Tag Archives: 1960s

Review: ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters’ Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris

“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris

If you have not heard of this book yet, then let me introduce you to one of the new landmarks in graphic novels, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. Maybe you have heard of it. Or maybe, like me, you weren’t sure what to make of it at first. Certainly, one quick look through its pages, and you can tell this is something weird and wonderful. And, at 386 pages, this ain’t a book you’re gonna miss sitting there on the shelf.

An enigma begging for resolution.

As a cartoonist myself, the book is also a bit intimidating. All this awesome stuff to process–that I didn’t write and draw! As a reviewer, this is the sort of book that everyone comes out of the woodwork to review. People who never read graphic novels now suddenly have an opinion to express on the next big thing. But, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting to see a book like this gain the spotlight. That said, a number of things make this book significant and worthy of a long life after the current buzz.

A bigger look: two-page spread.

The best way to enjoy this book is to find a cozy seat and explore the pages for a while. Then just settle into it. Ferris has an uncanny sense for narrative flow. In a comic that she did about promoting the book, she included an observation by comics legend Art Spiegelman. He declared that Ferris had tapped into a new rhythm for comics. To be sure, Ferris has a distinctive approach. She beautifully alternates among various possibilities: from full page drawings to panel sequences; from just a hint of color to full color; from lots of text to minimal text. This exquisite contrast propels the reader into worlds unknown.

Deeze, the bad boy older brother.

Our story begins in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1968. There’s been a murder, or maybe a suicide, or God only knows what. Something happened upstairs. 10-year-old Karen Reyes has lost her dear friend, her upstairs neighbor in the apartment right above her: the elegant and enigmatic Anka Silverberg. She was shot in the heart. But her apartment door was bolted shut from the inside. So, yes, it was a suicide, right? Well, that’s what the police say. But Karen senses that just can’t be right. And so begins Karen’s investigation. Karen, the little girl who thinks she’s a monster. Yes, she really believes she’s some werewolf girl. And the only thing more scary than that is the M.O.B., that’s short for people who are Mean, Ordinary, and Boring.

Having to answer to mama.

Ferris fuels her work of magical realism with magical kid logic. Karen’s quest to get to the bottom of the death of Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, becomes a multi-layered journey. Narrated by Karen, the reader becomes privy to a child’s inner world in a similar fashion to Jonathan Safran Foer’s celebrated novel, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” 10-year-old Karen ponders over the validity of monsters and concludes that they have as much right to exist as other unseen marvels like germs and electricity. Karen’s fanciful innocence clashes with harsh reality. Her older brother, Deeze is engrossed in various sexual conquests with little to no discretion as to whether Karen is around to hear it or see it. As a way to protect herself, Karen can always revert back to her own whimsical concerns, like whether or not tulips get homesick for Holland.

One of the many pulp magazine tributes.

This is a genuine must-read resonating with aficionados and the general public alike. Many of the pages in the book have become iconic, particularly the monster magazine portraits. This is a tale that intertwines the tumult of the 1930s and 1960s and ends up casting a mirror to our own very troubled era. The alternating formats that Ferris uses are the hallmark to this most innovative work. Ferris steadily modulates the narrative having the reader swim to the deep end and read passages suitable for a prose novel all the way to deceptively simple comic strip sequences. All the while, everything is held together cohesively with the consistent use of ball point pen rendered art on a background of notebook paper–that and one of the most compelling voices to grace the page.

As I say, in my video review, it is a hard thing to do in a graphic novel where a cartoonist creates something truly fresh that has the reader seeing things in a whole new way:

This is one of those rare books that can safely be called an instant classic. It is a long work in comics that truly makes good use of a high page count. In fact, a second volume is due out as early as Valentine’s Day of 2018. For more details, visit Emil Ferris right here. And visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under 1960s, Comics, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: THE SWIMMING POOL OF MICHEVILLE by Baru

THE SWIMMING POOL OF MICHEVILLE by Baru

Baru (Hervé Barulea) is a legendary cartoonist known for such work as 1995’s euro-manga, “L’Autoroute du Soleil,” which won the prestigious Alph’ Art award for the best original French language comic. More recently, he won wide acclaim in 2010 for his 300-page graphic novel, “Villerupt 1966,” published by Les Rêveurs. Baru favors recollections of his adventures as a youth in the ’60s. “The Swimming pool of Micheville,” published by Les Rêveurs in 2015, is an excellent collection of comics that chronicles Baru’s coming of age. It is one of a vast array of comics that you can find at the new home for online comics around the world, izneo.com.

Goofy John

The theme for this collection of Baru comics is a lost generation of kids who, despite a bleak environment and dim prospects for the future, still pursue dreams and hopes. Take “Goofy John,” for instance. He will do anything to impress the girls even build his body to Charles Atlas proportions. But, even with his new bod, the girls are not in the least interested. As the guys are quick to point out, John still has buck teeth and rabbit ears. And, besides, as the little stinkers take pleasure in pointing out, all the girls have moved on to lean mod boys.

Verdini

One such teddy boy, is Verdini, who manages to frustrate the guys on all counts. Verdini has been sized up as not too bright, along with other shortcomings. And, despite it all, the girls all go for him! You can see that Baru takes great delight in doling out all of his social commentary to the point that you are immersed in it. Baru’s light artwork lifts off the page. His style is wry and light, pleasing to the eye.

Circa 1963: A lost generation

Baru excels in bringing out the pathos in a scene. He roots for the underdog. His beloved characters are all supposedly “losers” in the great game of life. Baru sees the poetry and gentle beauty in his lost generation. These are the kids who are held back, dismissed, forced out of any higher education. The steelworks and the typist pool await these poor youth. But, for at least a few summers, they can all enjoy the local swimming pool in their prime: lost in their libidos and flirting in their swimsuits. So what if everything is covered in a fine mist of rust red from smoke coming from the nearby bessemer converter?

THE SWIMMING POOL OF MICHEVILLE is a wonderful collection featuring stories about cars, rugby, and romance. It runs 81 pages in full color. And you can find it at izneo.com right here.

Here is some more information on izeno:

THE FIRST OFFICIAL AND LEGAL ONLINE COMIC BOOK READING SERVICE

The biggest comic book publishers have partnered to launch izneo, the first digital comic book reading service.

With izneo, publishers like Bamboo, Casterman, Circonflexe, Dargaud, Dupuis, Fei, Fluide Glacial, Grand Angle, Jungle, Kana, Le Lombard, and Lucky Comics will offer the largest catalog of e-comics.

Open to all comic book genres, the izneo catalog expands every month with even more new albums.

The izneo service is simple: rent an album from €1.99, or buy from €4.99 (online reading)! What’s more, for €9.99 a month, subscription allows comic book lovers to read as many albums as they like from all over the world.The comic book is a form of graphic and literary art, which is particularly suited to on-screen reading, especially on a tablet. With the izneo app, you can read your comic books while on the move.You can also access izneo via e-bookstores such as iBookstore, Immatériel, Amazon.fr, Fnac.com or even Starzik.com… izneo also has a special subscription plan for libraries.

Yet another opportunity for new readers to discover the joy of comic albums…

The izneo team

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, Baru, BD, Comics, Europe, European Comics, France, French Comics, izneo, Les Rêveurs

Review: ‘California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas’ by Pénélope Bagieu

CALFORNIA DREAMIN' by Pénélope Bagieu

CALFORNIA DREAMIN’ by Pénélope Bagieu

NOTE: If you are heading out to Emerald City Comicon (March 2-5), be sure to stop by the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor. There you can meet such fabulous talent as Pénélope Bagieu, the author of the book I am reviewing here:

What a truly delightful book I have to share with you: “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas,” written and drawn by Pénélope Bagieu, published by First Second Books. This is quite a smooth read. It sort of feels like a film shot in one continuous take. The story seamlessly moves along at a quick and steady pace. I could not put down reading this unique life journey and read the 272-page graphic novel in one sitting. Cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu has channelled the one-of-a-kind Cass Elliot!

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Part of what makes this book a page-turner is the highly engaging art. Bagieu has fun with brining Cass Elliot to life, from an insecure but highly precocious little girl to a defiant young woman and, finally, to a confident artist. It all began with a quirky family that adored music. Before there was a Mama Cass, and the legendary band of the Sixties, The Mamas & the Papas, there was little Ellen Cohen being tucked into bed while her dad recited the story of the eccentric singer, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

There is clearly a passion here for the subject that makes the narrative dance on the page. By the time we reach the point where Cass and her bandmates are crafting their first breakout hit, not yet even aware of the band they were destined to be, we feel that we really know everyone involved.

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

Page excerpt from CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

I’ve often said that the right biography can make the best subject, and is most suitable, for a graphic novel. There is a wonderful opportunity to speak to everything under the sun, guided by a specific purpose, and allowing for at least a hint, maybe more, about the author. This is a book that will appeal to many a music lover and student of the counterculture. It is essentially an all-ages book but just keep in mind there are some discrete drug references more suitable for older readers. This is rock ‘n’ roll, after all. That said, it is highly recommended and will prove an engaging read on many levels: coming-of-age, rock history, and just a plain fun read.

When we think back to the Sixties, we inevitably associate the powerful music that grew from that tumultuous era. Folk music, springing forth from the 1950s and the Beat Generation, would give way to the Sixties and bolder and more audacious pop and rock. It was Cass Elliot, with her sublime singing, and overall exceptional musical talent, who would ride this new wave of music with a style all her own. Pénélope Bagieu’s graphic novel gives us a compelling look at the rise of this singular talent.

“California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas” is a 272-page hardcover, black & white with gray tone graphic novel, available as of March 7, 2017. For more details, and how to purchase, visit MacMillan Publishers right here.

Emerald City Comicon celebrating its 15th year!

Emerald City Comicon celebrating its 15th year!

And, if you are heading out to Emerald City Comicon (March 2-5), be sure to stop by at the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor. This will be the place to meet authors, attend free signings and find giveaways of books, advance reader copies, and exclusive print posters.

Some of the authors First Second will be hosting include:

Gene Luen Yang (Reading Without Walls Program)
Penelope Bagieu (California Dreamin’)
Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Leviathan, Spill Zone)
Nidhi Chanani (Pashmina)
Falynn Koch (Science Comics)
Mike Lawrence (Star Scouts)
Jessixa Bagley (Before I Leave, Boats for Papa, and Laundry Day)

First Second will also be hosting a number of panels, including one offsite at the Seattle Public Library:

Off-site event @ Seattle Public Library on (3/3) featuring Gene Yang, Scott Westerfeld, Box Brown, Penelope Bagieu, and Matt Loux, 7:00–8:30 pm, Microsoft Auditorium

Departing Neverland: In-Conversation with Five Fantastic YA Creators (3/3) featuring Scott Westerfeld, Nidhi Chanani, Natalie Riess, and Ashley Poston, 2:45-3:45 pm, WSCC 603

From the Screen to the Page… and Beyond (3/4) featuring Box Brown, Holly Conrad, Matt Loux, and Ben Blacker, 2:45-3:45 pm, WSCC 603

Mirrors & Windows: Reflecting Diversity (3/5) featuring Nidhi Chanani, Gene Luen Yang, Mike Lawrence, Ngozi Ukazu, and Jessixa Bagley, 12:00-1:00 pm, WSCC 603

Drawn That Way (3/5) featuring Penelope Bagieu, MK Reed, Nidhi Chanani, G. Willow Wilson, and Thi Bui, 3:45-4:45 pm, WSCC 603

If you’re into books and graphic novels, then First Second has something for you!

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Filed under 1960s, Comics, Counterculture, Emerald City Comicon, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Seattle, The Sixties

Interview: Edward Sorel and a Grand Career in Illustration

Edward Sorel in his studio.

Edward Sorel in his studio.

Anyone interested in illustration, art, satire, or the specific art of drawing, will know something about the career of Edward Sorel. The work of Edward Sorel covers a wide spectrum resulting in a hefty portrait of the human condition, with a notable eye to speaking truth to power.

My interest in Edward Sorel runs deep. I checked out from my school’s library Sorel’s 1972 collection, “Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy.” It was 1973 and I was a sensitive and highly impressionable lad of 10 years-old. I was filling sketchbooks with portraits of Watergate personalities, both villains and heroes. I tore into that book and marveled over Sorel’s distinctive crosshatching and his lively expressive line work. I was in awe with how he brought to life various dignitaries, politicians, and movie stars. The gold standard had been set in my mind and it hasn’t changed ever since. What really wows me now goes back to my early introduction to the work of Edward Sorel.

Quotes from reviews for Mr. Sorel’s new book, “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936,” published by Liveright/W.W. Norton & Company:

“Life is so unfair. I tore up the old linoleum in a grungy apartment I rented years ago and found under it only schmutz, hardened chewing gum and a torn ticket stub to ‘Moose Murders.’ Ed Sorel tears up the old linoleum in his apartment and finds yellowing newspapers with headlines screaming about a scandal that gave him material for a terrific book. Not only does he then write a terrific book, but he illustrates it with his wonderful caricature drawings. Who would figure that Mary Astor’s life would provide such entertaining reading, but in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny, and in the end, touching.”
—Woody Allen, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“Rapier-sharp…With a tip of his pen to Daumier, the artist evokes the quaint, febrile glamour of Astor’s Hollywood, and his affectionate, conversational prose gives Mary and her story a kind of valiant dignity never bestowed while she lived.”
—Edward Kosner, Wall Street Journal

“Delightful, colorful, and occasionally cheeky.”
—Allison Sadlier, Entertainment Weekly

From "Mary Astor's Purple Diary" by Edward Sorel

From “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary” by Edward Sorel

Edward Sorel (born Edward Schwartz, 26 March 1929, The Bronx) has recently released a book from Liveright/W.W. Norton. The book, entitled “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary” is about his lifelong obsession with film star Mary Astor but it’s also a memoir of a sort. You may have read Woody Allen’s review of the book in The New York Times Book Review. Allen had the honor of introducing many new readers to the opening story in the book: It is 1965 and Edward Sorel, newly married and settling into new digs, is left with the task of replacing the old linoleum kitchen tile. Lo and behold, buried underneath is a stash of old newspapers chronicling the scandalous 1936 custody battle of Hollywood star Mary Astor. Well, the rest is history and this most engaging book.

I interviewed Mr. Sorel this last Wednesday, February 8th. I hope you enjoy it.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Turning our attention to Mary Astor, what is intriguing about her is that she had a life where one plus one kept equaling three. Despite a series of bad choices, whether in lovers or career options, Mary Astor managed to persevere. Is that part of the appeal, that she took such an offbeat path?

EDWARD SOREL:
The appeal came when I read her memoir. She was a self-denigrating and witty writer. Very observant. Somewhat cynical about Hollywood. She had an intelligence that appealed to me. Then I started seeing her movies and I was hooked on her. Her bad decisions that you refer to have to do with having had an abused childhood, not in any physical way but in a mental and psychological way.

Her father kept her from having friends because he didn’t want her to see how Americans lived, how Americans treated their children. He wanted to be the dictator of his home. And he succeeded. She was unable to break free from him until quite late in her life. And it kind of ruined her. And God knows she made a lot of terrible mistakes in her life.

Marry Astor and John Barrymore.

Marry Astor and John Barrymore.

I was watching 1924’s “Beau Brummell” and I am intrigued by the relationship Mary Astor developed with her co-star, John Barrymore, of all people. In their case, the twenty year age difference was inappropriate. However, it was what it was. And it was through Barrymore that Mary Astor learned a lot and gained self-confidence.

He did do her a lot of good but not for any altruistic reasons. He was out to nail her. He was on his way to Hollywood on the 20th Century Express. He had just completed the most successful run of “Hamlet” that America had seen. He was acclaimed as America’s greatest actor. He was on his way to the coast to make “Beau Brummell” for Warner Bros. because they were paying him a lot of money. And he picks up a magazine that has a photograph of Mary Astor about the age of 16 and under the photograph it said, “On the Verge of Womanhood.” Barrymore had a particular liking for virgins.

As I pointed out in the book, it was Barrymore who had his way with Evelyn Nesbitt, who later married Harry Kendall Thaw. And it was Thaw who shot Stanford White, America’s great architect, because he thought Stanford White had taken his wife’s virginity–when, in fact, it was Barrymore. That is a sidebar I’m proud of since I pieced together that bit of information.

According to Mary Astor, Barrymore really believed that he was going to marry her. And maybe he did plan to. But when Mary would not break free from her parents, after Barrymore offered her starring roles, because her father forbade it, Barrymore realized that she was just a child. She was completely under the sway of her father. Marrying a woman twenty years younger was one thing but marrying a child was something else. He broke her heart by calling it off.

I think it’s a cartoonist thing, as I’m a cartoonist, that we keep seeking out the offbeat. So, in the spirit of that I throw out a curveball, and ask you about your changing your last name to Sorel. You are referring to Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black.” I loved that book and the main character, Julian Sorel. Is there something interesting going on there with that connection?

I liked to think that I saw myself in Julian Sorel because he was like catnip to women, which I really wasn’t, and he hated the corrupt society of his time, as I hated mine. The first election that I voted in was the one between Eisenhower and Stevenson. I took a dim view of both of them and voted for a third party.

The other thing about Julian Sorel was that he hated his father. God, I certainly hated mine, not only because he tried to discourage me in wanting to be an artist but because he was a mean-spirited ignorant man not kind to my mother, not kind to anyone. And I didn’t want anything to do with him. I was going to be a cartoonist and I didn’t want to sign my name, Schwartz, in the right-hand corner. And I chose the name, Sorel, because of the novel. It seemed as good a name as any.

"Stagecoach." 1980 illustration for Esquire magazine.

“Stagecoach.” 1980 illustration for Esquire magazine.

I think back to myself as a boy wondering about how you created your work. You’ve spoken about “finding lines.” Could you share a little bit about that?

When you work commercially, and you’re taking assignments, you have to show the art director what you plan to do. So, you do sketches of the drawing you plan to do. And, after a while, I began to notice that my sketches had more vitality and life than my finishes did. My finishes were often dead and overworked. And so I tried to emulate the quality that I had in my sketches which meant doing it without tracing. In point of fact, that’s impossible to do if you’re doing very complicated scenes. You can work direct if you’re doing a face, a figure, a still life, or anything relatively simple. You can work direct without tracing and the work has a vitality to it. But when you’re doing complicated scenes, with many different elements, you really do have to know where you’re going. So, I found out that if I just had a light outline of where I wanted the elements to be, and didn’t trace, I could keep this sketchy quality that I think gave my art work some distinction.

"The Goodwood Races," 1939, by Feliks Topolski (1907-1989).

“The Goodwood Races,” 1939, by Feliks Topolski (1907-1989).

That quality of your art has influenced so many artists, whether they realize it or not. And, certainly, there have been other artists who have used an “expressive line.” You have talked about some of your favorites, like Feliks Topolski. There’s a certain sensibility that you both share.

Yes, well, he wasn’t trying to be funny like I always have. But his work has spontaneity, which I value in every artist. Wether its Bemelmans or Topolski. What shocks me now is to find so many artists who enjoy doing art work with a computer. I’ve seen some very nice computer art. You can get that nice flat color and can do all sorts of tricks that you can’t do by hand. But, to me, it doesn’t seem like fun. It seems like working on a machine. I just love the act of drawing. I’m a throwback. Most of the illustrations that you see today in magazines, and God knows you don’t see too many, are computer-generated in some form or another.

One compromise is for the artist to draw some of the illustration by hand, scan it, and do the rest on a computer.

It doesn’t seem fun to me but it must seem fun for them. I don’t cast aspersions on their way of doing it.

I think it boils down to being a time-saver. And, once a routine has set in, that’s the way it’s done and that’s it.

The other thing about computer art is that there’s nothing original, nothing to hang on the wall. You could have a show but it would only be prints. To each his own.

"Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition," 1967, by Edward Sorel

“Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition,” 1967, by Edward Sorel

I wanted to touch on one of the all-time classics, your 1967 anti-war illustration, “Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition.” The real life punchline there is that you were all set to roll out a poster when the focal point of the piece, Cardinal Spellman, passed away rendering your satire unsellable. Now, there’s some divine intervention.

The day it came off the press is the day he died. It never sold in any store in America. It is in a museum in Amsterdam. One store in Chicago tried to sell it and had its window broken. Apparently, Cardinal Spellman had some fans in Chicago. That was a bad break. You get some bad breaks and you get some good ones. I was the recipient of Woody Allen’s praise on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. That was the best break I ever had.

From "Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It," 2011, by Leo Sorel.

From “Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It,” 2011, by Leo Sorel.

I encourage everyone to check out the short film on you that your son, Leo, did. That is quite informative and a treat. It shows you in your studio. And then the Q&A afterward with illustrator James McMullan is very impressive. Towards the end of that, you talk about the pen you favor, a Speedball B6. I’ve always had a devil of a time with steel point dip pens. But the Speedballs I could manage. And then you flip it backwards to get the crosshatching.

Yes! That was my secret. The Speedball does move and it allows you to be kind of spastic over a piece of paper.

"Nixon and Mao," 2007, The New Yorker.

“Nixon and Mao,” 2007, The New Yorker.

I wanted to ask you about Donald Trump. There was that drawing of him as Medusa you did last year. The big news at the moment is all about Mitch McConnell silencing Elizabeth Warren. I could see that as perhaps triggering an Edward Sorel drawing.

I can’t cope with Donald Trump. I haven’t done political cartooning in a number of years. I can’t deal with him. With all other presidents, you could make fun of their hypocrisy and have fun with them. But Mr. Trump is kind of crazy. And he’s dangerous. He’s cruel. Making fun of him doesn’t seem what’s called for. It’s trivializing him. He shouldn’t be trivialized. He’s really a danger. People are really scared. They wake up with Donald Trump on their mind and they go to bed with him on their mind. He’s a heavy presence in our lives now. I don’t know how to deal with that.

You can’t call him the new Nixon. At least with Nixon, there was a mind at work. It’s being very generous, but there was some sense of integrity compared to Trump. Nixon you could call a president. But, with Trump, he’s president only by title.

He seems unhinged. I think it was Bernie Sanders who called him unhinged. He seems too crazy to be in that office. I don’t know what else to say about him.

Donald Trump illustration, 2016, for Vanity Fair.

Donald Trump illustration, 2016, for Vanity Fair.

Especially living it right now. It is stomach-turning. I won’t talk about him anymore. But I do need to mention Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of Sean Spicer. Have you seen that?

No, tell me about it. I’ve been trying to avoid the news lately.

Well, Melissa McCarthy is a comic genius and she was on Saturday Night Live last weekend. She did a spot on impersonation of Sean Spicer, had the look and mannerisms down.

Oh, wait, I did see that! A friend sent that to me.

I think that has the power of a political cartoon and then some. It captivated everyone. It was an emotional release for everyone to see that.

Yes, I’m sure it was. It was very funny.

It seems to me that every artist needs a hero, someone to play off of. I see your book, weaving your life with Mary’s, as following the artist’s struggle. I think of how Mary evolved. I think of how Mary and Bette Davis were able to rewrite “The Great Lie,” turning that around into a notable film.

She did become a very fine actress. But she also became a little bit like her father, terribly obsessed with money. She twice turned down contracts for starring roles since she believed supporting roles would provide a longer career. She did indeed have a long career. She was in over 100 movies. And she was going strong until about 1959. She didn’t take chances. Maybe she didn’t believe she was a good enough actress. She missed having a chance at great roles and great performances. That was too bad.

My obsession with her has to do with my thinking I wasn’t a great artist because I didn’t have an obsession. So, I was very grateful when people called my interest in Mary Astor an obsession. Yes, it was an obsession and I do think it helped produce my best work.

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” by Edward Sorel

Can you tell us about your connection with Boston University?

I was very lucky to have Boston University buy my entire work, my oeuvre, as we say. In March, they’re having a retrospective of all my work and, as a matter of fact, I’m still packing up things to send there.

The Howard Gottlieb Center at Boston University has one of the finest collections from all walks of life. They have the second largest Martin Luther King collection. They have many of America’s great writers. They have Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They have most of the actors and actresses from the golden age of Hollywood. I’m very delighted to be part of this collection.

Mural by Edward Sorel at The Waverly Inn, completed in 2007. From left to right: Eddie Condon, Donald Barthelme, Willa Cather, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Jane Jacobs, John Sloan, and Andy Warhol.

Mural by Edward Sorel at The Waverly Inn, completed in 2007. From left to right: Eddie Condon, Donald Barthelme, Willa Cather, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Jane Jacobs, John Sloan, and Andy Warhol.

I heard a siren in the background. It brings back my visits to New York. You are a lifelong New Yorker and I know how much you love New York. Could you share some of your thoughts on the city?

I do love New York. I don’t love the crowds anymore. I do worry. When you live in a city like New York, you do begin to see a kind of science fiction future: crowds everywhere, lines everywhere. New York is kind of becoming that. They keep building these enormous skyscrapers without thinking about how the city will accommodate it. They’re not building out, like they did in Los Angeles. They’re building up. It used to be that the only crowds were in midtown but now crowds are all over. And you find yourself walking in the gutter because there’s too many people on the sidewalk.

So, yeah, I love New York. The New York that I grew up with, where the museums were free and everyone went to public school, seems to have vanished. Everything is expensive now, including the museums. It’s very difficult for young people. When The New York Times that I used to buy for three cents is now $2.50, The New Yorker which I used to buy for ten cents, is now something like $7, it’s bizarre. And, of course, the wages that young people get are pitiful. So, yeah, I love New York but I don’t like the time particularly.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I can tell you about my next book. It’s going to be similar in structure to the Mary Astor book. It’s going to be a memoir. It will be about my growing up in New York. And it will be about the thirteen presidents that I’ve lived through.

My point is that every one of these presidents, whether I liked them or not, committed illegal acts, overthrew governments illegally, and did unconstitutional things. Starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who became enamored with Billy Graham. It was through those machinations that they put “In God We Trust” on our currency and inserted “Under God” in our oath of allegiance. Somehow, I regard that point in history as the slope we’ve been sliding ever since.

Now, it’s done so garishly with someone like Trump.

Right. Trump, the great Christian, who apparently was much loved by the Bible Belt. I don’t think there’s anything more derogatory I can say about organized religion than that they were responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

Is part of the new book you’re working on sitting on your drawing board?

Not yet. A little bit is sitting on the computer. Nothing has been drawn yet.

I wish you well on that. It’s been exciting and quite a treat to get a chance to talk with you for a bit.

You’re very kind. Thank you so much.

You can listen to the interview right here.

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” is a 176-page hardcover, with full-color illustrations, published by W.W. Norton & Company. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Company right here.

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Filed under Art, Cartooning, Cartoonists, Donald Trump, Edward Sorel, Illustration, Interviews, New York City, Political Cartoons, politics, Richard Nixon

Seattle Focus: MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Once a toy has become an artifact of childhood, it has reached a very special place. For the purposes of this exhibit, a look at American toys spanning three decades, the focus is upon the joy and comfort these toys provided. The context is both simple and complex as viewers are invited to study the various exhibits from their own personal point of view. Did you have a happy childhood? If not, maybe a toy helped you along the way? Sectioned off into three decades worth of childhoods, there is plenty to recollect and reassess.

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is enjoying its West Coast premiere on display at MOHAI here in Seattle. Originating from the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit asks you to revisit many toys that, by today’s standards, would not be deemed suitable for children on many grounds, including common sense safety! Lawn darts, anyone?? Yep, we don’t see lawn darts sold in today’s toy market. They’re basically sharp steel projectiles. They’re not going to cut it, or rather, they ARE going to cut it! But, you see, lawn darts have a home here–on display only. Lawn darts are not subject to recall within the bounds of this exhibit. They are here to conjure up good lawn dart memories, for those who have them. And they’re also here as a subject for discussion. As much as this exhibit is a trip down memory lane, it also invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

What are your thoughts on Barbie dolls or toy guns? You’ll find them here ready for your marvel or scrutiny. The point is that you’ll find all sorts of toys, whether or not they pass today’s safety or societal tests. The overwhelming nature of childhood memory takes over. Countless kids loved their toys and now we have the nostalgia for yesteryear and contemporary perspective to guide us. You’ll find a lot of kids attracted to the exhibits. You’ll see lots of families with their toddlers, too young to appreciate any nuances but ready to grab at anything not secured. And then there are the adults who grew up in these respective decades. For them, especially, the exhibit features living room re-creations for each decade on view. For these viewers, the couch is right there to sit and go back in time with, alone or perhaps to share with younger family members.

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

Toys are certainly not easy to pin down. Toys resist being dismissed even if the originals are stored away or thrown away. Toys come at you from every direction. At a certain age, they define your leisure, your means of escape. They can become your world, your identity. They’re based upon all you think you know about the world whether from books, movies, television, just about anything. What does a choice in a toy say about a child? What does a toy say about the adult who chose it for the child? The adult who created it? The manufacturer that produced it? The country that embraced it?

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

One of the best examples of how toys can make a difference is the American reaction to the Soviet’s being the first in space in 1957 with the Sputnik satellite. That little object in space caused shockwaves in the United States. Toy makers would definitively enter the Space Age and Space Race. Hubley’s 1954 Atomic Disintegrator, right out of science fiction, was all well and good. But now was the time to step up a focus on science and technology. Amsco Industries responded in 1958 with the Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, “designed by missile engineers, tested in Cape Canaveral.” And, as the display makes clear, kids ate it up! There’s this priceless quote from the exhibit:

“How did I get interested in science and make it my life’s work? Kids in the late ’50s and ’60s could get toys that complemented that interest. My friends and I loved my Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile: Mix up some baking soda and vinegar, put it into the missile, put it on the launch pad, and pull the string. That baby could really fly.”

–Mike Smith, b. 1952, meteorologist

It was fun, as a discerning adult, to wander back and forth between the three living room areas: the wonder and innocence in the 1950s; the keen interest in science and exploration in the 1960s; and a full circle escape to wonder and innocence in the 1970s. It seemed like, after having landed on the moon, and the rise of the Vietnam War, Americans were ready to refocus. Instead of looking to actual stars, Americans were ready to go see the new blockbuster hit, “Star Wars,” entertainment with its roots in 1930s pulp fiction. They were also ready to buy all the Star Wars toys.

Hey, that's Han Solo's Millennium Falcon!

Hey, that’s Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon!

I have fond memories of the ’70s as a kid. And I recall seeing “Star Wars” in 1977, at age 14, at our local movie theater at the mall. It would not have occurred to me to buy all the Star Wars figures, let alone a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. But it was really nice to see the whole Star Wars set on display here at MOHAI. Any kid would have been thrilled to have owned them back then. But I’m sure that I owned a couple of figures. And I know that I went to see “Star Wars” more than once, despite the very long lines. I didn’t question any of it back then, although I was certainly old enough to do so. I was more than happy to accept it just as fun. I didn’t think about profit motives or the future of franchises or the American spirit. This brand new thing called “Star Wars” left you with a good feeling inside. And that’s the best thing any toy can offer.

TOYS at MOHAI!

TOYS at MOHAI!

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Childhood, Children, Comics, Education, Family, History, MOHAI, pop culture, Sci-Fi, Science, Seattle, Toys

Looking Beyond the Nixon Mask

Nixon and Trump masks from PureCostumes.com

Nixon and Trump masks from PureCostumes.com

I went to a costume party just the other night. This ain’t my first rodeo. I wore my first Nixon mask when I was sixteen. I loved how weird and recognizable it was, just like the real Nixon. I was a political junkie way back then. Nixon was already out of office and I just knew from my political Spidey sense that this mask was here to stay. It followed me around quite a bit in my youth from one party to the next. I didn’t take it to every party (I’m no Nixon fanatic!) but, if you wanted a cheap laugh, there it was. Better than a guerrilla mask, although that’s a cool choice too.

I maintain that Nixon will always be the one. Still, I wanted to see what I might have been missing out on. After some careful study, I kept finding creative and unexpected options at PureCostumes.com. Look around for yourself and you will find something for any age and any occasion. You never know, maybe a Sixties theme would be perfect. You can have someone at your party with a Nixon mask but you can also have hippie costumes too.

Go Go Girl and Hippie costumes from PureCostumes.com

Go Go Girl and Hippie costumes from PureCostumes.com

This is my most infamous Nixon mask experience–and then I’ll share with you what I recently did. This was some years ago. I was dating this girl who, early in our budding relationship, invited me to an office party. She worked at a prestigious law firm and they were having their annual winter holiday gathering. It wasn’t a costume party by any stretch of the imagination but I was still pushing limits and decided to try out some subversive humor. Right in the middle of a rather quite and staid event, I whipped out my Nixon mask. I put it on and did a quick skit. Looking back on it, I think it was only meant for an audience of two, maybe three people, but I may as well have been performing for everyone there as it seems all eyes and ears turned to me rather suddenly. People laughed. There were some cheers. I ended by raising both arms with the double peace sign salute.

Now, just the other night, we had a neighborhood block party. I had gotten to thinking it might be fun to wear a mask and do some comedy. Why not, right? But it wouldn’t be Nixon this time. Besides, the old Nixon mask I used to cherish was long gone. So, that’s what got me rethinking the whole mask and costume thing. I gave it some thought and I concluded that a Trump mask was in order. I got one from PureCostumes.com and it brought back memories from my ole Nixon years. It was fun and easy to get into character. And it all ended very well. The important thing in these situations is to remember that you’re wearing the mask and the mask in not wearing you. We all got our Trump fix and it is stored away for now until next time.

Wizard and Violet costumes from PureCostumes.com

Wizard and Violet costumes from PureCostumes.com

Maybe you want to be a wizard. Maybe your kid wants to be Violet from The Incredibles. Well, you see where I’m going with this. My eyes have been opened. I have many options and I can find them at PureCostumes.com. There are numerous reasons for masks and costumes, right? Who knows, you may find yourself starting a whole new tradition with a Trump or Hillary mask. You just never know.

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Filed under 1960s, Cosplay, Costumes, Donald Trump, politics, Purecostumes.com, Satire

DVD review: CANDY

Ewa Aulin and Marlon Brando in 1968's "Candy"

Ewa Aulin and Marlon Brando in 1968’s “Candy”

“Candy” was a notorious novel from 1958 by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg. It had sex, satire, and more sex. By 1968, director Christian Marquand brought to the screen something which was equally notorious and it had sex, satire, and more sex. There’s a story that Buck Henry, the screenwriter, tells in a bonus feature on the DVD. Marquand, Henry, and a producer, Peter Zoref, would routinely go to lunch during the filming. Zoref was regularly verbally abused by Marquand but, on that day, Marquand took to slapping Zoref. Henry admonished Marquand to stop. When Marquand ignored Henry and resumed his abuse, Henry threatened to use his knife on Marquand–which he ultimately did! With a knife impaled into his hand, Marquand began to maniacally laugh. He just kept on laughing and laughing. To this, Buck Henry conceded some form of greatness on the part of Marquand! And, with that said, it gives you a taste of “Candy.”

1968 was a long time ago, no two ways about it. So, we take that into consideration when viewing such a work as this. It is not an unequivocally classic piece like, say, Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” No, no, no. It is not that. However, a case can be made for it being a misunderstood gem. There are some interesting things going on that raise it above a typical Sixties exploitation movie. In fact, there are plenty of entertaining scenes to make this worthwhile and a lot of that rests on the stellar cast of actors. Everyone on board seems okay with the premise and play it to the hilt: a young woman, a veritable ingenue/sex object wanders about as various middle-aged men ogle her and dare to fondle her. Candy, on the other hand, does not find the potential suitors to be repulsive. She is mostly concerned with being given a decent reason to take her clothes off. Silly. Surreal. Disturbing. Check all of the above.

We begin with Richard Burton as Candy’s first suitor. That turns out to be quite impressive. And the list of suitors goes on from there: Ringo Starr, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and Marlon Brando. At one point, I sort of started to think that director Marquand had set up a cynical trap for all these A-listers putting them in a situation that would leave them looking ludicrous. But, no, that does not really happen. Everyone survives, if not excels. Burton is brilliant as MacPhisto, a latter-day Lord Byron with a throng of young women in a frenzy over him. With any woman at his disposal, MacPhisto becomes transfixed by Candy, played to spaced-out perfection by Ewa Aulin. The only problem is that MacPhisto is all thumbs, like most of the men depicted in this movie, when it comes to actually having sex. Candy is all for it but MacPhisto proves to be trapped within a bubble of his own self-delusion. Fast forward to Marlon Brandon, as Grindl, the charismatic guru, who proves to be a capable seducer. While all the rest of the men marvel over Candy the sex object, Grindl has no problem firmly placing hand over mons and proceeding. Whether true zeitgeist or more kitsch, “Candy” has a certain colorful quality to it that makes it hard to resist. It is a masterpiece train wreck.

“Candy” has been released on DVD from Kino Lorber. You can find “Candy” at various outlets including Amazon right here.

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Filed under 1960s, DVD Blu-ray Reviews, Humor, movies, Satire, Sex

Pop Culture Focus: Randy Bowles and the Sixties

Randy Bowles at Simply Desserts

Randy Bowles at Simply Desserts

Here at Comics Grinder, we not only love pop culture but we dig deeper–all the way to its roots. With musician Randy Bowles, I have a friend who can share insights into the Sixties from a unique perspective. As a co-founder of Yakima, Washington’s Velvet Illusions (1966-67), Bowles found himself in a catbird seat to view and participate in his generation’s journey through identity, rebellion, and so much more. It was the beginning of a career in music that would take him in many directions.

Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions

Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions

Ultimately, Randy Bowles carved a niche for himself in folk music and he’s remained active in that, and general storytelling, ever since. You can enjoy his special brand of insight at his WordPress blog right here. We became friends through the WordPress community and it just goes to show you yet another benefit of being part of WordPress.

The Velvet Illusions (1966-67)

The Velvet Illusions (1966-67)

Getting back to Randy, an important thing to know is that he was in this cool band, The Velvet Illusions, and then he went on to other cool bands and his own solo work. As for Velvet Illusions, listen for yourself and you’ll find a fun and steady beat. Here they are singing the Velvet Illusions theme:

In our recent chat, we discuss the Sixties for a bit and mainly focus on fashion. Bowles provides some insight on the passions and interests of the Sixties generation: what was homegrown versus what was manufactured to sell to a mainstream audience.

Randy Bowles is a good guy. I look forward to sharing more with you in the future!

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Filed under 1960s, Counterculture, Music, pop culture, Randy Bowles, The Sixties, The Velvet Illusions

Review: THIS IS BACON, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Francis-Bacon

Francis Bacon is a little bit less well known to the general public than Warhol and Pollock but every bit as powerful. Bacon was the product of the vibrant and gritty London Soho scene of the ’50s and ’60s. It was a world of rough trade and intellectuals. It was a bubbling cauldron of sexual liberation and creative abandon. Bacon quite naturally exemplified the zeitgeist. Having been caught by his father as he was reveling in wearing his mother’s underwear, he was summarily kicked out of the home at age 16, left to fend for himself. He wasn’t involved with art at the time, never had formal training, but art became his outlet, and he mastered it.

Francis-Bacon-Laurence-King

The British contemporary art scene was more introverted than the American. It really wasn’t pop as much as personal. Its answer to Abstract Expressionism was a return to the figure and to the self. Along with various other artists exploring the inner life, like David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, it was Bacon who took this soulful approach to some of its greatest heights.

Laurence-King-Francis-Bacon

Funny how some people mistake Francis Bacon with the great philosopher. And how ironic that this artist, by the name of Bacon, would come to paint on, in part, the theme of meat.

Part of Laurence King Publishing’s This is Art series, this little book packs a lot of valuable information. It is quite a compelling narrative, written by Kitty Hauser with illustrations by Christina Christoforou. It will prove inspiring to any artist working today. Here’s a little taste of the text:

Bacon’s training took place not at art school but through the voraciousness of his eye, and the extremity of his experiences. He liked to observe human behaviour, especially when it was governed by instinct rather than convention. His relative lack of a formal education meant he did not make the usual kinds of distinctions between life and art, or between high culture and low. His mind and his studio were well stocked with images from a multitude of sources – cinema, medical literature, art galleries, everyday life – and some of these images inevitably found their way, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, into his paintings. ‘Don’t forget that I look at everything’, he said. ‘And everything I see gets ground up very fine. In the end one never knows, certainly I myself never know, what the images in my paintings are made up of.’

Francis-Bacon-art

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Francis Bacon, Laurence King Publishing

Review: THIS IS WARHOL, published by Laurence King Publishing

Andy-Warhol-Laurence-King

This week we will consider Laurence King Publishing’s exciting new artist series in a graphic novel format. We begin with “This is Warhol.” We will continue with Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali, and end the week with Paul Gauguin. How often have you started the week with Andy Warhol and ended the week with Paul Gauguin? Well, you lucky duck, this is your week. These are all iconoclasts and each of their work continues to reverberate. Among this group, we feel closest to Warhol, despite the fact he was personally quite distant. We think we know him. But, as this book clearly demonstrates, there is much more than meets the casual observer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Catherine Ingram writes with great enthusiasm and confidence in her subject. She weaves a compelling narrative in such a concise manner, never wasting a word. As she’s describing Warhol’s childhood, she is deftly planting seeds that link us to the vision of the leading figure of Pop Art. Andy, the child, is gazing upon his neighborhood church’s icons. As a Catholic, the icons are powerful figures for Warhol. As an adult, he will take that same level of emotional attachment to his depictions of Campbell’s soup cans and Hollywood stars. But weren’t these repeated images from pop culture simply statements about an empty and shallow society? No, Ingram makes a case for much more being said.

Continue reading

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Filed under Andy Warhol, Art, Art books, Laurence King Publishing, Pop Art, pop culture