Fred Rogers did it right and we can gain from his sage advice and guidance. I’ve always admired Mister Rogers. Is it really that difficult for a man to be gentle and sensitive? I am certain a lot of us don’t think so. The age of Trump, with its unkind and insensitive mindset, is a travesty. There is nothing courageous about it. And then you take a look at what can be accomplished when you listen to a child and do something positive.
Fred Rogers managed to do quite a lot of good in his day, don’t you think? Well, this upcoming documentary, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, appears to offer up a lot to be joyful and inspired about. As is the case with many documentaries and books of this nature, the timing is perfect. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? will be in select theaters as of June 8, 2018.
Danilo Del Tufo is an illustrator in Quarto, Italy. I like his new comic, an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic tale, “The Little Match-Seller.” You can purchase a copy at LuLu.com right here. And you can find more details right here.
A burning light of hope.
“The Little Match-Seller” or “The Little Match Girl” (Danish: Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne, meaning “The little girl with the matchsticks”) is a short story by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen. The story is about a dying child’s hopes and dreams, and was first published in 1845. Del Tufo does a thoughtful job of evoking the great pathos in this story. This is an excellent example of a wonderful calling card in the form of a comic to showcase an artist’s work. And, of course, it is also a fine comic in its own right.
“Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours” by Alex Nall
Comics is uniquely suited for any form of biography and to quite a fascinating degree. I’ve said that before and, to prove my point, I have all sorts of new things I can say about this theme in regards to Alex Nall‘s graphic novella, “Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours.” This is a look at the life and times of Fred Rogers (1928-2003), the host of the landmark PBS children’s program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Intertwined in this biography is a look at Nall’s own life as a grade school art teacher. As often is the case, the comics creator has created a mashup of bio and auto-bio. It’s a natural occurance among cartoonists to include themselves into the narrative. When done right, the results can feel like a smooth dreamy story.
A mashup of bio and autobio.
Nall’s artwork has a primitive child-like quality about it. He depicts himsself with a cumbersome bulbous pink nose. It is all hand-drawn, down to the lettering and color washes. This is a style that falls right in line with a lot of alt-comics: keep it simple; keep it slapdash. In this case, that look fits in. Nall evokes the frenetic energy of children: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Kids, the little angels we’d wish them to be, usually are far from saints. Time and again, Nall shares with the reader the reality of the daily grind of interacting with these wee people. Ah, big segue: Nall comes to find inspiration in his nightly revisits on his laptop to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This triggers an exploration by Nall thus leading to confronting more than he bargained for.
A young and feisty Fred Rogers.
First, some words on Fred Rogers and his monumental achievement. Keep in mind, the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” program ran from 1968 to 2001. There was nothing like it before and there will probably never be anything like it again. This is a show that speaks to kids on their own terms — and in a distinctive format that defies duplication. The viewership is mostly meant for 2 to 5 year-olds, but it appeals to any age. Fred Rogers became sort of a surrogate parent for countless children, spanning generations, simply by being there with kind and gentle entertainment mixed in with thoughtful observation and guidance. Everyone seems to fondly remember Fred Rogers and have a favorable opinion of him. You may have seen footage of a young and feisty Rogers testifying before Congress in support of PBS funding. Rogers was able to melt the heart of at least one tough and jaded senator.
Nall highlights a particular aspect in his story and provides an excellent example of how one element can affect the balance of the whole. Comics, with their panels and unique narrative structure, are inherently tricky balancing acts. You can include a scene in one panel and the ripple effect is under way. Refer back to it and the overriding subject behind it, and you’ve underscored it, boosted its significance. Return to the subject again, and the whole story points back to it, in a way, as if in service to that one aspect. These sort of shifts in focus happen all the time in big prose works. For example, a book on current events will have its most newsworthy items plucked for greater scrutiny by all the news outlets.
The Washing of Feet.
Nall makes a strategic choice to focus upon the relationship between Mister Rogers and Police Officer Clemmons. The scenes are from the point of view of Francois Clemmons. Rogers hired Clemmons to play the role of a police officer on the show. This was the late 1960s and police brutality was a hot news topic. In one particular panel, we see what looks like Mister Rogers washing the feet of Officer Clemmons. The unique nature of comics allows the reader to linger on a panel. The panel is already a highlighted moment, suspended in time, radiating beyond its borders. The actual moment that occurred on the show was held together by a very different medium. In the course of that scene with Clemmons, he and Rogers are indeed enjoying a moment of peace and quiet. As they are about to complete the scene, they both begin to get their feet out of the water. For a split second, Rogers takes a towel and passes it over Clemmons’s feet. It occurred so fast as to be subliminal. Certainly, it was packed with Christian symbolism.
Francois Clemmons speaks out.
That moment, both subliminal and highly symbolic, is what Nall sort of plucked and focused upon to keep the reader wondering. It is unusual. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Sure, it is benign. You could see it as ideal too. But it is also unusual. It was Rogers’s way of gently and kindly getting a message across, specifically of racial tolerance but transcendent as well. A moment of kindness. Done. We move on. However, Nall has tapped into something that he pursues further and which he would be hard pressed to avoid. His research consisted of four articles and two books. It is really the one book, 2015’s “Peaceful Neighbor,” by Michael Long, that is at the crux of this. In the book, Francois Clemmons claims that he was told by Rogers that, while Rogers supported Clemmons coming out as gay, the program was not ready for an openly gay character. If he came out, he would have to be let go. To further complicate matters, Clemmons claims that Rogers advised him to marry a woman and Clemmons did just that. Considering the era, Clemmons would certainly not be alone among closeted gays. Even today, there is no openly gay character on a children’s program.
Overall, Nall has done a good job in conveying some compelling facts. He is not bringing to light anything that was not already covered in “Peaceful Neighbor” but he has presented these facts in a different format and reached a number of new readers. Nall’s book is an achievement in the sense that any book of this kind put together by one individual is a small miracle in itself. So, yes, of course, I wholeheartedly congratulate Nall. It would be very interesting to chat with him on what parts of his book are style choices and what parts are simply the result of his current skill set. Personally, I am a strong believer in cartoonists perpetually pushing themselves to make the smoothest and most readable content.
I look forward to what Nall does next as he considers his next project. Nall has demonstrated that he’s not afraid to tackle as ambitious a project as the life and times of Fred Rogers. And, as I say, he has a good grasp of how the comics medium works. It can be a deceptively simple affair but, in fact, it has quite a built-in complexity. Once the process is set in motion, just like any other creative endeavor, it takes on a life of its own.
“Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours” is the latest installment of Nall’s “Teaching Comics” series. Visit him right here.
“Lion” is quite a heartwarming film. It involves the myriad of humanity in conflict with the individual. It is about what happens when one individual becomes untethered from his unique place in the world. Lost from home, one little boy will lose his past only to seek it out again once he’s a man. It’a an amazing story. And based upon a true story. Up for multiple Academy Award nominations, this is a movie that is every bit colorful and compelling. And it comes out on DVD/Blu-ray on April 11th.
Five-year-old Saroo, having fallen asleep on a train during a scavenging spree, has managed to displace himself about a thousand miles from his village. The scenes of little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), stealing bits of coal off of trains is like out of a gritty fairy tale. When Saroo steals some moments of solitude, he can be found basking in lush scenery interspersed with butterflies. But reality strikes when Saroo and Guddu press their luck on the ill-fated night that they are forever separated.
Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo
While Saroo had reveled in the splendor of his home, he suddenly becomes a little boy lost in Calcutta, one of the most populous places in the world. Ultimately, Saroo will be taken to an orphanage where he will be placed with his new family, in Australia, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham.
Twenty years on, the all-grown-up Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) remains haunted by his displacement and sets out, with the help of Google Earth, to track down his original family and home. Given that half the movie centers on Saroo’s search, Patel provides a fine performance as the determined and vulnerable Saroo. His girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara), adds just the right amount grounded counterbalance.
Directed by Garth Davis, screenplay by Luke Davies adapted from Saroo Brierley’s book, this is a great family movie. Director Davis is working here more with an emotional, rather than intellectual, tale that he gently reveals. That said, there is also plenty of food for thought. I was especially moved by a scene with Nicole Kidman where she speaks about her choice to be a parent.
In a time when understanding among cultures is all the more urgent, this is certainly a relevant film with an uplifting and positive story to tell.
At the end of the film, just as the credits are about to roll, a staggering statistic is announced: Over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. In response, the makers of this film have collaborated with various organizations to create the #LionHeart campaign. For more details, visit the official film website right here.
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
“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
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
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
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!
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 from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.
Many people enjoy collecting pop culture figures. Some collectors will add an environment to showcase them. What if the sky’s the limit and you could go hog wild? Imagine, for instance, the Joker facing off with G.I. Joe. And have that in a realistic setting. Well, as kids, the sky was always the limit! Your characters didn’t have to obey any rules and you could have all sorts of battles that would never have taken place anywhere else. In that spirit, photographer Daniel Picard has let it roll with some inspired work with icons we all know and love.
Picard photographs 12-inch figures from Sideshow Collectibles, then does only what a skilled adult can do: create those sort of moments that kids around the globe conjure up just for the fun of it. These are to-scale environments with an uncannily realistic look.
Actor Simon Pegg provides a forward calling this collection, “a wonderful conversation piece.” Kevin Smith provides an afterword describing Picard’s work as a “salute to all the fun we had with our toys as kids.”
“Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard” is a 132-page hardcover, priced at $29.99 US, published by Insight Editions. For more details, and to purchase the book, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.
“Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind? You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.” Man, oh, man, I think I’ve just heard the word. Mister Rogers speaks the truth, as he always did, in the new mashup by Symphony of Science’s John “Melodysheep” Boswell which has, understandably, gone viral–with lots and lots of love. It’s always a refreshing surprise to realize how much can be accomplished with kindness.
And, if you’ve never seen this video, it’s an amazing look at Mr. Rogers speaking truth to power, as he fights for funding for PBS before the U.S. Senate in 1969. A $20 million grant proposed by LBJ was on the chopping block:
This video keeps your attention as you see Fred Rogers, in his gentle yet persuasive way, win over a skeptical senator. Veering from his prepared text, Mr. Rogers makes a determined and beautiful presentation. He begins by stating what every child needs: trust. He explains how he has come to understand children. He demonstrates how children can deal with anger. In the end, he has an old jaded United States senator admit, “I’m a pretty tough guy. But this is the first time I’ve gotten goose bumps.” And the senator concludes, “Looks like you’ve earned that 20 million dollars.”