Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Forty Years of Duck Soup

The carpenters and painters have been in to re-do the giant rotating soup can in the front of the DuckHaus Industrial Complex. Cost me a fortune, but it'll be worth it in the long run.... 

Forty years of Duck Soup Productions? 

REALLY?

Well… yes and no. In the sense that I am Duck Soup Productions and Duck Soup Productions is me, then it’s considerably more than forty years. But everything starts somewhere, and for Duck Soup it started in the summer of 1979 when I opened the very first Comic Book Store in the state of Maine. That store was  called Duck Soup.

Most people assume that the name derives from the Marx Brothers movie of that title, and while I neither mind nor discourage the Marx connection, the fact is that the phrase “Duck Soup” pre-dates the Marx Brothers, and that it means exactly the same thing as “Easy-Peasy.” What that has to do with comics is anyone’s guess. 

I was a kid who liked to draw and write stories, and so it was only natural that I started publishing my own comic book that same year, and that I published it under the store neme, or as I called it then “Duck Soup Comixworks.” I suppose the less said about those comics, the better. People were awfully polite about it though. Even the lady who stood in the middle of the store going on and on and on about how bad that comic book was — until she looked at me and realized she was talking to the author. Out of guilt, she ponied up the buck-fifty to buy the comic, and I wasn’t too proud to turn it away.

The second issue was a little better, and the writing was a lot better… but still not good enough to build a business on. And speaking of business — I was a 20 year old kid with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome who didn’t know the first thing about operating a business, much less making that business thrive in challenging times. And at the end of that decade, the comic-book industry was certainly facing challenges — Duck Soup hit at a time when the business was dramatically imploding in a number of ways, not the least of which was the way comics were sold and distributed. After about 1981, the business was never the same again. 

Duck Soup closed business as a storefront, and for a long while it went into hibernation.

I worked in retail for a local chain of bookstores for many years; in my free time I wrote for comics industry trade paper The Comics Buyers’ Guide, and I wrote novels and short stories. Like the first two issues of my comic book, my early efforts were nothing to write home about. But with my second novel I started to get better, and started to place short stories in various non-paying literary journals. One of my stories was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Another was published (for money, even!) in The North American Review. Still, I couldn’t get that one Big Breakthrough that a writer needs to get if they ever hope to make a living out of their work.

Then this thing called The Home Computer happened. I was not an early adopter. Ultimately, it was the software and the creative possibilities that it opened up that caused me to break down and buy my first Mac. Not long after that, we began hearing rumblings about the internet. My friend Bruce Canwell — now associate editor for The Library of American Comics — suggested that a personal website would be a great thing for me. He was more right than any of us know, but it took a few years more for it to come about.

It wasn’t until I discovered Don Simpson’s weekly internet comic strip version of his popular MEGATON MAN character that I really saw the possibilities of the inter webs… and in that moment Duck Soup Productions was well and truly born, or re-born depending upon your point of view. Simpson published a single tier of panels every week, and I determined that, with my backlog of QUIRK (that was my late-70s comic creation) stories, I could do him one (or two) better. And for two years, I did. With QUIRK (a sci-fy parody) and TINSEL*TOWN (a graphic novel about a cartoon fox in Depression-era Hollywood), I ran TWO weekly web comics and never missed a deadline in those two years. In the end, I couldn’t keep up the effort, though, especially with nothing to show for it but a couple of webcomics with the total readership of maybe six people and a cat.

Duck Soup Productions went into hibernation again, and I started drinking. That and caring for and minding the affairs of my mother, who was both aging and ill, took up more and more of my time. I lost a decade in there somewhere.

2010 was my “Tower of Destruction” moment. Those of you who know Tarot will know exactly what I mean. My mother’s death brought about the total dissolution of life as I had lived it for more than thirty years. Everything changed that year, or started to change. To help me cope with it all, I started a blog: and that blog was called simply, “It’s Duck Soup.”

It’s still here, as you can see — and it’s not going anywhere. It will continue to be my main blog for non-tarot-related themes (and even some of those). But in 2013 as a part of my alcoholism recovery I started reading tarot cards again, something I hadn’t done in decades. I started to write fiction again. All these things connected and suddenly I was creating illustrations in the style of Tarot Cards for a novel I was writing. Then the best thing of all happened: Somehow, Carrie Paris — a teacher, designer, reader, entrepreneur and all around Good Person (you can and should find her at www.carrieparis.com) — noticed me, reached out to me, and encouraged me to develop those early illustrations into a full Tarot Deck. 

Making that deck was so good for me, and so much fun, and so eye-opening; and somehow it found a response in the Tarot community; somehow, suddenly, I was doing work that people liked and responded to. No one needed to tell me to grab that bull by the horns and run with it.

Since then I haven’t looked back. I started up “Tarot by Duck Soup” using nothing more than Blogger and an e-commerce plug-in. It was a great way to make a start, but now I’ve outgrown it. That’s why “Tarot by Duck Soup” is re-opening on this new platform, in a bright and shiny new setting. 

So here we are. Forty years of just trying to make it by doing what I love to do has brought Duck Soup Productions to yet another Fresh Start. 

It’s been anything but “easy-peasy” — and only time will tell whether or not it finally has the Right Stuff in the Can. 

Thank you.

— Thorn.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Announcing the Revised & Refined SECOND EDITION of THE ARTHUR RACKHAM ORACLE, now funding at Kickstarter. The original and still the best now aims to deliver New Magic and Better Quality at less than half the price of the original edition!  Please visit the new Kickstarter campaign and consider pre-ordering your copy. Your participation will determine the final appearance of the deck! Visit the campaign for details!

ROOTED IN STORYTELLING TRADITION

This deep and fanciful pack has its own unique symbology and the rich old-world flavor of European fantasy. It is an open-ended divination system not derived from the Tarot or Lenormand, but containing elements of both. Our first priority in the deck’s creation was to treat the artwork with the respect that it deserves. 

Always using the images as a starting point, the oracle grew out of the art, with card meanings that reflected, as nearly as possible, the characteristics inherent in the in the original drawings and the stories that they were meant to illustrate. At no time did we attempt to shoe-horn the art into an existing framework; unlike other decks derived from Rackham’s art, this allowed us to feature the work as it was originally created, without cropping, altering or editing Rackham’s work in any way.
THE ONLY CHANGES MADE TO THE ARTWORK consist of cleaning, brightening and restoring the images to their original lustre.


Thank you!
-- Thorn

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Everything Old is New

In the 40th year of doing … stuff under the name of Duck Soup Productions, Big Changes are happening , both visible and behind the scenes. Tarot by Duck Soup has moved into new, shinier and better-functioning lodgings (although you can enter the new building through the same old address, www.tarotbyducksoup.com), and the Soup Can logo that has appeared on this site in various incarnations has been dusted off and given a much more refined look.

It served me well for about 25 years, even though its imperfections were obvious (to me at least). It was the best that I could manage at the time. But since this is the 40th year that Duck Soup Productions has been around in one form or another, I decided a new and better version was apropos… for one thing, I have better tools now. For another, I know how to use them better. I began by doing a complete re-design of the label in Photoshop, all the way down to and including re-drawing the duck from scratch. No more shaky lines or obvious boo-boos!

Using a vintage soup label as my guide, I filled in the overall label design so that it would be complete all the way around, and gave it a more authentic look. Then in Adobe Dimensions I wrapped it around a three-dimensional object, and the result is something with a lot more versatility and a much less amateurish appearance. What do you think? So you can see the difference, I’ve put it alongside the old version. 

I doubt very much whether historians will look at my stuff and use the logo change to date my output, the way they use changes in the wording of the Disney corporate identity to date Mickey Mouse collectibles (the earliest of which appeared under the “Walt E. Disney” brand, then “Walt Disney Enterprises,” and finally Walt Disney Productions”); still, in the 40th year that I’ve sort-of been doing this Thing, whatever it is, it feels nice and right to me to dust off the old logo and give it a bright, shiny new face.

— Thorn.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Whether Ms. or Captain, Whither Goes Marvel?


I'm pretty much Done with the Marvel Movies, for these reasons:
1) DR. STRANGE was a colossal Missed Opportunity, blowing the whole concept by filling the picture with nothing but Running and Punching.
2) I fell asleep on ANT MAN & THE WASP and what I saw before the sandman came to call did not leave me with any interest in trying again.


3) Disney-owned Marvel fired James Gunn from GUARDIANS III for some tweets that he typed YEARS ago.


4) AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR was a Completely 100 percent unwatchable piece of cinematic crap.


5) Disney is actively doing the same thing to Marvel that they are doing to every "property" that they swallow up in their greedy, drooling maw: draining it of everything that once made it good.


So, I won't be seeing CAPTAIN MARVEL anytime soon: it's already left a bad taste in my mouth because a certain segment of the audience (not to mention the film's star) have used a Super-hero movie as an excuse to shit on men. 


Know this: I have no problem with Carol Danvers being Captain Marvel. I like Carol Danvers. I've liked her since she was MS. MARVEL and her comic was among the first ones I ever collected. I see no reason why she can't be Captain, and think that a movie about her could be fun.
But derailing a superhero movie to make it a platform for Social Justice Warrior polemics and male-bashing, that I'm not cool with. Mind you, I don't know if the movie itself does that, because I haven't seen it and I've already told you the reasons why I won't, which have nothing to do with the wholly faked-up issues of chauvinism that the movie's promotional machine has encouraged.


A lot of the people complaining about the lack of strong women in film and telly weren't around when I was growing up. I grew up with Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel, Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley, Candy Bergen as Murphy Brown, and nobody, but NOBODY likes a strong female lead better than I do. 


But I want the stories to be interesting, and I hate being lectured and talked down to. Chris Chibnall killed DOCTOR WHO not by casting a woman in the role, but by churning out scripts that were nothing but prolonged lectures on such subjects as "Racism is Bad" and "Persecution is Bad" and "Gee, Aren't All Fathers Just Horrible?" 


I don't know about CAPTAIN MARVEL and I don't care.


Instead, I'm waiting impatiently for WONDER WOMAN II.


-- THORN.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

CROOKED WAY TAROT now FUNDING @ KICKSTARTER!


CROOKED WAY TAROT is a gleefully ghoulish, full-on Gothic pack from the creator of TRICK OR TAROT and the ZIRKUS M√ĄGI.

With a heart of coal and an even blacker sense of humor, this is a tarot designed for intense readings year-‘round, by practitioner and novice alike. It is 35% funded in its first week and a half, but your help is still needed to make the deck a reality!

By pre-ordering via Kickstarter, you get a special price on the deck AND help to make it possible.

See all the cards at www.tarotbyducksoup.com, then head over for all the details at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1911920092/crooked-way-gothic-tarot

THANK YOU!!!

-Thorn
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
x

Monday, November 12, 2018

Doctor's Lament


One of the oldest, most cliche plot devices, used time and again when the writers are creatively bankrupt, is to throw a pregnant woman into an already-dangerous scenario, making sure that she has a difficult childbirth under difficult conditions, preferably with a lot of screaming and heavy breathing. This ramps up the danger of the overall situation for Our Heroes, helps to prove that they are Good Guys, and in the end, when the danger has passed, it allows the writers to do that deeply hackneyed “New Life in the Face of Death” thing.

This is a plot device so ancient that it looks and moves a lot like Lon Chaney Jr. in full Mummy make-up. It has been done so often that you could throw Rocky Horror-style screenings of it and watch the audience recite the dialogue themselves while throwing toilet paper at the screen. It has been done so often that today, the only legitimate way to use the device is to parody it. 

And in order for it to work, even as parody, on Doctor Who, the writer has to bring a lot more inventiveness to this old chestnut than just switching ‘round the sexes. The scene, after all, is ripe for parody, especially on a fantasy show where all the rules about childbirth as we know them are neatly severed.

Chris Chibnall didn’t see it that way. His one “joke” (for it was played as such) was to establish that this time, the pregnant woman would be an otherwise-ordinary looking guy. Even with obvious complications from the sex reversal, the scene played out doggedly and reverently just as it has played out on on every other garbage TV show hundreds of times before, with every cliche intact.

It pains to use the word “garbage” in this context, but that is what Chris Chibnall is doing to Doctor Who. Despite all the evidence trickling in that this would be a dreadful season (especially including the “cliffhanger” from last year’s Christmas Special, which saw Chibnall exploding the TARDIS for the umpteenth time, and ejecting The Doctor into freefall for at least the third time — yawn), I had high hopes for this series. I was one of those who welcomed Jodie Whittaker with open arms, because I knew that she was capable of giving us a memorable incarnation of The Doctor if the writing was up to scratch.

And there it is. In order for the show to continue, the writing had to be at at least as good and as inventive as the best of what we were used to under showrunner Steven Moffat. But instead of giving us inventive, interesting, engaging scripts, Chibnall has been focusing his efforts on making a clean sweep of the TARDIS, and making sure that it looks a lot more like contemporary London than it ever has. Okay, that’s fine. But where are the stories?

The plots in these early efforts have been thin as canned chicken broth. So episode 2 was a parody of The Amazing Race: Russell T. Davies parodied modern TV in his first series of Doctor Who, and did it better. Episode 3 plunked us down in the middle of the Rosa Parks story — but did so in a trivial, patronizing and sadly over-simplified manner that approached a serious issue with all the depth of a sappy greetings-card. It is FINE to hold opinions and address modern issues, but for gods sake do it in a way that doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience.

Meanwhile, the new monsters Chibnall promised us have been sad rejects from The Terminator and The Muppet Show, while the new “family” of supporting cast onboard the TARDIS have utterly failed to make us love, or even like them. Attention has been paid to their skin color and social background, but no attention whatever has been paid to actually making these characters come to life.

No doubt the showrunners of Doctor Who have been under pressure to make the program Less White. But when Stephen Moffat introduced a black lesbian sidekick for his old white Doctor, he made sure that her character resonated all up and down the whole series and had a deep impact on how it developed and played out. We loved Bill Potts not only because of the qualities Pearl Mackie brought to her, but because Steven Moffatt put real thought into who she was and how her presence would impact the stories.

In no way has Chris Chibnall put that kind of effort into his iteration of the show. He has populated his ugly redesigned TARDIS with supporting characters that are straight off of the shelf, with bland, generic motivations and nothing to distinguish them as individuals. Turn them sideways and they disappear.

Earlier in the year, Chibnall was all over San Diego proclaiming that this would be a great “jumping-on” point for non-fans of the series. Perhaps he was right: no one can accuse him of catering to the show’s existing audience. But he neglected to remember what one of my friends told me; that a perfect jumping-on point is also a perfect jumping-off point. I paid for this series up-front, so I will faithfully watch all the remaining episodes and hope against hope that they will get better, but at this point in the run my heart is sinking into despair. 

—Thorn

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Small Part of my Movie Summer


After two lousy nights in a row, it's probably fair to say that I wouldn't have been able to stay awake for ANYthing... but the sad fact is that Abbott & Costello In The Foreign Legion never stood a chance. After snoring through two of them, I've come to the realization that these later A & C's leave me cold. Lou's cutesy mugging gets tired awfully quickly, and Bud is too aggressive and mean to be of any use as a straight man. In this case, they're working with an idea that was Old Hat even when they made it (Laurel and Hardy did it earlier and better). I can tell you that there's an awful lot of shouting and an awful lot of running around; none of it kept me awake. I fear that I'll never make it through this set, which I bought only for the monster comedies, especially the great A & C Meet Frankenstein.

Lou was just 53 when he died from chronic heart-related issues. According to the DVD notes, he'd been ill for the better part of a year before this picture was made -- and yet the studio persisted in putting him into Big Physical Comedy gags of almost comic-book violence, most of which was obviously performed by a double. This is NOT an effective way to make use of a comedian with his talents, IMHO. Laurel and Hardy were always inventing, but A & C did the same exact stuff in movie after movie after movie, probably not by choice.


After watching The Shape of Water — which at first blush is nothinig more than a remake of Universal’s The Creature Walks Among Us — I could not understand the warm reception it’s received from critics and audiences alike. It seemed to me to echo all the qualities I found in Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: that is, a marvelous flair for visual fantasy wrapped up in an outer casing of Pure Nastiness, mean-spiritedness and a hard-core love of nasty, sadistic violence. Recently, I had a mental breakthrough about the thing, and now suddenly I "get" it: Water is completely 100 percent a Chick Flick. Note: I do not think this speaks particularly well on The State of Chicks in 2018. Not the least because Fish Man is almost a complete non-entity: he never says a word — which after all, makes him the Perfect Man, right?


Among the other pictures that I have managed to get through this past summer: The Lost City Of Z is... perfectly all right. At least, I didn't fall asleep on it. But it would be better with a more engaging actor in the main role. A great story, though, and beautifully shot.


Technically and visually astonishing, War For The Planet Of The Apes is just An Ape Too Far. I sat through all 140 minutes of the god-damn thing, and I still don't know what the point is. Its soft-headed "good guys vs. bad guys" story and its rampant emotional signaling is anti-ethical to the biting social parody of the original movie series. It turns Planet Of The Apes into a simpering iteration of Finding Nemo. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson enters another in his long line of Sadistic Thug parts. He has the talent to do better, but apparently not the ambition or the brain power. This is what modern cinema has become: the triumph of style over substance, the legacy of Steven Spielberg shameless pandering. Two thumbs down and one big raspberry blown at the screen.


Von Ryan's Express very much wants to be Bridge Over The River Kwai only with Germans in occupied Italy. OK, I'd buy that. Except for one thing: Frank Sinatra is in it. And of course Frankie has to be **THE STAR**, And his method of being the star is to cop an attitude and just be a Completely Arrogant Asshole: which I gather was simply Frankie Playing Himself. Or playing with himself: either applies.


Annie Hall, Rocky and Star Wars all came out within shouting distance of each other, and all became favorites of mine. I never watched a single one of the Rocky sequels, because I could see that they had moved into the territory of pandering to a certain perceived audience. But all these years later, Rocky Balboa works for me in all the ways that The Last Jedi did not. You get the sense of things turning out the way they would in Real Life. You get a character aging with dignity and with his spirit intact. You get the truth that life is not over and the challenges do not end when you pass a certain age: very much unlike what they did to Luke, Han and Leia in that latest godawful Star Wars piece of crap. I had much the same feeling watching Manhattan Murder Mystery recently... it was a delight to see Woody working with Diane Keaton again, and both showing that they still had it well into middle age. So I now think that only middle-aged people should be allowed to make movies about middle aged people, because you can't possibly know what Middle Age is truly about… until you're here.

— Thorn.
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

This Is Then, That Was Now




If the mechanics of Time Travel are ever really discovered, I will lay you odds that they will somehow be connected to music.

This morning an old song that I had not thought of in years came back to me. Carly Simon’s “Forever My Love,” from her album Hotcakes, is a beautiful thing that I used to listen to endlessly back in the days when it was new. I don’t even need to play Carly’s song to hear it complete in my head. That’s how many times I listened to it.

It was so between us
Ain’t no other way
Time has seen us
Faded and gray
What shall I say
That isn’t in the way I act?
That will carry through the years intact?

I hadn’t thought of the song in perhaps more than a decade; but having it materialize again this morning divided my thoughts between worlds that are separated by forty years and uncountable losses. I tried to write a blog post but found it impossible — there were too many tracks to follow, each meandering off into separate directions, with the only real point of connection occurring right at the point where they split, at the point of my memory of Carly’s song.

Perhaps we have access to time travel even now — but time and experience and memory are all so complicated that we get lost. Because when everything is connected, even when you travel in memory there is no way of knowing where you will end up. 

— Thorn.
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