So look: we’re all part of the same whole, right? I mean, we can all trace our origins to the same big bang, between 13,000,000 and 14,000,000 million years ago, give or take a few calendar pages, so I shouldn’t have to perform mental/verbal gymnastics to convince you that radio drama has a relationship with comic book scripting, beyond the obvious, that both are what Stephen King calls story delivery systems.
But there may be a few gnarlys lurking in the crannies of bandwidth who present themselves as doubters. We shall let them continue gnawing on fish bones when I sweep you back some 68 (again giving or taking some of those pesky calendar pages — but much smaller calendar pages this time).
It’s me, there in the kitchen, standing on a chair so I can reach Mom’s white plastic radio which lived atop the refrigerator, also white and sometimes called the “icebox.” I was listening to – I was heeding – my programs. Superman. (Of course, Superman!) Captain Midnight. Buck Rogers. Tom Mix. (He was a cowboy, and of course we made room for cowboys.) These, and others I may be forgetting were after school shows, broadcast on weekdays between four and six.
I heeded them. Oh, yeah.
The radio stuff wasn’t all that was in my post-toddler portfolio. There were also the comic books and some weeks I got only one, largesse from Dad who picked it up along with milk for the family after Sunday Mass. Some weeks, though, I had a lot more than a single paltry comic to read. Every once in a while, often on a sunny afternoon, I collected my used comics, put them in a wagon and visited the homes of the other kid-comics readers in the neighborhood and, sitting on somebody’s porch, we’d trade: their used and maybe slightly torn comics for mine. Our books were never doomed to Mylar bags, to be hoarded like the contents of Uncle Scrooge’s vault. Our comics were only getting started! They were destined to extend their gifts of enchantment and delight into the future, to porches we had never seen and maybe even city blocks that would be new to us.
So, yes, I was a comics nerd before there were such things. But… except for the days when I went a’trading, I had only one new comic in a week. Pretty sparse diet of high adventure. But radio – Monday through Friday, exciting stories – and a bunch of them. Sure, they were continued but I didn’t mind that, and I didn’t know what the characters looked like (unless they also appeared in comics) but that was okay, too.
Better than okay. Not seeing the humans who belonged to the voices, I visualized them – you know, made them up in my head – and while I was at it, I imagined cars and planes and buildings and lots more. I imagined a world.
Pretty good training for a kid who would grow up to be a comic book writer.
Listen up. I’m going to tell you a horrible, horrible secret. And it’s about me!
I really don’t care for most Disney animation. The earliest black and white stuff is fun, and there are a few shorts here and there that I enjoy. The features? Not as many. Alice in Wonderland… that’s about it. As Craig Ferguson might ask, “how long have you been in ISIS?”
Disney comics is a totally different thing. Every time I’m forced to list my all-time favorite comics creators, Floyd Gotfriedson and Carl Barks are always on that list. Gotfriedson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strip brought depth and characterization to the popular rodent. His adventures were truly adventures, full of wit and charm, brilliant craftsmanship, on-the-button pacing, and heart. Lucky for us, our pals at Fantagraphics have been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.
Carl Barks was the master behind Disney’s Donald Duck family of comics, published by Dell and later Gold Key. You’ve probably heard of him: he’s one of the very, very few Disney comics creators who’s adapted work was screen-credited, in Duck Tales. Unca Carl created Uncle Scrooge, the Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, and a great many other pillars of the Disneyverse. His comics are that good; even better. You will often hear geriatric baby boomers mentioning Barks in the same breath as Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. Here, too, Fantagraphics been reprinting them in brilliant hardcover editions.
But three years ago, my animation preferences expanded to include some work produced by the current Disney studio. I haven’t opened my heart to more of the “original” material; I’m enjoying the new series of Mouse cartoons (featuring the entire Disney-toon cast), available on the appropriate Disney cable channels – excluding ESPN – and on sundry Disney apps for smartphones, tablets, AppleTV… they made it really easy for me to find this stuff.
And who do we have to thank for it?
I’d say Ren and Stimpy.
These shorts, which average a paltry 210 seconds, have damn near everything the classics do not: they are anarchistic, irreverent, self-parodying, and wacky as shit. In other words, they’re entertaining – even to a guy un-American enough to not worship about a half century of Disney animated output. The style, also reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy (and even more reminiscent of small budgets and short deadlines), works perfectly for the pacing.
Of course this material won’t replace those I consider to be the masters of animation such as Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and the Fleischer family. Cartoons aren’t profitable enough to warrant such budgets. But after more than two decades of soulless mainframe computer hyper-modeled “3-D” crap, these new Disney shorts are a breath of fresh air. Damn near all of them. And there’s a lot out there, too.
Give a few a test-drive. Like I said, each takes about three-and-one-half minutes out of your life.
And, because I now like some Disney animation, there’s one less reason to send me to Gitmo.
T’is the season for Christmas related columns, fa-la-la-la-etc. I could write about Star Wars: The Force Awakens but that came out Friday so now it’s old hat and, besides, I haven’t seen it yet and, given the crowds, may not be able to see it until after the first of the year so let’s talk about something else, shaaaaall we?
Christmas is a time of peace, love, and goodwill to all unless you’re doing last minute shopping, running from store to store, and in a life and death struggle with some other harried shopper for the last iteration of a particular item that you both must have. So why is it that, aside from Baby Jesus of course, the most identifiable characters connected with the day are anti-heroes – the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Mr. Potter (from It’s a Wonderful Life)?
Anti-heroes are what we used to call outright villains until it was found that we may identify with them more than perhaps we should. They’re bad guys who have a hint of good guy in them and these days we may sympathize with them more than the erstwhile heroes of the stories that they are in. They’re usually the most interesting and usually have the best lines.
Take the Grinch, for example, especially the Grinch found in the Chuck Jones directed and Boris Karloff voiced cartoon. He even has a song about how bad he is. Some of my favorite lyrics in it go: “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch! You’re a nasty, wasty skunk! Your heart is full of unwashed socks. Your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch!” Admit it. You now have the whole song running through your head. Merry Christmas.
The Grinch lives up the mountain with his dog Max, but is assaulted by the noise coming from Who-ville every Christmas and it is driving him just bat-shit crazy. So he hatches his evil plan: he’ll dress up like Sanity Claus and steal every present from the Whos and every scrap of food including the last can of Who-Hash. (That particular delicacy always troubled me; it implies that the hash is made up of ground up Whos which suggests that the village is a town of cannibals which might make them more interesting than they otherwise appear.)
Instead of tears, the Grinch hears a song of joy from the Whos on Christmas Day. Xmas came all the same. So he has a change of heart (it grew three sizes that day) and returns everything and even joins them for dinner, slicing the roast beast.
The change suggests a desire to change, deep down. Let’s be honest though – the Grinch is funnier and more interesting before his change.
And then there’s Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the Grinch’s literary grandfather. Dickens describes him as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” His very name is a synonym for miser (look it up). When Carl Barks was looking for a name for Donald Duck’s rich and miserly uncle, what else would suit but the name Scrooge?
Ebenezer is a gold mine for bad Christmas attitude. Dickens says of him “To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.” Scrooge is famous for his “Bah! Humbug!” attitude on the season. Early on, he declares: “Out upon merry Christmas. What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
When Scrooge is asked for money to help the poor, he says they should go to the poorhouse since that is what he pays his taxes for. Told that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge snaps, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Oh, that’s cold.
Scrooge, however, saw himself as simply a good man of business and I suspect many on the Right today would see him as the put-upon hero of the story, just another entrepreneur trying to make his way past all those grasping freeloaders with their hands out.
Scrooge gets visited by four ghosts (including his dead partner, Jacob Marley) and, of course, gets reformed. By the end he vows, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Still, there’s enough of the old devil in him to play a rather mean trick on his clerk, Bob Cratchit, on the following day. Thank goodness.
That leaves us, then, with Mr. Potter of It’s A Wonderful Life. Let’s be honest; there’s nothing redeeming about him. He is a miserable old miser like Scrooge; of him it can be sung that he’s a mean one. He has the best – or worst – of the Grinch and Scrooge in him.
Here’s a sample of some his best line and worst attitudes: “I am an old man, and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either so that makes it all even.
“Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me ‘a warped, frustrated, old man!’ What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help.
“He [Peter Bailey] was a man of high ideals, so called. Ideals without common sense can ruin this town.
“Ernie Bishop, you know the fella who sits around all day on his brains in his taxi?”
When Peter Bailey asks him why he is so miserly when he has so much money: “Oh, I suppose I should give it to miserable failures like you and that idiot brother of yours to spend for me!”
“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas!”
I’m surprised that Mr. Potter isn’t running for the Republican presidential nomination. Or maybe he is and just has gotten lost in the pack. Maybe he’s changed his name to Trump.
Potter gets ahold by mistake of a deposit that belongs to George Bailey and the Savings and Loan he heads up. Knowing this will mean financial ruin and disgrace for Bailey (whom he describes as a boil on his neck), he conceals the fact that he has it.
And he gets away with it!
George is saved by the generosity of family and friends but, by the end of the movie, Potter is not exposed and he never gives the money back. He’s unrepentant and unreformed. You can sort of root for the Grinch and Scrooge but you really just want Potter to die with a stake of holly through his heart. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s an asshole. He’s an outright villain. Die, Potter, die!
Anyway, may your Christmas be merry and bright, one and all. Enjoy the day and enjoy some of these classics. They do embody the feelings of the season.