Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Over the (Winter) Hump -- ?

I still have my fingers crossed -- in New England, March can be the worst winter month, and it often is -- but with January drawing to a close and Living Earth telling me that temps are going to climb into the low fifties tomorrow, I say “Let’s have more winters like this one!”

It’s good that I’ve had to write just two checks to the plow guy so far this winter, and it’s better that I’ve had to shovel my front walk exactly once. The worst of winter so far has been a bad week-long cold snap during which temperatures didn’t get out of the single digits -- we were so mollycoddled by this winter that we all complained about this cold spell, but I have lived through far worse. I recall one December out at the old house when, for the solid month, it never broke zero degrees during the day and typically reached twenty below or worse every night.

Back then my mother and I had the two horses and pony to care for that belonged to my sister, although she had abandoned them, left them behind with us when she went off and got married. Another thing to “thank” that insufferable bitch for.

That winter, we had to haul piping hot water from the house to the barn for the animals to drink, because the water in their buckets froze almost faster than they could drink it. Caring for animals that live outdoors will give you personal experiences with cold weather that you would rather not have.

There was also a goat in our menagerie for a while. I don’t know how we got her, or whose idea she was. She wasn’t my idea. None of the farm animals were my idea, and yet for years I cared for them because that’s what you do when people in your family have Crazy Ideas about wanting to be Farmers and then go off and leave you holding the bag. All my life I’ve been the one in the family left holding the bag. Is it any wonder that I am taking time for myself now, finally, in my fifties?

Goat didn’t serve any useful purpose. Like the rest of the barn animals after a certain point, she was just a responsibility. One night during that horribly cold month we went out and called for Goat and she didn’t come. We went for flashlights and found her dead right beside the barn. 

Death was a regular visitor to The Barn, but I never get used to seeing that bastard turn up. To this day -- I know he walks everywhere and can appear at any time, but for me Mister Death still wears a winter face and pulls a winter cloak around his bony shoulders. For me, winter is the season of death. It’s what I see and feel when I look out the window.

So, a mild winter like this one is really something to get down on my knees and thank the powers that be for. It’s something worth taking note of. I know that Global Warming is a terrible thing -- but, boy howdy, if this is a side effect of Global Warming then I’m going to be using more aerosol spray cans in the future!

As strong as my ties were to the old house, on days like this I’m powerfully thankful that I never had to spend a winter out there alone. The place was so isolated that you could look out of the windows on a winter night and feel like you were living on the North Pole. On nights when the full moon shone down on the ice-hard snow it could be beautiful, but the feeling that you were marooned in the universe was deep.

Here in town, even late at night when I am the only person awake in the whole neighborhood and the silence is broken only rarely by a passing car, I know that I’m not alone. It takes some of the Death out of winter to have neighbors nearby, even if you don’t know them and never will.

Take that, Winter! You old bastard! -- P.S. I’ve noticed that there’s still some light in the sky at 5:00 PM now. I hope I’m not jinxing us all by typing it, but I think we have this one about licked!

-- Freder

Monday, January 28, 2013

Let's Get Fwoinky -- QUIRK #1 is Here!

I’m happy to announce that the latest Duck Soup Production is here -- Quirk #1, marking the return of the longest-running comics character you never heard of!

At the center of the issue is a reprint of the 12-page story “A-Muck Time” -- a specific parody of two certain other pop-culture standards that you may recognize, and a fun story in its own right, newly remastered at twice the resolution that it’s been seen in before. It’s surrounded and contained by an ALL NEW four-page “framing story” that brings our heroes up-to-date in the present day and sets the stage for more new developments to come in each future issue. 

For newcomers to Quirk (and really, who in heck isn't?), there’s also the first in an ongoing series of “Who’s Who in” and “Previously In” The Quirkiverse text features. All told, it’s 24 big full-color pages for $1.99. 

The PDF version is available exclusively right here from Duck Soup Productions. Transactions are handled by PayPal, and the file is delivered to you by email within 24 hours. Details on the “Bookshop” page!

UPDATE 1/29: The “Enhanced iBooks Edition” is available now at iTunes alongside its sister publications, Tinsel*Town, Persephone’s Torch and Melies’ Notebook! This edition is really the cat's pajamas, with great presentation of the graphics, an extra 12-page gallery or art, and music by Kevin MacLeod, for the same buck ninety-nine as the PDF edition. If you've got the hardware, this is the way to go!

I’ve made the decision not to publish a Kindle-specific edition. You may wonder how smart a business decision it is to cut Amazon out of the picture, and I’m not too keen on the idea myself -- but I haven’t found a satisfactory way to ‘port comics into Kindle format without it ending up looking like it was put together by a nearsighted baboon, and I’d rather just skip it entirely than put out a shoddy product that no one will be happy with. Kindle, Nook, and even iPad users are advised that the PDF version is universal and readable on any device.

Next up -- February will see the release of Tinsel*Town #2, featuring the first part of Eddie Fox’s first big Hollywood hit: “Harum Scarum!” Watch the sidebar and this space for updates.

In other news -- Have you noticed the new sections that have opened up here on the site? Check them out! The Emporium features cards, prints, shirts and more based on designs, drawings and photographs by yrs trly; the Character Shop is something I’m doing just for fun and features the same sorts of things, but all connected, as I’m sure you guessed, to the characters and themes in the growing list of Duck Soup books. Both pages have a small list of stuffages on them right now, but I’ll be adding designs on a weekly basis, so check back often.

If it seems like I’ve gone all crassly commercial on you... please keep in mind that this site is currently the only income I’ve got! Anything and everything you pick up here goes to help sustain an Independent writer/cartoonist/designer trying to make good and keep his quats well-fed.

Questions? Comments? Rude noises? I can always be reached here: duckmeister@ducksoup.me !

-- Freder

Friday, January 25, 2013

Breaking MADD

The wisdom is that we should find pleasure in the simple things of life. Just now, for me, that would be the simple pleasure of driving myself to the supermarket, putting the groceries in my own boot, and driving back home again... having to carry the bags no farther than the distance from the car to my back door.

Getting my driver’s license back comes almost as a shock to the system, and certainly ranks high on my current list of gratitudes. It’s not that I’m out and about all the time, or even want to be (one of things that a diagnosis of Asperger’s explains is why I seem to be completely happy in my own little world. I’m not afraid to go out. There’s just nothing that I want out there). But it’s a liberation in more ways than one to know that I have my freedom back, that I can go out when I need to, that there’s no need to rely on the good will of others.

Also, no need to carry groceries the mile and a half from the nearest store. If I learned nothing else during my driving exile, I learned that cat food is heavy.

All that said, and not attempting at any level to deny that I’m the one who got myself into this mess, I feel obliged to point out that this law, this system, is idiotic and serves no one.

On the emotional face of it, the gut-reaction level, everyone wants safer roads and anyone with a conscience has to feel moved by arguments put forward by MADD and the other victims of OUI. But to call these arguments lopsided is putting it mildly. It’s not just that they’re all emotion and no brain; that’s the way they want it. They don’t want you to think about it; they have no real interest in dealing with the actual root problem in any constructive or effective manner.

Their naiveté (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that no one would deliberately choose to misunderstand a problem) is complicated by the position of the states and the lawmakers, who on the one hand want to show the populace that they are “doing something” about a problem that they don’t understand any better than MADD, and on the other hand are -- not to put too fine a point on it -- flat-out corrupt. 

I’ll just write about the state of Maine, because that’s where I got my OUI last year -- an experience I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, by the way. The state of Maine gives me quite enough to write about.

On the one hand, the state makes a ton of money off of the sale of hard liquor through its tight control of the licenses -- at one time and for a long time, hard alcohol was only available through stores that were directly owned and operated state agencies; now at least the state licenses the right to sell booze to various stores and supermarkets, but it’s still an area of huge profit and moneymaking for them. Now that the state has you all good and liquored up, it makes another ton of money off of the alcoholics who fall victim to extortionate policies that hide behind the law in order to get their licenses back. More on that later. Meanwhile, there’s the ugly rumor going around that our governor is himself an OUI and Driving After Suspension offender who never paid the penalty for his crimes. The stench of hypocrisy is as thick as Rush Limbaugh here in the so-called Pine Tree State.

If that doesn’t stink enough for you, try going through the system, paying your debt to society and then finding out when it’s supposed to be all over that the state could (and routinely does) hang onto your license for an additional eighteen months over and above your legal suspension period, while bilking you for an additional thousands and thousands of dollars in “therapy.”

Ladies and gentleman, I have been through therapy, and this is not therapy -- nor is it even about therapy or “keeping the roads safe.” It’s all about “there’s a recession on and the state needs money and most taxpayers won’t squawk if we bleed it out of the alchies who’ve already run afoul of the law."

None of this even addresses the topic of jail and I don’t want to get started on that just now. I don’t have time to deal with it here. I just want to say this: we have these hard, harsh laws that throw everything in the government toolbox at OUI offenders: suspension of their licenses, harsh fines and even jail time...

... and none of it does a damn bit of good. None of it means shit. I met a young man in the intensive outpatient program who had six OUIs. I met a guy in AA who lost everything that he had five times over.

At one point I asked my OUI lawyer why I was being treated like a criminal while real criminals are out there getting away quite literally with murder. Here in Maine we have a thing called the “Ayla Reynolds Case.” Look it up on the 'net. That guy lives just down the road from me. Seriously. “Waterville’s Finest’ didn’t have any problem dragging me out of my house for committing the Heinous Sin of calling the public Help Line earlier last year, but that guy is still walking around free as a bird. She told me that, in the eyes of the law I was a criminal. I didn’t speak to her after that.

Alcoholics are not criminals. Alcoholics have a problem.

You can put an alcoholic in jail from now until the cows come home, but you’ll never make him any less of an alcoholic that way, and as long as he’s drinking he’s going to  be drinking and driving.

The laws are a crock. The laws don’t reform anyone and they don’t make anyone safer. To address the problem, you need to get your alcoholic into therapy and I don’t mean that  bullshit “therapy” that the DMV was going to make me sit through, and I don’t mean AA. 

I can’t speak for all alcoholics; but I was drinking because I’d lost something and didn’t know how to get it back. It was that simple. With my Uncle Orly, I think the reasons behind his alcohol and drug addition were pretty similar... but nobody could ever give him his son back. 

I’m a lot more fortunate. I’m one grateful, lucky alcoholic who somehow got my spirit given back to me. You want to make the roads safe? Stop looking at people like numbers and stop looking at their symptoms and try to see what’s really ailing them. Nothing’s perfect, and I don’t believe that all alcoholics or junkies actually can be helped. But you’ll get further and make more progress by treating them as people with issues, people who lost something somewhere along the road, instead of treating them like Al Capone or Ma Barker. 

Maybe it would be a good thing after all to lower the legal blood alcohol limit even further. As long as the rest of the world feels superior to alcoholics, nothing is going to change. We’ll see how fast that situation turns around when everybody and his brother is being swept up in the dragnet just for having one glass of wine with their dinner!

Unfortunately, Garrison Keillor said it best: we live in a culture of “Outcome-Based Morality.” 

-- Freder

Monday, January 21, 2013

Excavating the Grooves

With all of the big expenses connected to my OUI of last year finally behind me, last week I kept a promise to myself and ordered up a USB turntable so that, at long last, I could covert all my old vinyl LPs into MP3 format. At $65, it was more money than I felt I could afford to drop on a single, self-indulgent buy... but when I totted up what it would cost me to replace the albums individually, that amount became insignificant in nothing flat.

The thing is, I haven’t been able to listen to any of my vinyl records in, conservatively speaking, eight or nine years. That’s how long it’s been since my old stereo system went belly-up -- and I never felt that I could afford to replace it. Vinyl being a dying technology by then anyway, I was unsure of what step to take next... and so I remained true to form and did nothing. Don’t ever confuse me or offer me too many choices, because the effect you’ll get will be exactly the same as if you’d tossed me into a vat of fast-drying concrete.

Meanwhile, music that I loved, the music that raised me, the music that was inextricably grafted onto my DNA, just sat collecting dust on the shelves of my closet, and I forgot. I forgot the places that it took me, and the things that it drew out of me. I forgot that whole part of myself. Instead of consoling myself (and fueling my dreams) with music, vodka became my balm of choice.

After my mother’s death, when there was suddenly a lot of empty space to fill in just about every sense of the word, I did make a start at replacing a few key albums on CD. This was an expensive enough proposition that I could only do a little bit of it every once in a while. Some time back I wrote about my joy at rediscovering Melanie Safka. These were little flashes of light in the dark.

The turntable arrived just two days after I ordered it, and after making an extremely easy connection to my iMac I got my LPs out of the closet and dove right in. And O My Brothers and Sisters, it was just like having a part of myself that had been locked, chained and bolted up for a decade suddenly flung wide open.

My first thought was that “joy” was the word to describe the sensation. Music triggers responses and memories even when it hasn’t been locked up in your closet for ten years. But that’s not it.

“Fortunate” is the right word. This is yet another gift that I have been given, in a string of gifts that have piled up recently. I’m writing again, I’m drawing again, I have the time, the will and the energy to do these things, and now a big hunk of my past has been given back to me. I had better be very damned grateful, because I am one fortunate bastard... one seriously lucky alcoholic.

The benefits are so many and the emotions so complicated that I will be writing about this project here for some time to come. At times during the process I have been made almost deliriously happy; and at times, looking back on a different world as much as forty years distant, a cosmos that was supposed to be immutable, that was never supposed to be any different from the way it was in that exact moment, I’ve been brought to tears. Too many people are gone. The sense I once had that the things people do actually matter -- that’s gone, too. 

But it’s nice to walk that way for a little while once again. Just getting the albums out and sorting them into categories (“Okay -- these need to be done right away! These can wait a little while...") was a delight. The CD never did match the LP as a physical object, as a playground for designers to do their work, and so the tactile and visual pleasure of looking through my collection again made me happy all by itself. I’ll be writing about that a lot in weeks to come: nothing, but nothing in our culture has filled the vacancy left by the record album cover as a Pop Culture icon.

When the time came to actually put the needle down on the vinyl, I realized that I’d forgotten how to do it! Here’s something that we used to do every day, almost a ritual: slide the sleeve out of the album cover, slide that black pancake platter out of the sleeve and slot the hole onto the spindle, then raise the tone arm and bring it down ever so gently at the beginning of side one: I really had forgotten how to do it, and I missed the first couple of times! How quickly modern advances cause something that was once second nature to seem actually strange, actually unusual and archaic!

Then the music came. Consider this the first of a series.

Just to put the whole thing in perspective, I have to start out by saying that it hasn’t all been total, unmitigated Nirvana. Sometimes you go back to revisit something and end up wondering what it was you saw there in the first place! In that category, this morning I duped over my copy of Neil Diamond’s 1972 album, Moods.

Diamond was a big favorite of my cousin, Charlie, and so I inherited my interest in Diamond, in part, from him. Now, Mr. Diamond has written some great songs, and I still love some of them -- “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Solitary Man” are just two that still hold up to this day. I know blamed well that he must have put out better albums than this one. I’m thinking Tap Root Manuscript, although I haven’t heard that one in more like thirty years. From Moods, Diamond had a big hit with “Song Sung Blue”. In its day, it was a light, easy song. Today, the word I’d use is “insipid.”

Moods is one of those albums that just hasn’t aged well at all. Even its name is enough to make you cringe. The cover design, with its rough paper, pastel colors, torn outer edge, and chancery-style lettering evokes nothing so much as a Blue Mountain Arts greeting card in all of its nauseating faux-profundity. 

I hate Blue Mountain Arts greeting cards. We should be using them to torture terrorists with. “My very special daughter / son / wife / busband/, so close to my heart, you may not understand just how much your life means to those around you...” Fifteen minutes of that puke and they’ll stanching the flow of blood from their ears, pleading for mercy and divulging Al Quaida's darkest secrets at a speed that the fastest shorthand transcriptionists won't be able to keep up with. 

Maybe that’s why I felt like punching Neil Diamond out by the time I was halfway through side one. That’s an exaggeration for humorous effect, but really, can anyone listen to Diamond getting oh so dramatic in “Canta Libre” with a straight face? The bouncy, upbeat tunes are worse. “Gitchy Goomy” and “Porcupine Pie” -- are you kidding me? What iteration of Romper Room was he watching when he wrote this crap?

More to the point -- what was I thinking when I was listening to it all those years ago? I’ve been exposed to much better music since then, thank God. In a way, it’s good to have things like Neil Diamond’s Moods around as a reminder not just that that Memory comes with rose-colored glasses, but that after all you have grown during all those intervening years, you have learned a thing or two, you haven’t suffered all this punishment for nothing: now at the end of this long and winding road, at least some of your tastes have improved.

-- Freder.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Shortest Movie Review

There’s a reason why Warner’s shoveled Satellite in the Sky, a British release about the beginnings of space travel, onto one of their sets as the bottom title in a roster including Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. If it’s not the most boring SF picture ever made, it’s right up there, and I defy anyone to stay awake for it. I couldn’t. It’s not one of those incompetent, laughable movies, either, so you can’t even entertain yourself making fun of it. Lois Maxwell was quite cute at the age she was at when she made this picture (I don’t care enough to look it up), but I must be getting jaded even in my prurience, because not even that was enough to keep my eyes open.

I’d much rather talk about 1935’s G-Men, starring James Cagney, Robert Armstrong (obviously finding government work more congenial after his disastrous attempts at promoting giant gorillas in New York), and Lloyd Nolan. G-Men is a terrific picture front to back and kept me wide awake for its breezy 84 minute runtime even though, as a general rule, I don’t care for gangster pictures all that much. Cagney plays a “lawyer” who is too stupid to know better than to punch people out just for coming to his office with a case he doesn’t like. Hello, lawsuit anyone? Hello, Assault & Battery?

I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately to Cagney. For many years I dismissed him as just a schmuck who did all those gangster movies (see above), just a jerk who shoved fruit into women’s faces. It wasn’t until I saw him in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Max Reinhart’s extremely schizophrenic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I began to appreciate Cagney and put him in the same category that I have for just one other actor: Gene Kelley.

Can you see the comparison? Both men are are fully in command of their abilities and know it. Both men flaunt it shamelessly. They combine being hot shit and cool cats and you can’t even hate them for it because they also seem to be such regular guys. I hate them for that!

Both pictures are part of Turner Classic Movies archive collection series of DVDs, and if ever there were DVDs specifically calculated to make movie nuts roll over on their backs and stick all four legs in the air (to steal a Chandlerism) these are the ones to do it. Ten bucks for four Cagney pictures, or four Bogart pictures, or four Bette Davis pictures? Yes, Ma’am, yes, please. 

However, the science fiction set containing Them! and The Beast abuses the concept, and the good nature of movie fans. There was an earlier DVD release with just those first two movies included. Get that one, even if it’s more money. Do not even consider the Turner Classics release that includes World Without End or Satellite in the Sky. It may seem like a better deal, but some movies just suck time out of your life, offering nothing in return. World Without End is bad enough to make fun of, but I’ve already beaten you to it, in an earlier column. Just go watch G-Men instead.

-- Freder.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Quirk's Paper Age

With the new first issue of Quirk due by the end of the month, it seems appropriate to go, as Van Morrison sings it, way way way back... to the scary days when Quirk starred in two issues of his own real-live printed-on-paper comic book. Quirk is my longest running character, and I think the new eComic will prove that he’s come a long way!

I’m not going to give you a snow job. Back in 1980 and 1981 when I published the two paper issues of Quirk, Star Reject of the Galaxy, I was proud as could be of them. But looking at them now with more sensible eyes and a lot more experience under my belt, these were nothing more than the extremely crude efforts of a sincere beginner. Cat Yronwode, one of the first true pioneers of comics journalism working in a day when when there weren’t nearly the outlets for that kind of writing that there are today, summed it up best in the review of Quirk #2, “The Humor Agency,” that she wrote for The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom way back in ’81. Here it is, in its entirety:

The artwork is strictly from amateur-city, but the story reads as well as any newsstand comic and better than Jim Starlin's current work for Epic. In this adventure Quirk, a sort of rough cynic with a nose worse than Manthing's, decides to take on a Chandler-Hammet guise with science fiction overtones -- but the writing goes a good deal deeper than a parody of detective genre fiction as it delves into the questions of sorrow and happiness, of the enforceability of states of mind, and, yes, love. I can't call this the greatest thing since sliced bread -- the art is far too rough to be anything but improved upon in later issues -- but any story about a man of honor is worth reading, even if that ‘man’ looks like a walking spaghetti-nose."

About issue #1, I guess the less said the better. Cat was being kind when she called it “a better than average amateur effort” only because, of all the fan comics she read and reviewed that week, mine was the only one that attempted to establish characters and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end!

The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom morphed into The Comics Buyer’s Guide shortly after. I became a contributor for a while, writing long snarky articles and eliciting a fair amount of hate mail. They had a long, noble run that ended just this month. Maybe I'll get a blog post out of that. Cat Yronwode, in the meantime, has pretty much left the comics scene and founded the really quite wonderfully eccentric Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Co. Check it out.

The full history of Quirk will get some attention in the new first issue of his eComic coming soon. Meanwhile... for thirty years I had boxes and boxes of the paper comics kicking around in my closets. I about plotzed when I saw some dealer on ABEBooks trying to sell them for something like nine bucks. Nine dollars! That is what they call Highway Robbery. I’ll sell them to you for the original cover price, which is a buck-fifty each. 

When the time came to vacate the old house, I looked at the six ginornous, heavy boxes of comics ... and they represented yet another failure to me.  I couldn’t bring myself to pitch all of them, but with plenty enough of lugging and lifting to do, there was no way I was bringing them all with me. I kept just two boxes because I didn’t know why. Just because I'm a Sentimental Fool, I guess. The rest are now pulp.

So, the copies now sitting in my storage room are the only ones left. Again, I need to stress that these are no classics, and not even close. My heart was in the right place, that’s all I can promise you. Also, keep in mind that these books are more than thirty years old and have been knocked around a bit. Condition is variable. With all that said, if you still want to check out Quirk in his formative years, you can order these “priceless gems” (and I use those words with tongue wedged so firmly into cheek that I may never be able to talk again!) right here from the newly-christened BOOKSHOP page of Duck Soup Productions. Postage costs more than the damn books themselves.

Oh -- why did I change the "CATALOG" page into a "BOOKSHOP" page? That's another story! 

Keep on Fwoinking.

-- Freder

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Back to the Drawing ... Pad

I’ve done a couple of posts (and I have at least one more in the pipeline) that highlight the frivolous side of my iPad -- and by extension, I suppose, the frivolous side of me. But I do serious wok on my iPad, too, and with the apps that are coming out all the time, along with the increasing speed and processing power of each new model, I can see the day coming when the iPad could make desktop computers obsolete.

My iPad is already a good deal more powerful than the last computer i owned before upgrading to my current iMac. I can do more with it, and do it faster. Writing, drawing, coloring, painting, shooting movies... it’s all a dream come true. The fact is, I have so much capability at my fingertips now that I feel a bit like that kid in the candy shop with a dime in his pocket and about a gazillion ways to spend it! There aren’t enough hours in the day to use all the nifty tools I have fitted myself out with.

For the upcoming new edition of QUIRK, due at the end of the month, I am writing and drawing a whole new framing story... and I am doing it 100 percent on my iPad, from the scripting all the way through to the final page layout and lettering. Yeah, they have an app for that!

My iPad “Studio” is a wonder of nature. From Procreate to Paper, from a font maker to a mood board, from a letterpress printing setup to a darkroom that will do things that would make Ansel Adams’s jaw drop, I’m outfitted with the best tools there are... and here’s the nice part: iPad apps do these wonderful things without breaking your bank account.

Ten bucks will buy you a very well-functioning version of Photoshop for your iPad (Photoshop Touch) and I’m finding that it is far more natural and pleasurable to work in than Photoshop on my desk computer. One of the reasons that I stopped making comics six or so years ago was because the job of coloring them in Photoshop was just the most tedious, aggravating, unrewarding. wrist-breaking donkey work that you can imagine. On my iPad, it is a pleasure. I can sit in front of the fire with my iPad and a stylus and color comics with a cat on my lap. This is heaven!

When it comes time to sell those comics, I’ve got PayPal and Square Register installed on both my iPhone and iPad, so I can take any card, anywhere. To help organize my life, I’ve got Wunderlist and Daily Routine, both of which I’ve just started using, but which seem promising for keeping me on track and on task -- something I desperately need! 

Oh, here’s a good one: My Library. This little app comes with a built-in barcode scanner. It’s a database for all of your books, DVDs and CDs, and all you have to do is scan ‘em in! What a joy! My only problem is in finding the hours of the day I need to enter all of my media into the thing! (Daily Routine, are you listening?)

But it’s the drawing, coloring and painting that’s Really Great, and is re-opening some doors for me that I thought were closed forever. As recently as one year ago, I did not think that I would ever write or draw comics again. The fun had gone out of it, I thought for good. But look up there! Look at the top of this post! Look at what I did! -- And it’s just the beginning!

Nothing that can give you back something you love and something that you lost is just a toy. When the iPad first came out, it did not have the power or the functionality that it has today and I truly did not see the point of the thing. That’s changed now. Today it brings out the Charlton Heston in me: you’re going to have to pry my iPad from my cold dead fingers.


Monday, January 7, 2013

They'll Have You in Stitches

It’s been well over thirty-five years (I have to pause a moment, to let my brain unhitch over that ungodly bit of trivia) since the afternoon that I sat in Portland’s Fine Arts theater and wept bitterly over what the state hospital did to Randle Patrick McMurphy. In all that time, I never felt a pressing urge to go back and re-visit One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (as much a product of the Douglas family as it is of Milos Forman), although I couldn’t have told you why. On the other hand, when the two-disk “Special Edition” turns up on the Omnistore shelf with just a $3.00 price tag, I couldn’t not go back there. It’s a classic, right? I don’t think that anyone with a brain would deny its status as a classic. It was just as if someone was holding a gun to my head and saying, “If you don’t buy this now, you’re stupid.”

But after watching it the other night for the first time in three and a half decades, I know why I never felt the need to go back to this particular asylum, and it’s not due to the tragedy or the ugliness of the story. Here is one time where I can spare you you the triviality of any faux-profound ramblings. The thing about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is that it wears itself on its sleeve. 

Lots of other movies, including much less serious ones, are worth repeat watchings because you pick up on things you missed the first time through. You find Hidden Depths. With Cuckoo’s Nest there are no Hidden Depths: it’s all right there on the surface. 

The only real pleasure in going back lies in watching the supporting performances: the astounding precision of Louise Fletcher’s eye movements (not for nothing did she win the Best Actress Oscar that year for a role that no doubt looked like a cypher on paper), the authenticity of all the actors playing the inmates -- especially including reminders that Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd were actually actors of quality once upon a time, before they sold out and settled on delivering a Specific Caricature over and over again. 

But then Cuckoo’s Nest pretty much did the same thing for Jack Nicholson, too. His star was on the rise when he got McMurphy, McMurphy nailed it down, and McMurphy is the last great part that he ever played... everything else that he’s done has been spinning off of this moment in time, just Jack playing Jack; like DeVito and Lloyd, he fell into that contemptible class: someone who can act, but chooses not to.

The movie still has its impact all these years later, still hasn’t lost one bit of its punch. But it can speak for itself. For my part, the other memories that it brought back are more important to me.

We arrived ten minutes late at that bygone showing because it was an R picture and I was underage, and Dad always, always got us to the movies late. It was a major bone of contention, because for me one of the most vital things in life was to get the story right from the beginning. This was important, and why didn’t my father understand? Why didn’t he care?

I see now that this was my Asperger’s rearing its ugly head. Movies that had a lot of talking in them and told their stories verbally rather than visually were especially problematic for me, and so I needed those first ten minutes to grasp what was happening and know who was doing what to who. Coming in to “the middle” was more than just bothersome and annoying. It meant that I would not comprehend much of what I saw.

And Dad didn’t seem to care. He never got us to the damn movie theater on time. It was beyond the bounds of all common sense as far as I was concerned. What did it take to get to a movie on time? Obviously, work was more important to him, but for me, to this day, nothing is more important than getting to a movie on time. Nothing. You could be sitting in the car next to me with a busted leg. Sorry, Charlie, it’s going to have to wait. I’m so anal about this that I usually turn up for a showing twenty minutes early. Better to cool my heels in the theater for twenty minutes than to miss even a single frame of film.

Cuckoo’s Nest was good in that, being all on the surface as I see now, it didn’t matter if you missed the first ten minutes or if you didn’t understand half of the dialogue (just as an example, McMurphy’s profane talk about the female anatomy went over my head at mach five all those years ago). It was all right there visually in the walls of the hospital and the faces of the actors. There’s a reason that the primary memories that I had of the movie were of the electroshock scene, the final horrifying fate of McMurphy and the Chief’s Great Escape.

I blubbered loudly and like an idiot in that movie theater when the Chief lifted McMurphy’s torso and the incisions on his head were brought into view. My father tried to shush and stop me. Not in a mean way, it must be said. He was feeling it, too, and I don’t think he wanted me to be so distressed.

It’s sad to note that Will Sampson lived just over ten years after playing the Chief in Cuckoo’s Nest. I hope the producers got down on their knees and thanked God Almighty when they found him, because he makes the movie. A lot of other actors could have played McMurphy. I can’t imagine anyone other than Sampson as the Chief, and it’s naught to do with his size. It was the softness in his voice, the gentleness in his manner, the authenticity in his eyes.

After learning that his stay could be an indefinite one, McMurphy allows himself a flash of anger at his fellow inmates: “You let me go on hassling the nurse, knowing what I had to lose?”

But he would have hassled Nurse Ratched anyway, even knowing. It’s what we do to keep ourselves sane.

-- Freder
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