Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014-15 from Michael Aushenker & Cartoon Flophouse Humor Comics!

Yeah, so I hijacked the Halloween Kidder himself, my pal Rhode Montijo, to help wish all you dedicated Flophousers a funtesticle Chanukah, Christmas & New Year's Eve 2015!

Listen, it's been a good year for Cartoon Flophouse, with two new releases -- GO, GENIUS, GO! # 1 & 2--and a side project --HELL'S KITTY: LOST IN LOS ANGELES, written by Nicholas Tana--available through my website and via Amazon.

However, 2015 is gonna be a GREAT year because Aushenker's at it again with the SLAYER comic debuting at Wonder Con in April, a top secret new funny book debuting at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 (think in the spirit of THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES) and another project aimed for third quarter 2015.

Plus: visit and join to keep updated on a special charity project in development for late 2016 based on the life of blues rock guitar virtuoso Mike Bloomfield.

Happy holidays, Flophousers! Warm wishes for a facetious, fun-filled '15!

Happy Holidays from

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Please join CARTOON FLOPHOUSE humor comics online!

Join up, you Flophousers!

The new website URL is

I'm also now on Twitter @CartoonFlophous

....and, of course, my FB page:

Plus this blog for updates on upcoming conventions where through year's end I'll be promoting the following brand new books:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Full-color HELL'S KITTY LOST IN LOS ANGELES book finally coming out!

Big news, Flophousers! 

New full-color editions of this secret book, drawn by Michael Aushenker and written by Nicholas Tana (based on his HELL'S KITTY horror-comedy webseries) and colored by Melissa Compton, should be available at ALTERNATIVE PRESS EXPO in SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 4-5, 2014) and SAN DIEGO COMIC FEST (Oct. 17-19, 2014). 

Check this cartoonist's blog and  periodically for updates.


alternative red cover

Thursday, August 14, 2014


GO, GENIUS, GO! writer and cover artist MICHAEL AUSHENKER and artist Marcus Collar flank Awkward Mayhem as Mario.
I'd like to thank everyone -- new friends and old comrades -- who swung by my table at Stocktoncon to pick up the new books, GO, GENIUS, GO issues #1 and #2 as well as the SLAYER comic preview. We met some amazing new people this year including many new readers.

For those of you who missed out (cue violins...), like Axl sang, "Don't you cryyyy-yyy-yyy toniiiight!" You can order GO, GENIUS, GO! via my website

STOCKTONCON 2014 was even better than last year's by a long shot, thanks to terrific organization by Mike Millerick and the hospitality of Tina DeZuniga, her family, and her Filipino restaurant RED ORCHIDS, in the heart of downtown Stockton.

Bet your last dollar that I intend to come back to Stockton, Calif. for STOCKTONCON 2015 on Aug. 8 and 9, 2015. I love the people of Stockton and to be honest, I had more fun this year at Stocktoncon than even San Diego Comic-con.

So Stocktoncon, it's ON!!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

my new series GO, GENIUS, GO! #1 and 2 premiers at STOCKTONCON in Stockton, CA THIS WEEKEND!

TOMORROW, AUG. 9 & THIS SUNDAY, AUG. 10: my new comic book series, GO, GENIUS, GO!, with art by Marcus Collar, debuts at Stocktoncon in Stockton, CA, where we will be special guests. OUR TABLE: AA-63

We'll be signing issue #1 and 2 (of 3 issues). I'll be on a panel Sat. at 1 PM

You won't want to miss out on this hilarious new comic, a workplace comedy with teeth set in sterile Irvine, California's tech world.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2014: A few words for my publisher, ACME's MEL SMITH

I'd like to thank my SLAYER and "Gumby's Gang Starring Pokey" comics publisher Mel Smith for making things happen again this year.
The SLAYER bio comic I wrote for ACME publisher Mel Smith

I don't see this guy often enough so any time we get to hang out is always quality time. This weekend was no different: a great mix of mirth and quality conversations/insights about the comics biz. I always walk away from my time with Mel knowing way more than when we get together.
SLAYER comic writer Michael Aushenker and ACME publisher Mel Smith at the ACME booth N-15 Small Press at San Diego Comic-Con, July 25, 2014
Back in March 2008, I got a very boorish and ham-fisted warning from a supposed professional 'cartoonist' (more like an illustrator because cartoonists usually create the characters they draw. OOF!). He warned me not to work with Mel, who had just offered me the chance to write some Gumby & Pokey comics. At the time, Mel had the keys to the Gumby & Pokey universe on paper and this mercenary buffoon didn't want to get involved because of money. He proceeded to bad-mouth Mel, painting him as some kind of crook, even poisoning the well between me and a couple of mutual acquaintances in the comics society I belong to.
That's what short-termers do: short-termers only see the immediate monetary value in something while long-termers can see the larger picture, the value of the journey and the experience itself, the colorful horizon further down the road ahead.
This artist was short-terming Gumby but I'm a long-termer. I saw the long-term value in getting to write Gumby & Pokey, a terrific property that I had enjoyed immensely growing up and, most of all, that had not been done to death in comics. I would have the rare opportunity to help define the Gumby & Pokey experience in comics. How could I NOT want to take that ride?
I'm also a good judge of character and I instantly recognized the good qualities in Mel: he's sharp, very quick, experienced, extremely knowledgable about the industry, confident without being arrogant, a doer, a mover and shaker who gets things done, and, as I have found out more and more in the passing years, a very altruistic and fiercely loyal friend. Mel looks out for and takes care of the interests of his friends ahead of merely making money. He's got a lot of heart. If he gets into scraps, it's because he's very sensitive, and his biggest disappointment in the comics industry is when people think short-term and put money over friendship and the journey.
At the end of the day, Mel's not in it for the money either, he's in it for the glory, whether it's the glory of keeping Gumby & Pokey, your favorite band, or a great still-underrated artist such as Alex Nino alive through comics.
Mel Smith at the ACME Comics booth at San Diego Comic-Con, July 26, 2014
The jaded short-termers who lack character will never understand a guy like Mel, and justly, their careers will not be defined by projects with integrity but by whatever pays their bills the quickest.
But after a long weekend of witnessing the way Mel interacted with his table partner Lazy Bones and quietly --without fuss -- helped give a leg up to my L.A. buds Luis Calderon and Johnny Parker II,

The NoCal/SoCal crew includes Ken "Lazy Bones" Thomas of Livermore, CA and Johnny Parker II and Luis Calderon of L.A. was terrific to witness the karmic payback when no less than Slayer guitarist Kerry King himself took interest in what Mel was doing and gave him props; a very auspicious debut for Mel's brand new line of metal comics.
Slayer's Kerry King with Mel Smith after Comic-Con on Thurs., July 24, 2014
Working on "Gumby's Gang Starring Pokey," released in 2010, has opened some doors for me in comics. But that, in itself, was NOT one of the great rides of my life. That would have to be actually working with Mel and the many benefits of our friendship and collaboration, and, six years later, that adventure continues with the comics we are currently putting together about Slayer, Judas Priest, Testament, Exodus and so on.
So thanks, Mel, for the continuing great ride that is your friendship and your ambitions. Looking forward to the next episode. See you in Stockton in a couple weeks.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

GO, GENIUS, GO! issues #1 and 2 debuts at Stocktoncon on AUGUST 9TH!

With artist Marcus Collar doing the interior art and lettering and myself writing and painting the front and back covers, GO, GENIUS, GO!, a three-issue series on my Cartoon Flophouse imprint, is set to debut at STOCKTONCON in Stockton, California, on AUGUST 9th!

GO, GENIUS, GO! is a workplace comedy set at a tech startup in Irvine, California.

Marcus and I will have a table and we'll be selling issues #1 and #2 with issue #3 to come later this year. Here's a peak at our first two covers!

I'll also be taking part in a panel that day at the convention. See ya in Stockton!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The "One-Armed Swordsman"/"Star Wars" connection?

El Rey Channel is my new best friend on a Thursday night. Tonight is a One-Armed Swordsman marathon. Action-packed! Fun stuff!

"STAR WARS" SPOILER ALERT: What I'm discovering tonight is that "The New One-Armed Swordsman" (1971) seems to have provided some inspiration on the original "Star Wars," particularly with the style of the swordplay between the hero in white and the brown-cloaked renegade mentor (who dresses a lot like Obi Wan Kenobi). 

There's even a scene at the beginning resembling the final fight between Kenobi and Vader.
"THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" SPOILER ALERT: Why, I wouldn't be surprised if Luke losing his hand in the duel with Vader in the second film was inspired from one of these movies.

That is all for now!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES in "McDonald's Mission" (created May/June 2013)

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For more UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES, get the trade paperback collection THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES PARTY HARD! available here!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Passover from Michael and The Circle Jerks!

Greg Hetson, Ben, Lucky Lehrer, Alena, Michael Aushenker at Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset, 4/18/2014
Terrific night out Friday with founding Circle Jerks drummer Lucky Lehrer and guitarist Greg Hetson (also of Bad Religion) after a rare screening of Penelope Spheeris' THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION at LACMA (WTF?!?!), at which Greg Hetson was among the panelists.

Here we are at Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset. The dinner conversation was hilariously peppered by background cameos of comedian Paul Rodriguez hauling bags of take-out to the Laugh Factory next door and either Jesus Christ or a guy dressed just like him.( Hey, even a nice Jewish boy like Jesus needs a hot bowl of matzoh ball soup during Passover....)

Here are the Circle Jerks at their most out of control from DECLINE, which Spheeris is aiming soon for a long-awaited DVD release.

What's amazing, as I learned from Lucky and Greg, is that the Jerks had only been together 3-4 months and they were a last minute add-on in DECLINE (perhaps why there's no interview with the group members in the movie). That, in pretty punk rock!

But the Circle Jerks are on point in DECLINE and gigs like this one at the now-defunct Fleetwood in Redondo Beach anticipated one of the tightest of all albums, GROUP SEX, later that year in 1980.

So cool to see DECLINE on a big screen again! It holds up very well and the panel afterwards was loose and fun. There was even an update on "Eugene" (today he's a folk singer...HAH!)

Friday, April 11, 2014


Here's the new logo for our charity comic for 2015: a biographical look at one of the most legendary and tragic of all guitar players, the late Mike Bloomfield.

Writer: Michael Aushenker  Artist: Marcus Collar

Logo design by Michael Aushenker. Art by Marcus Collar.

For more information and updates on this book, of which all proceeds will go to drug rehabs for low-income addicts, visit the book's official site and please join the blog at

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Take RUSS HEATH's word for it....COMIC BOOK CREATOR #4 is out NOW!

COMIC BOOK CREATOR #4 IS OUT!! As Associate Editor of COMIC BOOK CREATOR, I've contributed part I of II of my interview with DENYS COWAN, the first flesh-and-blood cartoonist I ever met in person (at the Ambassador Hotel's monthly comics convention when I was a teen). I also have my profile of MORT TODD & STEVE DITKO back when Todd was editor of Marvel's Ditko monster mag reprints and rock 'n' roll comics in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, EDITOR JON B. COOKE did the cover story on the legendary RUSS HEATH, who got his copy today at Robin Hood Pub in Sherman Oaks courtesy of STEVE KRIOZERE.

Don't STEAL your copy like Roy Lichtenstein stole Heath's images...GO BUY YOURSELF A COPY! You'll dig it, maaan!

For more information, visit

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

COVER UNVEILING: Here's GO, GENIUS, GO! #1 (of 3), drops Aug. 9

Artist MARCUS COLLAR and I are working steadily on our three-issue comic book series GO, GENIUS, GO!, a workplace comedy set in techie corridor of  the artificially beautiful and sterile paradise that is Irvine, California.

Our series has everything you want (and don't want!) in an online company odyssey: raunchy jokes, office sex, and tech world-pretentious characters. Plus: feisty senior citizen retirees, of course! It's all explained in the books.

I wrote the series and Marcus is illustrating the books. Meanwhile, I'm creating the painted front and back covers for each issue.

Here's my front cover for GO, GENIUS, GO! #1, which will premier August 9 at Stocktoncon, where I will be a special guest. Issues #2 and 3 to follow at conventions and in comic book shops in fall 2014.

For updates, stay tuned at the Cartoon Flophouse Humor Comics Facebook page and via

That's all for now. Signing off! BLEEORP!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

BACK ISSUE magazine #71 is out featuring my article on BROTHER VOODOO..SFX: Dum-Dum-DUM-DUM!

As my duties for TwoMorrows Publishing have shifted to associate editor for Comic Book Creator magazine, with #4 (Russ Heath cover story) imminent, this textual exploration of Marvel's Brother Voodoo (featuring co-creator, writer Len Wein) in issue #71 of BACK ISSUE magazine will most likely be my last article for BACK ISSUE.

I'm not sure what editor Michael Eury's plans will be for issue #100, but I'd love to be a part of that big issue when it arrives if it fits his editorial plans. Michael Eury has led the magazine with a sure hand and a light touch that has made the mag a fun and informative read.

That aside, it's been a very fun ride, contributing articles on and off for more than 50 issues, beginning with my debut with an article on Bill Mantlo and Lee Elias/Frank Robbins' The Human Fly in BACK ISSUE #20 and continuing with articles on Son of Satan in BI#21, Captain America and Falcon in #22, a personal favorite of mine: a conversation about Deathlok the Demolisher with Rich Buckler in BI #25, and scores of other articles on everything from Mr. T in the comics to Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up.

I've also had the chance to interview and profile so many people I admire in the pages of BACK ISSUE, including Unknown Soldier artist Gerry Talaoc, Marvel Two-in-One's Ron Wilson, G.I. Joe creator Larry Hama, letterer extraordinaire Janice Chiang and Detroit Rock City artist Mike Vosburg.

Many thanks to Mike Eury for inviting me into the Back Issue fold in the months following the only time we've met in actual person: I believe it was San Diego Comic-Con 2005 following a TwoMorrows panel.

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Comic Alert: GO, GENIUS, GO #1 and #2 debuts AUGUST 9 at STOCKTON-CON

GO, GENIUS, GO!, the new three-part comic book series I created and wrote, is debuting at STOCKTON-CON on AUGUST 9, where I'll be a special guest with my esteemed GGG! artist/collaborator, the talented Marcus Collar of Napa Valley, Calif. 
GO, GENIUS, GO! is a raunchy workplace comedy set at an Internet start-up located in the perfectly gorgeous and sterile Orange County community of Irvine, Calif. 

We'll be debuting GO, GENIUS, GO! issues #1 and 2 at Stockton-Con.

Here's more info on Stockton-Con - it's a terrific show and the convention has been doubling in size from year to year. Last August was my first time attending Stockton-Con and I had a blast. Great energy! Great turn-out! The late, great Morrie Turner of "Wee Pals" fame was a gent, tabling right behind us. And I even reconnected with an employer on one of my former writing gigs, THE EXORCIST star Linda Blair (which made MY head spin!) Highly recommended!

Stay tuned to and the Cartoon Flophouse humor comics Facebook page for more updates.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

RIP RICHARD "RIC" MENELLO (August 20, 1952 – March 1, 2013)

RIP RICHARD 'RIC' MENELLO, who passed exactly a year ago today on March 1, 2013.

This photo was taken by Jeffrey Price.

I recently wrote this piece - published January 2, 2014 - on the video he directed for Def Jam Recordings' first rap superstar L.L. Cool J -- GOING BACK TO CALI 

Here are stills of some of the Venice shots in Menello's 1988 GOING BACK TO CALI video, filmed in black and white as a tip of the hat to Orson Welles, one of his cinematic heroes, who had shot TOUCH OF EVIL at Venice Beach 30 years earlier.

....but Menello also co-created the videos for THE BEASTIE BOYS' two biggest hits- FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY) and NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN - with ADAM DUBIN. 

Scroll down below to read the uncut version of this article.

[Ric even played the angry dad in FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT and the comical, anti-rap stage manager/Beasties foil at the beginning of the NO SLEEP video (and that's Adam Dubin in the gorilla suit making off with the hot video at the end).]

Here is Adam Dubin and Ric Menello together in New York City in Feb. 2013 a month before Ric Menello passed away...exactly a year ago today.

Ric also wrote the screenplay for TOUGHER THAN LEATHER, the aborted Beastie Boys movie SCARED STUPID and aborted Beasties MTV show with the same name.

Most recently, he co-wrote two James Gray movies TWO LOVERS and THE IMMIGRANT.

Here's a website devoted to his memory and legacy by Ric Menello by his cousin,
 Vincent Giordano, Menello's cousin and then-president of Def Jam Pictures. Stay tuned to, as Giordano plans to upload a lot of memories and works related to Ric Menello in the months to come.



‘Going Back to Cali’…Revisited

Why did 20-year-old L.L. Cool J film an artsy black-and-white rap video on Venice Beach? Two words: Ric Menello

By Michael Aushenker

Twenty-six years ago, a 20-year-old L.L. Cool J was on top of the world.
The first rap act to blow up on Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons’ Def Jam Recordings, “Uncle L” already had two hit albums under his belt. He had paved the way for Def Jam to almost single-handedly explode rap into the mainstream with follow-up acts Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. While a fierce master of the battle rap, he had already created a new subgenre, the rap ballad, with his hit single “I Need Love” and embodied the rapper as rock star in his signature Kangol hat, Adidas track suit and gold dookies.
So why was he on the Venice boardwalk shooting an artsy black-and-white video for his next single, “Going Back to Cali,” dressed down without his medallions?
Two words: Ric Menello.

Going Back to the Welles

Released in 1988, “Going Back to Cali” was not your typical rap video. Then again, this was not your typical rap song.
Produced by Rubin, “Cali”—with its lazy opening scratches, grinding mid-tempo turntable, horny brass breaks, and climactic, winding saxophone solo—went against the grain of faster-paced, adrenaline-rush rap topping the charts at the time. Musically alluring, the lyrics, with typical Cool J braggadocio, recounted a tidy little morality tale of sorts, in which Ladies Love Cool J (a.k.a. James Todd Smith of Jamaica, Queens) delivers his cynical view of vacuous Los Angeles as he cruises around in his pimped-out black Corvette convertible, encountering Sunset Boulevard strippers and impossibly vapid sunbathing beach girls (“Her bikini - small; heels – tall. She said/she liked/the ocean.”) The East Coast rapper ultimately rejects the trappings of Southern California, sniffing, “Hmm. I don’t think so.”
Originally released by Def Jam on the “Less Than Zero” movie soundtrack in 1987, the song was released in 1988 as a single, ahead of its inclusion on Cool J’s third album, 1989’s “Walking With a Panther.” That’s when Def Jam enlisted Richard “Ric” Menello, who had a hand in myriad Def Jam projects, including co-directing videos for the Beastie Boys’ two biggest singles and scripting the Run-DMC feature film vehicle “Tougher Than Leather,” to direct the video for “Going Back to Cali.”
The bulk of the “Cali” video shows Cool J driving a convertible Corvette around the Venice area, intercut with a worm’s eye view of Beatnik-artsy Caucasian women making mechanical dance moves. The video begins and ends on Venice Beach itself. At one point, there is a quasi-surreal profile of the rapper in the foreground while a brunette grinds away in the background, all shot at the archways that today preface Mao’s Chinese Kitchen. The angle is looking south on Pacific toward the intersection at Windward.
One quick shot shows the pride of Queens’ Farmers Boulevard flush against a street sign that reads “Speedway.” Another scene, in which Cool J plays a round of blackjack on the patio of a Googie-style (now-defunct) Pioneer Chicken outlet in Hollywood, reveals Def Jam svengali Rubin in a cameo. Cut to a sax player jamming in what appears to be a Venice alleyway before Cool J drives off into the sunset down the Venice Boardwalk path.
Atmospheric and artsy, director Menello shot the video in black and white as a tribute to one of his cinematic idols, Orson Welles. In fact, the reason the video is loosely divided between two locations – around Venice Beach and atop the Griffith Observatory- is because two of Menello’s favorite films were Welles’ “Touch of Evil” and Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” shot at those respective locales.
“I know he was excited to shoot in Venice because one of his favorite films was shot there, ‘Touch of Evil,’” Dubin said.
The “Going Back to Cali” shoot came with some embedded anniversary symbolism. Welles had shot on that very Venice Boardwalk 30 years prior to Menello’s video. In the 1958 late-Welles classic film noir, featuring Charlton Heston as a drug enforcement official south of the border, the movie opens with one of the most famous single takes in cinematic history; a carefully choreographed, three-minute-and-20-second tracking shot with Venice Beach doubling for a Mexican border town. Welles’ shot caught the eastward view along Windward at Ocean Front Walk, with the St. Marks, a hotel torn down in the 1960s next to a restaurant with a “chop suey” sign (today, Danny’s Venice restaurant).

Ill Communication

In today’s post-modern music scene in which genres are easily mashed-up and crossed over, it is easy to forget how segregated music and music fans were during the Reagan years as well as the pressures of the Tipper Gore-led PMRC on rap and metal acts that eventually led to parents’ advisory labels on CDs. Rubin’s vision to graft rock and metal elements onto rap finally broke the color barrier when Run-DMC and especially the Rubin-produced “Licensed to Ill,” starring rap’s first legitimate white superstars, the Beastie Boys, catapulted rap music into the suburbs and across middle America. “Licensed” became the first-ever rap album to top Billboard’s charts and held that position for a month, selling 4-million units at the time (the album, a fixture on Billboard’s catalogue charts, eventually crossed the diamond mark). Even though Run-DMC denounced drugs and espoused education in their lyrics, violence made their concerts a liability while the Beastie Boys became reviled across the Bible Belt because of their onstage antics and props.
Vinny Giordano, who ran Def Pictures, the motion picture arm of Def Jam, for Rubin and Simmons, was one of the producers on “Tougher Than Leather,” the Run-DMC feature film vehicle directed by Rubin and scripted by Menello. He is also Menello’s cousin.
“I remember when Ric told me Rick Rubin wanted to meet me to start up the production company,” Giordano recalled. “I was like, ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’
A graduate of New York University’s prestigious film school program, Menello had lingered at the campus a decade later as a front desk guard at Weinstein Hall, the very dormitory from which student Rubin, with outsider Simmons’ help, had launched Def Jam Recordings. Dubin was also an NYU student, and Rubin and Dubin bonded with the gregarious Menello over their shared love of movies. The garrulous Menello was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of movies, from classic Hollywood film noir to the Nouvelle Vague, ‘70s auteurs and Asian cinema. As Menello got sucked in deeper into helping Rubin realize his vision in the entertainment industry, naturally he thought of his cousin when pressed to find someone who could help run Def Jam’s motion picture unit.
“I had my own production company and I met him and it was insane,” Giordano said. “He had a small apartment at the time above a photo studio and it smelled of photographic fluid. I was getting a damn contact high. There were single line phones strung all over the place maybe five of them. I went to sit in this damn chair and my ass went through the bottom of it and hit a fucking ringing phone. The ringing didn't bother Rick, he just kept talking calmly and I asked if I should answer one of these phones because its driving me crazy and he said, ‘No, just let them ring.’ He told me all about his big deal with Sony and the rap music explosion, but not before he held up the new Metallica record ‘Master of Puppets’ and told me this was the future.
“I was a bit confused. I called Menello and told him, ‘You guys are on your own!’ Both Ric and Rick kept calling me, driving me nuts, because Menello said Rick now offered to hire him if I did start the company to do the film and the videos, so I felt, if it would benefit him, I would do a hit and run, do the job and get back out!
“But it never works that way in the end.”
In addition to writing “Tougher Than Leather,” a Blaxploitation-style Run-DMC movie Rubin directed which bombed upon its belated 1988 release (“We all try to forget ‘Tougher Than Leather’ so I've erased it from my memory banks,” Giordano said, half-joking). Menello wrote a screenplay for an aborted haunted house comedy called “Scared Stupid” poised to be the Beastie Boys’ feature film vehicle; their “Hard Day’s Night.”
“It was an updated of classic Abbot and Costello,” said Dubin, who has read the script. “One of their uncles dies and leaves them the house. They go to the house and these gangsters are trying to get rid of them.”
According to Giordano, there was also “an alternate script for ‘Scared Stupid’ by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and Tom Cushman, which they created to try to push as well.” 
 “’Scared Stupid’ was a long process,” Giordano continued. “Ric wrote the first script and Russell helped us get a deal with New Line Cinema. Rick Rubin was opposed to it because he wanted to control it and do it for a low budget (but not with him directing). Rick would not accept any plan or anything as we all tried to talk to him.
“They finally brought in Shep Gordon and we did the final budget and tried to broker a deal where Rick Rubin got a huge salary and a huge budget to do the soundtrack.
Because of internal cash flow problems at Def Jam, the Beastie Boys had not been paid their royalties on the mega-selling “Licensed to Ill,” and closing this deal on a Beasties movie with New Line would have solved the issue of remuneration.
“But Rick said no and the deal died,” Giordano said.
In the months just prior to the release of “Licensed to Ill” that fall of 1986, MTV exhibited interest in a TV show (also titled “Scared Stupid”) featuring the Beasties that would combine two shows the music network was airing reruns of: “The Monkees” and the British series “The Young Ones.” Menello worked on that project as well.
“The Beastie Boys thought it was funny pilot script,” Dubin recalled.
Ultimately, the TV show and Menello’s feature film screenplay were never produced because “the Beasties took off” and the band would soon embark on its “Together Forever” tour with Run-DMC.

‘Party’ Time!

After the first single on “Licensed to Ill” blew up on the radio, Rubin needed a video for MTV.
Rubin had set the tone for Menello and Dubin’s Beastie Boys videos with the clip he directed for “She’s On It,” a pre-“Licensed to Ill” song in the “Licensed” style from the soundtrack of the 1985 movie “Krush Groove” (which Simmons produced, loosely based on the Def Jam story).
“They did that in the summer,” Dubin recalled of the “She’s On It” video. “If Rick Rubin had not been making ‘Tougher Than Leather’ and wasn’t up to his eyeballs, I think he would’ve directed the video.
He may have underestimated how immersed he would be in making the movie.”
Also, Dubin adds, “He thought anybody could make a music video. He wasn’t that impressed with the genre.”
So Rubin gave Menello the assignment to shoot the video—on a miniscule $40,000 budget--for the first single off of “Licensed to Ill”: “(You Gotta) Fight for your Right (to Party).”
Fearing the technical aspects of shooting the video, Menello enlisted Dubin to co-direct it with him.
“He gets Menello,” Dubin recalled. “Menello was too nervous to do it himself, he asks me. He couldn’t produce the video, he couldn’t get it done. I’m not a great producer, but I’ll produce anything if I could direct. Within the space of a few months, I became a director.”  
After getting input from the Beastie Boys at Mike D.’s apartment, Menello and Dubin were set to build their comedic video around a storyline in which the Beastie Boys crash a pair of nerds’ party and cause much mayhem.
“Ric said, ‘Let’s make it like the party at ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’” Dubin said they decided. “Ric said, ‘Come over, we’ll watch ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’  we’ll eat, and then we’ll write the gags.’”
Dubin went over to Menello’s family home, where he lived, and where Menello’s mother, Lucille, very much the quintessential Italian mother, made a pasta meal that could feed an army.
“There’s enough food on the table, surely there must be other people coming over,” said Dubin, whose fears were confirmed: it was just for the two of them. “You’re eating, you’re stuffed. Even if you didn’t want more, you ate a second helping.”
Menello, who had spent large portions of his disposable income on laserdiscs, pulled out the 1961 Blake Edwards comedy classic.
“We watch the movie, and then we sit and write,” Dubin recalled. “As we’re writing all the gags, we’re also storyboarding it out on 5” x 7” cards.”
The video, which culled a lot of Beasties friends and associates at the home of Venice photographer Sunny Bak, was shot across Thanksgiving Weekend of 1986.
“Saturday was a break from filming ‘Tougher Than Leather,’” Dubin recalled, “and Rick was available.” A few days after the two-day shoot, “the thing was due at MTV.”
On the video set, “Rick Rubin was solidly in charge,” Dubin recalled. “It was merely an extension of what he was dealing with in the dorm room. He was confident. He had reason to be. I didn’t have to deal from anyone from Columbia. I was totally insulated.”
Looking back, he and Menello lucked out, given they had shot each scene to match each line. “We never did shoot full coverage of the song,” Dubin said. “We made a good video under difficult circumstances. But we had a lot of heart. You had this hit song. It showed the world who the Beastie Boys were.” 

‘Brooklyn’ Bound

With the career-making success of the “Fight For Your Right” video, Rubin re-teamed Dubin and Menello to shoot the video for the next Beasties single, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” under different circumstances.
Shot at The World, a hip hop club on Houston Street, “No Sleep,” a spoof of the then-popular glam metal scene, was way more ambitious than its predecessor.
“We didn’t have a ton more money [about $65,000],” Dubin said, but there were way more suits hanging around the set.
“On that shoot, we had people from the MTV,” Dubin remembered. “There were a whole bunch of people that I don’t know from Columbia, some A&R people. It’s still a Def Jam thing but somehow there were more people. Suddenly, the Beastie Boys mattered.”
Dubin and Menello insisted on the video’s intro, in which a concert promoter, played by Menello, rejects the Beasties from playing a concert because their “band” is a vinyl record. So the Beasties return disguised as glam metal rockers and Menello shoos them out to the stage. Hilarity ensues.
“We knew it had to make it a gag fest,” he said.
The video was shot in January of 1987 – “just short of them going on that ‘Together Forever’ tour [with Run-DMC],” Dubin said.
For Dubin, who went on to begin a long association with speed metal kings Metallica (he directed the video for the group’s first power ballad, “Nothing Else Matters”), “I’m always indebted to Rick and to Ric Menello and the Beastie Boys for letting me be a part of their world at one key juncture.”
What was not realized at the time was that the relationship between Def Jam and its biggest act was irrevocably damaged after Rubin’s failure to greenlight “Scared Stupid” and pay the Beastie Boys money due on “Licensed to Ill.” After their touring, the Beastie Boys would never make another album for Def Jam again, famously leaving the label and New York for California, where they signed with Capitol Records and embarked on 1989’s hip hop masterpiece, “Paul’s Boutique.”
“When we started out,” Dubin recalled, “it wasn’t a lot of people around. Just these guys making this happen. We were just friends. We would hang out and Adam Horovitz was there and we would go out to eat.
“At some point, it got bigger and all these people came into it. That had to happen. And then it was over. It got so big, so fast.”

“Cali” Dreamin’

Now confident enough to direct on his own, Ric Menello directed a slew of videos solo: MC Lyte, Slick Rick, and Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali.”
“That’s him on his own,” Dubin said of the latter. “He kind of did it the way he did it. He’s trying to be Welles, who he could also do a flawless imitation of. He was kind of an amazing guy for that stuff.”
Recalled Giordano, “I did the prep work on the video with Ric going through his storyboards and helping him order the shots but was not in L.A. on the shoot. Rick and Ric went out for that but I was in touch throughout with Ric.
“I remember I was the one who dealt with the problems when the mother of the underage girl dancing on the top of the phone booth  had her lawyer contact us to have the shots removed from the video. So I had to delicately find a solution to that without altering the video too much.”
In a 2011 interview with NPR, Rubin reflected on the making of the “Cali” video.
“I had a strong feeling of how L.L. should look in the video,” he said. “This was at a time when rappers all wore a lot of gold jewelry. And I was very insistent that L.L. not wear any jewelry. And it was a really contentious issue. And I remember him calling Russell and saying, ‘Russell! Rick doesn't want me to wear jewelry in the video!’ and ‘I can't do this!’ and Russell, to his credit, said ‘No, listen to Rick, do what he says.’ And it ended up being a really special video.
“I tried to explain to him at the time, like ‘the reason you don't want to wear jewelry is because everyone's wearing jewelry,’” Rubin told NPR. “And it's much more interesting when everybody's wearing jewelry for you not to. And he was like, ‘How are people going to know I'm successful if I'm not wearing jewelry?’ And I said, ‘Because you're so successful, you don't need jewelry!’”
The rapper also weighed in on making the song for an Entertainment Weekly “Behind the Songs” article:
“This was a strange one. I went out of my comfort zone,” Cool J said. “It's funny, because Rick Rubin always hated 'I Need Love,' and there was a time when I hated 'Going Back to Cali.' It ended up being something really special, but it took me a minute, it really did.”
For Menello, “Going Back to Cali” signaled a graduation of sorts as a video director who yearned to create cinema. Just as his dream to make feature films finally began to come together, life circumstances, unfortunately, began to intervene. After his father died in the mid-1990s, Menello followed by his mother to New Jersey until she died in 2007, then he returned back to his native Brooklyn. In Ditmus Park, “he knew everybody,” Dubin said. “We walked down the street. There’d be hardcore African-American guys. They’d be like, ‘What’s up, Ric?’”
In the last decade, Menello got closer to his dream as a screenwriting partner of filmmaker James Gray (“The Yards”). With Gray, Menello collaborated on two movies starring Joaquin Phoenix: 2008’s “Two Lovers” and 2013’s “The Immigrant.”
Unfortunately, Menello never lived to see the release of the latter film. On March 1, Menello died of a heart attack at the age of 60.
“He had time for people,” Dubin said. “He would read screenplays for people. He did exactly what he did at the front desk of that dorm.”
“Menello was a one of a kind,” Giordano said. “In terms of films, there are few with his breath and scope. He was unfortunately misunderstood and misused.”

Don’t Call It a Comeback

The quirky “Going Back to Cali” (no relation to an identically titled mid-1990s cut by Notorious B.I.G.) proved a hit song for L.L. Cool J, peaking at #31 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1988, with arguably Cool J’s most hardcore banger, “Jack the Ripper” (a definitive shot at rival Kool Moe Dee) on the B-side.
It also became a prelude to Cool J’s first turbulence as an entertainer since he entered the business at age 16.
In hindsight, the “Cali” single closed the curtains on Cool J at his most youthfully primal and hardcore. The rapper’s street credibility had already begun to erode after the release of the mushy “I Need Love” and the album “Walking with a Panther,” which wallowed in a materialism, invited a backlash from sectors of the African-American community. For a brief, soul-crushing spell, Cool J became the poster boy for repugnant rapper decadence.
However, by 1990, his first blush of failure had reignited the battle rapper in Cool J. “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been around for years,” the rapper spat on “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the chart-topping title track from his hit fourth album, which went on to sell more than two-million albums and pave the way for a successful career in music, film and television that continues through today.
Now, at 46, a resident of Studio City and the star of the hit show “NCIS: L.A.,” Cool J remains a popular and versatile entertainer as well as a grounded family man. Evidently, the rap star, a long way from that shoot on the Venice Boardwalk, may want to reconsider the lyrics of his old hit: “Going back to Cali? Hmm. I think so.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Happy 85th, Popeye the Sailor Man!

Well, blow me down! Is it 85 years already?

Very proud of this recent cover story I wrote about Popeye the Sailor and his Santa Monica connections. 

Popeye was created in Santa Monica, his creator died in and is buried in Santa Monica. Elsie Crisler Segar, who died at 43 in 1938, is buried next to wife Myrtle, who died 40 years later, at Woodlawn.

Special thanks to King Features Syndicate, home of Popeye, which posted this very cool item  today to mark Popeye's anniversary at POPEYE.COM

I feel honored as E.C. Segar's Popeye is my favorite comic and the Fleischer Studios' Popeye  is my all-time favorite cartoon character: both have been lifelong influences on my own cartooning.

Happy 85th today, Popeye the Sailor! And while we're at it, happy birthday to Olive Oyl, who turns 95 this year as the grand dame of Segar's "Thimble Theatre."