Tag Archives: The Sixties

Review: BECOMING ANDY WARHOL

Warhol overseeing production.

Warhol overseeing production.

The world of Andy Warhol is our world. His art, inextricably linked to his persona, resonates with us today on an uncanny level. Along with a select few artists like Picasso, he has broken through, reached immortal fame with the general public. When a new book or movie comes out about him, we feel we’re dealing with something familiar. The new graphic novel, “Becoming Andy Warhol,” written by Nick Bertozzi and illustrated by Pierce Hargan, seems to tap into some new ground by presenting us with more of the human being that was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, with my own art ambitions, I was keenly aware of Warhol as I digested his art through the media. What I saw of the person was actually quite minimal. There was that exaggerated deadpan pose, that would be taken up by so many artists of the next generation, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Who Warhol really was did not seem to matter. The fact that he was gay was never brought up in the mainstream media. But one thing was clear: Warhol was a significant artist breaking new ground.

What this graphic novel attempts to do is humanize Warhol to better understand the man and his art. He was certainly not a passive eunuch. The most distinctive contribution this book makes is to show Warhol as an active and sexual being dealing with relationships, and strategizing his career. His career did not just emerge one day fully formed and he did not have all the answers. In fact, there’s some wonderful scenes in the book with art critic Henry Geldzahler guiding his friend along. When it came to attempting to answer rather pompous questions from the media, why not simply respond with enigmatic non-answers? This approach, Geldzahler advises Warhol, will make him a star.

Enigmatic Andy

Enigmatic Andy

Warhol was certainly more than capable of explaining his methods. More than anything in the world, he wished to share his insights with the Pop Art kings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But, when they saw themselves as on a separate plane from Warhol, it did not faze Warhol. What we see in this graphic novel is a Warhol who, despite setbacks, maintains an internal compass that keeps him on his path. He is a determined and driven dynamo. The book focuses on Andy Warhol from 1962 to 1964, those critical years which see him make the break from a hugely successful career as an illustrator, dive into a fine art career, and never look back.

Warhol at Work

Warhol at Work

A grand biography is one of the most suitable of subjects for a graphic novel. Bertozzi and Hargan turn Warhol’s journey into a most engaging story, one that gains much from the way that they tell it. The challenge here for Bertozzi was to present a story that many of us already know to some extent, while only relying upon books and resources commonly available. What is so new and compelling to tell? It becomes a matter of what to bring to the foreground. I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.

Andy Warhol was already Andy Warhol at the start of this story insomuch as he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in his way. And, when it seemed time to choose whether to abandon parts of who he was in favor of a more mainstream presence, he knew where to draw the line. There’s a particularly effective scene where the renowned architect Philip Johnson admonishes Warhol to drop all of his rough trade friends while, at the same time, he ponders which of the boys he might get to bed. While far from perfect, Warhol proves to stand for something. By defying Johnson and others, Warhol stayed true to himself and would go on to make history. I’m sure that Bertozzi felt compelled to articulate these finer points about Warhol.

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

“Becoming Andy Warhol” is a 160-page hardcover with two-color illustrations throughout, available as of Oct 4th, and published by Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Andy Warhol, Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Nick Bertozzi

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

George Clayton Johnson (1929-2015), RIP

"Nothing in the Dark" by George Clayton Johnson

“Nothing in the Dark” by George Clayton Johnson

Writer George Clayton Johnson past away this Christmas day at 12:46 PST. His son, Paul, posted an announcement. He said of his father, “He was more than a reknowned writer, fan & hemp legalization advocate, he was a truly loving father & husband. Dad understood some truths deeply….understanding, tolerance & love, and above all, we’re all the same and should be cared for as human beings…no homeless…no hunger, but charity for all.”

For those of you new to George Clayton Johnson, he was, and will always remain, a spirited beacon. He was able to take his love for science fiction and fantasy and realize some excellent writing. A prime example is his work on The Twilight Zone. He wrote some of the most memorable episodes, including “The Four of Us Are Dying” (1960), “A Game of Pool” (1961), “Nothing in the Dark” (1961), and “Kick the Can” (1962).

Of this work for The Twilight Zone, it was “Nothing in the Dark” that was his favorite and, perhaps, his all-around favorite of everything he wrote. The story has a favorite theme for him, the game of trying to cheat death. In the episode, Gladys Cooper (played by Wanda Dunn) is doing her best to avoid death by remaining in hiding. Attempting to reassure her is a handsome young man, Harold Beldon (played by Robert Redford). If only Gladys will give herself over to Harold’s logical and gentle words, she may find peace. Of course, this is the off-center world of The Twilight Zone with nothing as it may seem.

In the end, this is a story with an unpredictable and satisfying resolution. In a similar fashion, George Clayton Johnson bid farewell. He was in hospice care and it was assumed he was near the end a number of times. Ultimately, it seems, he got his wish, hung on until Christmas, and left on his own terms.

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Filed under George Clayton Johnson, The Sixties, The Twilight Zone

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Celebrates 9th Anniversary: Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and More! Dec 12-13, 2015

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, in Seattle, celebrates its 9th anniversary in wild style with the Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and more! A festive holiday gala takes place Saturday, December 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM marking the debut of Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me featuring a fabulous show of tributes to the alluring art of the late Vaughn Bodé and a rare reunion of his extended family.

Big-Book-of-Me-Vaughn-Bode

The very first comic strip of Cheech the Wizard was drawn by Vaughn Bodé on a series of notebook pages in 1957. As the legend goes, the famous underground character came to Bodé as he contemplated a can of chee-chee nuts. Cheech the Wizard would go on to become a big player in underground comix celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a Pogo for a mature audience with a similar whimsical quality masking a subversive humor. Which leads us to Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me which collects the best work of Vaughn Bodé along with a cavalcade of extras. The forward is by his son, Mark, who has carried on the tradition with his own take on Cheech and his pals.

Laura Knetzger

And if the holiday gala weren’t enough on Saturday, you are welcome to return on Sunday for a book release party for Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys Volume I. That takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is located in Georgetown at 1201 S. Vale St. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Laura Knetzger, The Sixties, Underground Comics, Vaughn Bodē

Review: THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM MACHINE

Great-American-Dream-Machine

There is much to discover in the offbeat television program, “The Great American Dream Machine,” now collected for the first time on DVD by S’More Entertainment. It first aired on PBS for two seasons from 1971-1972. And it remains unusual even today in its honest and idiosyncratic approach. It has been labeled as a “political satire” but it was more than that as it held true to a Sixties idealism. Here you find extended pieces that simply celebrated a people power ethos: interviews with average Americans on the topic of the American Dream; an urban artist who creates art from manhole covers; or a decidedly unplugged segment hanging out with the popular daredevil of the era, Evel Knievel.

Amanda Ambrose

Amanda Ambrose

The best way to view this collection is to skip around the way you would if you happened to stumble upon a curious item in your attic or thrift store, or think of it this way: this program is like surfing the internet if it existed back in the Sixties. Here is a veritable cornucopia of content. In one respect, it recalls the ambitious installations created by Charles and Ray Eames overflowing with information. What makes this program notable is how well it holds up today and that is because it was carefully curated, not just controlled chaos.

Host Marshall Efron

Host Marshall Efron

I would not necessarily watch it from the very first episode onward. In fact, the first episode is a bit clunky as the program was still finding its feet. I think it may have been leaning towards being a show for teens and, later on, it became more of a show for teens on up. It was a trailblazer for the mashup of news and entertainment we know today but without the glitz and sensationalism. And, with its people power energy, it foresaw YouTube and citizen journalism. What it did so well was evoke a feeling of flipping through a magazine or exploring randomly. One program would run the gamut from a segment on a marriage between four people living in a Volkswagen van to children interviewing another child playing the role of God to a tour of the program host’s tiny cluttered apartment. With great panache, Marshall Efron assures us that he created his home from a plastic kit that only costs $4.95.

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel

Among recurring segments, there was journalist Studs Terkel moderating a gathering of average citizens discussing current events. The discussion would begin with a somewhat uncertain tone but would steadily gain ground. A construction worker, who seemed all full of hot air, would emerge as more insightful than given credit for. His insistence that he, and his working class and middle class neighbors, should not bear the burden of paying for federal social programs is initially met with scorn by Terkel. But the guy’s argument remains measured. Why don’t those at a much higher level of income pay their fair share? he asks. To that, Terkel nods in agreement.

A marriage between four people living in a Volkswagen van

A marriage between four people living in a Volkswagen van

Much in the same spirit as the magazine Adbusters, here was a program that could be a bit didactic, yet clever, with its social commentary. There’s one segment led by journalist Nicholas von Hoffman that takes aim at advertising commonly found in medical journals and stitches them together into a soap opera. It’s pretty easy given all the seduction used to sell everything from anti-depressants to laxatives. That segment segues to a dramatic piece with Linda Lavin and Rob Leibman. They create their satirical ode to romance which includes reciting advice on love from a teen magazine.

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

What will ultimately strike the viewer is a spirited vision and sincerity. Just listen to the stirring words of Ron Dellums, who had just been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In a montage segment of interviews, his eloquent advocacy for racial harmony remains relevant today. And then there is a segment with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte on the set of “Buck and the Preacher,” a Western with a focus on the black experience. Poitier speaks to black history and how it is part of a bigger picture, that of human history. And he speaks to moving beyond dreams, and nightmares. With determination, and against excruciating odds, an African American would someday become President of the United States.

"Up is Down" animated short

“Up is Down” animated short

“The Great American Dream Machine” wholeheartedly embraced the counterculture just as a new golden era of television was on the horizon. It was to be a heady time for offbeat humor spiked with social commentary. This would include, to varying degrees, such programs as Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” and Martin Mull’s “Fernwood 2 Night.” It is a legacy that was to be carried on by such programs as “The Daily Show,” “This American Life,” and “Saturday Night Live.”

THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM MACHINE is a 4 DVD set brought to you by S’More Entertainment and available at Amazon.

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Filed under Counterculture, Entertainment, pop culture, Television

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