Category Archives: artists I admire

Goodbye, Dr. Fantabulous

Words don’t do justice to this subject, so here goes;

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‘Nuff said?

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Theme Songs for Living Life

You know how in movies and on TV they play a soundtrack behind the action of the show?  And how, sometimes, if the movie or TV show is any good, it enhances and underscores whatever is happening to the main theme of story and the action that expresses it on the screen?  Yeah, that.  A complex idea that lies just under the surface of consciousness, a something that somebody sometime thought up that actually works and can work quite well.  But why does it work?

Put as simply as I can say an idea that is so layered and complex, it is because that is how real life works.  Yeah, there is music in the background of every life.  It plays almost unnoticed until that point where you suddenly realize how it defines your very soul.

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Through childhood and junior high and high school, I used to joke with my two sisters that every song that came on the radio was my favorite song, my theme song.  Every new Beatles’ song, or Paul Revere and the Raiders’ song, or Elton John musical fantasy was the song that defined my entire life.  Yes, I really was that fickle.  But I was also responding to a sense that who I was had to change into something new as often as you heard a new song on the radio or bought a new record album.  (Yes, I know some of you have no idea what that is, but I am a child of the 60’s and 70’s, and I make no excuse for that.  So deal with it.)

I hope you have listened to some of the YouTube song-thingies I have added to this post.  They are not picked at random.  They are some of the key theme songs of my goofy, pointless, and fantastical life.

The Astroboy opening theme is here to represent my early childhood.  When I had the courage of the irrepressible imagination of childhood.  I soared with Astroboy through every black-and-white episode I could get hold of in the 60’s.  At times it met getting out of bed early to catch it at 6:00 am, just after Channel 3 came on the air in the morning.  At times it meant rushing home as soon as school let out because it came on only half an hour after the last bell, and the school was on the north end of Rowan, while home was as far south as the town went.Astroboy

I really used to believe that I would grow up to lead a heroic life and make a name for myself that would inspire others to greatness too.  We are uncommonly stupidly when we are children, and we need simplistic theme songs to wake us up to life gradually.

The Eagles provided the theme songs of my high school and college young manhood.  Trying out life, at times boldly, and at most times timidly, I had to “Take It to the Limit” as often as I could manage.  It turned out that due to irrepressible social awkwardness, my greatest presses against the walls of my existence were all academic in nature.  We learn by doing… and failing… and trying again.  The songs become more complex as they weave themselves into the background of your life story.

As a young teacher, shy and soft-spoken, it was impressed on me that discipline was about controlling behavior which you had to do by being stern and unyielding, good at rule-setting and handing down punishments.  But with my goofy temperament and non-threatening clown face, I soon learned that that road only led to misery and heartache for both me and, more importantly, the students.  In the 80’s I learned that you had to follow Bobby McFerrin’s philosophy of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.  I learned that you don’t teach someone lasting lessons by pushing them from behind with paddles and switches, but by leading them forward with jokes and obvious joy in the lessons you are teaching.

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Now that I have grown old and awful in the winter of my life, the songs that express my personal themes are classical music and complex with snowflakian symmetry and stark, cold beauty.  I would talk about a few more particulars, but I am now well past 500 words, and if you don’t have the idea yet, I’m sorry, you are probably never going to hear that music yourself.  But don’t worry… be happy.

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Fact or Opinion (It’s a Teacher Thing)

“Climate change is a hoax by the Chinese.” 

That, unfortunately, is not an opinion.  It is a fact.  It is a FALSE FACT.

Facts are statements that can be proven or disproven.  There are studies by government agencies and university science departments all over the world that provide evidence to back up the theory that the climate is drastically changing in ways that threaten our existence.  The studies are repeatable, peer reviewed, and thoroughly “vetted”, to use the new word that Republicans embrace so deeply and lovingly for immigration issues.  On the other side of the question, you have scoffing congressmen who bring snowballs into the capitol and say, “See?  The science is not proven.”   That is not a fact.   Where is the evidence which is not anecdotal and based on a misunderstanding of the difference between “climate change” and “weather change”?  That is by definition an opinion.  And it is not even an informed opinion.  Opinions are not equal to facts.  Comparing the two is like comparing apples to onions.  No, that is not even correct.  You can eat both of those things.  It is more like comparing apples to planetary moons.

After a long and heated Facebook debate about immigration between me, a Texas teacher, and an Iowa Republican Trump supporter I went to high school with who doesn’t even know if he ever met an illegal immigrant, I have pretty well proven to myself that a big share of the divide between liberals and conservatives stems from the unwillingness of one side to avoid equating facts and opinions.  Apples and moons.

So give me a moment to do what teachers do.

Here is a non-political lesson in Fact versus Opinion.

Who do you prefer?  Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny?  The answer doesn’t matter to me.

I can give you a quick and dirty lesson on fact and opinion using these two cartoon characters.  And it doesn’t even matter who you like more.

Here are some obvious facts about the two of them.

They are both cartoon characters.  They are both anthropomorphic animals.  They both wear gloves most of the time.  They both have a thumb and three fingers on each hand.

These things are observably true.  You can prove them by looking at the illustrations I have already provided.

Other things may not be as readily apparent, but no less provable.

Both of them are heterosexual and both of them have one main love interest.  Neither of them have ever been married, but neither of them really are playboys and even though there are no legitimate bits of evidence that either one has ever had sex with their respective girlfriends, Bugs has kissed Lola on more than one occasion and Mickey has kept company with Minnie for longer than most old married couples.

These things are provable by watching the cartoons and observing a preponderance of evidence.  There is no contradictory evidence.  But the possibility of contradictory evidence doesn’t change these things into opinions.  A disproven fact is still a fact.  It is merely a false fact.  Over time the relationship between Bugs and Daffy Duck may become clearer and the fact that Bugs is gay may pop out of the cartoon closet.  It does however, require proof, so it is a fact, not an opinion.

Here’s another fact you know the evidence supports.  Bugs Bunny is a nudist.  He almost always appears in cartoons naked.  Mickey, however, believes in wearing clothes.  Even when he gets out of the bath tub, he clutches the nearest towel, and you never get a look at whether he has cartoon genitals or not.  Mickey does hang out a lot with a duck who wears no pants, but that’s an irrelevant fact.

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The notion that Mickey and Bugs are very different personalities because they had very different creators, is an opinion.  It is a opinion offered by people who have studied the characters and their creators, and therefore can give you an informed opinion.  But it still can’t be proven.

Walt Disney made Mickey into more or less of an every-man sort of character whom audiences can identify with.  Things happen to Mickey Mouse, and the comedy comes from him trying to deal with those external forces, be they wind storms during music concerts, Donald Duck’s raging temper, or the evil plots of Black Pete.  Walt never said this was so to prove it, but it is not unreasonable to think it.

Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, was created by several great animators like Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett.  And Bugs tends to make things happen to other characters.  Think of how he plays Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and even his pal Daffy for laughs.  He is more of a Groucho Marx type character than an every-man.  We don’t identify with him.  We only laugh at his victims (because they always deserve what he gives them).  That too is an opinion.  And even if one of his creators were to say that this was the intent, it still is not proven until all of them agree.  And they all had very different ways of doing things.

But these are only informed opinions.  You cannot be proven wrong whether you agree or disagree with them.  You are entitled to your own interpretations and opinions because they are not provable facts.  There is no one way to view any opinion.

Opinions, even un-informed opinions and religious beliefs are never either wrong or right.  You don’t make a mistake when you have an opinion.  It only becomes a mistake when you try to use it as a fact, or mistakenly believe it is a fact.

So, there is my lesson for those Facebook arguers who never seem to know the difference.  It’s all color-coded and everything.  So try using this new knowledge when arguing with me, rather than calling me stupid, or making your point IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!

 

 

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May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose!

I was planning to write a piece about insult humor for a while, and then Don Rickles had to up and die… that danged old hockey puck!’Don-Rickles-tribute

So the master of insults is gone, and it will be even harder to explain why calling someone a proud and prissy poo-poo head is not a bad thing to do.  Because, really… strong language is not really strength and it takes intelligence to be a mean little picky-wit. (No pun intended… because no pun was used,  Duh!  How slow are you compared to molasses around Christmas time?)

You may have heard me say that I don’t like hurtful humor.  I don’t believe bad words are required to make something funny. I don’t think humor should be weaponized.  Jokes that make you die laughing are too much like murder, and people who have no sense of humor can’t be hurt by them anyway.

It is true that some people can’t be touched with insult humor.  Republicans and conservatives generally never get the joke.  Unfortunately for them you have to be at least a little bit smart to even know when you are being made fun of.

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I have heard that Kim Jong Un and President Orangutan in a Bad Wig recently attempted to assassinate each other.  Trump had a specially trained batch of a dozen Easter chicks sent to Kim Jong Un.  They were trained as mini-ninja assassins specializing in the death-peck attack.  Kim had a dozen plump Korean beauties dressed up in bikinis and poisoned lipstick sent to Trump with orders to make him fall in love.  Shortly thereafter Kim sent a thank you note to Trump for the delicious chickens.  He had kept one as a pet and you can still see it sitting on top of his head if you look carefully enough.  (It hasn’t killed him because it mistaked his head for an egg, adopted it, and is trying desperately to hatch it.)  Trump, in turn, re-gifted the bikini babes to Mike Pence, and it is likely they will die of cold and exposure while waiting in his outer office.

Stupid people are immune to insults, karma, and consequences.

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So you don’t insult people as a form of humor  to hurt anyone physically… or even psychologically.  You only do it metaphorically to pay them the compliment of thinking them worthy enough to bestow the gems of your wit upon.

And if you believe any of that bull-puckie, I may know of a Bridge in Brooklyn I’d be willing to part with cheaply.

So, there you have it.  Cheap laughs at the expense of doody-heads.  And calling into question the self-importance and the ridiculous-but-strongly-held political beliefs of others… especially the dumb ones can be a public service… of sorts.

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Downloading Darkness

I just finished a novel project last Thursday, completing the manuscript of Recipes for Gingerbread Children.  But being the excessively creative goofball that I am, this was not a stand-alone project.  The companion book, The Baby Werewolf,  is an incomplete manuscript of a comedy horror story about a boy with hypertrichosis, sometimes known as werewolf-hair disease.  Both books happen in the same period of time in 1974 and share both characters and events.  The boy, Torrie Brownfield, has lost his mother.  His father has brought him back to a small Iowa town where he himself was once a boy, to live in the same house where the boy’s father and uncle grew up.  The uncle, hiding some dark secrets of his own, requires that Torrie be raised in hiding up in the attic.  But this only lasts until a local farm boy,  Todd Niland, discovers Torrie’s sad existence and becomes his friend. This is a much darker story than I have tackled before, and I am no stranger to dark humor.  It is significant, though, that both Todd and Torrie are gingerbread children from the book I just finished, and even though some sad, dark things come to light in that book, they are not nearly as sad and dark as what is present in this next project.  So I had to find some inspiration before trying to re-ignite the novel forge for The Baby Werewolf.

That led me to watch the video Donnie Darko for the very first time.

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Oofah!  What a strange, horrible, yet beautiful movie!  Richard Kelly’s first film is an incredible artwork that makes your soul sing darkly.  Talk about listening to dark rabbits from the future… really, I mean, no one told anyone they should talk about about dark rabbits from the future… but this film does with a twisted elegance and ironically terrible beauty.  It discusses the sex lives of Smurfs, raises alarms with old women wandering aimlessly to the mailbox in the path of oncoming cars, and fires teachers from their jobs for discussing the short stories of Graham Greene.  There is no way I can explain in a witless-wordless movie review.  You must simply watch the movie for yourself.

Remember this musical masterpiece?  “Hello, Darkness, my old friend… I’ve come to talk with you again…”  Yes, I am entertaining the darkness again because I will be depending on her to help me write this book whose theme is going to be, “Everyone dies in the end, but the real life depends on how we deal with that fact.”

Yes, people who know me, I mean really know me, including the facts behind what I can’t actually say in this blog because the innocent must be protected, will probably worry that I am undertaking a writing project about monsters and depression and suicidal thoughts and child abuse.  I do have scars.  But I am at peace with the hard parts of the life behind me.  And from great pain and profound suffering, beautiful things can be made.  So don’t worry.  Downloading a bunch of monster-movie darkness into my stupid old head is not going to hurt me at this point in my life.  And if I can’t write it now, it will never be written.

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The Ultra-Mad Madness of Don Martin

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Born in 1931 and lasting in this crazy, mixed-up world until the year 2000, Don Martin was a mixy, crazed-up cartoonist for Mad Magazine who would come to be billed as “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.”    His greatest work was done during his Mad years, from 1956 (the year I was born… not a coincidence, I firmly believe) until his retirement in 1988.  And I learned a lot from him by reading his trippy toons in Mad from my childhood until my early teacher-hood.

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His style is uniquely recognizable and easily identifiable.  Nobody cartoons a Foon-man like Don Martin.

The googly eyes are always popped in surprise.  The tongue is often out and twirling.  Knees and elbows always have amazingly knobbly knobs.  Feet have an extra hinge in them that God never thought of when he had Adam on the drawing board.

And then there is the way that Martin uses sound effects.  Yes, cartoons in print don’t make literal sounds, but the incredible series of squeedonks and doinks that Martin uses create a cacophony of craziness in the mind’s ear.

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And there is a certain musicality in the rhyming of the character names he uses.  Fester Bestertester was a common foil for slapstick mayhem, and Fonebone would later stand revealed by his full name, Freenbeen I. Fonebone.

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And, of course, one of his most amazingly adventurous ne’er-do-well slapstick characters was the immeasurable Captain Klutz!

Here, there, and everywhere… on the outside he wears his underwear… it’s the incredible, insteadable, and completely not edible… Captain Klutz!

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If you cannot tell it from this tribute, I deeply love the comic genius who was Don Martin, Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.  Like me he was obsessed with nudists and drawing anatomy.  Like me he was not above making up words with ridiculous-sounding syllables.  And like me he was also a purple-furred gorilla in a human suit… wait!  No, he wasn’t, but he did invent Gorilla-Suit Day, where people in gorilla suits might randomly attack you as you go about your daily life, or gorillas in people suits, or… keep your eye on the banana in the following cartoon.

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So, even though I told you about Bruce Timm and Wally Wood and other toon artists long before I got around to telling you about Don Martin, that doesn’t mean I love them more.  Don Martin is wacky after my own heart, and the reason I spent so much time immersed in Mad Magazine back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

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Cartoonists Trying to Save the World

Back in the 1870’s (you remember it as well as I do, don’t you?) a cartoonist named Thomas Nast basically invented the political cartoon.  Back then, a bloated New York politician and his gang of criminals were busy getting wealthy through corrupt business and government relationships.  Nast used his gift for scribbly-art satire to lampoon the buffoons and make the public laugh at the evil he exposed.  Of course, they knew about the corruption of Boss Tweed before they laughed at the cartoons, but the focus on the problem created by Nast’s magnifying glass focusing the rays of sunlight on the problem is often credited with helping to burn up the scandal.

Cartoonists had power back then.  Power over public opinion.  The power to help fairly uncomplicated (and sometimes stupid) folk to recognize the absurdity of the situation and the need for changing it.

So why haven’t cartoonists fried the Make-America-Great-Again orangutan running the country now with his brand of corpulent corruption already?  Believe me, they are trying.

They have already highlighted the way the Bozo Administration manipulates the focus of the mainstream media.  Every time media coverage begins to converge on one scandal, he creates another big, smelly media poop of a controversy to redirect their focus.

And while he is doing his big shoe dance on the tables in the spotlight, congress is doing his rich friends’ evil will in the back rooms.

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The end result of this malevolent dog-and-pony show is patently obvious.

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Unfortunately, in the 1870’s, the stupid people that Thomas Nast was enlightening had not yet achieved the profound levels of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot stupidity that Trump supporters have now mastered.  Poor and middle-class Republicans, Texans, and other dim folk continue to take the Great Pumpkinhead at his word and believe every utterance of his mouth to be sacred gospel truth.  I have had conservative friends arguing themselves into pretzel-knots to defend his policies and dastardly deeds.

But if cartoonists can’t succeed in shining sunlight on the bloodsucking vampiric old moneybags and kill him soon, his reign will become immortal and we are all gonna die.

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Seriously.  We stand at the end of a long chain of greedy b*st*rds raping and pillaging the environment for profit and not caring about the impact of their actions.  We are dooming the planet to environmental collapse because the orange-faced name-stamper cares more about short-term profits for himself and his friends than he does about whether or no his own grandchildren will have water to drink, air to breath, and a place to live cool enough that metal doesn’t melt in the sunshine.

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So, I hate to be a double-trouble downer about the whole thing, but the truth is if we are depending on cartoonists and humorists to save the world, we are in trouble.  It is not working the way it did in Nast’s day.  Cartoonists are doing their lampooning and doing it well.  But more is needed.  And if we don’t get that something more soon, then (to incorrectly paraphrase and misquote T.S. Eliot), “This is the way the world ends… Not with a whimper but a bang!”

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