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Monday, May 29, 2006


I just heard a new-to-me recycling tip for anyone out there who cares the tiniest bit about the "e" word: the Environment.

My sister-in-law in Burlington County said residents there were asked to flatten plastic bottles (such as water bottles or soda bottles) before putting them in large recycling cans. This helps the recycling process somehow, but also has a practical benefit: the flattened bottles take up much less room in the recycling cans, making less truck trips necessary, making less gasoline use necessary, etc.

This may sound silly at first. But my sister-in-law had a large recycling can overflowing with bottles. After she flattened the bottles, the can was only a THIRD full. Multiply that by thousands of homes, and you may see the light.

Ah, you may say, but HOW did she flatten them? Three simple steps: (1.) She put on thick shoes; (2.) She laid the bottles on the ground; (3.) She stepped on them until they were flat.

Ah, you may say, but that sounds like a lot of trouble. I'm way too busy to do all that.


Sunday, May 21, 2006


Last week, we lost the definitive Clarabell of "The Howdy Doody Show" fame, Lew Anderson, who died May 14, one week after his 84th birthday.

Lew came from a time when entertainers were entertainers. Television itself was still a relatively new invention, so REALITY television (and its resulting parade of untalented nobodys getting their seven-and-a-half minutes of fame) was a long way off.

Lucky Cold-War-era dwellers!

Lew wasn't just a guy in a clown suit -- he was also a respected and accomplished musician of the "big band" genre.

A few years back, I was privileged to interview Lew by telephone for an article previewing a New Jersey fan convention appearance. Kathy and I attended that show, and Lew -- resplendent in his Clarabell getup -- obligingly posed for Kathy.

Lew's costume was not exactly fresh off the rack; it looked as old and laundered as a favorite pair of pajamas. This only added to the feeling that you were in the presence of someone precious, someone historic, someone who might not be around much longer. Lew went through the paces for Kathy like the old pro he was. He then invited us to come see his big band perform in New York, where he had a WEEKLY GIG!

Will Justin Timberlake have a weekly gig when HE cracks 80?

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Beginning in the summer of 1980, when I was a squeaky-clean college grad (fresh from the College Formerly Known as Glassboro State), I was job-hunting like crazy. At the same time, I was mailing articles and artwork to magazines in the hopes of scoring a freelance gig. I amassed a modest stack of rejection letters, most of which were "form" letters.

One rejection letter I received was from Heavy Metal magazine, which was an anthology of fantasy comics (mostly reprinted from European magazines) put out by the publishers of National Lampoon. My old college gang and I idolized this magazine. I had earlier mailed Heavy Metal a one-page strip titled "The Rolling Stones Go to Mars." Even before I opened the letter, I guessed that it would be a thumbs-down, but it was exciting nonetheless to see the Heavy Metal logo.

It was indeed a thumbs-down, but to my astonishment, this was a typed, hand-signed letter from the art director of Heavy Metal! He said that while he got a kick out of "The Rolling Stones Go to Mars," it was not what Heavy Metal was looking for. He suggested I send the strip to a certain party at Lampoon.

It's disgraceful that I don't still have that encouraging letter. What's worse: I didn't remember the name of the person who wrote it.

Flash forward to the opposite end of the decade. I was here at the Asbury Park Press writing and illustrating a weekly strip titled "Rocktoons" (which ran from 1987 until 1993). It was a silly little pop-culture thing (well, what ELSE would I do?) that vascillated recklessly between brilliant and head-scratching. Anyway, I'd heard through the grapevine that somewhere out there was a "Rocktoons" fan who was trying to put together a book deal for a "Rocktoons" compilation. Nothing came of it, so I wasn't even sure if the rumor was true.

Still later, as I began covering the comic-book beat in earnest, I became reacquainted with the work of artist John Workman, whose style I sometimes compare without condescension to early '70s romance. (It might sound like a backhanded compliment, but Workman knows better.) When it comes to rendering the female form, Workman's only rival is John Romita. Any comic-book geek will tell you what a powerful compliment THAT is.

You've probably guessed where this is all headed.

It turns out that John Workman is all of the above -- the Heavy Metal art director who once encouraged a green kid, the mystery reader who tried to get a book deal for same, and THE GUY WHO DREW MERA (AQUAWOMAN) FOR "WHO'S WHO: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE DC UNIVERSE" (among loftier resume credits).

Yet another crossing-of-paths: All these years later, Workman and I got a chance to collaborate on a really cool project that would take another Web column to describe. But I'll give you a Web link so you can see for yourself. Check it out here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I just caught "The Creature Walks Among Us" (1956), the third and final film in Universal-International's "Creature From the Black Lagoon" series. Fans are virtually unanimous in calling this the weakest of the triumvirate, and not unreasonably so.

I saw it once when I was a kid, and misremembered a key plot detail. I always thought the scientists conducted a series of surgeries on the Creature to "humanize" him. Actually, though the one scientist bankrolling the mission has a mad scheme to speed up man's evolution for eventual adaptation to outer space, the Creature only undergoes a glorified tracheotomy, in the process becoming an air-breather. (The reason the Creature LOOKS more humanoid is that his top layer of skin -- make that scales -- gets burnt off by flaming gasoline during an action sequence. That, and the spiffy pajamas.)

Of course, there ARE things for monster geeks to like about "The Creature Walks Among Us."

There's Leigh Snowden, third-billed as a no-nonsense blonde unwilling to play wallflower to her powerful, controlling husband. It's a rare You-Go-Girl role in a decade infamous for sexism. Leigh seems to be wearing the very shorts that The Royal Teens would sing about two years later. When all of the men on the expedition drool over Leigh, the viewer doesn't question their motivation.

The underwater Creature sequences are gorgeous -- albeit, leftovers from the first "Creature" film. Ricou Browning, the man doing the backstroke in the suit, is positively balletic.

And "Walks Among Us" has an ending that one can either consider anti-climactic or daring.

Monsters always die in old-fashioned horror films, and their deaths typically take place in the final moments of the film before "THE END" fills the frame. These deaths often involve explosions, fires, wooden stakes through the heart, falling from high places, tumbling into bubbling sulpher pits, etc. At the end of "The Creature Walks Among Us," the forelorn Creature merely ambles into the sea to certain death (he no longer breathes underwater), like Fredric March in "A Star is Born." The submersion even occurs off-camera. Like I said, anti-climactic . . . or DARING?

Monday, May 08, 2006



I've always had a lot of respect for Lauren Bacall.

Well, we movie geeks can't quite get it out of our heads that she was the last Mrs. Humphrey Bogart, and for that we hold her in a certain amount of awe.

But Bacall has always given fine performances, always teetered on the fine line between beauty and brash. And once the beauty faded, there was still plenty of brash to go around.

Those key early performances, the ones with Bogie, are easy to lob kudos at: "To Have and to Have Not," "The Big Sleep," "Dark Passage," "Key Largo."

Permit me to recommend some under-the-radar Bacall performances: the wary, sympathetic landlady in John Wayne's swan song "The Shootist" (1976); an unbalanced woman in the sometimes nightmarish made-in-England chick flick "Innocent Victim" (1989); the gullible, needy title heiress in "Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke" (1999).

But Bacall's place in my heart was sealed in Episode 7, Season 6, of "The Sopranos" (which premiered two weeks back), in which she played herself. As a couple of goons grab her basket of swag, Bacall shouts, "Get the (expletive) away from me!" They bust her in the jaw. She hits pavement. "My (expletive) arm!" she screams. Bacall sounds at ease with the language.

The old girl took one for the cause. Never mind that her late hubbie was one of the Original Gangsters (do I have to name them? Robinson, Cagney, Raft, Bogart) -- a group "The Sopranos" owes much to. Bacall has dealt with these kinds of characters before. And prevailed.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


A day or two after Kathy died, something my mother-in-law said got back to me: "I hope he doesn't forget us."

Kathy and I had no children. I suppose I could just disappear from my in-laws' lives. Or they from mine.

Kathy and I were together for 20 years, three months and three days. Of all my nephews and nieces, only one was already born when Kathy and I started dating (in what we always called our "Summer of Love," 1985), and HE was less than a year old. So I was there -- not in the delivery room, of course -- for all but one of their births.

I held them all as babies. They call me Uncle Mark. Then I say to them, "Just call me Mark." (I tell that to ALL of my nephews and nieces, no matter how young.) They STILL call me Uncle Mark.

I've been to their christenings, their birthday parties, their gymnastic meets, their Christmases. (Not their Easters; I work on Sundays.) I was their guest classroom lecturer, their confirmation sponsor, their cartoon drawer. We've been to the beach a hundred times, and rode as many waves. I've been there for their whole lives. They've been there for damn near half of mine.

I recently (and tearfully) told one of my sisters-in-law that my great hope is to stay with this family, our family, for the rest of my time on this world. Stuff happens in life, and I don't have rose-colored glasses OR blinders on, so I know that there are no guarantees or absolutes or crystal balls. This is just my great hope.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I just watched "My Pal Trigger" (1946), an old Roy Rogers/Dale Evans/George "Gabby" Hayes western that is typically fun and wholesome and, yes, corny -- but is nonetheless a safe distance from outright dismissal by movie snobs thanks to the participation of one Yakima Canutt.

Canutt is the brilliant second-unit director whose penchant for envisioning and executing breathtaking stunts -- particularly those involving horses -- in the pre-digital age made many of these old "horse operas" so believable and exciting.

I'd trade one good Yakima Canutt stunt for any 10 action scenes of a CGI-created Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III." (Well, that's not altogether fair. I am, after all, a guy who hopes to go to his grave never having SEEN "Mission: Impossible III.")

Canutt started as a baddie in the westerns. You see him in a lot of those wonderfully quaint 1930s John Wayne "oaters." It's been reported that Canutt taught the Duke a lot about screen riding and fighting.

He honed his specialty for decades. The apex of his career was no less a sequence than the chariot race in "Ben Hur."

Canutt's contributions to "My Pal Trigger" included a fight between two horses; a mountain lion attack on a mare and a nail-biting climactic horse race.

A digression: It's fun to watch old Roy Rogers westerns and imagine that Roy is George W. Bush. Roy actually looks a lot like Dubya, especially when the script calls for facial expressions of confusion or displeasure. Roy's drawl, too, matches up. I'm not kidding -- try it some time. The only thing that breaks the spell is the way Roy speaks in complete sentences.