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Quick Blips on the Mental Radar

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Shorter items, noted as the leaves keep a’falling outside my window …

Finished October with a few days of intensive research at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Always a pleasant experience, and this time was no exception. You can read more about the junket by clicking the Blog feature at www.libraryofamericancomics.com.

One of life’s sad twists and turns struck me the other day. My oldest and dearest friends, friends of some thirty-five years, are the friends I found through our shared interest in comics. Eight of us grew from teenagers to middle-agers together, regularly staying in touch even as we geographically scattered across four different northeastern states, getting together as time and tide permitted. The sad twist that occurred to me? Four of our number have had comics work of one sort or another published within the past year, yet none of us show any signs of reading or commenting upon the others’ work. Had we had this type of success in younger days, we’d have been cheering one another on and dissecting each release, but the passage of the years has saturated our comics sensibilities, so we’re pleased for one another (I like to think), but we’re too busy dealing with Life and racing the next deadline to offer the sort of pats on the back we deserve. So let me publicly do what I can to correct this shortfall by noting that Lee Weeks is a justly-praised artist whose work is taking on a new vigor as he does his first work in more than a decade for DC Comics on a certain Man of Steel —  Dave Naybor’s multi-volume graphic novel Walking Christendom continues to amuse and enlighten and can be found here (http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Christendom-One-End/dp/055741167X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415460439&sr=1-3&keywords=Dave+Naybor) –“Freder’s” comics and many other projects can be viewed at www.ducksoup.me and are at last beginning to earn him praise and an audience that is long overdue. I recommend their work and commend them all, saying: W*E*L*L D*O*N*E, I’m proud to be your friend and delighted by your accomplishments!

Preparing to host Thanksgiving for the New England contingent of my family. Much to do, much to do …

This has been a fine year for meeting other comics professionals. It was a genuine pleasure to shake hands for the first time with Jeff Smith, Andy Runton, Joe Staton (and his writing partner,. Mike Curtis), Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Tom Palmer, and Fred Hembeck. Also great to renew acquaintances with folks such as John Romita Sr. and Denis Kitchen.

It’s also been an unusually active year in terms of long-distance travel. You’ll pardon me, perhaps, if I hope for a 2015 that includes less time in airports and more time at home!

Depite the woes of the local Boston Red Sox, this baseball season had much to recommend it, including an exciting postseason that reminded us why sports are the true “reality viewing,” as Big Team after Big Team was knocked out of competition by the two wildcard underdogs, the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. All the statistics and pre-game analysis doesn’t matter, because anything can happen before twenty-seven outs (or, in other sports, before forty-eight or sixty minutes) are recorded …

Finally, given the infrequency of my visits to this space, should this be my final posting for 2014, here’s wishing any and all who read this a Happy Thanksgiving, a Happy Christmas or other similar holiday, and an especially happy 2015!

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Written by cnwl1

November 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm

As It Comes to All …

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A personal note of a sad nature — my wife and I have lost our fine dog, Little Paws. He passed away Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 11:22PM, aged fifteen years, three months, and ten days.

He was part schipperke, part sheltie. He was very loyal, very quiet, and the third member of our family.

Always Inquisitive

Always Inquisitive

I could devote a vast amount of space to funny stories and anecdotes illustrating what a delight he was, and what joy he brought to our lives, but instead I’ll refer you to Harlan Ellison’s heartfelt essay, “Ahbhu.” Little Paws was not Ahbhu, but Mr. Ellison’s reactions to the loss of his dog mirror those of my wife and me, so I’m content to let him speak for us.

What I will say is: Little Paws was a good friend and a dear companion, and even though we know what has happened is for the best, we both already greatly miss him.

Rest easy, “Mister Dog” —

Freshly Groomed

Freshly Groomed

Written by cnwl1

September 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Miscellaneous

A Sad State of Affairs

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Here comes what passes, for me, as a rant …

Several weeks ago I did what I thought was a good deed — I packaged up extra copies of several of our Library of American Comics volumes and brought them to the two Public Libraries in my immediate vicinity. In each case I walked in, politely introduced myself, gave a twenty or thirty second elevator speech about LOAC and what we do, and told them I wanted to donate some of our recent releases. In each case, the reaction was — shall we be kind and say? — underwhelming.

At the first Public Library the person at the desk looked at the books, up at me, then back at the books, and had she been sucking on a sour persimmon she might have looked slightly less pleased than she did at that moment. She grudgingly pulled them a bit closer to her side of the desk, mumbled something might have been a “Thank you,” then turned away from me without another word. At the second Public Library the reception was, if anything, even chillier. “We may not want these books,” the scarecrow behind the desk said to me. “we’ll have to review them, and if it turns out we don’t want them, is it all right if we put them into our next Library Book Sale?”

So, let’s recap: I’m coming to these establishments not as a raging egomaniac, and I’m not shoving old, well-thumbed, dog-eared books their way — I’m being polite. I’m coming to them with a smile on my face, and I’m presenting each of them with over two hundred fifty dollars worth of brand-spanking-new, shiny, hot-off-the-press volumes. At a point in history when we’re supposedly clamoring for all-ages material, here comes a batch of titles that fill that bill, produced in part by a local professional, and all it generates is sneers.

This experience makes me now publicly ask a question that’s been building for awhile now: When did the persons who make their living working with books start hating books? Yes, I’m talking to you, librarians, and to you, bookstore employees. What the haitch-ee-double-toothpicks? How can we expect kids to foster a love for books if you’re showing them this snot-nosed attitude whenever they visit your establishments? How can we keep adults reading if you interact with them in ways that indicate you’d rather be sucking down bon-bons on the couch while CSI reruns flicker across your TV screen, or sneaking off to the break room to play some brain-dead game on your so-called smartphone? I’m not asking you to act like Pollyanna to every belligerent customer who accosts you. I am suggesting you could act professionally, especially when dealing with another professional who is part of the overall profession that allows you to cash your paycheck on a regular basis.

It would be wrong for me to tar every librarian and bookseller with the same brush — I’m sure there are many knowledgeable, upbeat, helpful, enthusiastic librarians and booksellers in communities all over the country. If you are one of them, pat yourself on the back, because you are doing Good Work and you are seemingly part of an ever-shrinking tribe. I applaud you, and I wish you lived and worked in my community. Since you do not, you can bet your sweet bippy I’ve donated my last book to either of my local Public Libraries. I’ll contact the local hospitals, schools, and even retirement homes, working toward a simple goal: to find one or more places that will accept my occasional donated books with a smile and a “Thanks” that sounds sincere.

Is that really too much to ask …?

Written by cnwl1

May 16, 2014 at 2:31 am

Perfect Storytelling

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As my year-end gift to anyone who reads these e-pistles, here’s a quick examination of as perfect a little gem of story construction as you’ll ever find, a 1964 hit from country music legend Lefty Frizzell written by Bill Anderson (himself a country star of no small popularity) and Don Wayne. Since the song is still likely protected, I’ll resist publishing the lyrics here, but other sites — like this one, http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/classic-country/saginaw-michigan—lefty-frizzell-14966.html — have them readily available for you to check out, and the song itself is can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqMCeA_1XW8.

Regardless of your love or hate of 1960s country music, a look at the lyrics should impress anyone with an interest in story construction. Consider:

) The hero is introduced and described in the first verse. He’s a working-class guy, which makes him a sympathetic character.

) In the second verse, the hero’s problem and his antagonist are both introduced. “Love thwarted” is a theme that’s captivated audiences since before Shakespearean times, so the situation further resonates with the audience.

) Hero sets about solving his problem in the third verse. We feel his struggles, we see him working toward a solution.

) Fourth verse: eureka! The breakthrough that allows us to move along toward the climax of the story.

) The final meeting between hero and antagonist occurs in the fifth verse. The antagonist’s greed, so nakedly on display, makes him seem even more dispicable than he was when we last encountered him.

) And then comes the sixth verse, with its final twist that provides the _real_ punch that makes this such a sublime little tale — evil gets its comeuppance, True Love prevails, all in an unexpected manner. A most satisfying climax and anti-climax, all delivered in four compact lines, with a two-line outro that allows the song to end gracefully and tie up the tale in a big red ribbon.

One may say, “Intro — problem — resolution; beginning — middle — end; too old school for me!” I’d caution, however, in these days when so many stories fail at the finish line, either delivering endings that are unsatisfying or so predictable the audience sees them coming by the halfway mark, that it’s no small feat to produce a successful story using those tried-and-true mechanics. The struggling “artsy” writer may wish to prove he can kick it old school and compete with Bill Anderson and Don Wayne before embarking on some elaborate, and ultimately unsuccessful, flight of fancy.

Happy New Year, and Happy Writing —

Written by cnwl1

December 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Fast Takes

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Emptying out the mental clutter and catching up on a number of fronts …

I was recently asked to do a piece for the on-line site “Glocul Mag” on the subject of Print vs. Digital publishing. Digital has become the darling of the media, of course, but I offer some gentle reminders of why good ol’ Print is still on top of the game as far as I’m concerned. Wanna read it? Click here: www.thegloculgroup.com/mag/why-the-printed-word-still-matters/

It also occurrred to me a month or so ago that our hyper-sensitive, everyone-needs-a-pony, Politically Correct society is missing the boat in any number of ways, including where THE HONEYMOONERS are concerned. Jackie Gleason’s groundbreaking situation comedy remains a tour de force to anyone with [A] half a brain who [B] hasn’t been co-opted by the Thought Police. Younger folks see Gleason’s Ralph Kramden threatening his wife, Alice, with “Pow — zoom! To the moon!” and they get all huffy about physical violence and abuse. Hel-LO, people! If you’d actually watch what’s going on between the characters, you’d realize there is no way Ralph would ever lay a finger on Alice. Every crazy scheme, every desperate ploy Ralph hatches is because he wants to give Alice the best of everything, and because in his heart he doesn’t feel worthy of her love. The humor, y’see, comes from all his bluster running exactly counter to the feelings in his heart, feelings that should be obvious to all but the most moronic — or brainwashed — of viewers. I’ll unabashedly continue to watch and defend THE HONEYMOONERS against all ignorant comers. It ain’t Shakespeare, but Ralph and Alice Kramden represent one of the great pop-culture love stories of the 20th Century. How sad so many persons have lost the ability to comprehend something so simple, so incontrovertible.

Speaking of romances, I got married on July 20th. First marriage for both myself and the new missus. Everything seemed to go pretty smoothly, all of our roughly 120 guests seemed to have a pretty good time (they didn’t complain to us, anyway!), and it was humbling to have so many family members and friends attend the nuptials, and give of their own time and effort to help us make the day a success all around. “Thanks” is a thoroughly inadequate word to express our gratitude for what they did on our behalf.

On The Library of American Comics (LOAC) front, our first collection of SUPERMAN newspaper strips is now available, with our third inexpensively-priced ESSENTIALS volume, featuring the entire 1933 daily run of Cliff Sterrett’s brilliant Polly & Her Pals , coming very soon. I’m a huge Polly fan, and aside from the fun of reading these strips, it was a delight to uncover previously-unknown or -little-known facts about Sterrett and the Ogunquit, Maine artists’ colony of which he was an integral part for many years. I did research in Ogunquit and nearby Wells for the book, which was also a great deal of fun.

We also have plenty of neat stuff in the works, LOAC-wise. LI’L ABNER fans will want to be watching upcoming releases — after all The Shmoos are on their way, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Summer is zipping by much too swiftly! Wherever you may reside, may your summer be a fine one —

Written by cnwl1

July 27, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Miscellaneous

Sounding Grumpy …?

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What better time to do so, since our second volume examining the life and art of famed artist/contrarian Alex Toth just went on sale as of Wednesday, 02/13/13?

I’m sure to either raise hackles or generate defensiveness from iPad/iPod/smartphone-ers, Facebookers, YouTubers, and their brethern, because I’m going to publicly vent my spleen over how technology seems to have consumed us and created what I call The Culture of The Rude.

Now, I’m not a total Luddite — I’ve been using computers since the 1980s (remember DOS, WordPerfect, and Lotus1123? I used ’em all), my writing is composed in M-S Word, I research and share files using the internet, and of course I’m posting this entry using technology undreamed-of when I was growing up in the 1970s. But — and here’s the crucial “but,” I believe — I use the tech that suits me, and I don’t jump on every bandwagon that comes along. I don’t own any sort of cel-phone; I don’t have an iPad or tablet. I don’t have accounts with Facebook or Twitter. And I don’t see a need for any of them.

Whenever someone jumps on the Facebook bandwagon and asks other Facebookites to “friend” them — Facebook’s devaluation of the word “friend” is, in itself, odious — I reply that I’m not on Facebook, and what’s the advantage of Facebook over e-mail, anyway? I never get a substantive reply to that question — instead I get a lot of toe-scuffing-in-the-dirt and fum-fuhing and maybe a, “Well, you can post poctures on your Facebook wall …” response. To which I reply, “I can attach pictures to e-mail.” After which the respondent goes silent.

Facebook, it seems to me, is about self-aggrandizement. E-mails are about the author reaching out to an audience he selects; Facebook is about putting something up for public view and trying to attract some slice of the public to come to you to view it. I’m not going to tell you I can’t see validity to that — and I’d be blind not to notice that Facebook has become an effective marketing tool for many businesses/entities — but I’m telling you [A] I had any self-aggrandizement beaten out of me years ago and [B] I don’t need yet another website to visit multiple times over to check the doings of Friend A, Friend B, Friend C, and so on. If those Friends want me to know what’s up with them, they know how to get in touch with me, and vice versa.

I shake my head in dismay whenever I see or hear someone fiddling with their smartphone or iPad in order to get it to perform some esoteric function, or babbling about how long it takes to sync the frammistatz to the whoosiwhatzit … I can’t help thinking, “Man, no wonder no one reads a book anymore! They’re all too busy tinkering with their gizmos.” I want my technology to serve me and display about the order of complexity demonstrated by my toaster — I want to take the thing out of the box, plug it in, fire it up, and have it work. My “free time” is much too much of a precious commodity to be wasting it trying to make Device X work with Equipment Y and share Application Z. I would turn away weeping if I had to waste a lot of my time in such a manner.

And while I recognize the potential benefits for some in owning a cel-phone, I have landlines in every major space I occupy except my car — isn’t that enough contact ability? If not, how did we survive all those years before phones became portable? More than any other piece of equipment, the cel-phone has generated The Culture of The Rude, a Culture that has become so inculcated within society that most of its practitioners no longer have the slightest clue they are, indeed, being rude.

I noticed it in the mid-’90s, when a trip to the supermarket began to become synonymous with listening to one side of someone else’s conversation: “What should I get? Butter Brickle or Rocky Road?” was the sort of inanity that would assault me as someone blasted away at the top of his lungs while we were both making a trip down the freezer aisle. By the 21st Century, aided by Bluetooth technology, things degenerated to the point where standing in line at the cash register now often means waiting behind someone who is jabbering away to some unseen party throughout the checkout process, too rude to even acknowledge the cashier on the other end of the transaction. When my turn at the head of the line comes, I make a point of speaking with the cashier and telling him how thoughtless I find the cel-phone-a-holic — and I’ve yet to have a cashier respond to me in other than a grateful manner, simply for acknowledging them and telling them I know someone else has treated them like dirt, and I don’t like it anymore than they do.

Nowadays I can be walking down a corridor and someone coming in the opposite direction — head bowed, shoudlers hunched, paced slowed in what I think of as “the smartphone shuffle” — is so intent on the screen in front of him and the controls he’s fiddling that he starts drifting over into my “lane,” oblivious of the impending collisiobn he’s about to cause. My annoyance running high, I snap my fingers like a hypnotist awakening someone from a trance — and like one entranced the person visibly starts, head and eyes darting about as he takes in the situation, and makes a sheepish course correction.

Final example: September 2006, Fenway Park in Boston, Red Sox vs. Twins on the night David Ortiz was likely to set the team single-season home run record, eclipsing the great Double-X, Jimmy Foxx. A friend and I had excellent Pavilion seats almost directly above home plate. On Ortiz’s first at-bat, Santana, the then-Minnesota pitcher, wound up and delivered his pitch, with Ortiz poised and ready at the plate. My friend whipped out his cel-phone and took a picture (a very nice picture; an 8″x10″ of it still hangs on my wall). *Cuh-RAKK!* Ortiz went yard, the Park went crazy … and my friend, in his excitement, e-mailed that photo to some number of friends and business associates … who spent the next four or five innings relentlessly calling him on his cel-phone, so he could repeatedly say, “Yes, I’m at the game — yes, that was the pitch — yeah, it was nuts!” And so on and on and on … While I might as well have been sitting by myself while my friend engaged with the outside world and essentially ignored me. And guess what? I don’t begrudge my friend his actions — technology and what have become its accepted uses never made him think twice about what he was doing. That sort of behavior has become as routine as making right turns on red … whether that behavior should have been allowed to become routine is another question. I bet you can tell how I would have voted in that matter, and the fact that society has moved in the opposite direction is a great failing on society’s part, in my mind. These incidents and many, many more make me adamant about not having a cel-phone in my possession, about not wanting to voluntarily sign up to join The Culture of The Rude.

This post may make you want to spring to extoll all the wonderful facets and benefits of everything technological. It may make your defenses go up and try to convince me that I’m wrong-wrong-wrong, or that you’ve seen folks rudely using tech, but you would never do such a thing. It may even make a few stray souls say, “I agree with you 100%!” I accept all those reactions as being valid; I fully believe in the premise of, “You rmileage may vary.” But getting this off my chest has made me feel better — and if it spurs thought and contributes to even a handful of persons using their technology with more consideration for those around them, it will have served a useful purpose.

Thanks for reading; have a fine day —

 

Written by cnwl1

February 16, 2013 at 1:22 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot …

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As readers in this space can tell, I’m not much of an avid blogger. Shame on me, I suppose, in this world if “iPads,” “iPhones,” “iPods,” and (as the last episode of The Prisoner puts it) “I — I — I — I!”, that I prefer to spend my precious writing time telling stories about others rather than nattering on about myself. Some may have noticed that I don’t Facebook, I don’t Twitter … I don’t think that my every little move is all that interesting, nor do I feel an overpowering urge to chronicle my life for all to see. I’m rather a private person, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be. Your mileage may vary, and that’s certainly OK — as long as you accept that it’s also OK when my mileage varies from yours.

That preamble out of the way, a few musings and notes you may find of interest as we prepare to say goodbye to Old Man 2012 and say hello to Baby 2013 …

ITEM! If my blog space is too often unoccupied, it’s because I’ve been mighty busy this year helping to line up a batch of good 2013 reading through The Library of American Comics. At

    http://www.libraryofamericancomics.com/upcoming/

    you can see the year begins with Li’l Abner Volume 5, in which I have a fun essay about Al Capp, the goings-on in War-years Dogpatch, and the true arrival of the one-and-only Fearless Fosdick! February/March brings us two projects near-&-dear to my heart: the conclusion of my biographies of both Alex Toth (in Genius, Illustrated) and Jack Kent (in King Aroo Volume 2). Then it’s adventure with Milton Caniff and Steve Canyon in April — and more still to come, including a delightful excursion into Cliff Sterrett’s life in Ogunquit, Maine that will accompany our first collection of Polly and Her Pals daily comic strips, a lively third volume in our Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim series, and readers will enjoy the art, photos, and facts I’ve unearthed while examining the George McManus Papers at UCLA in my article for our next Bringing Up Father release.

    Sheesh — with a workload like that, who has time to write blog entries?

    ITEM! Another reason I don’t blog more often probably has to do with the constantly-shifting state of the cyber-world. When I came to this site today to create a new blog entry, I sighed a discouraged sigh when I discovered the interface has radically changed since my last visit, and having to get used to the “feel” of the site all over again sucked time and effort out of my life I really didn’t want to spend. Add in a message that said I needed to download a new version of “Silverlight” (whatever that is) but the attempt to do the download failed, and well, just *sigh*. I think I got here to pen these words more through sheer stubborness than an ease-of-use the new-look interface bestowed upon me.

    T he latest, really radical redesign of iTunes software was similarly discouraging to me — I just want to be able to buy music and quickly drop it/manage it on my iPod, I don’t want to have to re-learn an interface and get “iCloud” shoved down my throat and waste time re-learning something I had already learned. I grow dismayed with what seems to be increasingly-large amounts of time folks spend simply fiddling with technology; I know I’m convinced there are much better ways to spend my valuable free time!

    ITEM! How one thought begets another …

    I visited the Locus “Upcoming Books” site (http://locusmag.com/Resources/ForthcomingBooks.html), an invaluable resource for tracking what your favorite SF/fantasy authors have in the pipeline. That made me think of the days when I could visit my local Borders and scan the latest issue of Locus, and how the “Forthcoming Books” issues would make me sit down in the cafe with scratch paper and pen, jotting down future books I’d make a point of purchasing.

    That made me think of the fact Borders has been out of business for three or four years now, which has left many Northeastern cities like mine with Barnes & Noble the only bookseller in the game. And when I go into B&N these days, I see too much floor space devoted to kids’ toys and board games and tchotchkas, space that was once given over to, you know — books.

    And that made me think of something I wrote for the website Cortland Review more than a decade ago. Click, if you will,  http://www.cortlandreview.com/features/99/03/canwell.htm and read the four short paragraphs labeled “The Superstore Booksellers.” I think my observations from waaaay back then remain pretty close to the bulls-eye …

    ITEM! Here in New England we are just a couple hours away, as I type, from receiving more snow, making this a good day to hunker down and Get Stuff Done (like writing this blog entry, I suppose). We also have slightly more than sixty hours of 2012 remaining. Like most years it’s had its good parts, and they have been good indeed, yet for too many of my friends and loved ones it’s been a year or struggle, one they won’t be sorry to see shuffle into the mists of history. For them — for you — and for all of us, here are my sincere wishes for a Happy New Year and a brighter, better 2013!

    Written by cnwl1

    December 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm