Sunday, June 28, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
This early 70s Rankin-Bass cartoon was accompanied by a similar one starring The Osmonds. I watched both of them back in the day and, quite honestly, would prefer to remember Michael as a
real cartoon, as opposed to the live-action cartoon he unfortunately became.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Next up on the cinematic firing line: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in mid-July.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Book Review: HAROLD GRAY'S LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, Volume 3: AND A BLIND MAN SHALL LEAD THEM by Harold Gray (IDW Publishing, 2009)
Towards the end of the Depression continuity, with Annie and a newly-flush "Daddy" reunited, the toddler Pat having been reunited with her parents, and Warbucks having regained his sight through the "convenient miracle" of a million-to-one operation, Gray permits Annie to sermonize a bit on how "organization" and the like is going to beat hard times. I find this interesting in that Roosevelt's New Deal, with its creation of a myriad of federal agencies, certainly contained plenty of "organization," yet Gray regarded it as anathema. Gray may have been referring here to Hoover's efforts to gin the economy in what many historians now regard as a precursor of the New Deal. Jeet Heer, in his introductory essay, misses this point entirely, falling back on the cliche that Hoover was just another Calvin Coolidge. With the next volume containing strips from 1932 and 1933, it will be interesting to see how Gray's viewpoint changed as FDR's regime took hold.
Gray's use of a grab-bag of ethnic characters and "outcasts" also deserves more attention than Heer gives it in his article. Aside from Maw Green (whose ostensible Irishness isn't really on display here; it would become much more apparent in the later companion strip that ran under the ANNIE Sunday page for many years) and Jake, the dwarf Flop-House Bill becomes Warbucks' main ally during his fight to regain his empire. In the era of Tod Browning's Freaks and (a bit later) The Terror of Tiny Town and the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, the relatively straightforward portrayal of the hard-bitten, but decent and loyal, Bill is fairly remarkable. Bill rues his small status to the extent that he's convinced that, once Warbucks recovers his sight, the tycoon will jettison him. "Daddy," of course, does no such thing. Gray may have trafficked in the stereotypes of his time, but he didn't let the stereotypes define his characters.
The continuities that make up the first half of this volume, while strong enough, don't measure up to the Depression epic. After Gray diddles with the idea of giving Annie a boyfriend (thank God, he finally thought better of it) and does give her a new pet/companion in the form of a cute bear cub named Willie, Annie's tossed onto a country work farm, escapes the place only to get caught up in the midst of a devastating flood, is befriended by "old salt" Spike Marlin, and promptly gets marooned on what appears to be a South Seas island. (I say "appears" because, for the life of me, I can't see how Marlin's little boat could have made it from Middle America, no matter how badly flooded, to a palm-tree-bedecked, monkey-populated island in such a short time period.) The "Shipwrecked" continuity goes on a little too long (the length of time that it takes Annie and Spike's "message in a bottle" to reach the right hands is positively irritating) and strays into Gilligan's Island territory at times, but it's not bad; it's just not as good -- not to mention as relevant -- as the later Depression story. After both Spike and Annie have suffered illnesses that leave them all but "done fer," it's "Daddy" to the rescue. (Willie is later dispensed with in a single Sunday strip that sees him rather improbably reunited with his mother in a zoo; I don't know whether Gray was simply tired of drawing two animal companions for Annie or was consciously battening down the hatches for the upcoming Depression story by paring down the cast. Whatever the reason, it's a rather abrupt way to get rid of such a cute and likable character.)
In the front of the book, in addition to Jeet Heer's ongoing efforts to sanitize Gray and ANNIE for contemporary progressive consumption -- it must be working, or why else would Art Spiegelman be doing a blurb on the back cover of this volume? -- we get a brief article by Bruce Canwell on Annie's role as a trail-blazer for aggressive female characters in the comics and other popular media. Several examples of PRIVATE LIFE OF..., Gray's first attempt at a Sunday companion strip -- a clever, if repetitive, feature in which various inanimate objects such as potatoes, hats, and baseballs relate their "stories" -- are also included. All in all, this is a superb package that maintains IDW's quality standards. Hopefully, Volume 4 will not have to undergo a similarly long lacuna before its release.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Book Review: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY: MELVIN MONSTER, VOLUME 1 by John Stanley (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009)
At first glance, MELVIN appears to be drawing upon the same zeitgeist that gave rise to such contemporary TV series as The Munsters and The Addams Family. The title character is, after all, a monster and interacts on a fairly regular basis with humans (or, as Melvin calls them, "human beans"). A closer examination, however, suggests that the character of Melvin owes just as large a debt to that of Casper the Friendly Ghost. To the chagrin of his square-shouldered, hulking, overbearing "Baddy" and bandage-wrapped "Mummy," Melvin wants to be as close to a normal boy as one can possibly be in the abnormality-riddled community of "Monsterville." His attempts to actually attend "The Little Black Schoolhouse," as opposed to buying into the "normal" practice of playing hooky -- thereby scandalizing the "teacher" (a dyspeptic witch) on duty -- are particularly funny. Melvin's attitude towards "fitting in" veers between mild defiance and stoic acceptance (e.g., when he agrees to slide down his slide into a "daggerberry bush" without screaming, only to take refuge in a cave after the fact and painfully give forth with the requisite number of "Ow!"s). The family pet, a crocodile named Cleopatra, is perpetually trying to eat him. Even his "guardian demon," who's supposed to protect him from harm, is fairly useless. Given all of the above factors, Melvin is an easy character for whom to root and should make an appealing hero. His milieu, however, is not as well-defined as it ought to be, and much of that is Stanley's fault.
In the absence of the experienced editorial hands that had been employed by Western, Stanley appears to have had some trouble deciding how, exactly, Melvin should relate to the human world, or even how his work should be organized. Issues #1 and #2 consist of single narratives broken into distinctly titled parts (shades of Harvey Comics' 10- and 15-page stories) in which Melvin takes a "detour" into "Humanbeanville" along the way. These stories plainly suggest that humans live in, so to speak, a different dimension than monsters. With issue #3, we get a paradigm shift: the stories are now stand-alone, and Melvin runs into humans as a matter of course (even getting tracked by "monster hunters"). This is a bit disconcerting, to say the least. In both manifestations, the humans (whom Melvin appears to admire on principle) do behave pretty much the same -- namely, like jerks. A rich owner of a "private zoo" wishes to add Melvin to his collection (where are Superman and Lobo when you need them?); several human kids spin Melvin like a top; a rich couple living in a penthouse mock the "riff-raff" below; and, of course, there are the "monster hunters." The adult characters in the LULU stories never came off as badly as this. Creeping cynicism, you suggest? So do I.
Stanley's artwork in MELVIN reflects a comment that I recall him making about Irving Tripp's artwork on LULU (for which Stanley provided scripts and pencil roughs) being overly "static." Stanley's work is much livelier, if a bit inconsistent: the monster characters are very cartoony in appearance, while the humans look as if they've stepped out of a New Yorker cartoon. Melvin straddles these two extremes, being neither realistic-looking nor overly stylized. Again, a better editor might have suggested that Stanley bring the two disparate styles a bit closer together. Occasional misspellings in Stanley's lettering -- plus an awkwardly-placed caption that appears to have been shoehorned in at the last minute -- lend further credence to the theory that Stanley, working on his own, needed more editorial help than when he was part of a creative "team."
Subsequent volumes of the JSL will reprint Stanley's comic-book work on NANCY -- which, it goes without saying, will probably look and "feel" a lot more like LITTLE LULU -- and such additional all-Stanley enterprises as THIRTEEN, GOING ON EIGHTEEN. It will be interesting to see if the theory that I've posited here -- that Stanley was better working with established characters that he could "embellish" than with original creations -- continues to hold true.