Friday, October 31, 2008

Fun with DVDs: More “Guy” Gorging!

Hmmm… After two posts, you’d think I’d have found a better way to express that by now!

It’s STILL about how I’m choosing to watch FAMILY GUY Volume 6 on DVD. Scroll down for more detail – or click HERE.

I’ve just completed the wonderful 100th Episode Two-Parter (…I guess that would make it Episode 100 AND 101)
Stewie Kills Lois and Lois Kills Stewie.

This is actually a milestone moment for Stewie Griffin, as well as the series, as it appears to finally reconcile (…and transition him from) the evil genius, homicidal, would-be world conqueror that made for such a beautifully bizarre characterization in FAMILY GUY's early seasons with the less evil and more… um, “flamboyant” characterization demonstrated in the seasons since the show’s hiatus.

In other words, we get to see how Stewie “killing Lois and taking over the world” would play out… and then we and the series move on.

But, per the unique way I’ve elected to enjoy the episodes on FAMILY GUY Volume 6, I get to see it play out in TRIPLICATE. That is, in the three ways that each episode is offered: “Original Television Episode”, “DVD Uncensored” and DVD Version with Optional Audio Commentary.

If you’re a fan of FAMILY GUY, you’ve already seen this on TV… multiple times, in fact, due to the writer’s strike shortened season. But, as I keep telling you about almost every TV show on DVD, it’s a completely different experience when you “spin the disc”!

Part Two, in particular, shines in its variant offerings.

Its running time is an unbelievable 26:10 in its “DVD Uncensored” state, vs. 21:47 in its “Original Television Episode” version!

A large portion of this extra footage consists of a musical number performed by Stewie (and an incredible array of background characters and animated dancers) after he takes over the World. He sings on about the “List of Enemies” he is compiling, upon whom he will take revenge… and it is based upon I’ve Got a Little List” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado! In it, he takes shots at everyone and everything on his “sh*t list”, including THE SOPRANOS and rival Sunday Night Animated Sitcom THE SIMPSONS.

This piece – and a magnificent “action score” for the final over-the-top-funny-violent battle (in the White House Oval Office, no less) between Stewie and Lois – is a true musical tour-de-force by composer Ron Jones, formerly of DUCKTALES and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. He even satirized ST:TNG’s season-ending cliffhangers with his cue to end the cliffhanger of Part One.

The Optional Audio Commentary has creator Seth McFarlane discussing the music cues with Jones and actors and crew alike commenting on the incredible action.

If you saw Stewie Kills Lois” / “Lois Kills Stewie on TV, you didn’t see ANYTHING like this! As I’ll say again and again… pop in a DVD, and enjoy TV the way it OUGHT TO BE enjoyed!

"Oh, Mama! Have I been a BAD BOY!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fun with DVDs: Gorging on “The Guy”!

Hmmm… Maybe I should reword that title!

It’s really about how I’m choosing to watch FAMILY GUY on DVD. If you’re the type that gets so into a song, when playing a CD in your car, that you play it over-and-over until you get it out of your system, you’ll understand what follows. If not, come back in a day or two, and I’ll discuss something more interesting.

FAMILY GUY Volume 6 was released October 21, 2008, and due to its being released on the same day as LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 6 and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. THE COMPLETE SERIES, I’ve barely scratched the surface on it – or any of them for that matter.

But, FAMILY GUY, in particular, is configured in such a way that (if you’re REALLY into it – like that hypothetical “car CD song”) you can find yourself watching the same episode THREE TIMES in a row. Here’s how…

A topic for another time (…and we WILL get to it!) is that, for a TV DVD set where I’m very familiar with the property, I tend to watch favorite episodes first – then go back and sit through the rest as time and inclination allows.

So, in the case of
FAMILY GUY Volume 6, I went immediately forMeet the Quagmires”, a hilarious “time-traveling-reality-changing-genre-spoof” where Peter Griffin travels back to 1984, inadvertently undoes his marriage to Lois and, in the process (...depending on one's point of view, of course), improves the World immeasurably!

(Pictured above is the Disc Menu that includes “Meet the Quagmires”)

Yes, it’s the good old “alter-the-past-and-you-alter-the-future” thing! Back to the Future did it… so did Star Trek, The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror, Freakazoid, and even the final two issues of Disney Comics’ MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES in 1991, to name but a few. ...And I love it every time! So, there!

Meet the Quagmires”, as with every episode on the set, can be viewed in three modes:
(1) “DVD Uncensored” (the default), (2) “Original Television Episode”, and (3) DVD Version with Optional Audio Commentary.

My MO is to watch each episode (and I’ve done a few this way by now) in the order of 2-1-3!

My feeling is that “Original Television Episode” mode should be the DEFAULT (as that’s how everyone has seen it, then “DVD Uncensored” to compare it with the original (…additional or omitted things stand out much better if viewed in this order), and finally with Optional Audio Commentary, to learn the “juicy insider secrets” and hear the participants continually laugh at their own brilliant wit. So, here we go…

“Original Television Episode”: Just as good, if not even funnier, than it was originally. And there are no commercials, “Bug” logos, pop-up-ads, and (in tribute to the 1984 setting of the episode) we get an “Eighties Remix” of the FAMILY GUY theme song… over end credits that you can actually read!

“DVD Uncensored”: Milder, more TV-Friendly words are occasionally replaced with stronger words throughout. Brian the Dog’s startled and already salacious reaction to seeing an 18-year-old Lois circa 1984 is replaced by an even more salacious line. An ADDITIONAL GAG is TACKED ON to the end of a scene where a “Prototypical-Eighties-Guy” picks a fight with Brian. It was a laugh-out-loud gag for me… but I can see why it didn’t make the TV Cut.

Again, the only way to really gauge the extent of the differences is to watch the TV version first, followed by the DVD version. When run back-to-back, you’ll notice clearly how much (or, in some cases, how little) has changed.

These examples are typical of the “DVD Uncensored” episodes, and it makes me wonder if at least SOME of this is actually produced with the specific purpose of creating alternate DVD versions of FAMILY GUY episodes, rather than being left off for the usual reason of Network Standards and Practices.

“Optional Audio Commentary”: Members of the cast and crew complement one another in a gigantic love-fest (as is almost always the case with multiple member commentaries) and regale us with tales of “When Production Goes Wrong”.

There are “music clearance issues” such as the band Debarge turning them down on the use of some authentic eighties music.

Also “copyright issues”, in that the JETSONS cameo in the episode was used with permission from Warner Bros. but was mandated to be COMPLETELY REDRAWN in an almost unnoticeable recreation of the original style – rather than reuse old, existing footage that is the exclusive property of WB. TV series geeks like me just eat this stuff up!

The Jetsons, as redrawn for FAMILY GUY!

Aside: One of more of the participants didn’t even know that Warner Bros. now owns Hanna-Barbera and so owns THE JETSONS. So much for animation folks knowing their own (even recent) history.

So, as has now become my practice, I’ve watched (or will watch) each episode of the set THREE WAYS in succession, thus gorging myself on FAMILY GUY!

…There are worse ways to go!

FAMILY GUY Volume 6... Crack it open and experience a "Three-Way Episode Experience" of your own! Tell 'em Brian and Stewie sent you!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pressed Duck: “Donald Goes to Press” on DVD this November!

I’ve vaguely hinted at it, buried in THIS POST and THAT POST, but now it can be told.

The comic strip and comic book career of Donald Duck will be examined in grand detail in “Donald Goes to Press”, a very special DVD Extra Feature to be included in Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 4 (1951-1961).

This final volume of The Chronological Donald series is to be released on November 11, 2008.

Some special and unexpected friends of Donald turn out to celebrate his life in the Four Color Firmament. Gemstone Publications Archival Editor David Gerstein, former Managing Editor of Disney Comics Bob Foster, DC Comics and Warner Bros. artist Bret Blevins, Disney Historian Brian Sibley… and a certain freelance scripter for Gemstone Publications who (AHEM!) just happens to run this Blog!

Rarely is there much advance discussion of such features in the online publicity leading up to such a release but it’s worth mentioning here because there are persons who like the comics far more than they like the cartoons (that would include me) and might buy it for this feature alone. Especially as the series, at this point in its run, is in the period of being dominated by Chip 'n' Dale and Humphrey the Bear – lacking the diversity of subject matter more common in the previous decade.

If you are a strictly a Barks/Rosa fan and/or a Dell to Gemstone comics reader, you might overlook this set if you didn't know what lies within. But, believe me, if the rough cut of the feature I’ve seen is reflective of the finished product… THIS IS WORTH IT!

It covers everything from Donald’s early long-beaked days the in the “Wise Little Hen” Sunday Silly Symphonies and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse strip, up through the present-day Gemstone Era, and is profusely illustrated – thankfully and rightfully overlaying some of our on-camera appearances.

Topics include how Donald’s comic books differed from his animated films, characters specifically created for the comic books, artists of note, how the comic books reflected the times in which they appeared, and the rise of the European publishers.

It will be 13 minutes well spent for anyone who loves Donald Duck comics… and the cartoons ain’t so bad either!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

DVD Review: POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940 -- "The First Great Eight"

This is Part One of my two-part POPEYE DVD Review. As an experiment in Blog Posting Order, it will be posted AFTER Part Two – but will, forever more, COME BEFORE Part Two in its proper reading order as you scroll down through this Blog.

See the original post on “Blog Posting Order
, for an only marginally better understanding of what I’m going on about!
(In other words: Read Part One here and now… then scroll down to read Part Two! Enjoy)

POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940: Released: June 17, 2008. Part One of a Typically Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.
Can you review such a set after just viewing the first eight cartoons? Let’s find out.

What a great series of Popeye cartoons we have to open Disc One of this new set! By 1938, Max and Dave Fleischer have clearly broken with the formula they established early on… and the one that the Famous Paramount studio would do to death in their later Popeye cartoons. You know… Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, triangle, spinach, Sock-o, etc.
In the first EIGHT cartoons on the disc, Bluto – and the formulaic conflict he brings with him – is nowhere in sight, save for a cameo appearance AS A PHOTOGRAPH (!) in the first one. In these eight alone, we have a diversity of cast that would be unimaginable in later years.
Popeye, Olive, Wimpy, Swee’Pea, Eugene the Jeep, Poopdeck Pappy, the Goons… and, of course, the photograph of Bluto that (not unexpectedly) steals the only scene that it’s in!

Before continuing, I should say that, despite my comments above, Bluto is one of the great villains in the history of theatrical animation, and most (if not all) of his appearances on the first POPEYE set (1933-1938) were very enjoyable. But, in times to come, he will wear out his welcome (at least to me) and it is with this knowledge of what lies ahead that I take this position. But, if we go much longer than these first eight without him, I’m going to really start missing the big lug!

Here’s a (relatively, but not completely) Spoiler-Free recap of those first eight cartoons…

01: “I Yam Love Sick”. Enraptured in romance novels, and aided by a huge box of chocolates from Bluto – and that scene-stealing photograph – Olive totally ignores Popeye, to the point where he has to play sick-and-dying to get any attention. “I must be losin’ me sex repeal, or sumpthin’!” mutters the sailor man, in one of those famous Jack Mercer ad-libs where Popeye’s mouth doesn’t move! She takes him to the hospital, where he continues to play almost-dead… until it’s time to operate!
02: “Plumbing is a Pipe”. I’m guessing that, in ye olde-tyme slang, if something was “a pipe”, it was easy or “a cinch”. Olive springs a leak in her kitchen, which she compounds – and Popeye compounds much further. Wimpy is great as the plumber, who keeps forgetting things or has other excuses like Lunch to keep from getting on the job. He gets his later!

03: “The Jeep”. Swee’Pea keeps trying to escape Olive’s very high apartment, by crawling out the window. She thwarts him (Saying that he’s giving her “Populations of the heart!” – on first play it sounds as if she says: “Copulations of the heart!”), until he finally gets out! Popeye shows up with Eugene the Jeep (a “magical dog”!) who can accurately answer any question, disappear and reappear, and track anything with his uncanny abilities to walk through walls, on air, or anywhere else. He tracks the missing Swee’Pea, leading Popeye on a merry – and painful – chase and to a great ending!

This is one of the two best cartoons on the disc so far! Though it is not an origin for “The Jeep”… he’s just there with Popeye, visiting Olive. Oddly, his animated origin occurs in “Popeye Presents Eugene the Jeep”, which is the LAST cartoon on Disc Two – and was apparently produced by the Fleischers about TWO YEARS after this one.

The latter Jeep cartoon contradicts the former, in dealing with Eugene’s origins, but that’s to be expected from Golden Age animation. The presence of the second cartoon, a good explanatory commentary on this cartoon, and an extra feature mini-documentary, “Eugene the Jeep: A Breed of His Own”, detailing the Jeep’s comic strip origins, help ease (…or maybe they ADD TO) the confusion over this odd and wonderful character.

Oh, and try to watch this one and not be reminded of PFLIP, Eega Beeva’s version of a “magical dog”, from Floyd Gottfredson and Bill Walsh’s MICKEY MOUSE comic strip of the late ‘40s – early ‘50s! Especially the story “Pflip’s Strange Power” that was reprinted in WDC&S # 667 (2006). Something tells me that Pflip owes Eugene the Jeep a small debt, at the very least!

04: “Bulldozing the Bull”. Popeye’s in Spain, Mexico, or somewhere that bullfighting is popular. In this unexpectedly superior cartoon he demonstrates the more modern attitude (…and certainly not the prevailing attitude when this cartoon was made!) that the sport of bullfighting – and especially the killing of the bull – is cruelty to animals! Olive is the obligatory seniorita (presaging the sort of role-playing she’d often do in later outings), and a seating mix-up leads to Popeye being a reluctant toreador. Lots of good gags, and a great surprise ending that I will not spoil! Popeye’s steadfast values here left me clapping!

That’s the Popeye I love from the comics, unflagging ethics and all!

05: “Mutiny Ain’t Nice”. One of my general complaints about the POPEYE series is that he isn’t shown often enough to be a SAILOR! Well, here he captains his own cargo sailing ship, with a rough and dangerous crew to boot. Olive falls into a trunk and is brought aboard as they shove off. The crew believes that females are bad luck on a ship and, when they find Olive, they mutiny against Captain Popeye and try to kill Olive. The great thing about this one (…and it’s only a small spoiler in the greater scheme of things) is that Olive finds that she ACTUALLY ENJOYS leading the murderous crew on a wild chase! Popeye, once regaining control, enacts a solution that satisfies everyone – just not the way any of them would like!
06: “Goonland”. The best cartoon on the disc so far – and more of an adventure in the E.C. Segar comic strip tradition than the usual animated comedy. Popeye sails (Yes, he’s a sailor again!) to the mysterious "Goon Island”, to find his lost “Poopdeck Pappy” who left 40 years ago, when Popeye was a baby! Was Pappy animation’s first “deadbeat dad”? The Goons AND Pappy, from the Segar strip, are introduced in this one!

Pappy is a prisoner of the Goons, and wants no part of his son, until the Goons capture Popeye and try to kill him by staking him at the foot of a cliff and dropping a boulder on him. Pappy downs the spinach, which the Goons removed from Popeye, and saves the day. The Goons are dealt with by a remarkable fourth-wall-breaking device that is both extremely clever and looks somewhat out of place at the same time. You judge for yourself. Its unexpected surprise value goes a long way toward selling it, though!

This is a magnificently designed cartoon! Everything on Goon Island is eerie looking… especially for a cartoon of this period! As with the introduction of Eugene the Jeep, a good explanatory commentary on this cartoon, and an extra feature mini-documentary, “Poopdeck Pappy: The Nasty Old Man and the Sea” detail Pappy’s comic strip origins.

07: “A Date to Skate”. With Bluto still among the missing, Popeye convinces a VERY reluctant Olive to roller skate in one of those old roller skating palaces. As expected, Olive soon careens out of control, onto the street, wreaking havoc on the outside world! The Fleischers continue to marvelously play with “The Formula” by having Popeye FORGET TO BRING HIS SPINACH on the skating date! “I must be gettin’ OLD! Don’t tell me I left it HOME!” Don’t worry; he gets some though a device we’ve seen in some other cartoons. And, as when she was pursued by the crew of murderous mutineers, Olive ends up enjoying her near-death-ride for the sheer thrill of it all! This is a take on the usually timid Olive that we seldom saw! I guess THAT’S what Popeye sees in the old scarecrow!
08: “Cops is Always Right”. A funnier than expected cartoon, where Popeye and his little crank-start, puttering car continuously run afoul of a gruff police officer. And he helps Olive with spring cleaning to boot. Popeye comes across a little more ignorant of the law than you’d expect even a one-eyed sailor to be, but it works anyway because the officer is such a good one-shot antagonist.

Alas, as was the Fleischer practice of the time, there are no writing credits on any of these first eight cartoons. Though, story credits begin during the period covered by this DVD set, as the second Jeep cartoon lists a story credit. The lack of credits early-on is a particular shame, as the cartoons discussed in this review comprised a very innovative portion of the series, story-wise. I’d sure love to know who wrote these!

The Fleischer animation is always tops, and Jack Mercer and Mae Questel (though Questel is replaced in some of these) are magnificent as Popeye and Olive – especially with their frequent and outright funny ad-libs! Indeed, at this particular point in the history of animation, they would have been the most entertaining animation voice actors of their time. But, look out for Mel Blanc lurking in the shadows…

So, on the basis of the first eight shorts (…and I have little expectation that this will change over the balance of the set), POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940 is highly recommended by this reviewer!

And… Hey, Bluto? We’ll see ya soon, ol’ pal! ...In fact, just scroll down and read on!

DVD Review: POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940 -- "The Return of Bluto"

This is Part Two of my POPEYE DVD Review. As an experiment in Blog Posting Order, it will be posted AHEAD of Part One – but will, forever more, FOLLOW Part One as you scroll down through this Blog.

(In other words: Look up to read Part One! Enjoy)

POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940: DVD Review Part Two. "The Return of Bluto" DVD Set Released: June 17, 2008.

Yet Another Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.
When last we left Popeye the Sailor Man, I had noted the lack of Bluto appearances in the cartoons that would make up the wonderful DVD collection POPEYE THE SAILOR 1938-1940.

Well, after those first “great eight” shorts discussed in the first part of this review, I can say that “Bluto’s back and (literally) better than ever!”

Apparently, Gus Wickie, the original voice of Bluto died at about the time the Fleischers moved their studio from New York to Miami, and the role of Bluto was downplayed until a replacement voice could be found.

Pinto Colvig, best known as the voice of Goofy, to step into the role. According to the Walt Disney Treasures Goofy DVD collection, Colvig had left Disney about 1940 and had moved over to Fleischer. I’d never realized that he’d taken over Bluto, and had actually wondered what he DID do there, aside from an occasional incidental character.

Now, this is strictly my own opinion, and for others it could vary, but I think Colvig may have made the best Bluto of them all! Colvig’s Bluto is more of a comedic foil, lacking the cruel streak that Gus Wickie had brought to the character – and that Jackson Beck would take to new heights in the later cartoons. An analogy for modern day Disney fans, would be the quality that Jim Cummings presently brings to the character of Pete in contemporary cartoons like “Mickey’s Mountain” and “Mickey’s Cabin”.

In short, he is fun to watch, and he is fun to listen to! You will hear the difference immediately. Among the great Bluto appearances in the collection are…
12: “Wotta Nightmare”. A truly surreal cartoon, where Popeye’s deeply rooted fears about Bluto and Olive manifest themselves in weird and wonderful ways. Even Swee’Pea, Wimpy, and Eugene the Jeep get briefly into the act. Watch out for the “Big Bluto Laughing Face” in this one. And the final scene, after Popeye wakes up, is priceless!

15: “It’s the Natural Thing to Do”. Complaints about the violence in Popeye’s cartoons prompt Olive to coerce Popeye and Bluto into acting like gentlemen. They, and Olive, try – they really do give it a go! But their true nature comes through and the result is inevitable. “Complaints about violence”, in 1939? WOW! This cartoon is DECADES ahead of its time! And this may be Pinto Colvig’s best performance as Bluto!
04: “Stealin’ Ain’t Honest”. Bluto claim jumps Olive’s island gold mine. Oddly, he is far more interested in the GOLD than in Olive. Unlike earlier or later incarnations, where he would have stolen the gold AND near-raped Olive to boot. (That’s part of the difference I mean about Colvig’s Bluto!) Great scene: Bluto digs a shaft, and Popeye digs a shaft all the way under and around Bluto’s only to have their diggings meet!

08: “Nurse Mates”. Olive tasks Popeye and Bluto with caring for Swee’Pea. They approach the job as the great comedic rivals they are at their best! Great scene: Swee’Pea blotches-up his face with a fountain pen. Popeye uses “spot-remover” to wipe the ink blots away, and appears to wash Swee’Pea’s eyes and mouth off as well… until, after a beat, the kid opens his eyes and smiles. Another great scene: Popeye swallows Swee’Pea’s bath soap, and after some effort, blows it (in a bubble) out of his pipe!

Note that I describe Popeye and Bluto here as “great comedic rivals”. That, again, is a large part of what Pinto Colvig (or the writers reacting to Colvig) brought to the character of Bluto, and a uniquely enjoyable aspect of this batch of cartoons.

and the greatest for last! (Yes, there’s a SPOILER for this one! Can’t help it!)

09: "Fightin' Pals" The ultimate in playing with the Popeye and Bluto formula! Bluto is off on an expedition to Africa. Popeye sees him off. They fight – almost playfully (!) on the dock, and Bluto departs. As time passes, Popeye grows to MISS Bluto and the great brawls they’ve had together. Then a radio bulletin declares that the big guy has been reported LOST in Darkest Africa! Popeye is off to save his “pal”!

Popeye works his way through the jungle, fighting various animals – becoming more determined as he grows ever weaker! To the Fleischers’ credit, he encounters ONLY wild animals – and no stereotypical African natives! His mental image of Bluto’s plight grows more and more dire with each agonizing step! Finally, he envisions Bluto’s DEAD BODY, with a hungry roaring LION over it, ready to dine! Yes, really!

In the end, Popeye cannot go another step. He collapses, virtually at the feet of Bluto who is enjoying himself, surrounded by native girls, palm trees and cocoanut milk in abundance. Bluto rushes to the near-dead Popeye’s aid and revives him with a can of spinach that he (Bluto) happens to be carrying for just such an emergency!

BLUTO:Do you feel strong enough?”
POPEYE:I feel swell!”
BLUTO: Well, let’s go…”

And they iris-out fighting, and apparently having the time of their lives!

I’m not quite sure yet, but this might end up being my favorite POPEYE cartoon of all time! This is the way I’D like to picture Popeye and Bluto forevermore – just as I regard the Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd of “Rabbit Seasoning” as my favorite versions of those characters.
Combine these “Bluto Classics” with some other standouts of the collection like “Hello, How Am I?” (Wimpy poses as Popeye to wonderfully absurd effect!) Wimmen is a Myskery”,and Popeye Presents Eugene the Jeep – in addition to those I discussed in Part One – and you have what may be the greatest and most varied collection of Popeye cartoons imaginable! Especially in view of the formulaic stuff that would soon follow!

Other items of interest on this set. The credits for E.C.Segar stop at about the point Segar died. Then, coincidently, WRITING CREDITS began appearing on the cartoons!

Writers credited were George Manuell (also seen on some very early Warner Bros. cartoons), Tedd Pierce (best known for his later WB work), William Turner, Dan Gordon, and Joe Stultz, who enters my own personal “Writer’s Hall of Fame” for the great “Fightin’ Pals”.

The "Ship Doors Opening" goes away for a short while (as of cartoon # 12 on Disc One) and later returns with more modern graphics. While it is gone, a generic title card is used for the credits... but the episode title is superimposed over the opening scene of the cartoon - to GREAT EFFECT!

There a Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoon on the set ("Mechanical Monsters") and a six minute feature on Popeye and Superman - who was the first superhero?

If there IS a negative to this period, it’s that the ad-lib mutterings made so famous by the earlier series of shorts diminish and virtually disappear during this period. But, it’s a small price to pay for the overall enjoyable innovation seen in this grouping!

As much as I may have recommended this set earlier on, I’ve now tripled that recommendation! …And I can’t wait until November 4th to get POPEYE Volume 3.

Thanks, Bluto! We'll see ya in the next DVD volume!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Life Imitates Comics – “Boss’ Day”!

We interrupt our discussion of “Blog Posting Order” (HERE) for a time sensitive matter that just can’t wait!
What with the final presidential debate and the Philadelphia Philles going to the World Series – not to mention the effectiveness (or lack of same) in the order of related serial Blog postings – it becomes easy to overlook the following…
…Today, October 16, 2008, is “Boss’ Day”!

This makes today the perfect day to pick up your copy of Gemstone’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 375 and read the story titled “The Hard-Shelled Sage of Duckburg”. (…with English language script by yours truly!)

Why? Because, at the story’s end, Scrooge McDuck is just as surprised to learn that today is “Boss’ Day” as I was!

I can’t take credit for evoking the notion of Boss’ Day, as it was in the original story by Jens Hansegard. But, one of my many additions was a banner inscription reading…

“Happy Boss’ Day! (…to a Boss who’s Real Boss!)”
Yeah, even I mentally groaned while writing it… but it was intended to be one of those embarrassingly tacky things that you’d find in a card or party supply shop.

So, today, when a co-worker surprised me, by thrusting a “Boss’ Day” card in my direction and asking for an inscription, what do you think I wrote in heartfelt tribute to my Program Director?

“Happy Boss’ Day! (…to a Boss who’s Real Boss!)”
Moral of the story? Never throw ANYTHING away! There’s always another use for it!Happy Boss’ Day!” Over(time) and Out!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Realizations: The (un) Natural Order of Things.

Read anything of two or more parts or chapters in a printed medium and you will read Part One first, followed by Part Two, and so on.

Now, go to your favorite BLOG (…hopefully this one!) and do the same thing.

I’ll wait, but you must promise to come back! …Or, you can just scroll down past the announcement of my UNCLE SCROOGE script and re-read the Four Parts of my 50th Anniversary Tribute to Huckleberry Hound.

Oh… you went to another Blog and came back? (Sigh! …No respect!)

Either way, your first view of the chosen subject WASN’T Part One (or the original post on the subject), was it?

If you did scroll through my “Huck posts”, you came first to PART FOUR, then scrolled back through Parts Three and Two… back to Part One.

The “Last-In-First-Out” nature of Blog posting changes – for all time – your intended order of things. The short period of time that Part One of Huck’s 50th Tribute was the ONLY such post, is the ONLY time that it would have been the first post on the subject that readers will see. And, so is the way of Blog posting.

To the point: Some of the things you will see here are pre-written, or have been written for another purpose. They may be too long to post in one part or chapter – and would read better in segments. This is certainly true of the POPEYE DVD Review that I intend to post here. It consists of TWO PARTS, which were written at different times. Part One covers my earlier, first impressions, and Part Two covers my impressions of much of the balance of the set.

Now, as Blog postings go, I would normally post PART ONE and later post PART TWO – but that would leave PART TWO to be viewed BEFORE PART ONE – even if I link to Part One at the very beginning of my post of Part Two.

Just curious… Is this the way you’d prefer to see posts on the same subject that will have more than one part? Or, if the text is already written and easily segmented, would you prefer to see Part Two posted – and then immediately followed by Part One, so that you get to read Part One FIRST while scrolling through this Blog?

Let me know what you think… Yes, I’m asking for comments, folks!

In the meantime, as an experiment, I’ll post the POPEYE DVD review in two parts – with Part One to be the “Last-In-First-Out” part – so that it will always show first.

Hopefully, once I do this and you see for yourselves a Part One IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWED by Part Two of a subject, it won’t be nearly as confusing as THIS POST is turning out to be… Lemme know!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Latest Gemstone Script: UNCLE SCROOGE # 380.

UNCLE SCROOGE # 380 (Released today: October 08, 2008) contains my latest English language script for Gemstone Publications, which I titled “A Game of One-Cupmanship”.

The original story, as most are today, was produced in Europe by the very talented Kari Korhonen, and it is a sequel to a series of one-page gags by Uncle Scrooge’s creator, Carl Barks, where Scrooge continually finds ways to scam a poor diner owner out of a cup of coffee.

This was actually a fairly famous group of gags that appeared in DELL FOUR COLOR # 386 (Better known as UNCLE SCROOGE # 1), US # 7, US # 10, and US # 12, in the early-to-mid 1950s. All of these gags are also reprinted here, and are deftly scattered throughout the book to set up the issue’s conclusion with “A Game of One-Cupmanship” to marvelous effect! Just another of the many, many things Gemstone and its dedicated editorial staff do so skillfully!

What worked well in the classic one-pagers works even better in this new tale’s ten-page format – as the ante between the two caffeinating-combatants is steadily raised and the frustration level at each defeat for the java merchant brings things to a percolating boil! The escalating gags and superb pacing of Korhonen’s tale takes what Carl Barks did all those years ago to new levels of laughs!

Indeed, this is the outright funniest original story I’ve had to work with since beginning my freelance dialoguing work – and I’ve had some really good ones, particularly from writer Lars Jensen, so the bar is already pretty high! My editor, David Gerstein, told me that I really “…got into the spirit of what Kari was doing!” with a number of additions and twists of my own to add to the fun. Hope you enjoy it!

The issue’s featured story is Don Rosa’sIsland at the Edge of Time” (1993), another superb effort by Rosa which “does right” what the conclusion of the “Bubba Duck Serial” on DUCKTALES did so very wrong! (Watch the DVD, if you don’t know – or don’t remember – what I’m talking about!)

You should buy the book for that alone! But, if you crack a smile at “A Game of One-Cupmanship”, I wouldn’t mind at all! In fact, I might even treat you to a cup of coffee… provided I get it at the price Uncle Scrooge pays! Tough times, you know!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Weird Huck Tales – Part 2 of 2. “Huckleberry Hound: Pioneer Peacemaker”

We conclude our 50th anniversary celebration of Huckleberry Hound with a look at my nominee for the “weirdest” Huck Hound comic book story of them all. From 2006 and The Issue At Hand # 77 comes the following:
The Issue at Hand is: HUCKLEBERRY HOUND # 27 (July, 1965)
Published by Gold Key Comics.

Pioneer Peacemaker” 8 pages. Writer: Unknown. Artist: Pete Alvarado.

In the early days of our great land, pioneer settler Huckbearded, with coonskin cap – is captured by Indians, and eventually forges peace between the Native Americans and settlers by teaching them to resolve their differences by playing marbles! So successful was Peacemaker Huck that he heads further west to ply his trade on a larger scale.
Here’s where the story takes a strange and wonderful turn.
CAPTION:Times were changing fast, and Huck had trouble keeping up…”

Were the times EVER changing! We open with a shot of Huck driving his covered wagon west. The “camera” pulls back to reveal that his covered wagon is on a RAILWAY FLATCAR! He reaches his destination, and attempts to construct a new wooden homestead UNDER A MODERN FREEWAY OVERPASS! Huh?!

A friendly police officer advises him to move on, and he does… finding a LIBRARY, where he reads volume after volume of “history”, thereby “catching up with time”! He tosses his coonskin cap – and removes his fake beard (!), and heads for COLLEGE, where he studies to become an astronaut! Upon graduation he walks, fully qualified, into a rocket base, and blasts off for an unknown planet!

There, he finds plastic bubble-encased log cabins and teepees (!), and is captured by space-helmeted Indians! The wrap is that, after an incredible journey through much of American history, Huck finds himself, once again, making peace – with good old fashioned marbles – between space-suited Indians and newly-arrived-by-rocket settlers!

HUCK:You know somethin’? I think this present future is nothin’ but the past in reverse… or vicey versa!”

Can’t you just hear voice actor supreme Daws Butler delivering that line!
WOW! I thought this story was on the weird side when I read it as a kid, but I REALLY enjoyed its oddball incongruities when revisiting it as an adult! Pioneer days to beyond the Space Age in a mere eight pages and I LOVED Huck’s humorously abrupt transformation from “old” to “modern”!

I’d like to write a story as wonderfully “out-there” as this one someday… and, though I can’t imagine how it could ever happen (…given Huck’s undeserved obscurity and the state of the comic book industry), I’d love a chance to write Huckleberry Hound for comic books! I salute those who were privileged to do so… and I salute Huckleberry Hound – and his creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera – for the last fifty years of fun!

Cover of HUCKLEBERRY HOUND # 27 (…with optional coonskin cap and fake beard removed!) Art by Harvey Eisenberg.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Weird Huck Tales – Part 1 of 2. “Huckleberry Hound for President”

We continue our 50th anniversary celebration of Huckleberry Hound with a look into his comic-books, starting with an unusual book-length tale in which our favorite Hound-of-All-Trades runs for President of the United States! Yes, really! From my column The Issue At Hand # 70, at election time 2004, comes the following:

The Issue at Hand Is: DELL FOUR COLOR # 1141.
32 pages. Writer: Unknown. Cover and Story Art by Harvey Eisenberg.

As the Eisenhower years were rapidly drawing to a close, Dell Comics released this little gem to the nation. At the time, Hanna-Barbera’s Hucklebery Hound was television animation’s greatest rising star – and one of television’s rising stars in general. The first truly successful animated series produced under the budgetary constraints required by the new medium of television, Hucklebery Hound garnered a wide audience of children and adults alike. This was accomplished by a strategic placing of this syndicated program in the “early evening hours”, and a more sophisticated “all-ages” type of humor than the average kiddie-fare of the day. More information on Hucklebery Hound appears in earlier posts HERE and HERE.

To the story: During a severe housing shortage, friend Yogi Bear advises a home-seeking Huck that there will “…soon be a vacancy in the White House!” So, making that sort of major leap in logic that comic characters are wont to do, Yogi decides to conduct a campaign to elect Huck as President of the United States.      
Hmmm… thinking about it, between 1960’s choice of John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Californian Richard Nixon, Huckleberry Hound’s plain and simple southern drawl and folksy values might have resonated with voters at that! It seemed to inexplicably work for George W. Bush, so you never know!

The campaign gets off to a slow start as Huck falls short of evoking the idealized images of past presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The former, by failing to throw a Silver Dollar (…followed rapidly in unsuccessful succession by a half-dollar, quarter, dime, and three nickels!) across the Potomac River, and the latter with his inability to lift a symbolic rail-splitting axe.

However, Huck’s fortunes rise when he turns to the medium of television to deliver his message. After all, it’s not as if he hasn’t “taken TV by storm” before! In a televised appearance arranged by Yogi, the matter of Huck’s past heroism (…Yes, we were talking about “past heroism” BACK THEN, too!) is addressed with a five-page comic-book adaptation of the 1958 Huckleberry Hound cartoon “Freeway Patrol”. The story of Huck’s capture of a fleeing bank robber, while a member of that organization, was apparently enough to swing many of the “swing voters” of the day over to his side.

On the stump, Huck’s views on education are presented in similar fashion, via an adaptation of the 1958 Huckleberry Hound cartoon “Hooky Daze”, in which he um… “doggedly” worked as a truant officer to return a pair of spoiled rich kids to school.

His positions on crime and “sticktoitiveness” (…Yes, that’s how it’s written in the comic!) are presented in original vignettes on pursuing a western outlaw with fellow “Hanna-Barbarian” Quick Draw McGraw, and finding a lost dog in Jellystone Park, respectively.

Finally, on the eve of the election – when it looks as if the “People’s Choice” might not be a “people”, but a dog – Huck decides his heart simply isn’t in it, and makes the following announcement:

“…I couldn’t possibly be president! I don’t know beans about FISHIN’… I can’t play the PIANO… and I don’t care a hoot an’ a howl about GOLF!”

(…Nice references to Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower for a supposed “kids comic”!)

And, with that, he walks away from the most successful dark horse (…or would that be “Blue Hound”?) presidential campaign in history. Seizing the unexpected moment, an opportunistic Yogi decides to take his place as the candidate, launching into an impromptu speech that takes us through the story’s final panel.
How does YOGI BEAR FOR PRESIDENT sound to you folks? I’m an expert fisherman… I can play the piano and I golf in the low eighties. Furthermore, I’m for lower-type taxes and higher-type missiles! [This WAS the Cold War Era, after all!] I promise a CHICKEN IN EVERY POT! In fact, if you vote for me, I’ll even COOK YOUR GOOSE… Blah… Blah… Blah…

Well… I guess we all know how well Yogi did, eh? Sometimes being “Smarter than the Average Bear” just isn’t good enough. Besides, if he REALLY WERE as smart as he claims to be, he would have been branded an “Elitist” by the opposition, rather than the type of Bear “…you’d like to have a picnic basket with”!

One final note on Huck’s comic-book campaign: In 1968, Gold Key Comics (…the successor to Dell Comics) reprinted 1960’s “Huckleberry Hound for President” as HUCKLEBERRY HOUND # 35 (October, 1968), with the “Hooky Daze” flashback sequence cut in favor of advertising and promotional pages.

One interesting note: When Huck makes his exit speech, the “…I don’t know beans about FISHIN’” 1960 reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt is CHANGED to “…I don’t know beans about RANCHIN’”, making it a 1968 reference to Lyndon Johnson instead! I suppose it was a good thing that Ol’ Huck never actually met LBJ, as the former president would almost certainly have picked our favorite hound up painfully by the ears!

Next time, we’ll examine Huck’s short but exceedingly strange journey through American history. Be there, or be “bear”… “Yogi Bear”, that is! Hey, hey, hey!

Like Richard Nixon, Huck tries it again in 1968! Alas, he wasn’t nearly as successful! Cover of HUCKLEBERRY HOUND # 35.

50 Years of Yuks with Huck!

Just below this post, with great thanks to Mark Evanier, we noted the 50th Anniversary of THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW, and linked to Mark’s thoughts on the subject.

His thoughts, as both an industry professional and lifelong fan of the H-B Hound, are, of course, are far better and more accurately expressed than mine. But, as a lifelong fan as well, I now treat (…or would that be “subject”) you to my own view of this truly groundbreaking animated television series, the times during which it was created, and the innovative men behind it.

From my APA/fanzine column The Issue At Hand # 80 March 25th, 2007 – it’s time for Huckleberry Hound

During the heyday of theatrical animation, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created and produced the Tom and Jerry short cartoons for MGM Studios. As that career wound down, the pair found themselves among a small number of pioneers (…which included Rocky and his Friends and Crusader Rabbit producer Jay Ward) who would attempt to make their mark with original animated product created specifically for television.
The success, in the mid to late 1950s, of the Warner Bros., Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Famous Studios, and Terrytoons theatrical shorts on TV created a demand for such product… BUT that product had to be manufactured in considerably less time and with the merest fraction of the cost of its big screen predecessors.

It was at this that Hanna and Barbera excelled and, as a result, almost single handedly turned television animation into a viable industry. While no one would ever confuse them with their more lush theatrical counterparts, the earliest Hanna-Barbera cartoons, within the necessary constraints of limited animation, were well-made and always entertaining, and appealed to a broad audience of children and adults alike.

Though “H-B Enterprises” (…as the credit reads in some early cartoons) launched with Ruff and Reddy, an almost “movie-serial-like” series of animated adventures broken into short, episodic chapters complete with cliffhangers, the fledgling studio would literally make TV history with its second effort… Huckleberry Hound.

Undeservedly obscure today, in 1958, Huckleberry Hound was a tremendous success, and changed the way television would package and present animated product.

From the latter half of the 1950s, thru as late as the mid 1960s, cartoons on television – whether older theatrical shorts or those produced for TV – were generally presented or framed by a genial live host. Every region had its own Bozo the Clown. In New York, we had Captain Jack Mc Carthy (…whose TV stage name inspired a rather unpleasant early Billy Joel song), Officer Joe Bolton, Chuck Mc Cann, Sandy Becker, Sonny Fox, Beachcomber Bill Berry, and Zookeeper Milt Moss. Other local TV markets had such personalities of their own. The last vestige of this staple of TV past can be seen in the character of The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown.

As unlikely as this seems today, perhaps the most radical change brought about by Huckleberry Hound was the elimination of such a host.
In sequences no longer seen to make way for additional commercial time, H-B’s jack-of-all-trades, southern blue-blooded hound presided over his own show, greeting the viewers with a “Hound dog howdy to y’all!” and introducing each segment or component part of the half hour program.

For instance, at the beginning of each show there would be a framing sequence in which, through Huck, we would be introduced to Pixie, Dixie, and Mr. Jinks and Yogi Bear – each being regular weekly features of the program. A similar sequence would close the show, and a brief interaction between Huck and the characters of each feature would directly precede the airing of that feature. Huck might share a brief gag with Yogi Bear, and then invite the audience to stay tuned for Yogi’s upcoming cartoon. Alas, only the cartoons themselves, and not these innovative bits, appear to exist today. Though some of them have surfaced in the 2005 Huckleberry Hound DVD collection!

Hanna-Barbera would repeat this format in its later Quick Draw Mc Graw and Yogi Bear shows, thus proving that the toons could “…do it for themselves”. Jay Ward’s Rocky and his Friends and later Bullwinkle Show would adopt this approach to some extent as well. And, in one of those great instances of things coming full circle, even ABC’s The Bugs Bunny Show, in 1960, would utilize new footage of Bugs introducing Daffy, Tweety, etc. to frame the classic Warner Bros. theatrical shorts which would comprise this series. That footage, last seen in truncated form during the 1980s, has, in a limited way, been “rescued” for the series of Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets.
Airing in many markets, in the early evening timeslots of 6:30 or 7:00 PM, Huckleberry Hound captured a large adult audience and would soon bring about the belief that an animated series could be specifically produced for prime time viewing.

Again, Hanna-Barbera answered the call in 1960 by literally inventing the half hour animated comedy with The Flintstones. In 1964, they would also create the half hour animated adventure in Jonny Quest… though success in that genre was slower in coming, and would not become a mainstay of TV animation until many years later.

Today, as we enjoy such successful prime time animated series as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of the Hill, we must ask ourselves would these series exist if not for the pioneering success of The Flintstones? …And would The Flintstones have come about without the initial success and crossover appeal of Huckleberry Hound?

…I’d tend to think NOT, but I’m a big, biased fan of Huckleberry Hound, and always will be!

Next, we’ll look at Huck in the comic books! ‘Till then, y’all take care o’ yourself, y’ hear!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Hound-Dog Howdy – for Fifty Years!

Animation and comics writer and historian Mark Evanier notes on his Blog that today, October 02, 2008, is the fiftieth anniversary of the debut of THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW!

You can read Mark’s post on this groundbreaking animated series

I’ll try to post more on HUCKLEBERRY HOUND (one of my most favorite television cartoons) soon.

For now, here's HUCK and the other star he launched, YOGI BEAR, on a Gold Key Comics cover.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rank Has Its Privileges – Even at Best Buy!

As I continue to follow the amazing TV series LOST on DVD, and I move into Season Three, the latest surprise twist occurs not between Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and The Others… but between the DVD’s manufacturers, Best Buy, and myself.

To properly frame what is to come, here’s something I wrote in The Issue At Hand # 79, in early 2007, regarding DVD set flaws and retailer return policies.

“…Annoyingly often, I find myself returning a DVD season box set to the retailer for skips, frame-freeze, picture degradation, and other imperfections in this otherwise “perfect” medium.

“I’ve yet to have an unsatisfactory situation when returning a DVD set to a retailer, but I’ve been lucky. Lucky, insofar as the flaws have revealed themselves during the first few days or weeks of my owning the set! That is, within the retailer’s
thirty-day window
for returns!

“As huge an item as the DVD boxed set has become for retailers, I feel it’s past time for them to modify their return policy on this type of item. A regular movie DVD might take two hours or so of your time to watch, but a TV series set is the equivalent of AN ENTIRE SEASON’S worth of shows! As such, if one lives even a marginally “healthy, normal life”, it could easily take more than the ordained thirty days for a manufacturer’s flaw to reveal itself. I have certain sets from 2004-2005 which I’ve yet to find the time to view in their entirety. If I discover such a flaw, I’m probably out of luck.

“As a result, I often resort to a “flurry-watching” of new DVD sets during the first few days or weeks of purchase. While this HAS revealed the occasional flaw in a timely fashion, I also sacrifice some of the enjoyment of absorbing them at a more leisurely, relaxed pace.”

Back to today… Upon opening Season Three’s box set, Disc Three flew out at me and dropped to the floor, because the “plastic holder thingee that you snap a disc into” that would hold it in place was missing a piece.

The disc did not seem scratched or damaged, so I shrugged, inserted Disc One, and continued to be enthralled by the world of The Others, which seems, so far, to be the focus of this Season (…as The Island was the focus of Season One and The Hatch, was the focus of Season Two).

Now, I’ve made a point of avoiding the Optional Audio Commentaries for reasons made clear
HERE, but decided to risk exposure to at least the start of the commentary for the first Season Three episode… and the Audio Commentary did not play. Well, okay then… two flaws but I bought these sets just over 30 days ago, and maybe I’ll just live with it.

Then, just for the hell of it, I tried the Audio Commentary on Disc Two and it did not play either. It can be assumed that all the AC tracks for this particular set are unable to play.

Still, it was past the required time… BUT, I soon realized, not for me! As a member of Best Buy Reward Zone Silver (A status I just recently achieved.) MY “return window” is 45 days, so back I went! Easy return, no questions asked. I could tell this new set was from a different (later) batch because it lacked a certain enclosed promotional flyer that came with my original set.

Sure enough, all discs are secure, and the two Audio Commentaries in question (…well, at least the first few minutes of them – have to avoid those nasty spoilers, you know!) play as they should.
Digression: Since preparing this text, I’ve found that, in my main DVD player, the Audio Commentaries play only when audio is set to one of three different English Dolby audio settings. They play fine on my secondary player and my computer, which do not offer the unnecessarily wide range of Dolby sound options. The Season One and Two sets do not function this way, so this seems to be a difference in the way the recording was prepared by the manufacturer. And so, in true LOST fashion, even a manufacturer’s flaw is never quite what it appears to be! Has this been so for anyone else reading this?

Either way, it appeared to be a flaw (and by my definition IS a flaw, because it is both unexplained and inconsistent with previous sets in the series) – just not necessarily a flaw that is resolved by an exchange. … But the plastic thingee was still broken, so it still needed to go!
End of Digression.
If there IS a point to all this, and by now even I’M not completely certain, it would be that, plastic thingee flaws notwithstanding, 30 days is just not enough time to discover all the hidden dangers lurking within a TV Season DVD set.

…And right after we get to fixing the economy, health care, and toxic partisanship in politics, we should get right on that!