Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Art of the Romanesque

A couple of remarkable animation clips attributed to Italian comics "maestro" Romano Scarpa have recently shown up on YouTube. I was aware that Scarpa drew some DuckTales stories for the DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST in the early 1990s, but how about this clip dated 1988 in which Scarpa actually animates some of the characters:



The date suggests that Disney may have been fishing for overseas studios to either produce additional DT eps for American TV (the Disney outposts in Australia, France, etc. were just getting established at the time) or assist with the DuckTales: The Movie project. Whatever the motivation, it was apparently considered an important enough "test" to require voice tracks laid down by Alan Young (Scrooge) and Russi Taylor (HD&L). I wonder whether anyone told Scarpa and his co-workers that the DT Beagles were not clones. The animation is nice and lively, especially the bit in which Dewey announces the B-Boys' presence.

Even more amazing is the following clip (from a 1982 Italian Disney TV show) in which several of Scarpa's own creations appear, in addition to various canonical characters:



What a downright weird mixture of English and Italian. And, evidently, MICKEY MOUSE DISCO's effects were still being felt abroad.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Motoring to Motown

Time for the PICKS OF DOOM (thanks, Greg) regarding the "Sweet 16" games this weekend. Again, upsets "by seed" are in boldface.

EAST REGION
Semifinals: Pittsburgh over Xavier, Villanova over Duke
Final: Villanova over Pittsburgh

For 'Nova, familiarity (with a Big East opponent) breeds, if not contempt, then certainly confidence.

SOUTH REGION
Semifinals: North Carolina over Gonzaga, Oklahoma over Syracuse
Final: North Carolina over Oklahoma

I'd love to see Gonzaga deck UNC, but I don't think it's going to happen. OU should have the semi-home-court advantage in Memphis over SU, but UNC's Hansbrough and Lawson will trump OU's Griffith Bros.

MIDWEST REGION
Semifinals: Louisville over Arizona, Michigan State over Kansas
Final: Michigan State over Louisville

Louisville wasn't at all impressive in the first weekend. MSU is tough-minded and hard-nosed enough to knock them out.

WEST REGION
Semifinals: Connecticut over Purdue, Memphis over Missouri
Final: Connecticut over Memphis

The cheating scandal that has popped up this week regarding a UConn recruit certainly can't help the Huskies, but they're playing so well now that I can't see them losing until at least the Final Four.

Apropos of the F4, below is a reminder of an important 30-year anniversary in the history of college hoops, to be celebrated tomorrow. Sometime next week, I'll be posting a review of a book I recently read about this famous confrontation.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Sweet 16" Update: 11th Heaven

I correctly picked 11 of the 16 "Sweet 16" participants:

EAST REGION: Pittsburgh, Villanova, Duke
I undervalued Xavier, it seems. I didn't expect them to make it this far after all the talent they lost last year. They might still have been beaten today had Wisconsin not been so offensively challenged.

SOUTH REGION: North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oklahoma
Arizona State didn't come through for me vs. Syracuse. ASU's James Harden had better not think of turning pro after his C-/D+ performance in this year's Tournament.

MIDWEST REGION: Louisville, Michigan State
Maybe I should have seen Arizona coming? "Last team in syndrome," after all, worked for Auburn a few years ago. Re Kansas, see my Xavier comment above. Bill Self is evidently a much better coach than people think.

WEST REGION: Connecticut, Purdue, Memphis
My best pick of the second round: Purdue over Washington in Portland. The Boilermakers almost coughed it up but survived. I felt Missouri was too inexperienced in the Tournament to make it this far, give them credit.

On Wednesday, I'll post my "Sweet 16" and "Elite 8" picks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

First Round Update: So Far, So O.K.

Save for the Midwest bracket -- where I missed a couple of surprises -- I did reasonably well in the first round of the Tournament:

EAST REGION: 5-3
SOUTH REGION: 6-2
MIDWEST REGION: 3-5
WEST REGION: 6-2
TOTAL: 20-12

I hit on four upsets (Maryland, Western Kentucky, Wisconsin, and USC) and missed on several others, though just barely (Butler, VCU). I do regret not taking the plunge on Cleveland State beating Wake Forest. Apologies to Mark Lungo (a CSU alum).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From 64 to 16

I don't go in for NCAA Tournament bracket pools and such, but seeing as how this is the first Tournament to be held during the N&V "blog" era, how can I pass up the chance to broadcast my picks... For the first two rounds, anyway. Upsets (according to seedings) are in Bold Face.

EAST REGION
FIRST ROUND: Pittsburgh over ETSU, Tennessee over Oklahoma State, Wisconsin over Florida State, Portland State over Xavier, VCU over UCLA, Villanova over American, Texas over Minnesota, Duke over Binghamton.
SECOND ROUND: Pittsburgh over Tennessee, Wisconsin over Portland State, Villanova over VCU, Duke over Texas.

SOUTH REGION
FIRST ROUND: North Carolina over Radford, Butler over LSU, Western Kentucky over Illinois, Gonzaga over Akron, Arizona State over Temple, Syracuse over Stephen F. Austin, Clemson over Michigan, Oklahoma over Morgan State.
SECOND ROUND: North Carolina over Butler, Gonzaga over Western Kentucky, Arizona State over Syracuse, Oklahoma over Clemson.

MIDWEST REGION
FIRST ROUND: Louisville over Morehead State, Ohio State over Siena, Utah over Arizona, Wake Forest over Cleveland State, West Virginia over Dayton, North Dakota State over Kansas, USC over Boston College, Michigan State over Robert Morris.
SECOND ROUND: Louisville over Ohio State, Utah over Wake Forest, West Virginia over North Dakota State, Michigan State over USC.

WEST REGION
FIRST ROUND: Connecticut over Chattanooga, BYU over Texas A&M, Purdue over Northern Iowa, Washington over Mississippi State, Utah State over Marquette, Missouri over Cornell, Maryland over California, Memphis over Cal State Northridge
SECOND ROUND: Connecticut over BYU, Purdue over Washington, Utah State over Missouri, Memphis over Maryland.

Book Review: KRAZY AND IGNATZ 1943-44: "HE NODS IN QUIESCENT SIESTA" by George Herriman (Fantagraphics, 2008)

With this volume, Herriman's great comic-strip opus (the full-page version of it, anyway) grinds to a somewhat weary, but nonetheless ingenious-to-the-end, halt. Herriman died of a liver ailment in April 1944, and the final full-page strip (the original of which I've seen in Baltimore's own Geppi's Entertainment Museum) appeared on June 25. As Bill Blackbeard points out in a brief foreword, you can definitely sense Herriman's weakening powers in the last month or two of strips. While the composition remains strong, the figure drawing becomes less and less assured, and the gags, of increasing obscurity ever since the late 1930s, become positively inscrutable. Since Herriman had become a virtual recluse by the time of his death, the effect is that of a striking but fragile seasonal flower slowly closing and crumpling as its time of growth expires. I'd seen a number of these late strips in black and white form, but only in the poor reproductions in the 1946 Henry Holt collection (about which more here), and they do indeed have a rather mournful quality to them even when seen "unobscured" and whole.

In order to fill out a volume that would otherwise have been rather slender, Fantagraphics asked readers of its KAT collections to send in any Herriman memorabilia that had not previously appeared in its pages. Well, the Kats certainly came crawling out of the woodwork in response, and we get to see everything from a curious "Big Little Book" version of KRAZY KAT from the mid-30s (if this was meant to be sold to contemporary kids, then they were probably as baffled as the kids of the mid-60s who watched the Gene Deitch King Features cartoons, given how few papers the strip appeared in by that time) to a 1930's souvenir paper bag featuring an "unauthorized" Kat that's at least 15-20 years out of date with Herriman's then-current model. More substantial, and aesthetically pleasing, are the numerous hand-tinted strips and gift drawings that Herriman created for friends and acquaintances. All of these date from the late 1930s or earlier, indicating just how completely Herriman isolated himself post-1940. (We do get a drawing that Herriman made for his daughter's 40th birthday to make up some of the difference.)

Happily, Fantagraphics plans to reissue the KRAZY KAT volumes produced by Eclipse Comics that reprinted the full-page strips before 1925, so the full-blown version of the Kat will soon be coming back. I have my fingers and "toze" crossed that the announced plans to reprint the KRAZY KAT dailies will also come to pass. Fantagraphics has done a great job with this series, especially given the paucity of surviving material on Herriman, and I salute them for their heroic efforts to preserve this great comic masterpiece.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Pitter-Patter of a Little Fete: Part 2

Here is the second part of Chip & Dale's Excellent Adventures. Apparently, a similar documentary does exist about the making of Tale Spin, but it hasn't surfaced for public consumption as of yet. Makes me wonder whether the "holy grail" of a "making of DuckTales" documentary might actually exist as well. Anyway, enjoy the tribute!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Pitter-Patter of a Little Fete: Part 1

Twenty years ago today, Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers -- Disney TV Animation's second syndicated series and, by any reasonable measure, the DTVA series with the most faithful fan following -- debuted on The Disney Channel. To mark the occasion, I'm uploading a YouTube video of the first part of Chip & Dale's Excellent Adventures, a documentary on the making of the series that aired... well, wherever it originally aired sure wasn't in my contemporary neck of the woods, that's for sure. In any event, I got a dubbed VHS copy of it from my friend Mark Lungo and think it'd be a nice tribute to our favorite virtuous vermin. Check back tomorrow for part two.



Monday, March 2, 2009

Some "Flakes of Brain-druff" on a Snowy Day

Stevenson U. finally gave up the ghost about an hour ago and closed the school for the day. When was the last major March snowfall on the Eastern Seaboard? I'm thinking 1993, but I could be wrong. Anyway, here are a handful of notes and comments on the passing scene...

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Gemstone Publishing's Disney comics line appears to be, as Gregory Weagle might say, dead, done, and toe-tagged. The Gemstone web site has removed all references to current comics releases and subscriptions and now offers only back issues. Before you begin to blame the rotten economy, consider the following:

(1) Gemstone's marketing strategy left a lot to be desired from the get-go. If Steve Geppi had trouble (and he has) spreading the word about Geppi's Entertainment Museum, that well-intentioned but cash-draining white elephant of a glorified "fanboy" project down at Camden Yards, then it's not surprising that the need to actively sell the comics was crippled from the same sort of "publish it and they will come" mentality.

(2) The cancellation of the "standard-format" ...AND FRIENDS comics some time ago made Gemstone products much more of a luxury item. UNCLE $CROOGE and WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES were handsomely produced and judiciously edited, to be sure, but they were no one's idea of an entry-level product.

(3) Gemstone made a mistake by cancelling the ADVENTURES pocket-book line, which, with adequate promotion, might well have served as the aforementioned entry-level publication that the company so desperately needed.

(4) The four-year gap between the demise of "Gladstone II" and the debut of Gemstone unquestionably leached away at least some of the fan base that had begun to drift off after the "Disney Comics Implosion" of 1991 and was further alienated by Bruce Hamilton's meddling with the content of the "G-II" comics. Given that American Disney comics was working from a perilously narrow base of support to begin with, all of these "aftershocks" rendered the Gemstone line less likely to survive any period of ill fortune.

Who... if anyone... picks up the American Disney comics baton next? Or is a "last-second reprieve" in our future? Stay tuned.

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I recently encountered "Xibit A" illustrating the sham of the modern-day "anti-war" movement. Traveling north on I-83 out of Baltimore, one passes an art studio called "Xibitz". For several years, the roof of the building featured a large peace sign. The last time I drove by the place, the sign was gone. Sure, the elements may have knocked the thing down, but it seems suspicious that the sign disappeared right after Barack Obama took office. Last time I checked, we still had troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we still will until at least the middle of 2010, if Obama's announced timetable is accurate. Are ongoing wars only palatable if a Democrat is running the show? (The same sort of mindset is at work when homeless people suddenly disappear from the news once a Democrat gets elected.)

Understand, I don't resent real, live, religious-based pacifism of the Quaker/Mennonite/left-wing Catholic variety. My uncle and aunt are anti-war in the "Catholic Worker" tradition, but I recognize and respect the reasons for their views, even though I don't philosophically agree with them. But this sort of ideologically driven pacifism, which we first saw during the Vietnam era, is another matter. What if another 9/11 crops up while a Republican is in the White House, and we are forced to take military action? Are we fated to have to endure active internal opposition anytime this happens, even when military force is supremely justified?

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Tonight, Notre Dame takes on Villanova in a Big East game that will go a long way towards determining the Irish's NCAA Tournament fate. Stevenson's men's and women's teams have long since packed up the ball-bags after another wretched campaign. Nicky and I support SU's teams as best we can, but next year, we need to see SOME evidence that the athletic department takes hoops success seriously. Both current coaches have been on the job ever since the programs began, and, if my student evaluations looked anything like their lifetime won-loss records, I'd be checking out the career Web sites about now.

BTW, for those interested in the progress of my NCAA Tournament book, I'm planning to spend a large chunk of the Summer trying to get as close to finishing it as possible. By August, I should be ready to contact publishers.

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The overall Disney front is as dreary as the outside weather right about now, but here's a cheery note: two days hence will mark a special anniversary for Disney TV Animation fans. Check back for a special tribute.