Saturday, December 29, 2007

Separated at Birth: Ya'll don't know about Mary Jane/She make my heart sing

Untold Tales of Spider-Man #16/Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #8
L: Untold Tales of Spider-Man #16 (December 1996), art by Pat Olliffe and George Perez
R: Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #8 (September 2006), art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Christina Strain
(Click picture to jackpot-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: "Harlem Shuffle" by The Rolling Stones

"Harlem Shuffle" by The Rolling Stones (1986), directed by Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi

National Pie Alert: Sounding the All Clear

National Pie Alert

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week Christmas Special: "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit"

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Happy Christmas! Yesterday evening I was about to tell you how Jeeves and Bertie Wooster spend their Christmas, when I had to rush off to bed to avoid Santa seeing that I was still up. Well, now suitable hopped up on turkey, pumpkin pie, and plenty of cranberry sauce, all foodstuff that traditionally helps you stay awake late at night, let's look in on Jeeves's jubilee of the holiday season by reading the story "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit" (1927), out of the book Very Good, Jeeves! that I was discussing yesterday.

The curtain rises on the morning of December 16, but the Hon. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster isn't celebrating Beethoven's birthday. To the dismay of Jeeves, he's accepted an invite to spend Christmas at the country estate of Skeldings, the old manse of Lady Wickham, a friend of Bertie's Aunt Agatha (she who howls at the moon and chews on broken bottles, according to Bertie.) Abandoning the original plan to spend Christmas at Monte Carlo becomes a polite but sore point between Jeeves and Bertie—Jeeves always fancies a turn at the tables (as well he ought with his enormous brain). Bertie holds firm even when he discovers that one of the guests will be Sir Roderick Glossop, the noted looney-doctor and specialist on all matters psychiatric. He's also no friend of Bertie (having diagnosed him as a lunatic during the events of The Inimitable Jeeves), but Bertie holds firm for two reasons. First, simply to exert his authority over Jeeves (and he really, really ought to know better by this point):
' that there has been a change of programme the iron has entered into your soul.'

'Not at all, sir.'

'Oh yes it has. I've seen it. Very well then, what I wish to impress upon you, Jeeves, is that I have not been actuated in this matter by any mere idle whim. It was through no light and airy caprice that I accepted this invitation to Lady Wickham's. I have been angling for it for weeks, prompted by many considerations. In the first place, does one get the Yule-tide spirit at a spot like Monte Carlo?'

'Does one desire the Yule-tide spirit, sir?'
Why yes, in fact, Bertie rather does. More to the point, he desires Miss Bobbie Wickham, the red-headed daughter of Lady Wickham. This, naturally, sets off the alarm bells in Jeeves's unparalleled grey matter. It's always in his best interests to keep his master single—the addition of a lady of the house could seriously challenge his authority in the Wooster home.
'Jeeves,' I said coldly, 'if you have anything to say against the lady, it had better not be in my presence.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Or anywhere else, for that matter. What is your kick against Miss Wickham?'

'Oh, really, sir!'

'Jeeves, I insist. This is a time for plain speaking. You have beefed about Miss Wickham. I wish to know why.'

'It merely crossed my mind, sir, that for a gentlemen of your description Miss Wickham is not a suitable mate.'
Jeeves goes on to warn of the dangers of marrying a red-headed girl. This naturally doesn't sit well with Wooster:
'Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.'

I eyed the blighter squarely.

'Jeeves,' I said, 'you're talking rot.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Absolute drivel.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Pure mashed potatoes.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Very good, sir—I mean, very good, Jeeves, that will be all,' I said.

And I drank a modicum of tea, with a good deal of hauteur.
Mmmmm, pure mashed potatoes. That reminds me...

(trots off to the kitchen to heat up some leftovers)

Also present at the Christmas bash is Drone Club member Tuppy Glossop, Sir Roderick's nephew and perpetrator of one of the most renowned practical jokes in the Wodehouse canon: Tuppy once challenged Bertie, to swing in full evening dress over the Drones Club swimming pool on a series of rings on ropes suspended from the ceiling. Bertie undertook this dare with enthusiasm only to discover that Tuppy had looped the final rope back so that Bertie couldn't reach it, giving him no choice but to drop into the pool fully clothed. (I imagine Jeeves was not well chuffed when Bertie came home that night!) Ever since then Bertie has been looking for a way to revenge himself on Tuppy. Once everyone arrives at chez Wickham, Bobbie Wickham has a sneaky suggestion for Bertie: like she used to do at her girl's school, Bertie should puncture, using a knitting-needle on a stick, Tuppy's hot-water bottle, soaking the bed as he sleeps. Jeeves tells Bertie which bedroom Tuppy is staying in and Bertie sneaks off to perform the drenching deed. The perfect crime!

That is, if Tuppy and his uncle Sir Roderick hadn't changed bedrooms, leaving Bertie to be discovered puncturing the eminent psychologist and number one Wooster-basher's water-bottle in the wee hours of Christmas morning:
The next that that happened was a bit of a lull in the proceedings. For about three and a quarter seconds or possibly more we just stood there, drinking each other in, so to speak, the old boy still attached with a limpet-like grip to my elbow. If I hadn't been in a dressing gown and he in pink pyjamas with a blue stripe, and it he hadn't been glaring quite so much as if he were shortly going to commit a murder, the tableau would have looked rather like one of those advertisements you see in the magazines, where the experienced elder is patting the young man's arm, and saying to him, 'My boy, if you subscribe to the Mutt-Jeff Correspondence School of Oswego, Kan., as I did, you may some day, like me, become Third Assistant Vice-President of the Schenectady Consolidated Nail-File and Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation.'

'You!" said Sir Roderick finally. And in this connexion I want to state that it's all rot to say you can't hiss a word that hasn't an 's' in it. The way he pushed out that 'You!' sounded like an angry cobra, and I am betraying no secrets when I mention that it did me no good whatsoever.
Glossop angrily demands that Bertie now swap rooms with him so that he (Glossop) might have a dry bed while he (Bertie) be left to the sopping-wet one, while meanwhile he (Glossop) explains that he (Bertie) ought to have known what room he was in because he (Glossop) earlier told Jeeves (Jeeves). Armed with that puzzling knowledge Bertie spends the night crouched in the armchair, stewing over Jeeves's betrayal.
I could swear I hadn't so much as dozed off for even a minute, but apparently I had. For the curtains were drawn back and daylight was coming in through the window and there was Jeeves standing beside me with a cup of tea on a tray.

'Merry Christmas, sir!'
Like a detective rounding up the usual suspects in the drawing room during the final act, Jeeves explains it all for you: although he knew well that Sir Roderick had swapped rooms with young Tuppy, his actions were above reproach: to keep Sir Roderick as cold as possible towards person Wooster to avoid a reconciliation with Glossop's daughter Honoria, Bertie's ex- fiancée. A cup of hot tea helps Bertie see the point on that: having once been affianced with the sporty, braying Honoria, Bertie has no wish to do so again. And besides, he's enamored of red-headed Bobbie Wickham. Another bad choice, sir, Jeeves diplomatically points out, outlining Bobbie's mischievous nature and love of practical jokes—she set up both Bertie and Tuppy by suggesting each sneak to the other's room puncture the other's hot water bottle.

Which, of course, if you have been following the shuffle of guests and rooms, means that since Sir Roderick moved to Bertie's room, Tuppy punctured Sir Roderick's water bottle for the second time that night.

Such a betrayal at the hands of the red-headed practical joker cools Bertie's amorous heart. More pressing, of course, is the matter of the enraged Sir Roderick, twice soaked on that Christmas morning,
'You've seen Sir Roderick this morning, then?'

'Yes, sir.'

'How did he seem?'

'A trifle feverish, sir.'


'A little emotional, sir. He expressed a strong desire to meet you, sir.'
That is, as is often in a Bertie Wooster story, the cue to pack the bags quick and make a dash out the back door to the car without pausing to say farewells. Good-bye to all that at Skeldings, but where to go? The no-doubt enraged-once-she-hears-of-the-Christmas-proceedings Aunt Agatha is in London, so there's no safety at home. As usual, of course, Jeeves has the perfect solution:
'I think the best plan, sir, would be for you to leave England, which is not pleasant at this time of the year, for some little while. I would not take the liberty of dictating your movements, sir, but as you already have accommodation engaged on the Blue Train for Monte Carlo for the day after to-morrow—'

'But you cancelled the booking?'

'No, sir.'

'I thought you had.'

'No, sir.'

'I told you to.'

'Yes, sir. It was remiss of me, but the matter slipped my mind.'


'Yes, sir.'

'All right, Jeeves. Monte Carlo ho, then.'

'Very good, sir.'
And a very Merry Christmas to Jeeves and Bertie as we watch them scurrying out to dash away unseen for the continent on an English Christmas morning. I do hope they had time later for a plum pudding or a bit of Christmas goose, but I'm sure they would both settle for a whisky-and-soda.

You can't buy 'Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit' separately (the image shown in my header is something I mocked up in PhotoShop), but you can find it in Very Good, Jeeves, the subject of last night's A Wodehouse a Week. As far as I can tell Plum only wrote two Christmas stories (and I'm saving the second one for next year), so this is a rare treat to combine two very special things: my favorite holiday and my favorite author. May we all have as cheering a holiday as I'm sure Bertie and Jeeves eventually had, wherever you may be, even basking in the casinos and clubs of Monte Carlo. Happy Christmas, everyone.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

All I want for Christmas is you. Also, loot.

Happy Christmas!

Wow! It's Christmas! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray hooray hooray! Oh, I think I need to go lie down for a while.

Whew! That's better. I hope you are having as exciting a Christmas as I am! Did Santa come for you? He sure did for me! My kid sister Marshall and I were up at 4:30 AM bouncing on the bed but we were not ''lowed to go downstairs until 8 AM. Which is very funny because we live on just one floor. But we could see that the plate of bacon and the bottle of pomegranate juice we left for Santa was gone! Way to go, big guy!

I sure hope you got plenty of great stuff from Santa and your loved ones. I certainly got a great haul! Wanna see my stuff? Sure you do!

Santa brought me a new pal! At least I hope he brought him for me. And didn't just accidentally leave him behind on the roof.

And little tiny Lego™ sets! Mmmm, delicious. What's that? Build with them? Uh oh.

I got a London Moleskine diary! To write down all my London dreams and notes and places to visit. Also, a place to keep my sticky toffee collection.

It's the new Terry Pratchett book! I can hardly wait to read it. I hope this one has Sam Vimes in it.

And so I can stay up very very late at night reading my new book, a portable reading lamp to clip to the pages! It's very bright. I am seeing stars!

Speaking of books, Marshall and I got matching presents: I got The Dangerous Book for Bulls and she got The Daring Book for Cows. But she won't let me look at hers. I bet there is good stuff in there about darning and about Clara Barton.

This was on my Christmas list: The 30 Rock Viewmaster set! Whoo hoo! Now I can see Tracy Jordan in 3D., Miss Lemon...(heartbeat speeds up)

My very own London Underground tube train!

"London Underground regrets to announce a delay in arrival of the Circle line owing to a little stuffed bull on the track."

Now pretending that I am in the movie Casablanca is even more fun with my brand new fez! "Help me Reek! Help me!"

Yay! Santa must be a Wodehouse fan, too. Santa has good taste. What ho, Santa!

A electric guitar! Way cool! Smoooooke...on the...waaaaaater...

But where are my tiny Pillsbury Toaster Strudels?
I got a little fridge just my size, plus tiny Japanese frozen food to put in it! Domo arigato, Santa-san!

A razor scooter! Now I will be able to zip down to the store and back in no time at all! Can I go outside and try it now? Huh, huh, huh, huh, please, huh?

A piece of wood! Just like I prayed for!

And Mrs. Weasley made me a new sweater.

I am going in to have Christmas dinner and stuff myself silly with turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, pickles, beets, green beans, cream soda and pumpkin pie! Then I will lie by the Christmas tree and play with all my new presents. Thank you Santa! Thank you all! Have a Happy Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Morning Cartoon: Grampy in "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" (1936), starring Grampy, directed by Dave Fleischer

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #35: Very Good, Jeeves!

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When you are all excited and eager for a big holiday to arrive, it's quite understandable if you're jumping about nervously, watching the clock and looking out the window, waiting for the big guy to get here. (And I don't mean Arthur Carlson). That's why I heartily suggest if you're anxiously awaiting Christmas morning and it's still only Christmas Eve, there's a great way to relax yourself and take your mind off presents and candy and turkey and stockings for a wee bit: read a P. G. Wodehouse book. I heartily recommend it, even if I did keep on getting up in the middle of reading it because I thought I heard sleigh bells.

Today's book for Week 35 and Christmas Eve is the Bertie and Jeeves short story collection Very Good, Jeeves! (1930), which consists of stories originally published in the Strand magazine. Did you know The Strand still exists, or more accurately, has been revived as a mystery and short story magazine? Even though there are unlikely to be any new Wodehouse short stories in it, I hope I get a subscription to it for Christmas. (pops up out of my armchair, peeks out the window, certain I heard sleigh bells; turns out to be the ice cream van taunting us in these cold winter months. I shake my hoof at the ice cream man.)

I honestly don't remember the order in which I got my early Wodehouse books, but I'm pretty sure that Very Good, Jeeves! was of the first: I do remember getting it new when I was but a tiny stuffed calf, and now it's very sun-faded on the spine and yellowing on the page edges. I also think I may have gotten it for a Christmas present! Like that woman in the poem, however, her beauty withers not, her age decreases her in not the least, tumpty-tumpty,tumpty-tum, is the way I think it goes. This is one of my very favorite of the Jeeves short story collections, smack-dab in the prime of the canon, and is one of the more unusual books in that it features both of Bertie's aunts: the frightening Aunt Agatha and the bombastic Aunt Dahlia, and thus might be seen as a center-point between the earlier and later Bertie and Jeeves stories. This is prime stuff, and I can't sum it up better than The Observer on the back cover: "There are eleven tales in this volume and each is the best."

If you had to give someone a first Wodehouse to read, Very Good, Jeeves! would be a prime candidate. The prose is sparkling, the characters delightful, the plots clever, and Jeeves is at his sharpest. Each of the stories involves (naturally) Bertie getting entangled in a mess and Jeeves untangling the skein of complications at the end, rather like the U.S. Cavalry or the Lone Ranger coming in at just the right moment. Not that Bertie is always liable to take Jeeves's excellent advice:
'...many doctors, I understand, advocate such abstinence as the secret of health. The say it promotes a freer circulation of the blood and insures the arteries against premature hardening.'

'Oh, do they? Well, you can tell them next time you see them that they are silly asses.'

'Very good, sir.'
You know those articles in Esquire magazine (I only read it for the photos of Keira Knightley, honest) that attempt to explain what the Modern Man Must Know? Well, long before magazine mascot Esky and other dapper celebrities began dishing advice on how to live the life of a gentleman, Jeeves was the epitome of gentle breeding and good taste. Although I often took issue with his internet search engine, you can't fault the man for his sartorial advice:
'You don't think young Thomas would bean Mr Filmer with a cutlass?'

'We can but wait and see, sir. The tie, if I might suggest it sir, a shade more tightly knotted. One aims at the perfect butterfly effect. If you will permit me—'

'What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realize that Mr Little's domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?'

'There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.'
The titles themselves are things of joy. If you're a Arthur Conan Doyle fan, you remember the thrill of opening The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for the very first time and seeing thrilling short story titles so evocative and picturesque— "A Scandal in Bohemia"..."The Man with the Twisted Lip"..."The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"...and my personal favorite, "The Red-Headed League"—that you could not help but flip the page as fast as possible and dive into the thrilling prose that awaited you. Very Good, Jeeves! is much like that: colorful and intriguing titles that, like a good comic book cover, make you declare aloud "I gotta read that!": "Jeeves and the Impending Doom"..."Episode of the Dog McIntosh"..."The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy"..."Jeeves and the Song of Songs." Dear reader, I challenge you not to bury your nose in the book after skimming the contents page. Here we have the Kid Clementina, and the Spot of Art, and the Love That Purifies, and each and every one of them is a corker with jewels-a-sparklin' on every page:
And yet, if I had only know, what I had been listening to that a.m. was the faint rumble of the coming storm. Unseen, in the background, Fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing-glove.
'...My sister will be arriving to-morrow. She will be greatly upset. I am her favourite brother.'

'You are?'

'I am.'

'How many of you are there?'


'And you're her favourite?'

'I am.'

It seemed to me that the other five must be fairly sub-human, but I didn't say so. We Woosters can curb the tongue.
Many of the stories feature the tried-and-true yet never weary subplot of Jeeves disapproving of a purchase or habit of Bertie's and steelily withholding help until the end because of his dislike. As always, the reward for Jeeves's Sherlockian genius is for Bertie to grudgingly give up the object, in this case a pair of luridly-colored plus-four trousers:
I hesitated.



'Those plus-fours.'

'Yes, sir?'

'You may give them to the poor.'

'Thank you very much, sir.'

I sighed.

'It is my heart's blood, Jeeves.'

'I appreciate the sacrifice, sir. But, one the first pang of separation is over, you will feel much easier without them.'

'You think so?'

I am convinced of it, sir.'

'So be it, then, Jeeves,' I said. 'so be it.'
What's bubbling below the surface of this conversation is that Bertie has also given up Bobbie Wickham, a fiancée Jeeves did not approve of. Unlike the other Wodehouse romances, Bertie Wooster never finishes the story married or in love. Why should he? He's got everything he needs in Jeeves. (Not that I mean what you're giggling at. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.))

I've got three editions of Very Good, Jeeves! on the ol' Wodehouse bookshelf, that old spine-faded Penguin paperback, a hardcover Everyman Library edition, both of which feature cover illustrations of the Right Hon. A. B. Filmer treed—or, more accurately, summer-housed—by a vicious swan (from the first story in the collection, "Jeeves and the Impending Doom"), and one slightly ratty A. L. Burt US reprint hardcover (perhaps chewed on by the Dog McIntosh?). You can ask Santa for your very own copy, but this late, you might just wanna order yourself up a copy of this collection of entertaining eleven stories by clickin' on the usual Amazon link:

And don't forget that many of these stories were adapted by Clive Exton and brought to life by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (and brilliantly, I might add) in the ITV-TV series Jeeves and Wooster. The stories in this volume are spread out among the four series of the show (and include many other stories from other Jeeves collections), but if you must try only one, go for the luminous and delightful Series One. Like the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, there are few finer visual adaptations of the genius of Wodehouse than these shows. Me? I'm off to make some hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows, pop one of my Jeeves and Wooster DVDs into the player, and snuggle back in my chair, waiting out Father Christmas.

Hmmm? What's that you ask? "Do Bertie and Jeeves ever celebrate Christmas?" Funny you should ask! Why, let me tell you about...

(sounds of sleigh bells jingling from outside)

(runs to window and presses be-ringéd nose to the cold frosty pane)

I have to go to bed now folks or I won't get any presents! I'll tell you about Bertie and Jeeves's Christmas real soon, okay?

Maybe sooner that you think...stay tuned!

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

An open letter to Mister S. Claus, Esq.

Coca-Cola SantaHi hi hi Santa! (Or should I say "ho ho ho"? tee hee!) It's me, Bully, the little stuffed bull. How are you? I am fine. In fact I have been very very very very good all this year. (Note: if you have read the letter from my baby sister Marshall please ignore the thing about the garter snake in her bed. It just slipped in there by accident.)

I know it is pretty late on Christmas Eve and you are prob'bly pretty busy, what with all the elves running to and fro and checking your list the two hundred and twice time, but I also know you are a jolly fella who enjoys reading blogs daily so I'm hoping you're checkin' mine before you get bundled up for the Big Night. It's 'specially important because I wanted to make a few changes in my Christmas list, okay? I know you are all computerized now so you can log onto my FTP site and download the Excel spreadsheet (file size: 2.4MB) of my Christmas list, but just in case you're running a bit late or if Missus Claus is using up all your bandwidth playing Warhammer Online, here's the changes: you can please drop all the Zoey 101 merchandise from my Christmas list. Uh uh, I don't want it no more.

I know you take regular doses of ginko to keep your busy busy mind sharp, but just in case you need a reminder or a brain refresher...

Bully's Christmas List

  1. Steve Zissou action figure (with scale-size Belafonte and bonus Klaus figure)
  2. Batman pajamas
  3. For Iron Man to stop being such a jerk
  4. Signed photograph of Keira Knightley
  5. A P. G. Wodehouse book that I don't have
  6. 30 Rock Viewmaster reels
  7. A rat that can cook meals for me
  8. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. A used copy is O.K.
  9. London Underground cuff links
  10. A cuffed shirt
  11. Tribble chow (lots)
  12. Tickets to the Madness Concert Tour 2008
  13. For Peter Parker to wake up next to Mary Jane and say "I had the weirdest dream, M.J."
  14. A DVD of Doctor Who: Voyage of the Darned
  15. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip,Book Two
  16. For that new Star Trek movie to be pretty good
  17. Oh, and a Simon Pegg as Scotty action figure
  18. Peace on Earth
  19. Good will to all
  20. And a pink baby pig!

But I'll take anything you got in your sack, big guy. Drive safe and be sure to give Rudolph a carrot for me. Merry Christmas and thanks for all the wonderful gifts.

Your little stuffed pal,

Christmas Eve Cartoon: The Captain and the Kids in "The Captain's Christmas"

"The Captain's Christmas" (1938), starring The Captain and the Kids, directed by Milt Gross (?)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Twenty-Five of a Kind: Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down Comic Book Lane

Click on each picture to Santa-size. And Happy Christmas, everyone!