Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mad About the Fifties, Part 2

I lied. There is stuff to blog about today.

Last time I left off with this book, we were just getting into the magazine era.

Early in the magazine era, Mad was still quite different. The satire was still more off-the-wall, and there weren't as many straight-up movie and TV spoofs as there were even in the comics era. Instead, you get more generalized satirical articles, early Don Martin gags and the like.

Issue #24 opened up with "an extremely important message from the editors": "Please buy this magazine!"

Also, it turns out normal people put captions underneath, so that's how I'll do it from now on.

Will Elder was still with the mag, but not for long. One of his last contribs was a beer ad parody on a back cover, seen above.

Sporadic Mad contributor Joe Orlando draws up this Reader's Digest parody stuffed with then-trendy pop culture references. I think my favorite is Elvis' show biz being a "tough grind".

There are also a couple more funny ad parodies in the color section, including Crust toothpaste "Look ma, no more cavities!" Cue kid with black eye and all teeth knocked out, complete with Kelly Freas' best facsimile of Norman Rockwell's (or, in this case Norman Rocknroll's) style.

Jack Davis, uncharacteristically signing his name in cursive, draws up this do-it-yourself, or rather, doom it yourself guide to building a table. Steps include 1. "Lumber: Select your lumber with a careful eye for imperfections such as checks, bows and knots. If you can't get well seasoned, finishing grade basswood, mahogany or teak at your lumber yard, you will find that cheese boxes and orange crate ends will do very nicely as a substitute."

Next is some completely incomprehensible babble about George Washington and if he was "george", which was apparently 1950s slang that vanished into the ether. After it are more babbles on John Smith and Powhatan. And then Snow White.

Back to the funny stuff with another ad parody. This time, it's Bofforin, a miracle drug that existed several years before Ray Stevens first sang about Jeremiah Peabody's etc. etc. Pills. I particularly like the internal view that imagines the insides as some sort of sewer.

Al Jaffee, who is still rocking the Fold-In at age 90, made an early foray into the mag with a humorous set of illustrations for Benn Ogen's golf swing.

Ed Sullivan gets spoofed in a funny but toothless satire that ends in this letter. Note that it's signed to Alfred E. Neuman, even though he'd already been established as the gap-toothed mascot at that point. (There's also a guest earlier on named Alfred L. Neuman who looks nothing like him. Dad perhaps?

And another one of my favorites here is Gringo, the maths quiz that simply everyone… er, I mean, a delightfully nonsensical board game. At this point, it's obvious that Mad hadn't left sheer lunacy behind.

I scanned this dining etiquette quiz to show off one of Mad's lesser known artists and a personal favorite of mine, Basil Wolverton. You can sometimes find his son Monte drawing in much the same style.

Also, in regards to that peas thing, I have to share this poem my mom learned when she was a child:

I eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife.

And finally, the space case is tickled in "Free Fall Ferris", which isn't overly funny (okay, I giggled at "In third frame (right), zero gravity has Ferris falling up. Fourth frame (not shown) has Ferris throwing up.") but darn if it isn't cute. I didn't know Wally Wood could do cute.

So that's it for part 2 of Mad About the Fifties. On the very next page, we'll see the first Don Martin gag in the book. And we'll be surprised that there are no SHTOINKs, FLABADAPs or FERRAPs to be seen.

Late post

Anyone taped the 1991 or 1992 CMA awards? My 1991 tape was taped over by something in 1997 and 1992 is on the fritz.

Sorry, no stuff today.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Video Treasures, Volume 2: Gang of Critters

When I last left off with my video collection, I shared a handful of musical videos and a couple obscure cartoons. The latter dominates my video collection, so that's what I'll focus on in part 2.

A couple of my obscurities were placed on VHS by Just for Kids Home Video and given virtually identical white covers. First up is The Bluffers, an obscure cartoon created in the Netherlands by Frank Fehmers and based on an idea by Gene Deitch. An English dub aired on Channel 4 in the UK and made its way into the then-blossoming VHS market.

It came out in the mid-1980s, so you know what that means: the cast is a gang of funny animals. Specifically, we have a fox, squirrel, mouse, bear, owl, eagle, goose, porcupine and snake. A stock (human) villain named Clandestino has pretty much ruined the forest, and it's up to them to find his "secret to getting it all" to stop him. (Spoiler alert: They never find his secret because the show didn't last that long.)

This tape has one episode involving "bricks that reproduce themselves into a never ending road". I haven't watched it yet, but being the benevolent blogger I am, I won't spoil anything that I can't let you see, because I don't have a video capture card still. Instead, I'll let you watch this Halloween episode, which happens to be the only English-dubbed one on YouTube:

What I find most interesting is the dissonance of the theme song. Despite an upbeat melody that sounds kind of like a messed-up version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (which, by the way, is one of my least favorite Christmas songs — who the heck roasts marshmallows on Christmas?!), you get downer lyrics like this:

"You're just a bluffer, a candle snuffer
Can't get enough of your dreams
A huff and puffer, a pillow stuffer
You're bound to suffer, it seems…"

The Bluffers is actually quite good by 1980s standards. Despite the typical cheap animation and voice acting of the era, it tried going a little bit "darker" for the era, and it succeeded. Shame it's so incredibly hard to find.

Far lower on the obscurity scale is Kissyfur, created by DIC for NBC. Although the name brings to mind sickeningly-sweet, tastes-like-diabetes Care Bears-type fluff, it's hardly that. Kissyfur and his dad, Gus, are former circus bears who escape after a train crash which also claims Kissyfur's mother. The two escaped bears live together in a forest full of — you guessed it — cute little funny animals. They even have a beaver!

One thing I like about Kissyfur is that, instead of an expository theme tune, it uses an instrumental theme tune (which sounds like an odd but catchy fusion of synthesized circus music and synthesized hoedown music) and lets the opening animation tell the story itself.

And if the voices sound familiar, your ears aren't deceiving you. The title character is R.J. Williams, and his dad is Ed Gilbert — voices you might recognize as Kit Cloudkicker and Baloo, respectively, on TaleSpin. No doubt the people who chose TaleSpin's voice cast did this on purpose. (That blue bear on the cover? That's Kissyfur's teacher, whom Gus befriends.)

Kissyfur lasted a year on NBC, got canceled, and then got brought back. I've heard that the second season is a bit more polished, but once again, YouTube clips are scarce and I'm too lazy to watch the tape for now.

And finally, the tape that pretty much jump-started my never-ending search for obscurities: Ovide and the Gang.

I found this at a library book sale at a now-closed dead mall in 2004 and chose it because… well, I dunno, it has a platypus? Everything's better with playtpi, right?

Anyway, Ovide (OH-veed) is a Canadian-Belgian collaboration, using designs from Nic Broca (also the designer of the Snorks). It takes place in a fictional islang similar to Australia, and the cast's species match: platypus, koala, kangaroo… toucan? Okay, the species choices mostly match.

(The video quality's a tad shaky, but this guy has all 40 episodes)

It's a typical enough hero vs. villain cartoon; in this case, the villains are a python and a toucan. Ovide gets most of his ideas from what he sees on TV (a plot point that, I'm sure, had countless moral guardian types up in arms). In fact, it seems TVs just pop up at random on the island. Yet again, nothing amazing, but it works. Particularly, I like the character designs and voice cast.

I know they're not exactly the pinnacles of modern animation, but I have a soft spot for the 1980s "gang of critters" genre. They may look a bit dated, but in their own way, they have plenty of charm. At the very least, they were better to the other common motif of 1980s cartoons — you know, the ones designed mainly to sell toys.

So that's it for part 2. I still have plenty of tapes to go through, so who knows what I'll pick in part 3.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Knights Inn pamphlet, 1978

One from the department of "how the heck did I get this?" A 1978 directory for a Knights Inn in Kalamazoo. I collect road maps, so it might've been in a box of maps I bought.

For those that don't know, Knights Inn was founded in 1974 in Columbus, Ohio, under the development of Cardinal Industries. After Cardinal went bankrupt in 1991, several locations were sold off to Motel 6, and Hospitality Management bought the chain. Then they sold it to Cendant, which also owned Amerihost, Baymont, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Wingate and Wyndham. Cendant also owned another brand called Villager Inn, which was rebranded as part of the Knights Inn division in 2004. After Cendant split up in 2006, the motel division became its own company, Wyndham Worldwide.

I've always regarded Knights Inn as one of the seediest motel chains, even though I've never actually stayed at one. Every Knights Inn I've ever seen has been a rundown, beat-up building, and almost every one also seems to be in a seedy part of town. Most of them look like they haven't been remodeled significantly since the 1970s. My mom also recalls staying at one in Flint (now a Howard Johnson's) that was, in her words, the worst motel she ever stayed at. And that's including the beat-up, grungy place we stayed at in Nashville last year.

Anyway, I'm getting off-topic. This guide of mysterious origin allows a glimpse at what motel life was like in 1978. On the front, there's a directory of all 21 locations in business at the time, and a points of interest map that's really smudgy and cluttered. I always found some of Kalamazoo's street names quite amusing: Westnedge. Cork. Sprinkle. Angling. Lovers Lane. And of course, Vanrick.

On the other side is a motel map, showing one of the distinctive features of first-generation Knights Inns: namely, that they were all sprawling, one-story complexes. No elevators or hallways, just walk right up to your motel room door. I've noticed this is all but gone in most modern motels: even if you're on the first floor, you now have to go down a hallway, zigzag up some stairs, etc. etc.

A couple other things to note: even in 1978, this motel still had only the Big Three TV networks. I don't know why motels are so stingy on the cable. I've found some that don't even have Cartoon Network, which is considered "basic" literally everywhere else.

Open up the guide, and you see a handful of ads for businesses, plus their locations on a slightly more legible map.

1. Holiday Food & Beverage. This is now a health office.
2. Robert L. Walton Realty. Now vacant.
3. Continental Lanes. Still there.
4. Nob Hill. Still there.
5. Thee [sic] Collage. Now an insurance office.
6. Antique Kitchen. Still there.
7. Sprinkle Road Standard. Still there, but now a BP.
8. Dog n Suds. Torn down for a Taco Bell.
9. Vander Klok Hill & Body. Now another auto shop.
10. Lea's Super Cuts. Now Lyman Lighting & Accessories.
11. The Corkscrew, which funnily enough is on Cork Street. Still there.
12. Anthony's Greenhouse. Torn down for a Family Video.

And that's really all I have to say about this… oh wait, yeah, the directory. So just how many of the original 21 are still Knights Inns? By my count, Dayton Middletown and Toledo, OH; Ashland and Richmond, Kentucky; and Kissimmee. Two (Akron-East and Cambridge) were both torn down for Comfort Inns. Four are no longer national brands: Akron-West is now Legacy Inn; both Cincinnati and Coumbus-East are Economy Inn by way of Econo Lodge; and Columbus-North is University Inn. The real oddity is Youngstown, which was split up: three of the buildings continued to operate as Knights Inn until they closed last year, and the other two live on as an Econo Lodge. That's actually a pretty good batting average for the first generation of Knights Inns, considering how trashy a lot of their later ones have become.

Many Knights Inns converted to Motel 6 in 1991 when Knights Inn's parent company declared bankruptcy, and Kalamazoo was one of them. Pictures on the website indicate that it still has the pseudo-medieval architecture of a Knights Inn. The rooms are cramped and garish, but otherwise clean and passable. To my surprise, they have wood floors! There's a pool in the Bing Maps view, but Motel 6's website doesn't mention one.

So that's Knights Inn, 1978 for you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mad About the Fifties, Part 1

I have no idea what it was that made me pick up an issue of Mad off the Rite Aid shelf for the first time in 1998. I mean, the first issue I ever got had an X-Files spoof…

(Image from Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site)

…and honestly, I wasn't into The X-Files at the time and I probably never will be, so I guess I should turn in my geek card now. Therefore, I'm closing this blog and selling my computer. (Just kidding.)

Anyway, what that did get me interested in (even though I lost this very issue about 10 years ago) was Mad itself. I didn't miss a single issue until 2001, and only a couple from then until late 2002. Those two issues I picked up in 2005 were just a fluke, although sometimes I still read it off the newsstand.

Now where am I going with this? I'm obviously not going to go with late-90s issues of Mad, because I lost most of those when we moved (at that point, they had long since lost all their covers), and I'm sure the rest got ruined when the basement flooded. What I do have is a slightly grubby copy of Mad About the Fifties that's missing only the back cover.

I have no idea why I picked this up, other than, well, it was Mad. I'd already seen bits and pieces of their old stuff through a couple trade paperbacks, and I was curious about what else they did back in the day. I had no idea what satire or parody were; I just knew that Mad made me laugh a lot.

For those who don't know, Mad was initially more of a comic magazine. At the time, it had the title Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad: Humor in a Jugular Vein. Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman were the driving forces behind its unique, off-the-wall brand of humor — exemplified in some of the covers that we get a peek at in this book.

Some of their early work, such as "Mole!" (from issue 2) wasn't a parody of anything at all, just sheer humor. The title character is a criminal who digs his way into bank vaults, then digs his way back out of jail once he's caught. The first time, he's caught on the scene and put in a normal jail cell, where he digs his way out… and into a police call box. They then throw him in solitary, which he digs out with a lawman's toothpick… and right into the floor of the policeman's ball. Then he's thrown into a super-small cell, stark naked and shaven… and digs out of THAT with his nose hair. Having dug himself to exhaustion, he finds himself straight towards the electric chair. I just love this comic for its ascending levels of absurdity.

Other parodies in this compilation include Superduperman, which ends with the title character facing a seemingly untouchable superhero who is defeated by being tricked into punching himself.

Melvin of the Apes shows the mag's early obsession with the name "Melvin" (plus some fine art from Melvin John Severin, who would later be the flagship artist of vastly inferior rival Cracked).

Ping Pong! deconstructs the giant monster in question. I particularly love how this one does it, too. At the end, it's shown that the monster is about the size of a baby, and the explorers are actually the size of a soup can.

There's even an illustrated version of The Raven. Elder's pen knew no boundaries.

By the latter half of the comic era, the gags get darker. Starchie opens with the principal lusting after "Salonica" and "Biddy", and hypes up the title character as being a typical teenager. That is, one who smokes in front of the principal, and "negotiates" good grades by way of brass knuckles. At the end, Starchie's shenanigans get him put in jail.

Mickey Rodent starts out lampshading just about everything in the Mickey Mouse world: four-fingered hands, then-standard-issue white gloves for toons, Darnold's lack of pants (yeah, everyone jokes about that now, but Mad was most likely one of the first — Seinfeld Is Unfunny and all that) and Pluto's inability to talk. (That last one doesn't bug me, actually.)

And because I really, really lke fourth-wall gags, I'm showing you more of this. After they take a swim, and then find that someone has stolen their clothes. THis leads into a forest where Will Elder's signature takes the place of "Walt Dizzy"'s (yes, they point that out too), and Mickey pulls a Face Heel Turn by trapping Darnold in a curator's duck exhibit.

Next, on Howdy Dooit, the standard 1950's kids' show is ripped to shreds. At first, the peanut gallery is dead quiet, but turns into a mob that attacks the host. Howdy himself bullies the little kids into begging their moms to buy all the good kiddie products ("Excuse me again, kids, but I want to tell you about Phud cereal flakes![…]If mom won't buy you Phud, you just stand in the next room and yell like this: I WAN' IT! I WAN' IT! I WAN' IT! I WAN' IT! If she still won't buy it, fall down on the floor and yell like this…")

And Flesh Garden… well, I have no bleeping clue what's going on there. But it means more fantastic Wally Wood art.

(I have no idea why these last two are in black-and-white, by the way. The book goes back to color, glossy pages right after this.)

After 24 issues, Mad became a magazine. Although it was believed that this was done to dodge the Comics Code, it was actually done because of a lucrative deal that Kurtzman found. Elder and Kurtzman stayed for the first few issues, as did editor William Gaines, but even by the end of the decade, Mad would begin shifting its focus. In the next installment, I will show off some of the prime gags from the 1950s transition to magazine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Video Treasures, Volume 1

I've kind of acquired a major video collection over time. Whether it's VHS…

…or DVD…

I could spend literally weeks just watching stuff. This article will be the first of several entries on my "stuff I have recorded" list.

We were never a taping household, for some odd reason. I know I've missed hoarding years' worth of TNN and cartoons because I just never thought to do it — I figured that since Looney Tunes was still being shown 50some years afterward, that so, too, would all the shows I watched. (Also, we never had any blank tapes, and our VCR was broken for a very long time.) I think the first thing Mom ever taped for me was the intro to Night Court on a loop, because I really dug the theme song (still do).

For some reason, she also taped the Country Music Association broadcasts in both 1991 and 1992. I didn't realize we also had 1992, but I know I watched the 1991 broadcast repeatedly. I remember two performances: Garth Brooks sang "Shameless" and Doug Stone sang "I Thought It Was You".

Speaking of Garth, I also have his 1992 live video, although I've never watched it. The track listing has all of his big hits at the time, plus an album cut, a cover of Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" (wonder if I'd like that too, since I really like "Shameless") and another cover of "Keep Your Hands to Yourself".

From about 1994 to 1997, I had a subscription to a magazine called New Country. Each issue came with a cassette (later a CD) that contained 10 new singles, and a VHS containing 10 new music videos. I've lost a few of the CDs, magazines and even the tapes over time, but I still found a few. There are some interesting cuts on these, too. I haven't figured out how to embed YouTube videos, so click on a song title for a link to the video.

The top video has nothing particularly unusual, except for a video from a guy named Jeff Knight who managed to have two albums for Mercury despite absolutely no chart action. The left one has the video for Todd Snider's "Alright Guy", which never touched the country charts but was a minor rock hit. Gary Allan also covered it on his album of the same name. (Funnily, I don't remember "dope" or "dicks" being censored in the copy I have; neither was censored on Gary's, but a couple other lines got minor changes. It also has a gospel theme in the second act, as it has "Cain's Blood" by 4 Runner (another favorite of mine), a song by Susie Luchsinger (Reba McEntire's sister) and Paul Overstreet, and another song by a no-hit wonder gospel group called Midsouth.

The one on the right has six songs that made top 5 or better, which is a very unusually high hit ratio for these tapes — usually, only nobodies made it onto these tapes. And finally, the one that still has its box has a video for a Pirates of the Mississippi song that never made it onto an album, plus the only video ("Who's She to You") by child singer Amie Comeaux, who was killed in a car accident not long after her debut album dropped.

And boy, do I have plenty of animation, as well. Back when I was in high school, one of the Macs in the computer lab had a cable feed, so I could watch TV on it. I remember that I would always go into the computer lab before school started and watch as much of Ned's Newt as I possibly could until first bell. I must've caught the show near the end of its run, because I remember tuning in one day and finding Bobby's World in its place. I had completely forgotten about the show until I found these tapes at Dollar General about 6 years ago.

For those that don't know, Ned's Newt is a Canadian/German cartoon about a boy who has a pet newt who, after accidentally being fed too much Zippo newt food, gains shapeshifting powers. Throughout the show, Ned has to make sure that no one else can see Ned when he's shapeshifted.

Nickelodeon's most obscure are also well-represented in my collection. I don't know what it was about The Brothers Flub, but it seems that literally no one remembers it. It didn't even have a Wikipedia article until I finally made one in January 2008. There's no trace of it on YouTube outside a very low-quality shot of the intro stolen from Retrojunk. Its IMDb listing has only two credits, and both are dead wrong. Come on, people, I know you were watching Nickelodeon in 1999; otherwise SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents wouldn't still be cranking out new episodes. Why were you not watching The Brothers Flub with me?! (Seriously, this show is pretty good even after I re-watched it. Once I get a video capture card, I'll gladly share.)

Butt-Ugly Martians is only slightly less obscure, but not by much. I know I was turned off by the dumb title, but I've heard that despite its shoddy CGI, it's watchable enough. I also know that the show came during the dark period when I was turned away from Nick almost entirely, because I hated SpongeBob from day one, and was initially scared of Invader Zim. (That I've rectified; those of you with sharp eyes might see all three volumes of Zim in my huge DVD stack.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jam Quacky

So in this small town I live in, we have a flea market and two thrift shops. I love going to places like this; among the three stores, I've found several old copies of Mad, VHS tapes of obscure 1980s and 1990s cartoons (Street Sharks, Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, Biker Mice from Mars, etc.), old country music CDs, you name it.
One of the weirdest finds, however, was this little gem from the flea market. It was a one-issue wonder from 1991, by Reggie Byers, an artist who has also worked on a few comics you've never heard of. Incidentally, he currently does a Christian comic called Kidz of the King, which is a total 180 from this.

 Our hero is an urban-dwelling black duck who looks like Daffy Duck's ghetto cousin. He's here with his cronies, all rendered in rapidly drying-out Prismacolors that he bought used at a garage sale or something. Look at the black cat's shirt in particular.

Inside, we find a one-sentence blurb about our characters. I love the virtually identical hair styles... feather styles?

Our story is written by former 1950s pop singer Gene McDaniels, whose biggest claim to fame was the #3 pop hit "A Hundred Pounds of Clay", and another singer named Carrie Thompson. It's funny that I mentioned the C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa earlier, because they apparently have a warehouse here.

Eugene tries to wow his friends with his vocabulary, but it doesn't work. Even the Mexican cat with his tongue hanging out tells him to shut up.
I like how the streets are literally named Near Danger and Danger.

Oh yes, get used to seeing "duck" used as a one-letter-off euphemism for the F-word. You'll see that a lot.
 I think he wanted to write something other than "mrow", if you know what I mean.

Also, you've gotta love how this section of the story just ends with their stunned reactions to his incredibly lame attempt to convince them to ditch the drugs.

And so the next day, our avian friend are back shooting hoops...

...when they overshoot and send the ball down Danger Street and in front of a car. Past a "red jacket" duck, whatever the duck that means...

WHOA! That was a dark turn to this story.

Which, of course, leads to another dumb duck line.

So this is some sort of racially themed shooting. Only with ducks. Also, it turns out Jam is short for Jamal.

Our antagonist passes up the duck version of Chester A. Bum just to show that he's MEAN. And just to drive the point home, he has this comic's favorite euphemism on his shirt.

I hate to ask, but what the duck are "sqirt duckas"? How do you mangle words like that when the dialogue is hand-written?
Yes, don't... um, duck with the overweight rat.

The above two pages are actually a two-page spread, which I didn't realize until after I'd scanned. Curtis wasn't this out-of-touch as to what real rap is like.

You know what, I'm just gonna cut back on the commentary because this is pretty much explaining itself now. But I think that cat girl is kinda hot.

That dude with Erly on his shirt? That's his name. Why a gang member would have his name on his shirt is beyond me.

And "squat" is another not-quite-swear, it seems.

And our story ends on a cliffhanger that was never resolved, because Reggie and co. never got around to issue #2. I wonder if he ever even had anything planned.

I now officially declare "A truck or somethin'... comin' right at us!" my new memetic phrase.

A solicitation for "fans" to write in, complete with even more painful attempts at being Totally Radical™. "Happysadgoodorbad" is next on my "forced meme" list, by the way.

Our writing team. As I mentioned, Gene McDaniels was indeed a pop singer. Carrie Thompson might be jazz singer Carrie Coltrane, but I'm not certain. Al Danridge is a misspelling of Al Dandridge, who appears to be a local attorney.

I wonder if anyone ever actually ordered these. I looked on Google Maps; that address corresponds to a now-abandoned row house near downtown Philly.

So that's Jam Quacky. It's not impressive, it's kinda amateurish, but I like the character designs for the most part. The storyline, as it is, isn't anything new, but it's not awful either. With a more professional backing, this might've turned into something.