaoc)...because my article, not intentionally at first, became the vehicle for arguably the first piece of new Talaoc art to be published since he quit the business in the early '90s after the work dried up.

And what a work of art it is: a 2007 painting of The Unknown Soldier, unmasked (Talaoc was the first artist to draw the character without his trademark bandages), cornered in a trench as a bunch of Nazis hurl potato mashers his way. He's armed with a machine gun and there's no question who is going to emerge from this fight victorious! Pity the poor stormtroopers!

Here is the first cover of the David Micheline/Gerry Talaoc run:



Had it not been for the fact that Joe Kubert had already been commissioned to do the Sgt. Rock cover, there was a good chance that Mr. Talaoc's surprise gift to BACK ISSUE! would've graced the cover. It did appear in a bubble on the cover, and BACK ISSUE! readers who download the digital issue will own the painting in all of its full-color glory.



Here is Mr. Talaoc back in the day (that him in black in the bottom left corner), probably in the early '70s, around the time when DC Comics enlisted the Filipino artists to draw scores of its horror, fantasy, futuristic and sword and sorcery features.



Ironically, it was only three or four years ago that Mr. Talaoc moved to America. During his heyday as a DC and Marvel artist, he worked from his native Phillipines - a country once known for its prodigious comics industry that produced Nestor Redondo, Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Nino and scores of other excellent draftsman who became household names to diehard comic-book fans in the 1970s.



Here is a page of HOUSE OF SECRETS that Mr. Talaoc drew that my buddy and fellow BACK ISSUE! writer Jerry Boyd owns. Ain't it a beaut? Thanks, Jerry, for sharing the Gerry!



I guess what I love about Gerry Talaoc's style is his mix of the real and the cartoony - a style pioneered by the likes of master cartoonists Milton Caniff and Chester Gould. His pen has a real energetic flair, and even the issues which he merely inked by other artists (such as Kubert or Dick Ayers) came alive thanks to his hand.



For further reading, check out Gerry Talaoc's first few issues of "The Unknown Soldier" (deftly written by David Micheline) in this above Volume One of SHOWCASE UNKNOWN SOLDIER. It ends on a real cliffhanger, whetting our appetite for a long run of Talaoc-drawn "Unknown Soldiers" that followed...

......Let's hope DC one day releases a SHOWCASE UNKNOWN SOLDIER VOL. 2......

Friday, December 18, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shop CARTOON FLOPHOUSE comics for the holidays......

Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Joyous holidays to all! This season, give the greatest gift of all to your loved ones: LAUGHTER!



FLOOP! FEATURING HARRY LUMMEL -- NEW!

Gag cartoons chronicling the rocky love life of plunger salesman and aspiring writer Harry Lummel and his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Betty, who happens to be the receptionist of Harry's corporate executive father. Complications, chaos and hilarity ensues. ALSO: backup features include SOUR BOY, HERSCHEL CAN'T WIN and MARTY OF THE DOLPHINS. (36 pages).

FLOOP! ships out in mid-January 2010 but orders accepted now.

($5.00 per copy -- plus $2.00 shipping in the U.S.; $5.00 outside the U.S.)

Please make checks payable to MICHAEL AUSHENKER and mail to:

CARTOON FLOPHOUSE
P.O. Box 480045
Los Angeles, CA
90048



CARTOON FLOPHOUSE FEATURING GREENBLATT THE GREAT!
# 1


Madcap gag cartoons about the bellhop Greenblatt and the crackpot crazies who linger around the Rondovian Hotel, including the section eight Mr. Van Dyke, Herbie the bellhop, Greenblatt's boss, Mr. Vulva, and the drunken Mr. Genesee. A must for fans of insane humor. Absurdism at its most absurd!

($5.00 per copy -- plus $2.00 shipping in the U.S.; $5.00 outside the U.S.)

Please make checks payable to MICHAEL AUSHENKER and mail to:

CARTOON FLOPHOUSE
P.O. Box 480045
Los Angeles, CA
90048



CARTOON FLOPHOUSE FEATURING GREENBLATT THE GREAT
# 2


More gag cartoons about the lunatics at the Rondovian Hotel featuring the hospitality industry's silliest bellboy.

($5.00 per copy -- plus $2.00 shipping in the U.S.; $5.00 outside the U.S.)

Please make checks payable to MICHAEL AUSHENKER and mail to:

CARTOON FLOPHOUSE
P.O. Box 480045
Los Angeles, CA
90048



SILLY GOOSE -- (All-Ages)

Gag cartoons about Silly Goose, the world's richest bird, his butler Hadley, and his put-upon actress girlfriend Gloria. Lots of jokes about the usual evils: greedy corporate America, condescending high-society, and birds.

($4.00 per copy -- plus $2.00 shipping in the U.S.; $5.00 outside the U.S.)

Please make checks out payable to MICHAEL AUSHENKER and mail to:

CARTOON FLOPHOUSE
P.O. Box 480045
Los Angeles, CA
90048

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Top 10 Movies of 2009

10. WATCHMEN - I've been wrestling with whether to put this nihlistic superhero saga on my list. I had strong mixed feelings about this film but I think I ultimately liked it more than I disliked it. It not only streamlined the "Watchmen" graphic novel (which I liked but didn't love as much as most people), I feel it kind of improved the storyline in some ways, especially the ending, which I enjoyed. All of the Rorschach stuff is gold, even if it's a little silly when they tried to capture him going "Herm" every five minutes. The Dr. Manhattan stuff was well done. All of the origin stuff in the middle kind of weigh down the pace. It's kind of glib, slick, gratuitous...but then I thought, 'So what?' This was meant to be a trippy epic so director Zack Snyder went balls out translating this to film. Someone had to! There were plenty of chickenshits who fled this project.

9. I've got nothing for this slot.

8. STAR TREK - Finally, a "Star Trek" film for the people who never really dug "Star Trek" that much. This was a well-made, likable, sunny blockbuster; a throwback to Richard Donner's "Superman," not the dreary-style blockbuster we've been experiencing ever since "Matrix." Only an outsider to the franchise such as J.J. Abrams, admittedly not a "Star Trek" fan, could deliver the goods.

7. I've got nothing for this slot either.

6. SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS - Assertive school teacher Billy Bob Thornton vs. nebbish Jon Heder, then they pull a "Rushmore" and go after the same girl. Hilarious! I know this movie was from 2006, but I only saw it this year. What do I do?

5. Nothing here either.

4. Nope.

3. THE HANGOVER* - The * is because I haven't seen this movie yet, but I really want to and it's by the guy who directed SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS, which I LOVED!!!! (see # 6). I have a feeling I'm going to dig this movie when I see it. I'll be frank, maybe I shouldn't be writing this list, I haven't seen a whole lot of movies in the theater this year. By the way, I hear that ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL is also really good. Perhaps # 3 is a tie.

2. FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Yes, I saw CORALINE too but it did not leave the impression on me afterwards as much as this stop-motion feature film did. What's heartening is that this has been a great year of comeback for stop-motion animation, which I personally prefer over the loud-mouthed, over-the-top, no-subtlety-whatsoever Pixar film sand Pixar wannabes oversaturing the multiplexes. I would consider myself a consistent fan of Wes Anderson (I enjoyed every movie of his a lot except his first film, which was OK) and while I have not read the book that this is based on, I'm guessing he did it justice with this witty, whimsical, colorful film. The vocal acting --George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartman -- makes the movie, but the visuals get silly, too. All of Anderson's visual, thematic and soundtrack trademarks are here. It's a Wes Anderson film for sure.

1. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - This is the weirdest entry on my list because I have never been a big fan of Tarantino's work...until the summer of 2009 when he finally made a movie I really, really loved. Never liked "Reservoir Dogs." I thought "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill Vol. 2" were overstuffed and boring in places. But I really dug INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. The actors were great, especially Brad Pitt (whose work I also normally do not care for) channeling Clark Gable and Warren Oates, and the terrifyingly charming and educated Nazi villain Commander Landa. What a villain! The premise was terrific and I reckon that the reason this movie worked for me is because I think the time period finally forced Tarantino not to rely on his patented pop-culture prattle his hitmen movies were known for (which I found annoying) but actually invest in his characters and story and let the dialogue service both. Make no mistake, this is not a mature WWII movie (like late 2008's "Defiance," which I also liked) or even grounded historical fiction, but it's a fun movie with a comic book's pulpy heart. Congratulations, Quentin, for having the restraint not to throw in your "Who's better? Aquaman or Sub-Mariner?" spiel into this film!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Electronic Search Engine Celebrates Popeye's 100th Anniversary


Popeye the Sailor was introduced on January 17, 1929, and to mark the character's 100th anniversary year, Google had a logo created, and supposedly this is the first of several tributes to Elzie Crisler Segar's creation to roll out this year.

Whuhappnd? Does a human heart beat somewhere inside the cold, unblinking Google machine?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Contemplating the Contemporaries



It's easy to look back and see who the comic book masters and influences are. Hugh Downs once said that "Hindsight is 20/20."

Herge ("Tintin") was huge. Charles Schultz ("Peanuts") is kind of eternally influential. So was Tezuka ("Astro Boy"), although I've only started reading his manga in recent years pending the translations.

Well, what about the cartoonists of today? Who among them will go the distance?

Well, nobody's asked me, but it's impossible to say.

However, here are my favorites among those working today and it's just my own subjective list, not necessarily reflecting reality, the real world or the general public or public enemy. I don't know whether or not these cartoonists are masters or will be influential down the road, but they're among the cartoonists I really enjoy who seem to do consistently interesting work.

JASON: The Norwegian cartoonist JASON ranks high on my list. He borrows from Herge and the Europeans and twists it into his own vocabulary. Some might find his use of anthropomorphic characters gimmicky or one-note, but it hasn't bugged me. I enjoy the stories he tells and the way he tells it. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?, I KILLED ADOLPH HITLER and THE LAST MUSKETEER are a lot of fun. I like his stuff 1,000 times better than, say, Woodring's "Frank" stuff which ran in the early '90s and left me cold, or Kaz, who does these unfunny gag-strips with characters that resemble mash-ups of Popeye and Nancy. In fact, I think indy comics are much better today than they were in the '80s and '90s, when there was less variety and ubiquity.

JOSE CABRERA: Jose's a buddy of mine, but he's also my favorite humor cartoonist. His satire is sharp, his gag cartoons make me chuckle. His PRIME CUT collection is one of my all-time favorite humor comics books. And now he's getting into gag cartoons big time and more running characters. Should get interesting....



ADRIAN TOMINE: Visually, he can really evoke certain strips by Dan Clowes but other than that, his work has nothing in common with Clowes' warped humor or surreal stories, instead focusing on slice-of-life relationship stuff, which he does very masterfully. Some of his detractors say he's too emo but I think they're not manly enough to enjoy something emotionally vulnerable. I think his stuff is interesting and I enjoy reading OPTIC NERVE whenever it comes out.

RUTU MODAN: Her EXIT WOUNDS graphic novel was a major work, nicely weaving Israeli politics as a backdrop to her relationship story without ever getting political. The art was beautiful and a nice tip o' the hat to the European masters. And I enjoyed the short pieces in JAMILTI. She's a cartoonist I am looking forward to reading more of.

JAVIER HERNANDEZ & TED SEKO, THE XOMIX COMIX GUYS: Two more talented cartoonists I feel blessed to call good friends. Javier is a descendant of the Bronze Age, doing his twist on the sincere and schlocky superhero and monster series of 1970s Marvel and DC, but he also injects humor into his work and the occasional autobiographical comic. He's also not afraid to take his El Muerto, Aztec Zombie character and turn him into a manga version. He keeps his work lively and unpredictable. Meanwhile, Ted brings a storyboard artist's approach to spinning parables on relationships and his hopes and fears disguised as post-apocalyptic running-man tales or monster/horror meltdowns and showdowns. Creatively, these guys should be running Marvel, it would certainly make things interesting again. And The White Tiger would finally get his own series. If Jav and Ted drew and inked it, that would rock the house!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

WATCHMEN movie review as a haiku



not bad but not great
grotesque superhero spoof
Rorschach scenes the best

Friday, December 4, 2009

IT'S FRIDAY! Here's Your Weekly Comic: GREENBLATT THE GREAT!



click on image to enlarge...

A CRUMB-y art show....



Hear ye, hear ye! There are two shows going on at the Hammer Museum in Westwood right now through early Jan. and early Feb. respectively that are just dynamic. The Charles Burchfield art (mostly watercolors and pencil sketches with a few oils in there) and the R. Crumb original art from his "Book of Genesis" graphic novel.

Below is my review of the Crumb show, which ran in the Post on Thanksgiving Day. My review in a sentence: Let's all hope he can squeak out his take on Exodus before he croaks!

My review for the Burchfield show will pop up in the December 10 edition. Believe that!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[hed] And Then There Was Crumb…
[sub] Godfather of Underground Comics Plays God with Bible Adaptation

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER
Staff Writer

You don’t have to be religious or a fan of underground comics to appreciate “The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb,” an ambitious work by seminal underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. All of the original pen-and-ink art from the 224-page book, which came out in October, are currently on display at the Hammer Museum in Westwood through February 7.
The uninhibited Crumb has been accused of a lot of things: racism, sexism, and assorted irreverence. Religiosity is not one of them, nor is hypocrisy. Through interviews (such as the one he gave before a live Royce Hall audience on October 30) and through his work, Crumb sanguinely admits to his foibles, prejudices and fetishes.
From the creation of mankind with Adam and Eve to the death of 110-year-old Joseph, “Genesis” appears to be a faithful, un-ironic adaptation. All the familiar personages and events are here: Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Cain and Abel, Leah, etc.
Crumb’s lively character designs invigorate the proceedings. His wonderfully detailed depiction of God, which haunts Abram on pages 38 and 43, is at once the cliché white-bearded old man and something fresh, with an energy that recalls the naïve art of primitive cartoonist Fletcher Hanks. His upright, bipedal serpent looks deliciously monstrous before he is turned into a lowly snake. And no one will mistake the female characters, with their ripe assets and their common, borderline homely faces, as anything other than Crumb creations.
People familiar with Crumb’s work may be surprised by the amount of restraint he demonstrates in “Genesis.” Yes, Crumb depicts much of the sex, violence and mass carnage inherent in the first book of the Old Testament, but not as explicitly as one might expect from the creator of such freewheeling, Haight-Ashbury-era characters as Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat. Sex scenes, often nocturnal and moonlit, are mostly implied and tame, almost tasteful. Except for two tear-drop squirts of blood, the circumcision of 13-year-old Ishmael takes place out of panel.
Five years in the making, Crumb’s black and white art from “Book of Genesis” adorns a lot of wall, the ink work spanning across the gallery in a spiral, ending at the entrance of a central room where one can lounge and view copies of the finished printed product.
The actual art is much more alive and tactile than viewing the more “perfect” book. God may be perfect but Crumb is not. His penchant for perfectionism is on display in the originals (witness the white-out around the characters’ nipples and genitalia on certain pages), but those blemishes only add to the imperfect beauty of these pages. The paired-off animals that kick off chapter 7’s retelling of Noah’s Ark are children’s book-whimsical. The detail¬¬––whether it’s the great flood of 40 days and 40 nights, the cataclysmic rain of brimstone and fire unto Sodom and Gomorrah (on page 61), the traffic of God’s messengers climbing and descending the stairway to Heaven (p. 102), Pharaoh’s epic birthday feast (Chapter 40), or the rendering of a mushroom-cloud tree that takes up a large panel (p. 6)––will draw viewers up close to the posted pages.
In reviewing ‘Book of Genesis,” Crumb loyalists may wind up overrating this work, but there’s no denying that it’s a towering achievement (and not just the part about Babel). You don’t have to “enjoy” the cartoonist’s oft-controversial work to recognize its genius on a technical level. If Crumb’s content may be difficult to swallow, his masterful cartooning style often makes up for it.
Short of “Crumb,” Terry Zwigoff’s masterful 1994 documentary on the cartoonist and his brothers, there is probably no better way to appreciate Robert Crumb’s artistry than to take a good gander at his original art, warts and all. “The Bible Illuminated” provides just such an occasion.
For more information, visit hammer.ucla.edu or call (310) 443-7000.

CAPTION: God creates the world and mankind in cartoonist R. Crumb’s work, on display at the Hammer Museum show “The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Current" Reading: DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU # 27, 31




Lots of fun. From the early 1970s. These painted covers alone are worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's a Woman Woman Woman Woman's World....



I thought I'd run this to balance out the estrogen in yesterday's post.

It's the just-revealed poster for "IM2." I'll be seeing this movie, but I hope this franchise hasn't jumped the shark. I haven't been heartened by shots of Black Widow and Whiplash from this film. Oh, well, time will tell.

Funny though how the commercial for SHERLOCK HOLMES has a twist on the IRON MAN scene in which the girl walks in on him when he's in a weird position. In IRON MAN, he was strung up by his armor. In SHERLOCK, he's cuffed to his bed. It's the same basic joke. Is this now Robert Downey Jr.'s trademark scene, written into the contract of every movie he makes?

Enough with the goddamn voiceovers already!


From "Sex & the City" to "Grey's Anatomy" to "Gossip Girl" to that crappy show starring Patricia Heaton that comes on right before "Modern Family," voiceovers are the hot TV cliche of recent years. You know, the kind of voiceovers where the chick narrating the damn thing comes up with some kind of life lesson epiphany at the very end and the whole show ends on an ironic note?

"Desperate Housewives" may be a crummy show, but at least it gets half a point for originality by having a dead woman narrate. As for the rest of these insipid shows......ENOUGH WITH THE GODDAMN VOICEOVERS ALREADY!