Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Tarot of Mister Punch

Click to enlarge.

My next Tarot project, The Tragically Comic or Comically Tragic Tarot of Mister Punch, is really very nearly completed. In fact I'm just waiting for the printed proof to arrive. My target on-sale date for this May 2nd. It's been a lot of great fun to make, and I hope it will be fun and informative to use. You can see this and all my tarot projects, including lots of boring written bits on how the decks came to be, at my tarot website, And this isn't the end, by any means! Stay tuned, Mystic Ones!

-- Frede.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The First Ten Minutes

I’ve now seen, at long last, the first ten minutes of Peter Jackson’s first movie culled from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and some of his surrounding writings; especially the Appendices attached to The Lord of The Rings.

Why only ten minutes of the first film? Because I’m saving the rest of the movie trilogy for the first week of May, when my Dad and his wife come to visit from Out West. It’s one of the few movie-type-thangs that the three of us share an interest in, and it was the chance for us all to watch it for the first time, together, that justified in my mind the expense of getting in the digital HD versions of all three movies.

Having gotten the damn things in, I just couldn’t resist peeking. It’s only human — and Hobbit — nature. 

My first impressions are as complicated as you might expect, if you know me. The movie has the feel of a terrific theme-park ride, and is a rich and vivid imagining of Tolkien’s universe as a whole; but as an adaptation of Tolkien’s little novel, his children’s tale about an awakening, Jackson’s Hobbit does real violence to the source material.

Tolkien’s novel starts out in a hole in the ground, and that’s a big part of the whole point. Mr. Bilbo Baggins is a provincial type, living with blinders on. All he knows of the world is what is in front of him: his village and his hole in the ground. Then, one fateful day, Something Happens. Something happens that makes Mr. Baggins suddenly realize that… there may be more to the world than he previously imagined. 

Therein lies the whole point, the entire purpose of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He is telling you, the reader, to take off your blinders and climb out of your hole and look, just look at all the wonders out there that exist in the world. 

The rest of the story is just that: a little story that opens up nicely to reveal the only other part of Tolkien’s overall intent, which is to make the point that actions have consequences, and consequences reverberate outward.

We start in a hole in the ground, we open up as people and we see that if we are not careful, even in our isolation, our actions can have unintended consequences — consequences that future generations will have to bear. This is almost the opposite of what every insipid modern Tolkien-inspired fantasy tries to tell us, and something that bears more consideration.

Well, Peter Jackson chucks all that right out the window. He opens his telling of the story in the outer world, and spends the first ten minutes or so revealing the entire recent history of the dwarven race, providing us with backstory details that we are not supposed to have until, if you are following Tolkien, much later on in the narrative. 

And it is gorgeous. Jaw-dropping. This is what Peter Jackson does better than anyone and if you don’t think to yourself “WOW — WOW-ee-WOWW” in the first ten minutes of the picture than something must be wrong with your sense of wonder. It is, it must be admitted, a glorious visualization of Middle-Earth history, and a smashingly dramatic opening to a movie trilogy. Really, it is. I mean — you have to give Jackson that. Entertaining? Absolutely, one hundred percent.

Is it Tolkien’s The Hobbit? Ehm, no… and not even close. There is a huge philosophical divide between this movie Hobbit and the book, and one doubts that Tolkien would be happy with it. My tattered old paperback copy of The Hobbit bears the tagline “A Prelude to The Lord of The Rings” — even though it wasn’t written as such, but as a stand-alone story. Jackson’s movie is clearly designed not to be a prelude to anything. Instead, it is a follow-up, and an expansion upon, the movie trilogy.

I suppose that there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But those of us who just wanted a clean adaptation of Tolkien’s novel that we could watch before a screening of the movie trilogy are still going to have to settle on the animated Rankin-Bass version. 

— Frede.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Post Haste

My first email campaign is flying out even as I type this. Those of you not on my mailing list can ogle the thing here:

Monday, April 6, 2015

Goodnight, Miss Farnaby

I'm very sad to learn, two months after the fact, of the Geraldine McEwan's death. I adored this woman. She was Miss Farnaby in Mulberry (a lovely short dramady series co-starring Karl Howman as the mysterious title character); she was deeply disturbing as Sister Bridget in The Magdeline Sisters, she was the captivating Lucia in two series of Mapp & Lucia, she was definitive Jean Brodie, she had a theatrical career spanning more than 40 years. She even voiced a character in Wallace & Gromit. It was the twinkle in her eyes and the suggestion of hidden depths that made her, by far, the most interesting Miss Marple. And so another great tree has fallen: and the world is diminished once again. Goodnight, Miss McEwan. 


Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Neglectful Post

I’ve been neglecting the blog for a while now, but don’t think I haven’t been busy, although in different areas. Writing has taken a back seat to design, with the results to be seen at my brand-new dot com address, . There’s a lot to see there right now, and more coming soon as Spring unfolds. If you like that sort of thing (and it seems that lots of people do, although some are reluctant to admit it), why not hop over there right now and take a gander — or even a duck.

Some might say I’ve been neglectful (or at least slow as molasses) on the pop-cultural front as well — I’ve only just finished, as of last night, watching Series 8 of the the revived Doctor Who.

It was a problematic season for me, and in a way I’m glad that I split it into two halves, although I did it out of spite. Six episodes into the fall run I was feeling terribly fed-up and frustrated by the thing, and could no longer justify paying DirecTV $68 a month just for Doctor Who, especially when I knew very damn well that I would be buying the whole series on DVD for less than one month’s satellite cost. The problem, as I saw it then, was that head writer Stephen Moffatt had shifted the emphasis of the show too much onto the companion, making incoming Doctor Peter Capaldi a supporting player on his own show and turning Doctor Who into The Jenna Coleman Show. Even now, I don’t think I was wrong; but Moffat’s ambitious plan for the season culminated in a deep and emotional two-part series finale that at least justifies what came before, while beginning to shift the emphasis back where it belongs.

The Companion can be a tough balancing act. You don’t want them to be a cypher, a plot tool — just someone to get into trouble or to ask The Doctor Pointed Questions so that he can explain the plot. You want them to have a personality and a story of their own. But you don’t want to go too far in that direction, to the point where the Companion takes over the show; and you especially don’t want to do that in a season where you’ve got a new Doctor just coming in to establish himself.

So, I still think that large swaths of this season were ill-advised, and a lot of my earlier criticisms (that Danny Pink was a 100 percent contrived character, created strictly to be killed off, and that Clara’s professed “love” for this character was artificial and unconvincing at best) are legitimate. But with the season now completed and Moffat’s “Master” Plan played out, one begins to understand his reasoning and forgive a little. His gambit for series eight would have been better off saved for next season, with Capaldi established, but we can’t change it now. All we can do is enjoy the season’s highlights, especially including the finale, and try not to think about its worst moments, especially including the lamentable “Caretaker” episode, which all by itself caused me to pull the plug on my TV provider!

Peter Capaldi was born to play The Doctor. He brings authority and love to the part; and if Matt Smith’s youthful exuberance is gone, that’s as it should be and part of the great contrast. Capaldi’s Doctor has taken more emotional hits, and feels the weight of them; still his delight in discovery and his rebellious nature comes shining through in radiant doses. One senses that his is the definitive Doctor for the revived series, even if we don’t (and we shouldn’t) lose our affection for his predecessors. It’s my great hope that Capaldi will stick with the character for some time to come, and my great fear that he won’t.

Meanwhile — regenerating The Master into a female form was a ballsy move, one that adds a little discomfort to the part; and yet I can imagine no one playing the character to greater perfection than Michelle Gomez. Certainly she has got the spirit of the part nailed down much more accurately than the really exceedingly annoying John Simm ever did: and dressing her up as an Evil Mary Poppins is a sly stroke of genius. I’m very, very glad to learn that she will be back in series nine.

So, in summing up: a problematic but ultimately enjoyable first season for Capaldi, with all the problems centered around Jenna Coleman’s character. Throwing Clara into the Doctor’s time stream was one of Moffat’s more brilliant ideas in series seven, although one that came with issues that were obvious even at the time. Those issues played out all through series eight, to its detriment. The series finale and then the excellent Christmas special came along and mended up some of those issues; let’s hope that trend continues in series 9. Let’s hope especially that Moffatt finally settles Clara Oswald back into the supporting role, where she belongs, and allows Capaldi to shine in all his mastery and finesse.

— Frede.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tarot of the Zirkus Arrives!

Back in the glory days of Marvel Comics, it was not uncommon for Stan Lee to add an item to the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page whenever Marvel or one of its characters made a splash in the Mainstream Media. My, how things have changed: Marvel is now owned by Disney and *IS* the Mainstream Media! 

But the '60s were a different planet, and Stan was justifiably proud whenever Marvel was, say, referenced in a movie in some way, or featured in mainstream mags like Time, Life, or The New Yorker.

So it pleases me now to be able to do the same thing, and mention that My TAROT OF THE ZIRKUS MÄGI received front cover mention and an eight-page spread inside the latest issue of SOMERSET DIGITAL STUDIO magazine! Good Things have a habit of wearing off fast, so I'm crowing about it while I can. 

Here are some snaps from the interior of the magazine. Click on them to enlarge.


I wasn't just whistling Dixie when I made this deck. I wanted it to be THE deck: a great-looking, working deck that would attract reader and novice alike. You can find it right here:

Meanwhile, links to all all of my oracle deck projects are gathered in one convenient place:

Thanks to the editors at Somerset, and thanks to you all for helping to make this the happiest creative work of my career -- so far!

-- Frede.

Monday, February 23, 2015

An Independent View of The Zirkus

Rach Jardine, the UK's very own Tarot Ninja, just posted this review of my TAROT OF THE ZIRKUS MÄGI! Thank you very much, Missus! She has some nice things to say, and Anglophile that I am I could personally listen to her say them all day long!

In addition to her work as a tarot professional, Rach does the most amazing face painting... and she made the bag that you'll see in the video above. Visit her at her own site, right here:

-- Frede

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dreams in The Bat House

In the early ‘80s Hollywood was beginning to forget how to dream; and at the same time, it was only just beginning to learn the language of the fantasy film.

Fantasy as we know it is a product of other media: books, comics, pulp magazines: a combination of the written word and art. With a number of exceptions that can be counted on one hand, the great works of Science Fiction and Fantasy were not to be found on the silver screen.

On the other hand, the movies early on perfected a kind of wakeful dreaming that was beyond the power of the written word: Carl Dreyer and F.W. Murnau were among its earliest practitioners, and the age of the silents was its greatest era, but all the great filmmakers up to and including Woody Allen knew how to weave their own little dream worlds around viewers. Internal logic is the only logic that matters: up until the early ‘80s it was possible to walk out of a theater and experience the same feeling as waking up.

George Lucas changed all that; computers changed all that; Hollywood’s realization that money could be made from straight-faced adaptations of comics and SF books changed all that, and now the movies’ stock in trade lies not in dreamtime, but in adapting the more concrete and literal fantasies of the written word.

Coming in 1984 as it did, Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape attempts, more or less entertainingly, to combine Dream Reality with Literary Fantasy. It ultimately fails because it is thoroughly of its time, providing too little in the way of dream, too much in the way of ‘80s storytelling tropes, and what is today a stunted sense of adventure.

Though Christopher Plummer and especially Max Von Sydow, he of Bergman dream/reality, are on hand to lend their gravity to the thing, it begins at a disadvantage with the casting of Dennis Quaid as the hero. Quaid has only two expressions: “Smirking” and “Trying to Look Serious.” True, this gives him two more expressions than Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio combined, but it’s not enough to make for an interesting lead character. Meanwhile, Kate Capshaw appears here all done up and looking just like an eighties porn star ... and serving much of the same function, though she gets to keep her clothes on. Dreamscape is not, to put it mildly, a bright and shining moment in the history of feminism.

By today’s standards, the structure of the movie is almost painfully expository. A quarter of the runtime is spent convincing the hero to do what we all know he’s going to end up doing anyway; another third is spent explaining what’s about to happen in the final third. A government conspiracy is thrown in just because Government Conspiracies were all the rage then: all of this dates the movie painfully, because modern audiences already know and accept the things that Dreamscape laboriously spells out. It’s not a bad picture: but more so than movies that were made decades earlier, time has not been kind to it.

It would be nice to compare Dreamscape with Christopher Nolan's Inception, which is, on the face of it, virtually a remake of the earlier film. Alas, Nolan’s picture stars the egregious Mr. DiCaprio, and my own personal code of honor forbids that I waste even a single minute of my life or a dime of my money on anything with him in it.

Still, Inception allows me to mention Nolan, and that makes for a slick transition to the other big movie for this week, The Dark Knight Ruses, I mean RISES. Here we have a movie that genuinely tries to combine old-style Movie Dreamery with New-Style Computer-Generated Funnybook splicers, and fails because it hates itself.

I’m glad that the name “Batman” doesn’t appear in the title, because as it happens Batman barely appears in the movie. The picture would be more aptly titled The Gimp-Man Rises. As the movie opens, neither Batman nor Bruce Wayne have been seen in eight years (and still the brilliant Commissioner Gordon doesn’t put two and two together). Wayne keeps himself locked in a wing of stately Wayne Manor (locked from the outside, oddly enough), and is even now incapable of moving, thinking, speaking or feeling without going “Ouch. Poor Me. Ow. I’m Hurting. Ouch Owie-owwitch!”

The front of the villainous forces this time around is a character called “Bane” — but comic book readers should be aware that this is not even remotely the Bane character that they are familiar with, and you have to wonder — if The Brothers Nolan had to change the character so drastically from the source material, why didn’t they pick a more interesting villain from Batman’s huge Rogue’s Gallery? The reason seems to have been that they wanted to use the specific “iconic” image of the muscle-bound wrestler lifting Batman overhead and then breaking his back — although this was a bad idea in the comics that nearly breaks Nolan’s movie.

Here’s the thing: the comic-book version of Bane pumped a kind of venom into his system to make himself all bloated and muscle-bound; this venom also had the Marvelous Magical Side Effect of Making Batman Stupid. Whenever Bane appeared, Batman simply forgot how to think: the only exception to this being a couple of marvelous episodes of Batman: The Animated Series in which writer Paul Dini effectively took the comics creators over his knee and gave them a damn good spanking.

The “let’s make Batman a Dumb-Ass” elements of Bane’s comic book appearances are about the only bits of Bane that Nolan held onto. In The Dork Knight Rises, (oops, I mean Dark) we have a plot that would be over in five minutes if Bruce Wayne had even two brain cells to rub together. Allow him to think, even for a nanosecond, and POW! The movie is over in the first act and Nolan doesn’t get to do all the apocalyptic end-of-the-world things that he seems to get off on.

But then, there are reminders all through the picture that Nolan hates making Batman movies and would rather be skydiving. In the final third, with the prisoners of Gotham having once again taken over the island (for the second time in three movies — sheesh, can’t these guys think of any other Nefarious Plot?), The Scarecrow appears as a circuit judge condemning the Good Folks of Gotham to a death worse than fate. Except that it isn’t the Scarecrow, it’s “ a cameo from the guy who played Jonathan Crane in the first movie.” No names are given and at no point does Crane even attempt to use his famous Fear Gas on the folks in the dock before him. At the very least, if this was a real Batman movie, Crane should have put his mask on as he pronounces sentence. But no. That would be, like, a comic book, you know, and Nolan will have no part of that, or as little of it as possible.

But then the ending comes around and turns everything on its head by pointing out how stupid much of the movie’s audience is. Shortly after its premiere, fanboys were online everywhere expressing mystification over the ending. “What did the ending mean?  Was Alfred dreaming? I don’t understand!

Well, no, you dumb fucks. The ending is as pedantic and literal as anything I’ve seen in any Batman movie, ever. It’s not open to interpretation. It means what it shows and it shows what it means. Pay attention. Or has the Bane venom had its effect on you as well?

— Frede

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Black Is Black (I Want My Characters Back)

Don't tell me that I'm a bigot because I believe in my fictional characters as I believe in people. 

It would be wrong to cast a white actor to play Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Cowboy Curtis or T’Challa, The Black Panther -- and what Hollywood is getting up to now is just as wrong.

If you want to cast Idris Elba as a British Secret Service Agent who carries double-0 status and is MI-5's current 007, by all means do so. I would go to see that. But don't call him James Bond, because he won't be James Bond. Give the character his own name, his own history, his own personality, and I'm with you all the way.

You want to cast a black actor as The Human Torch in a Fantastic Four movie, by all means do so. There's been more than one Human Torch in the comics, and one of them was an android. Just don't call him Johnny Storm, because he won't be Johnny Storm. Give him his own name, his own history, his own personality, and I'm with you all the way.

Samuel L Jackson has been playing the head honcho of S.H.I.E.L.D. in all the Marvel movies, and I'm fine with that — he's got the gravitas plus some. But they shouldn't oughtta be calling him Nick Fury, 'cuz he's not playing Nick Fury. Fury’s history spans from leading the Howling Commandos in WW2 to becoming the head of SHIELD in the swingin’ ’sixties. You can’t shoehorn Jackson into that history, and they haven’t tried. The character in the movies has a name and an eyepatch in common with Nick Fury… and that’s all. 

There's a right way and a wrong way to integrate Pop Culture. If you do it right, it's the right thing to do. But what Hollywood is doing with these casting choices is nothing less than slathering blackface make-up on characters who aren't black. It's APPEASEMENT, not integration. At best, it's Lazy. At worst, it's Hollywood's continuation of the Minstrel Show.

— Frede.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A New Victorian Tarot

Work on The Marvelous Oracle of Oz is completed, and I expect that deck to become available for sale sometime next week. In the meantime, in-betweentime, I've begun work on my next great oracle deck project: This will be a full Tarot deck in the Marseilles style, with a Victorian Punch & Judy theme. 

The new mini-site for The Tragically Comic or Comically Tragic Tarot of Mister Punch is already online, and two card designs have been posted to date. I expect maybe two more by the end of the week.

If this sort of thing interests you, be sure to check out my Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi, available now it its own mini-site. Even better, you can find links to all my growing line of Tarot and Oracle decks at my dedicated Tarot site right here. Bookmark it -- because all my card projects will be available there, and you can bet that I'll have an interesting announcement or two posting there sometime in the coming months.

Thanks to all who have made this Tarot Journey so interesting and fulfilling!

-- Frede.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Marvel Soup

If Marvel Studios had a specific intent for Guardians of The Galaxy — I mean, other than making another hit movie that would rake in van-loads of money — it must have been this: to specifically demonstrate that the Marvel Universe runs deep, contains an almost bottomless well of characters, and that any or all of these “second and third string” characters, although unknown by the general public, are more than capable of shouldering movies that the general public will still flock to see.

In other words, Guardians of the Galaxy makes a statement: “We’re not just Spider-Man and The Hulk and Iron Man and Captain America. We have so many movie-worthy properties that it will make your head spin.”

To that end, Guardians pulls out characters from the whole length and breadth of the Marvel Universe, from its beginnings in the ‘50s as a publisher of B-Movie style SF monster stories (where the Guardian “Groot” has his origins) to the refined Kirby oddball-isms of the ‘60s, the ’70s “Cosmic Period’ driven by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, and on to the endless Revisionism of the ‘80s and beyond. This first (we assume) Guardians movie is not faithful in detail to any of the group’s iterations that I ever read about in the comics; still it is quite faithful to their spirit — and by throwing vast hunks of the Marvel Universe into a blender and onto the screen, the filmmakers are essentially saying, “As big as this is, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! We are just getting started.”

This is pure showmanship on a grand scale: P.T. Barnum meets Stan Lee meets Walt Disney. If it’s annoying on certain levels (and it is), the annoyance is drowned under skillfully manipulated excess.

For someone like me, deeply steeped in Marvel Comics and their whole Universe from the early ’60s all the way through the mid-’80s, but who has not read a single new Marvel comic book in going on thirty years, this Guardians of the Galaxy is confusing and disorienting in a way that it probably is not for the average viewer. Because I’m not just seeing the movie that’s in front of me (which is complicated enough): I’m seeing twenty-five years of Marvel history essentially ripped out of its original context and re-fitted into a densely-compacted new form. 

I can’t just watch the plot unfold. My brain cannot stop deconstructing what I am seeing: “Oh, this bit’s from 1979, and that bit’s from 1968, and this here is from the early eighties… why are the Kree angry at the Nova Corps? Whoops, what are The Eternals doing here? Why is Ronan the Accuser answering to Thanos — two characters that never met in the comics?

It’s like eating a plate of leftovers: your brain can’t stop trying to process where each bit originally came from before it was blended into this… new thing. Someone who never ate the original meals is free to enjoy the new dish (or not) in a way that you can’t.

That said — Guardians of the Galaxy is undeniably a great ride, and undeniably Marvel. It builds on one of my favorite movie tropes, the creation of a family from deeply disparate elements but with bonds that run deeper than blood. It returns the space opera to a world of light-heartedness and pop-culture brightness that has been bled out of it by people like George Lucas and Ridley Scott. Although Deeply Calculated in the manner of all modern Hollywood Blockbusters, it does have a freshness and a lightness of touch.

I just wish I could tell you what’s happening in the plot. I’m still trying to piece together the bits that make it up.

By comparison, X-Men: Days of Future Past confused a lot of people who have never read the comics that it is specifically adapted from, whereas I found it by far to be the more easily digestible of the two movies. It is as faithful to the specific story it is adapted from as it could possibly be, given the ways that the film franchise has diverged from the comics. Watching the movie, I am entertained without having the sense of feeling my brain explode. 

The first, original X-Men movie, all those years ago, was and remains a high water-mark of the genre simply for proving, as we all previously thought impossible, that a picture devoted to a group of superheroes could be made to work when it took itself and its audience seriously. Its sequels haven’t had the impact, in part because the barrier had been broken down: they could not have the spectacular impact on audiences that the first one did, because the impact had already been made. The best they could do was sustain, and in greater and lesser measure, sustain is what all the sequels have done. 

Days of Future Past is no different, except that with the franchise running out of steam, they needed a story that did rather more than maintain the status quo. It was a gutsy move to make this picture, but it was a move that needed to be made. To a large extent it pays off: but I can’t help but wonder (and even hope) that this is where the franchise ends. Director Brian Singer has skillfully shaped this as a period at the end of the sentence. When seen as a finale, it is a spectacular and pleasing one; but they have nowhere to go from here.

Anyone who knows anything about these Marvel movies knows that a real fan must sit through the whole final credits sequence (sometimes as long as ten minutes) in order to view a Special Bonus Scene that always closes out the picture. Guardians of the Galaxy has my favorite of these so far.

I was dismayed to go online and find so many people who didn’t get it: so many people who never heard of Howard the Duck. Just one more example of how Young People of every generation are forced to live in an increasingly ignorant and stupid world.

I won’t explain the character or give its history here. Howard the Duck was the reason I started reading comics in the first place. On returning to Maine from a visit to my grandparents in Minnesota, two things were waiting for me: an issue of The New Yorker which included, in its “Talk of the Town” section, a brief, impressed and impressive piece about Howard the Duck, and a catalog from the Supersnipe Comics Shop in New York City. Those two things combined to explode my brain and change my life. 

I could go on and on about Howard the Duck, the memories of those days, the almost mystical experiences I had in New York, and the group of friends that coalesced around comics and Duck Soup, friends who are friends to this day. 

So I was thrilled to see the sudden re-appearance of Howard the Duck on screen at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy — looking just as Val Mayerick drew him, and sounding just as he should. I cannot help but think — I cannot help but hope. Does this mean a new (and better realized) Howard the Duck movie is in our future? I don’t dare ask. 

But with all that it implies, and the opportunity it takes to recognize the late Steve Gerber (who wrote a Guardians story or two in his day) it makes for a wonderful moment, a kind of Time Bubble for me, and the perfect ending to a movie that’s essentially a Reader’s Digest Condensed Novel version of an entire subset in the once-great Marvel Universe.

— Frede.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Duck Soup Brings Home the Bacon!

Just like Peter Pan, I gotta crow: My TAROT OF THE ZIRKUS MÄGI was just voted Self-published Deck of the Year in the 2014 Tarosophy Awards, voted by Tarot Professionals. 

Additionally, it's going to be featured in the next issue of Somerset Digital Studio, available at better newsstands and art stores nationwide.

Fewer then 230 copies of the deck remain, and those aren't going to last forever. If there's a Duck Soup Production I'm proudest of, it's this. View all the cards, read the story behind the deck, and get your hot little hands on a copy right here:

-- Frede.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Shot from the Past

Probably most Normal People would have thrown these out when they made a move as big as I did in the winter of 2010-11. Not me. I kept them all. I keep little stacks of them in various places around the house, and a big stack in the studio cupboard. In a pinch, if nothing else is available, I can jot a note down on the back, but I don't like to do that. I just like having these cards around. 

After we lived on Edgcumbe Road, we lived in four other houses, three of them halfway across the country. Mom always kept these cards long after their usefulness had ended. I don't know why she did that, but I won't throw them out now.

Although I was about two years old, at most, when my mother had these cards made, I remember the day that they came in, and I remember the evening when the printer man came to the house to discuss the design with her.

I remember so much about those years when I was two or three, remember it visually, and yet I can't remember something that happened a week and a half ago.

For me, the cards are a reminder that my mother once had a vital artistic and entrepreneurial spirit; and they remind me where I got those qualities.  Over the years, life really kind of beat that spirit out of her. She stopped making art after her divorce from my father, but she never stopped in the Antiques business, even when that business was horrible, until other people's stupid decisions closed down the group shop she helped manage, and then her body started actively conspiring against her. 

She never gave in and became a wage slave. That's something I have to repeat to myself now. It's something I've got to work for. If nothing else, these cards remind me that I have a legacy to fulfill.

-- Frede.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Charlie Hebdo's "I Am Charlie" cover

The PBS News Hour and other news agencies are refusing to reproduce this latest cover cartoon, depicting a crying Mohammed, from France's Charlie Hebdo.

If they won't do it, I will. 

By not broadcasting the image, PBS and others are bowing down to Terrorists. Period.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on all political cartoonists, everywhere, and by an extension an attack on all artists and writers. 

You don't bow to that. You don't tacitly allow these bastards to accomplish their objectives by suppressing cartoons like this. 

This is part of what Freedom of Speech is all about. Any news organization that truly believes in Freedom of Speech should be printing this cartoon. 

I'm angry at the media for what amounts to encouraging terrorism; but I have to confess that I'm also angry at Muslims who are getting all outraged and all bent out of shape over this innocent, eloquent and poignant image -- an image that most of them have not even seen.

To them I say: get over it. These are the same people who profess not to condone these kinds of acts, who insist that terrorism is not encompassed in their values or religion, but who, and this needs emphasis,  don't do anything in their own back yards to put an end to it. 

The one may cost me some friends. So be it. Either you support terrorism or you don't. If you don't, the time has come to stop saying it and demonstrate it with your actions.

Jes suis Charlie.

-- Frede.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Marvel: The Descent.

Jim Shooter killed Marvel Comics for me. 

I suppose it was inevitable: eventually, Shooter was replaced with people who were even more bone-headed. But it was Shooter’s tenure as Editor-In-Chief that drove the stake through Marvel’s heart.

It didn’t happen all at once. Stan Lee was still in the picture as publisher, still exercising some basic control over the line. The minute that Stan retired, the nanosecond that he set foot on the airplane headed Out West, that was when Shooter started living up to his name.

One of the first things that he did was to take away editorial control from certain key Marvel writer/editors. These guys had been with the company a hell of a lot longer than Shooter and had shaped the Marvel universe for many years: people like Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Archie Goodwin. 

They responded the way anyone would when some young dunderhead comes in and promptly revokes the creative freedoms that they’d known for years: they left the company. Virtually all of Marvel’s top-flight creators — both writers and artists — beat a path for DC and the burgeoning Indie houses, where they would never again have the same impact that had once been theirs.

Shooter became the Master Plotter of the whole line. His style of “storytelling” — and I use that word loosely — trended towards Big Events: change Spider-Man’s costume, kill off Shang-Chi, turn Hank Pym into a wife-beater, declare that several years’ worth of Hulk continuity “never happened,” pull all your major characters out of their timeline and plunk them down in a giant arena so they can beat the crap out of each other.

And worse.

As a reader and fan, I hung on for about a year before I couldn’t take it anymore. Stories and humanity and The Imagination fell by the wayside and were replaced by Big Events, Sensational Marketing Ploys, Variant Covers. Marvel Comics — once a great source for tales about the differently-empowered struggling to find their place in the world — joined the status quo and became Stupid.

And although he may not have finished it, Shooter was the one who started it.

The point of all this is: if it’s happened in the Marvel Universe since about 1982, I don’t know anything about it, and I don’t want to know anything about it.

If you had told me in 1981 that Marvel would one day launch a successful and unified “movie and TV universe” that included SHIELD, The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy, I would have laughed you right out of my shop. 

In those days Marvel was indeed trying to press their way into the movies and onto television, but the results were pretty much universally dismal. Spider-Man and Doctor Strange on TV, anyone? Yeah, there’s a reason you don’t remember it. 

Hollywood simply didn’t “get” comics in those days — and even when they started to come around, the budgets didn’t exist, computers didn’t exist, in five minutes Jack Kirby could create something on paper that was more spectacular than anything we’d ever seen on the movie screen. The first two Superman movies were a crack in the iceberg, but let’s face it: Star Wars is what changed everything, albeit at such a slow pace that the future crept up on us.

Now? For the first time, Star Wars — even the Genetically Modified Star Wars that George Lucas can not stop dicking around with — actually looks like what it is: a forty-year-old movie. Everything’s changed. What was impossible in the late ‘70s is commonplace today.

Every single year, Movies (plural) are being made about my favorite Marvel characters. Except — as you might have guessed from the above — it’s not my Marvel anymore and these are not my heroes. Iron Man and Thor and Captain America and The X-Men have been pretty lucky in their new movie iterations. Spider-Man and The Hulk and Ghost Rider have not, and don’t even get me started about what Fox has done, is still doing, to The Fantastic Four. Among other things — it’s all well and good that the stories should be racially integrated, but turning Nick Fury and Johnny Storm into black guys is not the way to do it. Likewise, Victor Von Doom is a monarch, not a CEO, and his armor does not grow on him. AAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!

This intro has grown long enough for a single post, so that’s what I’ll make it. Next time, I’ll get down to the meat and potatoes: in the past two weeks, I’ve viewed X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. So, what did I think? What did they do to the comics and the characters and how did my old friends fare? I’ll give you three words as a tease: Howard the Duck.

— Freder.
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