Archive for July, 2008

Racist New Yorker Cover

July 14, 2008

http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0708/Obama_camp_criticizes_New_Yorker_cover.html

  The New Yorker magazine is running an article about the fear-mongering towards Obama. They will be illustrating this with a supposedly ironic cover. Ironic or racist? Michelle Obama is depicted as an Afro-coiffed blaxiploitation heroine with a rifle, Obama is depicted as a Muslim, an American flag is burning in the Oval Office fireplace and above the fireplace? A portrait of Osama bin Laden.

  Sure, I get the irony. But most people who see the cover aren’t going to read the article. Fox News will show this cover a million times a day (probably claiming they are shocked by the New Yorker’s racism). This cover will be taken out of context.

  Assuming, of course, that this is just the New Yorker being clueless rather than intending the right-wing appropriation of the cover.

  They should seriously consider pulping the cover, because they are likely to lose a lot of their left-wing readership.

  Also, can we expect “ironic” covers with McCain being tortured? Or maybe Bush drinking up a storm? Or perhaps an ironic and anti-Semitic cover of Joe Lieberman? Or would someone on staff have put a stop to that?

 I bought the New Yorker every so often. I just wrote them to say those days are at an end.

The unsung heroes responsible for Roy Lichtenstein’s art

July 13, 2008

  Yesterday I was talking about classic comic book artist Russ Heath with a friend. (Heath will be at the San Diego Comic Con this year. Most famous for his war comics, I’ll always have a soft spot for Heath’s Robin Hood art in The Brave and the Bold comics of the 1950s.) Anyway, I mentioned that some of his art was … borrowed … by Roy Lichtenstein, and I thought I’d do a quick rant about that.

  First, thanks to the efforts of David Barsalou, an art teacher … here’s a comparison of some comic panels by Russ Heath that fetched Heath only a subsistance wage and the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein that has fetched millions. (Lichtenstein’s work is in the corner.)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/deconstructing-roy-lichtenstein/40845492/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/deconstructing-roy-lichtenstein/45875584/

  And here is Barsalou’s side-by-side comparison of several other Lichtenstein works — borrowed from numerous comic book artists.

http://davidbarsalou.homestead.com/LICHTENSTEINPROJECT.html

  I’ve always admired the large pop-art versions of these images. And I won’t deny Lichtenstein a share of the credit. But it annoys me to no end that he did not share credit or cash with the people whose art he borrowed. It’s one thing to repurpose comic art — that I doesn’t bother me. But to claim it as solely your own … that pisses me off.

 And as some other blogs have mentioned, it’s just plain ironic that the Lichtenstein Foundation uses a “Lichtenstein” image borrowed from Joe Kubert — another comic book legend — to warn against copyright violation. Hypocrisy incarnate.

  Also, I often think the original art has more expression in the faces.

Anime (or Japanimation) and Me, Part Two

July 7, 2008

 Around 1979 – 1980, in the height of Battle of the Planets mania, I saw a cartoon series about heroes setting off for a long voyage in an outer space battleship. It was Star Blazers — a series that helped define North American anime. But then, before I knew it, it was gone. I’d see it again in a few years, and by then I’d realize that the characters big wide eyes meant the show orginated in Japan. And I’ll talk about Star Blazers aka Space Cruiser Yamato aka Space Battleship Yamato aka Uchu Senkan Yamato) in my next installment.

  But first, the series that really made me aware of Japanese animation was a show called Force Five that aired in the mornings on Toronto’s “Channel 47” (nowadays it’s called Omni 1). Actually, Force Five was a compilation of five different anime series. I know in some markets, each weekday featured a different series. But I’m not certain if that’s how Channel 47 showed it back in the early 1980s. I got the impression that they went through one series before going onto the next one.

 The credit sequences announced that Force Five was from Jim Terry Productions — complete with American Eagle logo — and the writing and direction credits featured very Anglo-Saxon names. But the credits also prominently noted that the animation came from Toei in Japan. That’s still the name that comes to mind when I think of Japanese animation studios. Also, the credits mentioned the Japanese creators of the shows – folks like Leiji (or Reiji, depending on the romanization of his name) Matsumoto and Go Nagai.

 Looking at those credits, I realized that cartoons with that large-eyed characters, ongoing storylines, interesting characters and giant robots likely originated in Japan.

 The Force Five shows  … in the order I remember them .. are:

 Starvengers

  Starvengers (aka Getter Robo G) created by Go Nagai was actually a sequel to a series never translated. It features three planes that can combine in different ways to form three different robots – Star Dragon, Star Arrow and Star Poseidon. It was a bit weird to see a first episode of the series where they were discussing unseen defeated enemies and the death of a colleague. (Although not in the video compilation, I think.) The episodes weren’t as strongly linked as some Japanese series, but I do remember a decisive ending.

 The Pandemonium Empire had one very notable enemy: Captain (or Colonel, depending on whether it was the actual series or the video compilation) Fuehrer. Really, I have to share a clip.

 Still that’s slightly more subtle than the Japanese name for the character: Captain Hitler.

 Danguard Ace

Created by Leiji/Reiji Matsumoto, the humans were travelling to the distant planet Promete.  Several episodes passed before the robot was completed and the pilot was ready. Mainly I remember it for the similiarity in names between Windstar in this series and Wildstar in StarBlazers (while the shows were created by the same person, the names were created by different “translators”), the cranky mentor Captain Mask and the horrible theme tune.

 Spaceketeers:

 Titled Starzinger in Japan (and Sci-Bots in the UK), this was originally a science fiction retelling of the Monkey King story. Jim Terry Productions felt that the Japanese classic would have little meaning for North Americans, and so the “translated” character names resembled the names of Dumas’s Three Musketeers.

 There are no giant robots in Spaceketeers which makes it unique among the Force Five shows. The plot about the heroes travelling great distances to heal the galaxy is close to the plot of Space Battleship Yamato / Star Blazers, and not surprising, the shows had the same creator.

  At the time, I think this was my favourite Force Five series. It wasn’t as playground cool as Starvengers or Grandizer, but I liked the whole quest storyline and the slow introduction of the lead heroes. As a teenager, one of my few attempts at fan fiction was to rewrite and adapt this series (make it better).

 Oh, and isn’t weird how beserker hero Jesse Dart (close to D’Artagnan’s name, I guess) has the same hairdo as the comic book beserker Wolverine? (Well, if the opening didn’t hide his hair in that space helmet.)

Grandizer

Another Go Nagai creation, UFO Robot Grendizer was a pretty exciting giant robot show. I remember the hero was an alien named Orion Quest who masqueraded as a farm-hand/cowboy named Johnny. I remember in the later episodes, the saucer that connected to Grandizer changed somewhat. And I think the heroes finally defeated the villains.

 Maybe I’m wrong but I think like Voltron, Grandizer had one infalliable weapon to defeat the enemy, but he never used it until the end of the episode.

Gaiking:

 This is the Force Five series I remember least well. An uncreated creation of Go Nagai, in this show, the heroes flew around in fortress called the Great Space Dragon which launched a giant robot defender — Gaiking. As I recall, they travelled the globe investigating alien involvement in Easter Island and such places. I guess it was a super-charged X-Files.

  Coming right at the end of my playground days — and really, far past the time that any rational kid had got into sports — Force Five was excellent fare for child’s play. In all the Force Five series, the heroes and villains would shout out the name of the weapon before they used it. Militarily stupid, but it worked as a kids’ game. We called out the name of the giant robot we wanted to play and the names of weapons at each other (“Space thunder!” “Hatchet boomerang!”) As I recall, yelling “Spaceketeers!” granted you access to the weapons of all three heroes in that show. (Only sporting as they weren’t giant robots.)

Speaking of playtime, a few years before Force Five, toys from most of these shows (and other untranslated anime) came to North America under the Shogun Warriors brand. Danguard Ace had a prominent role (with no connection to the continuity of the anime or any of the other robots’ anime) in the tie-in Shogun Warriors comic by Marvel. One friend had a Star Dragon (Dragun) figure. Another friend had a miniature Grandizer. I was jealous.

 Looking back, Force Five has not aged well. Even at the time, I probably thought it was cheesy. Certainly the voices are generally silly. But still, it got me interested in anime.

 Coming up next time: Star Blazers!

 PuckRobin

First Impressions of the Doctor Who Series 4 (aka Season 30) Finale

July 6, 2008

  So, “Journey’s End”, the finale of the revived Doctor Who’s fourth season aired tonight in the UK. (Or season thirty, if you include the original 26 seasons, but don’t count the Paul McGann TV movie, the 8th Doctor novels or audio adventures as seasons.) Of course, it doesn’t air in the US for a couple of weeks or in Canada for a couple of months, but I’m sure the impatient and tech saavy can find a way to see it sooner.

  Oh look, it’s on YouTube already.

There’s the link if you want to go looking for the other parts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTR48SbJ2vQ

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 It’s a funny thing — spoilers. I avoided the message boards today and wikipedia and YouTube. I avoided all things Doctor Who until I had seen the episode. But really, I wasn’t protected from spoilers. Reading the Doctor Who Forum from what was once Outpost Gallifrey, I had already read months of posts from Dr Who fans with a passion and curiosity shared by political bloggers although not most mainstream reports already.

 Set reports from Bad Wolf Bay filming suggested there would be two 10th Doctors — one in brown and the other in blue. Either script leaks or just fine fannish guessing suggested that the Doctor’s hand was involved in the duplication. And people had reported on some filming outside the Nobles’ house where the Doctor told Wilf he could never tell Donna … It wasn’t hard (for anyone who’s seen 2nd Doctor story “The War Games” or Superman II to hazard a guess at what may have happened.)

 But still, there was a lot that I didn’t know. And certainly some of my own suspicions about where the season may have been heading were wrong.

  Hmmmm… the duplicated Doctors wasn’t as bad as I dreaded. I mean, yes it was sheer technobabble relying on scraps of old continuity. And it was fairly silly. But then, so was the magical floaty Doctor last year or well … the resolution to other stories written by Russell T. Davies. His episodes don’t have the diamond hard plotting of Steven Moffat’s gems. The plot resolutions often feel well… like they were pulled out of the story’s rear, not truly organic.

  But the double Doctors didn’t bother me, because RTD excels at big emotional moments. Not just giving Rose a shipper’s happy ending so to speak. I am thinking more about giving the half-human Doctor that terrible responsibility of wiping out the Daleks. (Of course, Rose did the exact same thing … but well, “logic is a wreath of pretty flowers that smell bad.”) And the idea that the Doctor can remain weaponless by militarizing those around him. And especially the real horror of Donna’s fate.

  No, I don’t mean that she won’t travel with the Doctor anymore. Or even that she’s lost her memories. She’s lost all the character growth. Once again, she’s back to the shouty temp of limited ambitions. Like if Rose turned back into the shop girl of the first episode, but even more so.

  It’s interesting that this doesn’t quite the same comic book crossover feel as “The Stolen Earth”. Maybe it’s just because it’s not quite the novelty to see Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures characters together. It’s still daft, mad, cameo-happy and winking at fannish continuity – such as Rose and the Doctor realizing that Gwen is from an “old Cardiff family” — just like a classic comic book crossover. And it was cool to see Davros recognize Sarah Jane Smith.

 I don’t think it’s the best story RTD’s ever done. But it’s certainly a capstone to his era. (Like acknowledging how Rose made the Doctor better.)

  I’ll probably add to this tomorrow.

Anime (or Japanimation) and Me, Part One

July 5, 2008

  A few weeks ago, a friend was expressing her retro-crush with Battle of the Planets (which being a child of the 70s myself, I completely share and understand). And that got me thinking about my former love for anime or Japanese animation or Japanimation as it was often called in the 1980s.

  When I was into anime and manga (Japanese comic books), it was still largely a cult thing. Certainly a growing cult, but not like today where manga and anime just dominate shelves of mainstream book and video stores. I seem to have drifted away from the genre, just as it achieved mainstream acceptance. Weird.

 Anyway, my personal history with Japanese animation.

  I was born a little too late to really get into the earliest Japanese cartoons to hit North America: Gigantor (aka Tetsuijin #28 or Iron Man #28), Astro Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atomo or Mighty Atom) and Speed Racer (aka Mach Go-Go-Go.). I think Astro Boy was the only one I had any real experience with, and even that I think was just the later 1980s incarnation.

 No, the first real Japanese (not that I knew it at the time, of course) cartoon to make a real impression on me was something called Battle of the Planets. I — and a lot of my classmates — would race home from school to catch this on Global Television, channel 3.

 We used to play “G-Force” as the team was called in the playground. I was usually stuck playing the overweight pilot Tiny or worse, the annoying robot Keyop. But boy, I could sympathize with Tiny’s common complaint “Aww, I’ll get to do is pilot the Phoenix.” The playground Phoenix was a swing-set, of course. And in childlike imagination, the ultra-cool Fiery Phoenix mode could be achieved by just swinging really hard and fast.

  What I wouldn’t know for several years is that Battle of the Planets was translated from the Japanese series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Nor would I realize just how heavily edited it was.

 As kids, we all spotted the animation in the 7-Zark-7, a robot with R2-D2’s body and Threepio’s personality, scenes didn’t match the rest of the animation. What we didn’t know is that Zark was just added by the Americans to make up time for all the violence cut from the American versions and also to reassure us that all cities were dutifully evacuated, that all exploding ships were robot planes and that despite all visual evidence to the contrary Mark’s father hadn’t really died in an exploding plane and father and son were now reunited — off-screen, of course.

  Seeing many episodes again in my early 20s, it became absurdly easy to spot what was cut. G-Force would enter a room where the bad guys were lying in wait,  a hero called out the villainous organization’s name “Spectra!”. Then suddenly the screen cut to an image of a Spectra mask falling to the floor. The mask had a bullet hole in it. Then back to a hero saying “Boy, they sure ran away fast when we showed up.”

  Sure, the bad guys ran away so fast they just dropped their mask with a bullet hole in it. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  Looking at it now, it seems like virtually all the violence was hacked out. I can’t imagine what our parents were so bothered about. It also takes a bit of imagination to see why the 9-12 year old me liked it so much. That damn robot never seems to shut up and let interesting things happen.

  Still, heavily edited as it was, it was far, far more exciting than the early seasons of Super Friends. Speaking of which, the composer of the American Battle of the Planets theme, Hoyt Curtain, is the same guy who composed the Super Friends theme. And boy are they similar.

 Also, the animation of Battle of the Planets / G-Force (the team name in BotP and the title of a less-censored but less-loved 1980s translation) / Gatchaman was a cut above most cartoons. Also, the characters had a little more personality than Aquaman or the Saturday morning version of Batman. And occasionally, Battle of the Planets had traces of ongoing storylines – although somewhat weakly resolved / swept under the carpet in the kid-friendly version.

  The excitement, the superior animation, the characterization and the ongoing storylines are things I’d find in other cartoons. Cartoons that I was old enough to realize originated in Japan.

  To be continued…. with Star Blazers, Force Five and Robotech….

  Fun Battle of the Planets Trivia:

  The voice of Mark in Battle of the Planets is Casem Kasem. He also played Robin the Boy Wonder on Super Friends and most famously Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. I think Mark would have been a more fun guy if he had a few Scooby Snacks and said “Zoinks!” on occasion. Mark wasn’t anyone’s first choice on the playground. Even wanted to be Jason. For much the same reason that Luke Skywalker was no one’s first playground choice. (The same tomboy always seemed to force her way into playing Han Solo or Jason.)

  My friend’s band name is Science Ninja Big Ten. A double Battle of the Planets reference. The Science Ninja comes from the show’s original Japanese title and “Big Ten” is was G-Force slang for “Roger” or “Ten Four”. When I remarked on the band’s name, Chris replied “You’re the only other person in the bar who’d get the reference.” Sad but true. That’s probably why I don’t hang around bars much.

  PuckRobin

Who’s Jack Kirby?

July 4, 2008

  Some years ago, in connection with the X-Men films, I made a reference to Jack Kirby. My friend – a big fan of both X-Men films and comics – asked me “Who’s Jack Kirby?”

  Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) was the co-creator of the X-Men.

  He also created or co-created such heroes as Captain America, the Hulk, the Mighty Thor, the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer. He also had some involvement in Iron Man’s creation and was lurking about the genesis of Spider-Man too.

  In other words, Marvel Comics would not have existed if not for Jack Kirby.

  And how much money has the Kirby Estate got from these creations? Peanuts! In his lifetime, Jack Kirby saw more money from a few minor appearances of his villain Darkseid in the Super Friends cartoon and action figures in the Super Powers toyline than he did from creating all these big Marvel heroes.

  So, it’s not that surprising while movie audiences can spot Stan Lee’s cameos in films like 2008’s Incredible Hulk – the average person, even the average superhero fan has never heard of Jack Kirby.

 Captain America, for example, was created by Jack Kirby and his 1940s partner Joe Simon. And yet I’ve seen article after article claim that Stan Lee (who joined Captain America comics during its early run as an assistant to Simon and Kirby) was the sole creator of Captain America. For years, the title pages of Marvel Comics could proclaim “Stan Lee presents…”. So, it’s not surprising that most people don’t remember the other people who created these comic book icons.

  The Marvel style of writing was for Lee to give a few plot ideas, and then the artist would go away and do his own thing, and Lee would dialogue the comic. Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko managed to get a co-plotting credit in his later issues. I don’t think Kirby ever did, although important characters like the Silver Surfer never appeared in Lee’s brief to the artist.

  And that’s his superhero stuff. Kirby also worked on westerns, war comics and pretty much created the once-popular romance comic genre. Most comic creators with even a tenth of Kirby’s output and influence would rightly be considered masters of the medium.

  Today I just finished reading Mark Evanier’s new coffee table biography/artbook “Kirby: King of Comics”. Admittedly, Evanier was too close to Kirby and his family for a wholly unbiased account and I gather this is only a tiny bit of larger work on Kirby that Evanier has planned. But still Kirby’s life and work deserves to be celebrated, and it’s wonderful to see Kirby artwork blown up to coffee table size.

  Kirby’s art was dynamic. Heroes were bursting out of the pages. All superhero artists either imitate or consciously distance themselves from Kirby. And as for his work ethic, not only was Kirby’s art gorgeous, but he could produce four times as much as the comic book artists of today. In the 1960s, he carried Marvel Comics – drawing most of the important books and often being assigned to coach the other artists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Mister_miracle_%281971%29_1.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Avengers4.jpg

 Here’s classic science fiction writer Harlan Ellison waxing poetic on Kirby and an interview with comics’ grandmaster. It features images of much classic Kirby art. No, it’s not realistic. But it bursts off the page with energy that few comic book artists even come close to.

 If you’re not familiar with Darkseid (who has since become a major bad guy in DC Comics) and the New Gods, well Darkseid is a helmet-wearing villain who controls a planet with a giant hole in it. He, and his antagonists on New Genesis, are powered by something called “The Source”. And his main enemy is his heroic son, Orion – who was fostered by the good guys. In case this mythology sounds at all similar to a certain movie franchise. Darkseid and the New Gods characters first appeared in 1970-1, and Star Wars came out in 1977.

 I love comics. I love the artform, the medium. I think it is more interactive than film and TV, and I doubt its true potential has been reached yet. Even if most comics are admittedly crap, that does not mean the medium is stupid, silly and childish.

 And so it infuriates me that the average person has no idea who Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Will Eisner or Bill Finger or Curt Swan or Carmine Infantino or dozens of other names I could mention are. It bothers me that when Stanley Kubrick died, there were pages of tributes to his life and films. But when Eisner and Kirby died, they just got a few token articles.

 So, that’s the reason for this entry. The foolish hope that maybe a few more people will know and care that a man named Jack Kirby once existed, and that he spent his life giving pleasure to millions of people who will never know his name.

  Now I’m hoping to find the new book on Steve Ditko – original artist and co-creator of Spider-Man. Ditko’s a very different artist from Kirby but also deserves to be revered (well, for his art. Not so much for his Ayn Rand-inspired politics, although that certainly helped fuel some extremely well-drawn comics.)

  PuckRobin