Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Omens May Be Good, But the Rest?



I have FINALLY slagged my way through all six desperately tedious hours of Good Omens.

Sheen and Tennant are wonderful and so is their story arc. But the rest? Ye gods and pickled catfish, not since Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies have I seen anything quite this bloated and torturous. On a weekly basis, I began to count on this series to knock me unconscious within the short side of ten minutes.

Y'know what? I have Adobe Premiere and I have this series all in digital format and I bet you ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY that I could cut it down to a two, two and a half-hour movie that was a million times better than the series.

The brainead witch-hunter played (poorly) by Michael McKeen and and his even more idiotic assistant? GONE. 

Anathama Device (who perhaps should have gone under her real name of Plot Device)? Equally useless and uninteresting -- so, GONE.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse? Well, they have to stay in, but you watch how much better this thing would be if they had all their insanely un-funny (at least as the actors delivered it) dialogue taken away from them. Some things are just "less is more." 

Bill Patterson is a wonderful actor but his character here is 100 percent padding and a complete waste. GONE. 

There's probably a bunch of other stuff that needs to be cleaned out, but I almost certainly slept through it.

I actually got into an argument of sorts, on Facebook, with SF writer Sharon Lee, co-author of the popular Liaden Universe novels. She felt that all these tedious characters whose parts I was so eager to chop played an important part in what she considered to be the main storyline, which concerns the impending End of The World. "Oh, no no no," I said. "The main storyline is NOT the end of the world -- the main storyline is about the rule-breaking friendship between an angel (played by Michael Sheen) and a demon Crowley (played by David Tennant). The end of the world is just the McGuffin that brings their friendship into focus. You can lose or combine any amount of those boring second-string characters so long as you have the materials to move the end-of-the-world plot device forward." 

At this point I was only up to about the fourth episode, and so had to admit that the series could still prove me wrong. But now I've seen the whole mind-numbing thing, and you know what? I was NOT wrong.

Neil Gaiman is on record as saying that he tried to preserve the book when writing the series. And right there is the problem. It maybe, probably, was a delightful book. I admire Mr. Gaiman and am an enthusiast of Terry Pratchett's solo work, and so I want to believe that a collaboration by the two could be nothing short of a classic. But Good Omens the series, although technically well-made, is not wonderful and far from it. 

Movies and TV are not books and the argument needs to be made that no matter what they do to a book in adapting it to film, THE BOOK IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE THERE. You can always pick up the book and read it. The job of a movie is not to replicate a book. The job of a movie is to be its own thing, and be the best version of its own thing that it can possibly be. Good Omens, as a miniseries, is the worst, dullest, most plodding and pedantic version of itself that it can possibly be. It won't be me: but SOMEONE needs to take a scissors to it.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time....


I recently finished watching the first season of Fess Parker's DANIEL BOONE TV series, which aired for six seasons starting in 1964. This was one of those things that I was aware of while it was originally airing, but for the most part was never able to watch... because I was a little kid, and my parents packed me off to bed at the ignominious hour of 7:30. 

I'm quite enjoying the opportunity to catch up on all those series that I knew about, but didn't watch back in the day. It's not all great stuff, but I feel like I'm filling in the gaps of my cultural experience, if that isn't too pretentious a turn of phrase.

The Fess Parker BOONE is actually quite a well-made show and more entertaining than I ever imagined it would be; but if it proves anything, it proves (even through its sweetness and innocence) that we (namely White Folk of mostly British descent) absolutely did march in here and just take everything and anything we wanted. 

The very first episode opens at Georgie Washington’s house, where Georgie is meeting with a Snooty English Guy. Enter Dan’l BOONE and his pal, the latter of whom is known in Hollywood as “the hot-headed one.” Dan’l’s pal takes one look at Snooty English Guy and goes all “GRR! GRRRR! It’s a Snooty English Guy! Why, I ought’a—“ Dan’l calms him down and taking the Better Part of Valor, ushers him out of the room.

Alone again with Georgie, the Snooty English Guy says, “What’s all this stuff about WAR against England that I’m hearing?”

Georgie assures him that it’s nothing, just some Youthful High Spirits, there isn’t gonna be any war.

“WELL THERE’D BETTER NOT BE!!!” snarls Snooty English Guy, who stomps out of the room. 

No sooner is he gone than Dan’l re-appears; Georgie turns to him and says, “Now about this WAR we’re gonna have…”

HA!

Always the practical one, Dan’l knows they’re going to need a better Defense than what they’ve got. His solution? “How’s about I head right on that inta th’ heart of INDIAN territory and find us the perfect place t’ build a FORT?”

This is where my eyebrows met my hairline. I thought, “Dude, d’you hear what you just said? That land doesn’t belong to you! You can’t just waltz in there and build a fort in their back yard! That's ASKIN' fer trouble!”

But we could. And we did. And we’re STILL giving Native Americans a hard time because they didn’t just roll up they sidewalks and get out of our way.

And so on.

-- Thorn

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Holli Would if She Could... But She Can't.


In trying to catch up with all of the movies that one was aware of when they were released, but never had a chance to see, one inevitably runs into a few Stink Bombs along the way; and it saddens us to include Ralph Bakshi's COOL WORLD, from 1992, in that category. 

In Bakshi's defense, it's not the movie that he wanted to make: while he was shooting, the script was completely re-written without his participation or consent by the studio. With no script to work from, Bakshi reportedly told his animators to "do whatever they wanted" -- no good can come out of that kind of chaos, and none does.

You can't fault Bakshi for having a lack of ambition, that's for god-damn sure, and this is at least as ambitious as his version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS or his attempt to dramatize all of pop music history in AMERICAN POP. The latter picture was at least a success in its ability to start interesting conversations. COOL WORLD has another thing its favor, in that it's drop-dead gorgeous. In purely visual terms, it may be his best movie.

And yet, it's a complete train wreck. You can't under-state this, and you almost can't believe what you're seeing -- it's that bad, a disjointed bomb with a capital B: not for nothing does it have a 4% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. There are good ideas behind it, but the writing is so dreadful that it's doubtful anyone could have made anything out of it.

The live-action characters are flatter than the paper that the animated ones are drawn on, and while the animated characters are full of bombastic toonish shenanigans, none of them are charming or engaging. The cutting between the two worlds is ridiculously bad, and no one involved with this thing took the time to craft a believable, let alone involving, storyline. Kim Basinger never stops moving and acts as if this was her last, best chance at superstardom, as perhaps it was. The whole thing is one big, frenetic, pleasingly colorful disaster.

It's likely that Bakshi was inspired by WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, and that he wanted to make something in the same vein that asked larger questions and told a more serious story about life and death and art and love. But the end result is nowhere near as accomplished or entertaining as ROGER RABBIT was, and not even close. Bakshi didn't have the money to make it technically as good, and studio interference insured that anything good in the original concept would get whitewashed right out of the thing.

Bakshi has been one of my heroes and he has a unique but problematic place in the modern cinema. COOL WORLD was his last significant movie. Its visual accomplishment only makes it that much more disappointing.

• 

Meanwhile, 1975's THE HINDENBURG crawls across the movie screen at a stately pace that's appropriate to its namesake. Directed by Robert Wise in a strictly workmanlike fashion, it features George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft heading a mostly wasted cast. What's Burgess Meredith doing in this thing? Sitting around, like the rest of us, waiting for the ship to blow up. Several contemporary reviews, excerpted at Wikipedia, are more entertaining than the picture. It's not that bad, really... it's just that it's a very ordinary early entry in the disaster genre. The special effects are wonderful, and prove that models and optical effects, when done well, are better than CGI any day of the week. Some magnificent shots of the ship in flight and taking off at night are worth sitting through the rest. And even when she's given trivial material to work with, Anne Bancroft is a revelation.

--Thorn.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

And So The Queen




Near the end of E.F. Benson's Queen Lucia, first in his series of novels following the social progress of Benson's monstrous but lovable anti-heroine Lucia Lucas, Lucia's primary accomplice Georgie Pilson (euphemistically described as a "confirmed bachelor") suddenly breaks down and reveals his true feelings for Lucia's main rival of the moment, opera star Olga Bracely. 

It's just a moment. It's just a (very short) sentence. And yet it is the absolute moment in which Queen Lucia is elevated from being a delightful, gently twisted light comedy to the status of a genuine classic. Like all the people at home in Lucia's main stomping grounds, the little English village of Riseholme, Georgie may be a predominately comic character, but in that moment he becomes real: and that's an achievement that many more high-brow and more highly-thought-of novels often fail to arrive at. 


The book made me happy on many levels; and the good news is, there is more to come: and I believe they get better from here.

The LUCIA stories differ greatly from the Larkin family novels of H.E. Bates, from the Fairacre and Thrush Green books of Miss Read, and from the much zanier stories of Wodehouse, and yet they are all joined at the hip, for their good humour, their humanity, for the fully-realized worlds that they create, and for capturing specific and different aspects of the British personality. Like all the best fantasies, they take root in the reader's hearts, in a place where one joyfully returns to them again and again.

-- Thorn.

www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Monday, June 3, 2019

Coming Soon!



After successfully funding at Kickstarter last month, the Revised and Refined Second Edition of THE ARTHUR RACKHAM ORACLE is in production and coming soon! Here's the trailer for the new edition -- I had fun making it, and I hope you'll have fun watching it.

Withe best wishes to all of you;

-- Thorn.

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.
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