Sunday, July 20, 2014

PR&TP Item-of-the-Month: The Decline of Western Civilization




The Decline of Western Civilization is an American documentary film filmed in 1979 and 1980. The movie is about the Los Angeles punk rock scene and was directed by Penelope Spheeris

The LA punk scene got a lot of press in the day, maybe more than it deserved. There were a few bands of obvious brilliance, like X and the Avengers, and several others who were above average. I myself never had much use for West Coast punk. I took the hard-line,  jingoistic stance of a Rust Belt Punk.  But, of course, that was stupid and there's great music aplenty that came out of LA.

The initial screenings in LA were riotous affairs and LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates wrote a letter demanding the film not be shown again in his city. 

Darby Crash died of a heroin-induced suicide shortly after the film was released. Another problem, since Crash was the central image on the poster and appears to be laying dead on the floor (above). So that one had to be pulled from theaters and swapped out with a hastily made substitute (below). The film got ok distribution, mostly in theaters that catered to college audiences. That's where I first saw it, at an art house theater near Ohio State. Later, strangely, it popped up on embryonic cable tv! Back then, there were entire stations that showed movies on continuous loop. Some of the great cult films of the Eighties became cult films because of this: Fast Times at Ridgement High, Road Warrior, Evil Dead, etc. These were supposed to be pay channels, but early cable was so easily hacked, every kid who lived off campus rigged their cable box with a paper clip and watched these things continuously. I can still quote Fast Times line for line I watched it so many times! And Decline was in that loop.




There were better bands in New York and London, but what I like about The Decline of Western Civilization, and what makes it unique, is that it was filmed right then, in the fucking moment, not as a retrospective, 25 years later, like End of the Century, about the Ramones, or Westway to the World, about the Clash, both of which are incredible films. Decline is a time capsule. No one was making movies about punk rock in 1979. This wasn't the Woodstock Generation, with happy hippies frolicking about and Madison Avenue drooling to sell them shit. Punk was feared and suppressed and exiled to the fringe. The suits just wanted it to go away!

Over the years the film has gained cult status, but it has all but disappeared from circulation. It was released on vhs, but never on dvd. For years, it existed only as random piecemeal clips on Youtube. You could piece it together with a half hour of determined hunting. But damned if the complete documentary isn't up right now. Don't procrastinate. Who knows when it will get taken down. 



Preview.





The complete film.





Today





Forty-five years ago today, Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon.


Then, as now, the human race was busy slaughtering itself on the blue globe on the horizon of the Sea of Tranquility. Nixon began secretly and illegally bombing Cambodia. Catholics and Protestants faced off in bloody street battles in Derry. College campuses exploded in antiwar protests, and students were met with violent suppression by police and troops. The first victim of the then-unidentified AIDS died in St. Louis. The Cuyahoga River caught on fire for the last, and most infamous, time. The Football War pitted Honduras against El Salvador. The Manson Family went on its murder spree. A bloody coup in Libya put Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in power. Whites fled US cities in a panic as cities and schools were forcibly desegregated. It doesn't appear we've advanced one millimeter since.

I stayed up late with my Dad to watch Neil Armstrong climb down the ladder onto the moon's surface at 10:56:20 pm. I have this photo of Buzz Aldrin's footprint pinned on my studio wall. It represents what we humans CAN achieve, and so seldom do. It's the antithesis to the superstitious sociopaths who embrace oppression, ignorance, martyrdom, greed and power and appear to have overrun the world.

Forty-five years ago today.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Boycott Marvel Films!




This is the lone Marvel film made so far that I have any interest in seeing, because it looks like great, stupid fun. It's a crazy compendium of the weird Seventies comics I loved so much. I'm sure it will crumble at some point in the film, as they all do, under the weight of its own earnestness and predictable Hollywood bullshit, but it looks like an enjoyable ride.

But no, my Marvel boycott is still firmly in place. Disney, like the previous Korporate Kreeps who owned Marvel, still won't do right by the creators of these Marvel characters, most of whom received nothing but the slave wages of the time for franchises that have made billions (yes, billions) for the corporations. In the case of Guardians, which is pieced together from some of the weirdest comics ever made, that would be Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Keith Giffen, Doug Moench and Jack Kirby.  Starlin had to buy HIS OWN TICKET to The Avengers premiere, even though his famous creation, Thanos, was the big, after-the-credits teaser! He received nothing from the film. That pretty much sums it all up right there.

It was a PR disaster when Marvel stiffed writer Gary Friedrich, who was bankrupt and seriously ill, when the lousy-but-profitable Ghost Rider films came out. Marvel eventually reached a settlement with him, but he had to sue to get it. Thankfully, there were lawyers just as outraged about this as I who worked pro bono in his behalf. Starlin is doing quite well. He owns a number of his own properties, like Dreadstar, and still does some work for Marvel, but only using the characters they own, nothing new.


Starlin's funky green space assassin, Gamora.


The biggest crime, as always, concerns the late Jack Kirby, the creative god who solely created, or co-created, virtually all the Marvel characters you know of: Iron Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, the X-men, everything except what another creative god, Steve Ditko, created, mainly Spider-man and Dr. Strange (also soon to be a movie blockbuster). 

The Guardians film demonstrates both the breadth of his imagination, and the great crime perpetrated on him by the largest entertainment company in the world. The villain is his, Ronan the Accuser. And so are one of the Guardians, an alien living tree, Groot, who was dreamed up by Kirby for a throwaway sci-fi monster short story in one of Marvel's books in 1961, before Marvel launched the Fantastic Four and its other ground-breaking super-heroes This was when Kirby kept the struggling company afloat virtually on his own. Kirby probably got $30 for the eight-page story. 




Now, the devout modern fanboy will argue: "Oh, but the Groot character has been enhanced by SO many writers and artists since!" Bullshit. Look at Kirby's Groot above. It's the same character design! No one "enhances" Kirby! What came out his imagination, even a throwaway like this, is far better than anything anyone could dream up since. The common fanboy "I don't care" stance is one that infuriates me. Nothing can get in the way of their precious Marvel Universe continuity, especially not some old dude who died 20 years ago. It's all so delicately woven, you see, and forms this amazing interlocking story of unmatched depth and complexity. Total crap, of course. Marvel reboots the whole thing every five years because they've made such a hash of it no can keep it straight. Ninety percent of it is dreck anyways. It's an argument without legs. 

Kirby's Ronan the Accuser, 1967.

Kirby fought until his death to get a piece of his many characters. Marvel, then owned by the loathsome Wall St. vulture Ron Perelman, threw legions of lawyers at him. Marvel even held several hundred pages of his original art as hostage to force him to sign a universal right release. Marvel still has those originals, now worth $10,000  to $20,000 EACH! Kirby didn't want the characters for himself, just a fair cut. His kids and grandkids continue that battle. They'll lose. Disney is above the law. If the law goes against them, Disney simply has its paid stooges in Congress write them an exception, as it did when Mickey Mouse's copyright was about to run out and the character was poised to enter the public domain.

At the time Kirby's suit was filed, Marvel was giving its stars royalties based on the sales of their hit books (starring characters they, mostly, didn't create), something Kirby had never received. Todd MacFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Leifeld were making six-figures. Churn that in your mind. The epic hack Rob Leifeld made hundreds of thousands in royalties while the great Jack Kirby toiled away at a measly page rate. Even that wasn't enough for those young Marvel stars and they soon bolted en masse to form creator-rights Image Comics, where they all made great fortunes.

And modern creators make a hefty dime working for the Big Two, with money up front and a royalty cut. These guys enter into with eyes wide open. They know anything they create is the intellectual property of the company. They're well-paid and well-treated. 

That wasn't the case for Kirby and Starlin and the rest. There was no contract. The moment that one appeared, on the back of freelance checks, so in order to endorse the check you had to fork over all rights to everything you ever did, manny of these guys stopped working for Marvel. Kirby left comics altogether for animation, and only returned for one last gasp mostly with some of the creator-rights companies of the Eighties. How much would it cost Disney, one of the wealthiest entertainment conglomerates in the world, to do right by the old guys? A pittance! 

As for Marvel? They've paid a price for their hardline stance, as has DC. Name the last major character to come from Marvel. Wolverine maybe? That was in 1973! Forty years ago!! The last DC major character? Maybe John Constatine, now that he has a tv series on the way, but he was created by Alan Moore in 1985 almost by accident. That's nearly three decades ago! By the late Seventies, long before billion-dollar movie franchises, creators had revolted at both companies and gave them nothing new, or left the publishers altogether. Many fled to the nascent creator-rights publishers. That's where major characters like Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles and Hellboy emerged. Those that stayed at Marvel and DC, like Alan Moore, even under far better terms than Kirby, rued the decision. So now Marvel and DC endlessly regurgitate the same characters and same tired storylines. Readership has plunged. The top-selling comic book these days is Batman, at about 115,000 copies a month. In 1967, it sold 800,000 copies a month! 115,000 copies wouldn't have even cracked the top 50 back then. Titles that outsold 2014 Batman? Teenage Hotrodders, Millie the Model and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis!

Look, I've nothing against super-hero comic books. I loved them.... when I was 15. I still love those comics and still own the ones that meant the most to me. I study them like textbooks. I freely admit I don't get why a 45-year-old dude would be breathlessly awaiting the latest development in Zombie Teen Titans vs. the Hooters Models. But then I don't get why anyone would wolf down Taco Bell either.  And face it, the films are every bit as bad, if not worse, than the comic books. It's just banal, predictable, boring corporate product. Whoopee! Who wants to watch Ben Affleck's Daredevil tonight? And did I mention the Guardians of the Galaxy toy line is already out?

So my boycott is this: I refuse to pay to see any of these films. If I see them at all, and that's rare, because they invariably suck, I wait until they come out on dvd and get a free copy from the library. Marvel and DC get none of my money. Does it matter? Of course not, but it's a start. If a couple million others do the same, which they won't, only then would Marvel and DC will take notice. Doesn't matter if it's hopeless. I boycott out of respect to these creators whose work meant so much to me as a kid, whose work inspired me, and continues to inspire me, in my own work. Especially Kirby. What was done to him was the greatest intellectual property crime of the 20th, and now 21st, century. 

I owe them that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Loving the Unloved



Cleveland. According to Forbes magazine, it's a miserable place.

So now Cleveland is resurgent, just because a basketball player has made the supreme sacrifice of accepting the local team's S20M-a-year contract.

Most of my adult life, I've lived in cities that no one else wants to live in. Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cleveland, in that order. The consensus of the rest of the country is that Pittsburgh and Clevo are clanking Rustbelt towns, devastated by the 21st century economy, cursed by harsh winters and crumbling infrastructure and with dwindling populations that are fleeing for warmer, happier climes. Both will soon, inevitably, so the experts tell us, be Detroit. Columbus is regarded a boring college town with delusions that's it's a major metropolis, a cowtown full of rubes.




Ingenuity Fest in Clevo, an annual art and performance event held in the mile-long streetcar  span underneath the Detroit-Superior Bridge, with breathtaking views of the Cuyahoga River valley far below.


I loved living in all three cities. All are chock full of interesting things and lively entertainment. They're visually stunning places, both the natural treasures and the haunting industrial remnants. And they're incredibly livable. Great neighborhoods abound, peppered with wonderful taverns, venues and eateries. All three are full of cheap homes. My house in Clevo would probably cost $3M in Brooklyn and upwards of $1M in Chicago. Is there THAT much more to do in either of those desirable cities? On any given night, sure. There's maybe a dozen things to do tonight in Clevo. In Brooklyn, there's probably 200. But guess what? You can only do ONE at a time! I have my pick of great food, film, art and music here. It's more than enough.




Pittsburgh has some of the most spectacular city views in the land. I loved
taking the Duquesne Incline up to the top on a nice day. 



Jerry's Records in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood is as good
as it gets anywhere.


What amazes and dismays me is how much civic "happiness" is tied to sports. In Cleveland, it's one of the main reasons the douchebags at Forbes mag list it a one of the most miserable cities every year. Funny. I don't FEEL miserable. The Browns suck? Who cares! That means I don't have to waste a glorious Fall afternoon watching the tube. If Ohio State has an off year, the civic vibe in Columbus sinks. Pittsburgh uses the success of its teams to brush away all its other problems. Hey, we just declared for bankruptcy, but the Stillers won! Marx was wrong, Sports, not religion, is the opiate of the masses!




I've been noshing at the Blue Danube Diner in Columbus, just north of the
Ohio State campus since I went to school there. It is unchanged, 30 years later.



Columbus' Short North District is all restaurants, clubs and funky shops. The
historical arches were recently reinstalled.

Curiously, the one "desirable" place I lived was South Florida. I hated it. It's a crime-ridden, congested nightmare of sprawl and sleaze. I couldn't get out of there fast enough!



Above is the Eastman ReadingGarden, nestled between the two main library buildings in downtown Clevo. This is the sort of thing we have in abundance here, and in Columbus and Pittsburgh. Places that tourists or the douchebags from Forbes are totally unaware of. For locals only.



Cleveland's St. Theodius Church towers in mystic glory over the Tremont
neighborhood, full of galleries, shops and eateries. My favorite Turkish
Grille is right around the corner. After a meal, I always spend a few minutes
gazing at the awesome domes, lighted against the night sky.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Joey Ramone's lugie. Punk Rock & Trailer Parks item-of-the-month!


I just ran across this gem, the (almost) complete boot recording of a Ramones show I attended with my roommate, Infidel, (yes, that's what we called him) at the Columbus (Ohio) Agora in 1980! It was maybe my 3rd or 4th Ramones show, I shot it for the Ohio State University newspaper, The Lantern. It was my first quarter on staff. I started as a photog, because they wouldn't publish my cartoons! But the stupid editors chose not to run the photos (or the story). I should try to find those photos.
What I remember. Some poor slob tried to dive off the Agora stage, which, as locals who remember this venue know, was a preposterous 10 feet off the ground. Highest stage I've ever seen. Made for great viewing from the floor, but lousy diving. He landed with a thud on the concrete floor. I don't remember what happened to him, but I remember some blood. The opening act was a local punk band, Screaming Urge, who opened for virtually every touring punk band. There wasn't a lot of opening choices in Columbus. The highlight of their set was the lead singer pulling out his dick and wagging it at the crowd. Ah, memories.
This concert happened in March 1980, which was only a month after the release of End of the Century, their unhappy collaboration with Phil Specktor. Strangely, according to the playlist, they didn't do the best cut off that album, Danny Says.
I also remember Dee Dee and Johnny were yelling at each other during songs throughout the set. It was a great show.

Most importantly (to me, anyways) is that this concert produced this scene from PR&TP! This was a lasting memory.


UPDATE 7-12-2014:

And two days after I post this, comes the news that Tommy Ramone has died. The last of the four original members. All are now gone. That's hard to grasp, because they seemed so invincible when they were together. They just went on and on and on, toured relentlessly, always looked the same and always. always sounded great. An unstoppable rock-n-roll force. But Tommy was the only one who made it to his sixth decade, dying of cancer at 62. 

He was the oldest of the original four and he's the one who formed the band. He and Johnny had been in a high school band together, The Tangerine Puppets. Originally, Tommy was to be the Ramones manager and producer. Joey was the drummer! That didn't work out and Joey became the frontman. Tommy took over the drum kit, as DeeDee recalled "because nobody else wanted to."

Other little known factoids. His parents were Holocaust survivors. Tommy was an assistant engineer on Hendrix's Band of Gypsies. Tommy didn't write many songs– DeeDee was the primary songwriter– but Blitzkrieg Bop, the greatest punk song every written, was penned by him. He quit as the Ramones drummer in 1978, preferring to produce the band. He only performed on drums with them two times after that, at benefit shows in 2004 and 2007.  he was regarded as the most "together" of the four, and DeeDee, in particular, resented him for it. He has some success as a producer after he stopped working with the Ramones in 1984, for example with the Replacements classic Tim. Later he formed a folk duo, Uncle Monk.




Said Tommy of his bandmates, "They gave everything they could in every show." And they all died before their time.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

True Stories



I'm very pleased to announce that the first in a series (at least 4 and possibly 5 volumes) of the True Stories from The City will be released in September by the fine folks at Alternative Comics. True Stories: Volume One

Each 48-page volume will collect different eras of True Stories. When I'm done, all 24 years worth will be collected, over 200 True Stories in all, virtually ever single one I drew (save a few dogs which will never again see the light of day).

I wanted to put out something to commemorate The City, which I shut down in May. Problem is, most of the City strips are extremely topical, very much tied to a time and place, or, since 9-11, very political. That stuff simply has no shelf life at all. What was I going to do, throw together a book of Dubya cartoons? Or Clinton ones? But the True Stories are different. Those are timeless. Ones I did in 1990 could run today and be just as relevant and funny. 





When I first sat down to develop quirky comix in the late Eighties, the very first ones I came up with were True Stories. I had a sketchbook full of overheard conversations and observed urban weirdness. Here's an example (above) from 1989. Not only does this page, drawn in a favorite coffee shop, contain a True Story, it also features the doodle where I came up with the name of the strip!

It was an exciting time of explosive creative output. I added a rotating cast of characters to the mix: White Middle Class Suburban Man, The Women With Big Hair and the psychotic yuppies, Mindy and Blaine. Longtime readers will remember these. But one week a month was always reserved for a True Story. It was a dose of realism that gave The City its pedigree. No matter how much the strip changed over nearly a quarter century, even after I dropped almost all my original characters and morphed a silly Gen X humor strip into a savage political one, the True Stories remained.


If The City was known for anything over the years, it was these stories. Here's an early one, above, from 1992. This is the format they'll be published in. I view them as diary entries.... one-page short stories. It's thematically cohesive, unlike the rest of The City, so collecting them made perfect sense. I think you're really going to like these volumes.

The publishing schedule is a little whacked. Volume One, above, will collect True Stories from 2002 to 2008, what I consider the peak years. 2008 had me winning the Robert F. Kennedy Award for political cartoons and with Lynda Barry tabbing a portfolio of True Stories for the 2008 edition of Best American Comics.

We'll have to wait awhile for subsequent volumes, since the new Trashed graphic novel is slated for 2015 and I can't have anything competing on the shelves with that. After that, Volume Two will cover strips from 2009 to the end in 2014. Then it's back in time for Volume Three, with True Stories from 1996 to 2001. Volume Four will include my earliest True Stories, from The City's debut in 1990 to 1995. Those last two volumes are dramatically different stylistically than my later work. I've never been a creator that stays in one place. I like those stories, but some of the artwork is, frankly, dogshit. 

It's possible these last two volumes may be stretched out to three. I need to visit my archive of originals at the Ohio State Cartoon Museum, since my digital archive of this years is sparse. 

There'll be a pre-order option, which I'll post as soon as I can. True Stories: Volume One will debut at the SPX con in DC.