Friday, December 25, 2015

New addition to the webstore. Signed books!

I've teamed up with my favorite local indie bookstore to sell copies of Trashed and My Friend Dahmer with original drawings on the title page. The Trashed copies have a variety of characters in various poses. The MFDs have a nice sketch of Dahmer.

I've added drawings to several boxes of books, hardback and softback, and will be replenishing the supply as they sell. The friendly staff at Mac's will happily take your order and ship your books to you. Best of all, you'll pay nothing extra for these. That's right. Cover price!

The latest batch, above. I threw on a little spot color with marker.

I get a lot of requests for signed books, but I have no interest in running a mail order biz out of my studio, so this is a great solution, and one that helps a great indie bookstore, too.

Unfortunately, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks isn't available from Mac's. The only place to buy copies anymore is on Amazon. Purchase link is to the right of this column. To get PR&TP signed with a drawing, well, you'll just have to wait for a signing or con in your town, I'm afraid.

Mac's has set up a handy online shopping page HERE

Trashed Item-of-the-month

On the set of A Christmas Story. Darren McGavin, the Old Man, and Mike.

Here's a TRASHED trivia item for Christmas.

As you know, Trashed is fictional, but pieces of it are real, based on my own experience as a garbageman as a young man, in 1979 and 1980. Here's something you
don't know. My real-life partner on the truck-- named Mike in the book, named Mike in real life, too-- was in the beloved classic film, A Christmas Story!

It was winter break 1982. Mike was home from Ohio University. I was at Ohio State. My time on the truck was over by the end of 1980, when I started at OSU. Mike, however, worked at the Service Dept. an additional year. Unlike the book, I left first. I didn't come home anymore for breaks. Instead, I spent that time with my girlfriend, who had already graduated and lived and worked in Battle Creek, Michigan. Horrible place. The air reeked of toasted corn flakes from the cereal factories. I was also deeply involved with the school newspaper, The Lantern, and our breaks were short since we had to be on the job a week early to gear up for the first week of publication once the semester began. By Christmas 1982, my comics career was well underway and I was drawing political cartoons for The Lantern, as well as working as a reporter or photographer, depending on the semester. In December 1982, I was gearing up to be a fulltime reporter and political cartoonist once school started again in January 1983.

But the real impetus for staying away from my hometown was there was NO WAY I was getting back on that garbage truck again, which would have been my likely fate, since part time jobs over break were tough to find. I had already worked trash over a previous Christmas break. That was enough.

Mike in Trashed (in Dutch!)

Guess Mike felt the same way. He was home, and the break at Ohio U stretched SIX WEEKS at that time, from Thanksgiving all the way to the new year. He was determined to find other work. He was leafing through the classified ads in the Cleveland paper one day when he saw a mysterious ad: "Major movie. Extras needed." Curious, he called the number listed. He was told the only requirement was you had to be on call 24 hours a day. The only instructions were for when and where to show up, and how to dress. In vintage clothes.
"You had to go through costuming or could bring your own. I brought my own," Mike says, explaining that he borrowed his Dad's 1939 overcoat.

Ralphie's house, on Cleveland's hardscrabble near West Side, is now a very successful tourist attraction! 
That movie, of course, was the beloved Christmas classic, A Christmas Story. The filming took place in various locations around Cleveland, passed off as writer Jean Shepherd's fictional Rustbelt hometown of Holman, Indiana. 

For the next several weeks, Mike would spend most nights as an extra in a movie, the identity and storyline of which remained shrouded in mystery. Mike recalls he thought the film was utter nonsense. He particularly recalls watching them film Ralphie's fantasy scene, where he's picking off bad guys in his backyard. "What the hell IS this?," he thought.  "It looks terrible!"

Mike has always been a collector of odd antiques and family heirlooms. His boyhood room was full of strange artifacts. One of his hobbies was old cars. At this time, he had a Thirties sedan he tooled around town in. When he noticed the film was a period piece, he mentioned the car, and they hired him as a driving extra, one of several old-car buffs who simulate traffic in the film. He's driving in one of the opening scenes, as Ralphie is staring through HIgbee's front window at the Red Ryder BB gun. Higbee's was the real downtown Cleveland department store (it's now, alas, a casino). Another scene Mike was in was the one where the Old Man has a flat tire after getting the Christmas tree. That was filmed in the desolate Flats, Cleveland's industrial pit along the Cuyahoga River, where all the steel mills are. Mike was instructed to drive back and forth through the scene, hour after hour, all night long. He remembers it was a white-knuckle drive, on an icy, pot-hole-littered road, with few street lights and crew and actors mere feet from the passing cars. Mike was terrified he was going to run over Darren McGavin! The scene took an entire week to film.

Most of the filming took place at night, with production wrapping up at 3 am, so the street could be cleared by rush hour. December 1982 was bitterly cold. There was no snow that month. All the snow in the film was placed there with snow machines! Mike mostly stood around the set for hours, trying to stay warm and waiting to be called for a few minutes of filming. Then, when the set closed for the night, he would have the long, 20-mile drive back to our hometown, in his clunker car, and collapse in bed at dawn. Only at age 22!

There's Mike, behind the shrub!

But Mike had one big moment, the iconic Leg Lamp scene. When the Old Man is taking in the view from the street– "Oh, you should see what it looks like from here!"– a crowd gathers behind him to gawk. There's Mike, former garbageman, looking over his shoulder! I remember the first time I saw the film, I bellowed in recognition when I saw his face.

More trivia. A Christmas Story bombed. MGM thought it was a dog and dumped it in theaters at Thanksgiving 1983. It was gone by Christmas. The NY Times critic Vincent Canby savaged it! "There are a number of small, unexpectedly funny moments in ''A Christmas Story,'' but you have to possess the stamina of a pearl diver to find them." Ouch!

The following year, however, it popped up on heavy rotation on cable tv. In the early days of cable, the movie channels ran the same five movies in a continuous loop all month long and, since virtually everyone hacked the primitive cable boxes (with a paper clip!) to gain free access to those pay channels, you'd find yourself watching these films over and over. This turned box office disappointments like Road Warrior and Fast Times at Ridgemont High into cable hits.  And that's how fans found A Christmas Story. Then Ted Turner bought the rights and started the 24-hour marathons on TNT and TBS, which have grown into a Christmas Day tradition.

Now a college prof in Indiana, this scene has made Mike an annual Christmas celebrity on campus. All because he didn't want to be a garbageman anymore!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Washington Post throws its cartoonist under the Ted Cruz campaign bus.

Here's my take on the Ted Cruz cartoon controversy.

A squeamish editor at The Washington Post yanked this Ann Telnaes cartoon yesterday. It's an animated cartoon, so this is just a screenshot. In it's place, there is an editor's note by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt apologizing for the cartoon.

The cartoon depicted the loathsome Ted Cruz and his daughters as trained Christmas monkeys. Cruz, of course, having used his daughters in one of his cloying political ads, in this case showing our favorite Cultural Warrior reading them a Christmas story. 
Sadly, it's yet another example of newspapers losing their kahones when faced with a biting political cartoon. Telnaes has won the Pulitizer Prize, so she's no lightweight. She's syndicated, not on staff with the Post, although they may have some exclusive agreement with her, I'm not sure.
I know exactly what happened here. I've run into this sort of thing myself, many times. Editors only want a political giggle of the day, one that won't have them spending their otherwise sleepy mornings answering emails and phonecalls from outraged supporters of whoever is targeted in said cartoon. The editor saw this cartoon after it went up on the Post's website (and probably not before) and visions of Cruz faithful bombarding him with brickbats danced in his head.
Why should the Post care? In Teddy's case, does this editor really think any Cruz supporters are Post readers? Of course not! So all he's done is send the Post's liberal readers into a rage, for cow-towing to Cruz.
This kind of shit with political cartoons happens all the time, although usually not so publicly. Usually, such a cartoon would get spiked before it was published. Sadly, it's been like this for decades. These quavering corporate types have utterly decimated a once-vibrant cartoon genre. Thomas Nast wouldn't last a month at one of today's corporate "family" newspapers.

Political cartoons peaked during Watergate, when a who's who of greats savaged any and all: Paul Conrad, Pat Oliphant, Paul Szep, John Fischetti, Don Wright, Herblock, etc etc. But by the mid-Eighties, daily newspapers were being gobbled up by giant media chains and daily papers became monopoly publications, as competing papers were bought and closed. The edict from the board room was a daily newspaper now had to be all things to all readers. Strident opinion– well, strident LEFTwing opinion anyways– had to be muzzled. And especially those damn cartoons.

That set the stage for the current generation of editors, who were trained to appease, not offend. All the great cartoonists I listed above had died or retired (except Oliphant) by the end of the Nineties. The next generation of cartoonists were hired by the quavering corporate types.  Viciously funny cartoonists need not apply. When the downsizing frenzy hit the newspaper biz a year years later, these cartoonists were the first tossed over the side. And why not? After 30 years of editorial emasculation, most of those guys were pretty disposable, frankly. Almost all were drawing exactly the same way, telling the exact same gags. McCartoonists. We all recall the day after 9-11 when every cartoonist in America drew the exact same piece: the Statue of Liberty weeping into her hands as the Towers burned. That depressing display of groupthink marked the official end of political cartoons as an effective genre in this country. The quavering corporate types had won. 
Now, It's a general rule among cartoonists that politicians' kids are out of bounds, until they're adults or unless they do something incredibly stupid. Obama's kids, of course, have been savaged by online rightwing trolls, and the Bush twins were targets, too, but very seldom by cartoonists. As vicious as I was to Dubya, I can't recall ever putting his girls in a cartoon. Now... Teddy is wrapping himself in his family and sticking his kids in ads, so he really can't squawk much when satirists call him on it. But, of course, he is. Today he's howling in outrage and gleefully exploiting the now-yanked cartoon as evidence of the.... queue scary music... LIBERAL MEDIA! And the Tea Party types are lapping it up.
So, in other words, the Post editor walked face first into that one. All he did was give Ted a giant gift-wrapped media blast for Christmas, and throw a Pulitzer winner under the bus.

Well done.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Joe Strummer, 13 years gone.

Joe Strummer, thirteen years gone today. Died of a massive heart attack at age 50.
If you're unfamiliar with his late-career re-emergence as a solo artist, take a listen to this cut, the title song from his last album (while living), Global A-Go-Go, a piece of power, complexity and depth. That's what I lament as much as anything. We were robbed of so much new work from this man.
I told this story to a couple magazines after his death. In 2000, Strummer & the Mescalaros did their first (and last) US tour, stopping here in Cleveland on a bitterly cold November evening to play at the late, lamented Odeon. It was an amazing show. Strummer, once the angry young punk, bantered playfully with the crowd and appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. I knew he was playing Clash stuff on this tour...but halfway into the set, when his band tore into the opening bowel-shaking chords of "Safe European Home" it was still a transcendental moment. With a bellow of joy, I hurled my creaky 40-year-old body into the exploding mosh and gave myself up to the music like I was an orange-haired 20something again.
After that incredible show, I was walking to my car, to head to a nearby tavern and meet up with Akron friends who had driven separately. I passed the big tour bus parked outside the Odeon and there was Joe, leaning against the bus talking casually to a dozen fans.
"Thanks, Joe!," I shouted over their heads. A simple statement...which had so much more meaning than the simple literal interpretation. Layers and layers of meaning. It's a rare privilege to personally thank the voice of your generation.
He smiled and nodded. "You're welcome, mate."
He knew exactly what I was trying to say. It was the last time I saw him play.