Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Little Dark Knight

Separated at Birth: Might as well face it, you're addicted.

GL/GA #85/Radioactive Man #216
L: Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (August/September 1971), art by Neal Adams
R: Radioactive Man "#216" (#3) (1994), art by Steve Vance and Bill Morrison
(Click picture to David Crosby-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: P. G. Wodehouse cartoons

The delightful animated opening credits to the Jeeves and Wooster television series:

And here's a brilliant and clever short animation test created by David Ganssle, using dialogue from the soundtrack album for the TV series as spoken by Hugh Laurie (Bertie Wooster) and Stephen Fry (Jeeves):

Why isn't there a Jeeves cartoon? Why, think of all the amazing adventures he could have.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A serious note.

Hello, everyone. John here. I "help" Bully out with his blog, but there's some things can't be said in the voice of a little stuffed bull.

A couple weeks ago at San Diego Comic-Con incidents of sexual harassment were confided to me and I overheard others. I wanted to write about it but was uncertain whether Bully's blog was the proper place. After much thought and discussions with friends and colleagues I've decided to post it here:

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: "These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, 'cause I wanted to see what her reaction was." This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the "prettiest girl at the con." They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he'd targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it's to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you're dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining "Convention Policies," which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a "Where Is It?" guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There's no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she's sympathetic to the situation but who doesn't have a clear answer to my question: "What's Comic-Con's policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?" She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there's little that can be done.

"I understand that," I tell them both, "but what I'm asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what's the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?" But this wasn't a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like "Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room 17."

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more rep-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I'm looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I've retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn't have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don't understand why there's no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

Fellow bloggers have also kindly posted my essay on their sites, and you can also read it at any of the links below.
I'd ask that you please treat the comment sections of my colleagues' blogs with respect for this serious subject. I'm pleased to say that they feel strongly about this subject as well, and thank them for their support on an uncomfortable but vital subject.

Comics oughta be fun. Comic book conventions ought to, as well. But as long as harassment goes on and there is no clear-cut official written rules on convention behavior and what to do in circumstances or physical or mental assault, our hobby runs the risk of alienating and endangering those within it.

Edit on 8/22: has initiated the Con Anti-Harassment Project. This is good news and a step forward to be applauded. Please check out their out their campaign here, especially the thorough and well-written FAQ.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Widescreen Wilson

As we saw last week in this post, John Byrne stretched out the screen in Uncanny X-Men and gave us some sensational double-page spreads throughout his run on the book. But of course Byrne didn't pioneer the technique, nor did it end with him. I could spend several weeks running down comics' greatest vista-riffic double-spreads, but tonight let's spotlight an artist I like an awful lot and who I think doesn't get his fair share of acclaim: the great Ron Wilson. It's probably no surprise to you that my choice for Ron's greatest work is his 1980s run on The Thing, my fave character of the Marvel Universe. Perhaps not coincidentally, a good percentage of that run was written by John Byrne himself. Did Byrne's sweeping scripts demand that Ron give more shoulder room to the key moments of Mister Ben Grimm's adventures? The world may never know, but what we do know is that Ron gave us some magnificent widescreen shots. Here's a finely-detailed Doomstadt, Latveria (or at least its simulacrum on the Secret Wars' Battleworld):

Double-page spread from The Thing #13, by Ron Wilson
Double-page spread from The Thing #13 (July 1984), script by John Byrne, pencils by Ron Wilson, inks by Joe Sinnott, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Michael Higgins
(Click on all images to Grimm-size)

Weirdly enough I'm especially fond of Wilson's scenes of immense, intense destruction. Here's the aftermath of a battle through a hospital lobby, as Alicia Masters fearfully picks her way among the wreckage. Hey, quit lyin' down on the job, you guys!

Double-page spread from The Thing #9, by Ron Wilson
Double-page spread from The Thing #9 (March 1984), script by John Byrne, pencils by Ron Wilson, inks by Joe Sinnott, colors by George Roussos, letters by Jim Novak

But for my double-sized money, there's no two-page Ron Wilson spread that can beat this one from The Thing #6: a Vista-Vision Cinemascope Technicolor birds-eye view of exactly what happens when titans clash: a whole lotta Manhattan gets broken. Who ya gonna call? (Damage Control, I hope!)

Double-page spread from The Thing #6, by Ron Wilson
Double-page spread from The Thing #6 (December 1983), script by John Byrne, pencils by Ron Wilson, inks by Hilary Barta, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Rick Parker

Hoo boy, now that's some cinematic devastation, huh? Don't worry, Manhattan-616 fans, I'm sure it was all put upsy-daisy by the next issue. (It always is.)

Ron Wilson has done a heckuva lotta work for Marvel and other comics publishers, and I'm familiar with some but not all of it. He's one of my favorite Marvel artists: more than just these wonderful double-page spreads, he draws powerful superheroes and ordinary Joes with equal skill, and his action sequences are always clear, dynamic, powerful and dramatic. His Marvel house style may be out of fashion into today's world of photorealistic-comics-art, but the Marvel of today would benefit from his clear and crisp style and the strength and sublety of his pencilling. Here's to you, Mister Wilson: may Dennis Mitchell never harass you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Riddle Me This (French Chef Department)

Riddle me this, Batman! Why is a French chef like the Batman?

It can't be their cooking skill. Why do you think Bruce Wayne keeps Alfred on staff? It's because Bruce can't cook an omelette for his life. Not true of Julia Child:

No, to determine how the Caped Crusader and the French Chef are similar we have to delve back into her WWII origin. Or, as Wikipedia has it (and doesn't Wikipedia have it!):
...after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, [Child] joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) after being turned down by the United States Navy for being too tall.

She started out at OSS Headquarters in Washington, working directly for General William J. Donovan, the leader of OSS. Working as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, Julia typed up thousands of names on white note cards used to keep track of officers.

For a year, she worked at the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section in Washington, D.C., where she was a file clerk and also helped in the development of a shark repellent to ensure that sharks would not explode ordnance targeting German U-boats.
Yes, you read that right.



Ladies and gentlemen, please salute Julia Child. Made cooking accessible and fun for a whole new generation. Inspired an entire field of television gourmets and chefs. Cooked up a kickass shark repellent. Julia Child: as tough and as smart as Batman.

Julia Child

Because it's a day that needs a little Kirsty

Kirsty MacColl singing "In These Shoes?"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Today in Comics History, August 12: A birthday poem for Chris Sims

I'm a bull of very little brain / But I have great friends on the internet
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

And when it's their birthday again / What kind of gifts for them to get?
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Now this time it's for pal Chris Sims / Who likes his action wild and rough
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

With kicking feet and thrashing limbs / And all his heroes built Ford tough
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Don't give him just a pair of socks / Presents should be the kind Chris needs
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Give a fight scene that really rocks / Gift the man not words, but deeds
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Preferably with some kung fu / And punches to the face and gut
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

No ordinary fight will do / His birthday gift must kick some butt
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Make it with style and with flair / But let me tell you, for god's sake
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Don't ever even try to dare / To give the man Anita Blake.
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

So the best gift I can think of / A birthday gift that shows pure class
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Given with respect and love / Here's Iron Fist kicking Batroc's ass.
Marvel Premiere #20 panels

Happy Birthday, Chris!

All the panels for Chris this year
Are taken from Marvel Premiere
Ish twenty, January, Seventy-Five
When Chris was hardly yet alive.
Tony Isabella did his part
Writing the script. And the art
Was done by Arvell Jones and Dan
Green, kicking ass as only they can.
Coloring was by John Drake
(That's a pen name, make no mistake
For Carl Gafford). And by the way
Letters by Ray Holloway.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #58: Blandings Castle

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Monday night in the bar-parlour of the Angler's Rest is usually book night. This is due to the fact that on Sunday afternoon it is the practice of Miss Postlethwaite, our literature-loving barmaid, to retire to her room with a box of caramels and a novel from the circulating library and, having removed her shoes, to lie down on the bed and indulge in what she calls a good read. On the following evening she places the results of her researches before us and invites our judgement.—from "The Castaways" in Blandings Castle by P. G. Wodehouse

It's funny, but isn't that just about what I do here with A Wodehouse a Week? I don't have shoes (just hooves) and I haven't a box of caramels (more's the pity), but here it is, Monday after Sunday, and let's have our little Wodehouse Book Club, shall we? Miss Postlethwaite not required, of course, although I wouldn't say no to a yummy caramel.

Tonight's Wodehouse is 1935's Blandings Castle, and there's no better description for this collection of short stories than Wodehouse himself gave it in the introduction: "A collection of short snorts between the solid orgies." I'm sure I don't know what an orgy is, but I certainly enjoy a good snort now and again, and this book's full of them. Not to mention chortles, guffaws, rib-ticklers, and more than a handful of bellylaughs. Half of the twelve stories concern Lord Emsworth and Blandings Castle, our home away from home where English literary manor estates are concerned. Let's return to those in a wee bit, shall we?

There's a Bobbie Wickham short story entitled "Mr Potter Takes a Rest Cure," which is not the final volume in the J. K. Rowling saga, but rather an anti-romance story in which feisty, strong-willing Bobbie hobbles her own engagement to stuffy prig Clifford Gandle by arranging for him to ominously (and seemingly murderously) stalk nervous houseguest John Potter, who doesn't take at all well waking up to find Gandle looming over him in the middle of the night, demanding a razor. Bobbie's methods are faintly reminiscent of those of Jeeves—a clever plan to keep a marriage from happening, although Bobbie tends to use a blunderbuss approach rather than the subtle machinations of the clever Jeeves. I'm not certain who I'd put my money on in a plot-off, but it would be interesting to watch!

Five of the stories are Mr Mulliner shorts, in which the ubiquitous guest at the Anglers Rest public house once again tells extraordinary tales of his Mulliner relatives and their quests for—and setbacks in—love. There's a theme to all of these stories, however, which set them apart from the other Mulliner tales, aptly summed up in the section's heading: "The Mulliners of Hollywood." The stories here are of a Mulliner relative in the movie business, all of them working for that noted motion picture studio Perfecto-Zizzbaum, headed by sharp-tongued Hollywood mogul Jacob Z. Schnellenhamer (in many ways a blood-brother of Wodehouse's Ivor Llewellyn). In fact, Schnellenhamer who appears in every story, even the Mulliner-less "The Rise of Minna Nordstrom," where he's flummoxed by his parlourmaid, who has arranged to have every drop of illegal alcohol in Prohibition Hollywood seized by the police unless Schnellenhamer arranges for her to become a movie star. She does, of course. (Isn't that how Scarlett Johansson got her start?) There's the tale of Montrose Mulliner, whose publicity-obsessed fiancé arranges for them to be married in a cage with a wild gorilla. When the gorilla breaks free and begins to terrorize the back lots of Perfecto-Zizzbaum, who can save everyone now except Melrose, who must face off against the ferocious beast:
'Excuse me, sir,' said the gorilla, 'but are you by any chance a family man?'

For an instant, on hearing the question, Montrose's astonishment deepened., Then he realized what must have happened. He must have been torn limb from limb without knowing it, and now he was in heaven. Though even this did not altogether satisfy him as an explanation, for he had never expected top find gorillas in heaven.

The animal now gave a sudden start.

'Why, it's you! I didn't recognize you at first. Before going any further, I should like to thank you for those bananas. They were delicious. A little something round about the middle of the afternoon picks one up quite a bit, doesn't it?'

Montrose blinked. He could still hear the noise of the crowd below. His bewilderment increased.

'You speak very good English for a gorilla,' was all he could fins to say. And, indeed, the animal's diction had been remarkable for its purity.

The gorilla waved the compliment aside modestly.

'Oh, well, Balliol, you know. Dear old Balliol. One never quite forgets the lessons learned at Alma Mater, don't you think? You are not an Oxford man, by any chance?'
Fear not, Wodehouse fans, he hasn't lost his senses, nor is he writing the Wodehouse version of Planet of the Apes. (Altho' that would be pretty nifty, wouldn't it? 'I dare say, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, would you be ever so kind as to remove your noisome appendage from me, you devilishly smutty simian? I mean, if you wouldn't mind, that is.') No, that's is actually Cyril Waddesley-Davenport, a stunt gorilla, a man in a gorilla skin, who has found himself working in the motion picture industry. Even though he appears to have all the qualifications for, say, the job of a librarian:

Another of the Mulliner stories, "The Nodder," includes this gem of a portrayal of the mutual drunkenness of a Hollywood yes man and a midget impersonating a child star:
'You're a good chap, Bingley.'

'So are you, Mulliner.'

'Both good chaps?'

'Both good chaps.'

'Making two in all?' asked Wilmot, anxious to get this straight.

'That's how I work it out.'

'Yes, two,' agreed Wilmot, ceasing to twiddle his fingers. 'In fact, you might say both gentlemen.'

'Both gentlemen is correct.'

'Then let us see what we have got. Yes,' said Wilmot, as he laid down the pencil with which he had been writing figures on the table-cloth. 'Here are the final returns, as I get them. Two good chaps, two gentlemen. And yet,' he said, frowning in a puzzled way, 'that seems to make four, and there are only two of us.'
The gems of the collection, however, are those half-dozen Lord Emsworth/Blandings Castle stories. Chronologically set between 1923's Leave it to Psmith and 1929's Summer Lightning, these are not the most polished Blandings plots but, in their shortness and wittiness, among the best portraits of Clarence, Lord Emsworth, the perpetually befuddled and besieged lord of the manor. Clarence is a wee bit sharper in these tales, but not too sharp, who is puzzledly peering through a telescope as the first story begins:
'Beach,' said Lord Esmworth.


'I've been swindled. This dashed thing doesn't work.'

'Your lordship cannot see clearly?'

'I can't see at all, dash it. It's all black.'

The butler was an observant man.

'Perhaps if I were to remove the cap at the extremity of the instrument, m'lord, more satisfactory results might be obtained?'

'Eh? Cap? Is there a cap? So there is. Take it off, Beach.'

'Very good, m'lord.'
The life of Lord Emsworth is one of simplicity: he merely wants to enjoy his gardens, his country estate, his meals, a quiet read, raising his flowers and pumpkins...but he's assaulted on all sides by aggressive and boisterous sisters, sons, visitors, gardeners, and an assortment of nieces and nephews, including the morose Gertrude, who might hold claim to being literature's original goth:
'It must be wonderful to be as old as you are, Uncle Clarence.'

'Eh?' said his lordship, starting.

'To feel that there is such a short, short step to the quiet tomb, to the ineffable peace of the grave. To me, life seems to stretch out endlessly, like a long, dusty desert. Twenty-three! That's all I am. Only twenty-three. And all our family lives to sixty.'

'What do you mean, sixty?' demanding his lordship, with the warmth of a man who would be that next birthday.
Winona RyderPerhaps coincidentally, sixty years after Wodehouse wrote this story, Lydia Deetz, when her parents offer her a darkroom for her photography, murmurs "My whole life is a dark room. One... big... dark... room." See, goths? Winona Ryder's (admittedly brilliant) character in Beetlejuice is not the first sullen and somber morose and languid lady. She owes a certain debt to Gertrude Alcester. And probably some to Wednesday Addams as well.

Were you casting a movie or TV play of the stories in Blandings Castle, the young light-fingered but dark-hearted Winona Ryder might be a very good choice indeed to play Gertrude. I tend to think Jim Broadbent would make a wonderful Lord Emsworth myself, but wait! There's been a BBC production of the stories in this book back in the late 1960s, starring Ralph Richardson as Lord Emsworth, with Richardson's wife Meriel Forbes as sister Connie, and Stanley Holloway as Beach the butler. Brilliant! I'd love to see these, and would order a DVD set up post-haste. Sadly, like those early Doctor Who serials and the first couple series of The Goon Show, the BBC foolishly erased their master recordings of the broadcast to save money and reuse the tapes. Only the first episode of six survived. What would have been is probably better in my head than on the screen, but it's a sad loss that we'll won't get to judge for ourselves.

As befits early stories in the Blandings canon, there's some mild tweaking that will later contribute to the eventual "definitive" version of the characters, but for the most part these are fully-drawn and absolutely recognizable as the folks we know and love. Lord Emsworth is only mildly more aware of his predicaments and enforced situations than later:
Lord Emsworth quivered.

'Have I got to go into that tea-tent?'

'Of course you have. Don't be so ridiculous. I do wish you would realize your position. As master of Blandings Castle...'

A bitter, mirthless laugh from the poor peon thus ludicrously drowned out the rest of the sentence.
And Beach the butler is as unflappable as ever, even when called upon to perform the most outrageous of domestic duties:
'Beach!' The voice was that of Lady Constance. 'Take away those rats!'

'Rats, m'lady?'

'Take that sack away from Mr Frederick!'

Beach understood. If he was surprised at the presence of the younger son of the house in the amber drawing-room with a sack of rats in his hand, he gave no indication of the fact. With a murmured apology, he secured the sack and started to withdraw. It was not, strictly, his place to carry rats, but a good butler is always ready to give and take. Only so can the amenities of a large country house be preserved.
The gem of the book, however, is a tale I consider one of the finest of all Wodehouse's short stories: a rousing chapter that in a mere 22 pages introduces one of the finest characters of all English literature. Appearing to her eager audience for the first time ever in print, the starring literary debut of...
...Empress of Blandings was far from being an ill-nourished animal. She resembled a captive balloon with ears and a tail, and was circular as a pig can be without bursting.
Yes, it's that princess of porkers, the sultana of swine, Empress of Blandings, premiering in the story "Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!" She will go on to feature in about nine of the subsequent Blandings stories, but her debut is certainly a splash, setting up the scene for her much-mentioned grand sweep of the Fat Pigs Award at the Shropshire Agricultural Show, in addition to being a wonderful MacGuffin all by herself (or is she a Silver Cow Creamer?) and the key to bringing together two lovers in a happy ending for all. When the wonderful, marvelous, terrific pig goes off her feed, Lord Emsworth searches high and low for the solution to his pig's miseries, finding it in the proper yodeling call to mealtime that all pig-farmers know:
The peace of the summer night was shattered by a triumphant shout.


A window opened. A large, bald head appeared. A dignified voice spoke.

'Who is there? Who is making that noise?'

'Beach!' cried Lord Emsworth. 'Come out here at once.'

'Very good, your lordship.'

And presently the beautiful night was made still more lovely by the added attraction of the butler's presence.

'Beach, listen to this.'

'Very good, your lordship.'


'Very good, your lordship.'

'Now you do it.'

'I, your lordship?'

'Yes. It's a way you call pigs.'

'I do not call pigs, your lordship.'
Huh. See, you learn something every day. But I bet, like gorillas in skins and somber goth girls, that pig call is just fictional. Why, does Mister Wodehouse expect me to attract a pig, simply by yelling


A Wodehouse a Week #68: Blandings Castle

Well. Whadaya know!

Sure, you can sit around all day hollerin' your lungs out for piggy-wigs, but it won't attract you a copy of Blandings Castle. I got mine—a hardcover Everyman's/Overlook Wodehouse, and a Penguin paperback—the easy way, by clicking on that little box to the upper right and ordering myself up a copy from Amazon. See, it's much easier on your lungs.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ten of a Kind: We've Got You Surrounded

(More Ten of a Kind here.)