Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quirk - comics from Duck soup Productions: Four Friends, One Spaceship-- and a whole multive...

Quirk - comics from Duck soup Productions: Four Friends, One Spaceship-- and a whole multive...: Four Friends, One Spaceship -- and a whole multiverse of folks they don't get along with! Climb aboard the Frigid for The ...

The Restoration

Of course one of the things I was most concerned about when my computer went down late last year was my music collection. It included not just digital versions of most of the CDs I own, but also: a) 99 percent of my old vinyl record albums and cassette tapes that I’d painstakingly duped to digital form over the better part of a year, b) mp3 songs and albums that I’d put together from a variety of free sources and c) all the digital songs and albums I’ve picked up from Amazon and iTunes over the past four years. 

(That latter category is kind of funny to me. Not long ago I scoffed at digital albums and vowed never to buy them. When I saw how much cheaper the digital versions were over physical CDs, and realized that I could burn them to CD myself if I so desired, it’s amazing how fast that old prejudice went down — and how deeply I’ve grown into digital media!)

The good news is, all the music files seemed to be safe on the old drive and just had to be extracted to safer stomping grounds. The bad news is, there seemed to be no easy way to just re-import everything in one clean sweep back onto my new computer. The only thing that seemed to work was to locate the album files, and double-click on every. single. song.

That’s about 12,000 cuts for me. 


It has taken me these three months to reach the point where the end is in sight. 

Again there’s good news and bad news. You already know the bad news. The good news is that by double-clicking every file, iTunes actually creates a clean new copy — hopefully eliminating any corruption that might have crept in over the years. The other good news (well, mostly good news) is that I’ve been forced to listen to at least the first few bars of every. single. song. 

And what that proves is that I’ve done a pretty good job of curating a modest audio collection across a wide range of genres, on a budget and on the cheap, greatly improving my musical vocabulary in the process. Yeah, there are a number of Stinker Albums in there, in large degree the product of my ignorant youth; but the vast majority of it Good Music to Shape Your Life By.

The whole process has made me want to write more often about music and audio… whether in the form of one of those “favorites” lists or as a series of “Great Cuts” or just in an informal series of posts. We’ll see.

You’ll find very little Country music in my collection… and what little I have falls more in the direction of bluegrass folk than towards those godawful twangy-guitar Grand Ole Opry songs about trucks and trailer parks an’ achin’ hearts (note to Southerners: why do you persist in adding syllables to single-syllable words?).

How to sum up my audio collection in as few words as possible? Lots of folk in all its variations, lots of pop, lots of rock in all its variations (including a good hunk of what they call “progressive” rock, and the fruits of a recent interest in head-banging “operatic metal”), a good representative hunk of classical (including the near-complete light operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan and a boatload of Baroque), some New Age, a lot of eclectic stuff that combines all sorts of genres, a smattering of Jazz (all of it of the Vintage sort), a swig of full-blooded cafe-cabaret… and other international styles. Spoken-word comedy albums. A bunch of Vintage Radio. A little of most everything, and a lot of some. 

This morning as I write this I’m listening to Loreena McKennitt and considering whether I need more of her. The one album of hers that I have, The Book of Secrets, is something that I’ve enjoyed off and on for years, sometimes late at night, sometimes on the evening commute back home from jobs that I hated. She combines the more atmospheric and lyrical forms of Celtic music with Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean styles; I like the Celtic bits better than the other, so sue me. A Goth group called Dead Can Dance also dabbles in Middle-Eastern styles, and although this may seem astoundingly racist, all of that crap sounds the same to me.

What I’m really saying is that WHITE people IMITATING Middle-Eastern styles all sound alike. And they do. 

I suppose it’s fair to compare the Celtic bits of McKennitt to the work of that other Celtic-themed lady, Enya. Their vocal qualities are similar, but McKennitt’s music is richer, more steeped in tradition, more adventurous and far, FAR more Romantic. In fact I’d have to say that Enya has little Romance in her soul, and that — although I like her very much — on a purely emotional level her work is that of a Cold Fish. Sorry Enya. 

Both stir Romantic feelings in me, but these feelings are of a peculiarly futile nature. I feel the same about McKennitt and Enya in her Castle as I used to feel about Lady Di after her divorce: you’d sell your mother to the Arabs to be with them, but just exactly how does a dumb schmuck like me, an Asperger’s case from Maine, show a Good Time to the Princess of Fucking Wales?

— Freder

Friday, March 28, 2014

On Tap @ The DuckHaus

It's hard for me to avoid using the editorial "we" when I write about the stuff that Duck Soup Productions is  putting out every month, and it sometimes seems nutty to keep on typing "we" and "our" when the one person doing the work is me, myself and I. The plural sounds more businesslike to me I guess... whatever the reason, it keeps creeping into these posts -- so if you run into it again just do me a favor and mentally switch the words. Although I could sure use a personal assistant and a full-time, dedicated marketing-type person, I don't have any of that and can't afford it, so as far as the eye can see Duck Soup Productions is me.

This has opened up a slot in my workday... and for the next week or so I'm going to use that slot to give all the websites a little love, updating and expansion. So expect some fresh content on nearly all of the mini-sites soon. I'll also be doing some much-needed marketing tasks that have kind of fallen by the wayside in recent months... yeah, wish me luck on that. Once I feel like I've made a little progress across all those fronts, I'll be devoting this hunk of time every day to producing volume three of QUIRK -- which will be the first volume in the series to include all-new, never-before-published-in-any-form material... including the special story written by my friend Bruce Canwell. Bruce is a writer and editor at The Library of American Comics... he and Dean Mullaney are publishing the best reprints of classic American comics titles ... not just currently, but the best EVER. Check them out. The concluding volume of Bruce's Alex Toth trilogy, Genius Animated, is coming on May 15... 

Anyway... a long time ago when Quirk was a web serial, Bruce pinch hit for me, and wrote a story called "The Prunes of Ire." That story never appeared in its entirety at the time...  Quirk v3 will see the print debut of the story, all spiffed up and complete. The book will be rounded out with a new story by me that sets the middle act of Quirk's Earth Adventures firmly in motion. 

To accomplish this, I'm attempting to learn how to draw in Manga Studio using a WACOM tablet. It sounds like a breeze, but man-o-man, this is in NO WAY intuitive, and so at least some of the new story is likely to be produced the old-fashioned way: in paper, pen and ink!

But that's only a third of my workday. Late nights I work on my Tarot of the Zirkus Magi, and I'm happy to say that I'm nearly halfway through the Minor Arcana. Somehow, someway, somewhere, the full deck will appear complete in 2014! As always, you can follow its progress here.

And in case you were wondering what that graphic at the top of the page is all about.... my next novel (a partial follow-up to See Them Dance, my still-brand-new book for 2014) is Baxter Bunny Escapes. I'm midway through the writing, and starting to work on other aspects of the book, including, as you can see, the cover design. This will likely change in the coming months... Baxter Bunny Escapes isn't due until next year. But I expect to launch its website around the middle of summer. That will include any art and extras that I've developed, along with the first chapter of the novel.

Had enough? It goes on. I have three other books in the pipeline for this year (I hope!)... along with a third Oracle deck (this is a definite). 

I'd call the DuckHaus "The House of Ideas" if Stan Lee hadn't already co-opted that phrase years and years and years ago. And while it may all come just from "me" and not "we" -- sometimes I wish for another Brain at the Breakfast Table who could help make that whole "we" thing happen..

-- Freder

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How Dr. Seuss Put My Dad in the Dog House

When I was very little, I was terrified by the record you see pictured above. I don't mean "weirded out" or "creeped out" or a little bit scared: I mean TERRIFIED. I mean screaming, running, crying, waving-my-hands TERRIFIED. 

My dad brought it home one night, and I'm certain he thought he was doing something nice for his kids. He could not possibly have foreseen the reaction that I would have to the thing. As you can see, side one features the somewhat milder "Yertle the Turtle," and perhaps if they had started me there things would have been different. As it was, and being no more than about three years old (although I will remember it as long as I live), I completely lost it about mid-way through the story, at the point where the guardsman scoops some of that awful stuff onto his sword and puts it in his mouth. 

It certainly did not help matters that the production is extremely well-done and uses sound effects to make the story... vivid. 

Well... my grandmother was visiting us that night, and the women-folk in the house wasted no time getting out the metaphorical gibbet to hang my dad from. Which hardly seems fair to me now. But at the time I kind of agreed with them: Daddy WAS a terrible person for bringing this horrifying thing into the house. 

I'm not exaggerating about the screaming, crying, running and waving my hands about. This record has terrified me all my life and terrifies me to this day. Those creepy wizards! That bad king! That awful stuff coming down out of the sky! Marvin Millar was the narrator, but the actor who played Bartholmew Cubbins really took the role to heart and Cubbins's terror was completely infectious.

 I may have written about this before, somewhere in the deep dark past of this blog, but it's on my mind today because I have been gradually restoring my album collection to iTunes after the crash that wiped me out in December. Guess what got added back today. And today I'm going to try something different. Today I am going to make the entire scream-inducing production available for you to listen for yourself. Just click here to download the MP3.

And don't say I didn't warn you.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Duck Soup @ PechaKucha Night

This was my presentation at Waterville's PechaKucha Night Volume 14, January 24 2014. I unveiled my Tarot of the Zircus Magi, among other things. You can't see me, but you can hear me, which is Bed Enough.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Cards in The Machine

Two cards from Gabrielle Angus-West's audacious Bonefire Tarot

A good modern Tarot deck is one that manages to honour tradition and blaze its own trail at the same time. I have little patience with modern artists who content themselves with just re-drawing or aping Pamela Colman Smith’s designs (always to greatly inferior results); but by the same token there are certain rules and regulations that you have to follow if you want to call your project a tarot deck. You can’t just take any old picture that has one element bearing a remote resemblance to a card, slap it in and call it done. Stray too far from the rules, and you are no longer making a tarot deck, but an oracle deck… and the two are completely different animals. 

Some very good decks tread cautiously. Barbara Moore’s Steampunk Tarot falls into that category: it’s an excellent traditional deck, very much based on PCS but in possession of its own style and voice. Others are so scholarly that they transcend history: Christine Payne-Towler and Michael Dowers knocked this sort of deck out of the park with their fantastic Tarot of the Holy Light. Still others walk a tightrope, throwing caution to the winds without losing sight of established ritual: Aussie artist Gabrielle Angus-West manages this in her wonderful Bonefire Tarot, which copped an honour as one of the ten best new decks published in 2013.

Bonefire Tarot is a passionate mash-up of symbols and influences in blazing colors, hand-painted in the style of tattoo art. As such it draws on more than one tradition, stirring it all up in a rich dayglow cauldron of Outsider art, and splashing the resulting psychedelic stew over the cards in a wave of high energy that’s at once hard on the eyes and soothing to the senses. It is simultaneously outrageous and orhodox. It’s a tarot that bypasses words and reason and shoots straight into your collective unconscious with needle intensity. It’s one of the most astonishing (and to other artists like me, humbling) tarots to emerge in modern times.

The thing that all these decks have in common, and which the Bonefire Tarot is the most recent brilliant addiction to, is the growing line of Tarot iPhone and iPad apps from a little software outfit in Maryland called The Fool’s Dog. 

Bonefire Tarot is one of those decks that I’ve lusted after for a while but could not justify the expense in my limited budget. At $3.99 a pop, the tarot apps from The Fool’s Dog are perfect for dabblers and experts alike. They allow access a wide range of decks that you might otherwise not be able to afford, yes, but also to their all-important texts. I already owned physical copies of Holy Light and M.M. Meleen’s wonderful Thoth-derived Rosetta Tarot, but for $3.99 I bought the apps for the scholarly books that compliment both decks (last I heard, the Holy Light book had not even been published in physical form).

The apps don’t replace physical decks and really nothing could; but for an extremely reasonable price, I now have access to a wide range of decks and designs and texts right here in my study, right here at my work-desk, just a finger’s-touch away. This has been invaluable to me in the designing of my own Tarot of the Zirkus M├Ągi: at a touch, I can reference not just the decks, but volumes of  text that would be cumbersome to sort through at best. What does Moore have to say about this card? What do Farrar and Bone have to say about that one? How do Payne-Towler and M.M. Meleen explain the symbols that they used? It has all helped me build a better, and hopefully more significant, deck of my own. 

Some of the Fool’s Dog apps are based on some pretty minor decks: the one accompanying Juliet Sharman-Burke’s Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot is exactly the sort of deck I am most contemptuous of: just a pointless and hugely inferior copy of Colman-Smith. But I didn’t get that app for the deck, I got it for the book, and the book has been very helpful. Others are novelty decks that I avoid even in this form: The Housewives’ Tarot or The Zombie Tarot, both of which are beautifully designed but hard to take seriously. I did buy the app version of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Shadowscapes Tarot, and this was the one out-and-out mistake that I’ve made. The deck falls, as far as I am concerned, into the category of straying too far outside the rules to the point where it’s no longer a legitimate Tarot deck but just a bunch of pretty pictures printed on cards. It’s the only deck I own, physically or electronically, that I don’t connect with on any level. But at $3.99 the mistake wasn’t a horrible one, and the accompanying text by Moore is worth having.

Although readings are possible within the apps (and the people at The Fool’s Dog have devised the most satisfactory simulation of the reading ritual out there in app land), the best feature is the ability to log and record physical readings that you make in the so-called Real World. I can set up my iPad on my reading table, deal out the physical cards and then go back and forth from the cards to the app, enter the reading, make notes and consult reference texts as needed. 

But at their best, the apps bring decks like the astonishing Bonefire into my life, and allow me to take them everywhere I go. Enlightenment, symbology and great art at a price that won’t bankrupt you is always a good thing.

— Freder

Sunday, March 9, 2014

That Evening Sun

Although it didn’t become official until just today, I’ve been living on Daylight Saving Time for the past week. It was the right thing for me to do, to get a running start on this most difficult to the time-shifts: the hour that we lose always seems to come out of sleep-time. 

Of course the difficulty of this was that no other clocks agreed with the ones in the house that I set by myself. The clocks on my computer, iPhone and iPad all take care of themselves, and diligently announce the hour, on the hour, except that for me the hour was wrong. “It’s three o'clock,” the Lady inside my Computer would say to me. “No, it’s four,” I would reply.

In the mornings it was great because I was always an hour ahead of the game. It didn’t become bothersome until Dinnertime for Pussyquats rolled along. 
First, the Internal Time of the Pussyquats (always malleable at other times, I’ve found) had not changed; so when I was putting out their food and calling “Dinnertime! Dinnertime! It’s Dinner Time for Pussyquats!” instead of the usual parade into the kitchen I was met with sleepy expressions. 

Much worse than that, however, was turning on the television expecting the five o’clock news, and instead finding myself stranded in Katie Couric land. Yeeek!

Oh, how I sometimes long for the days when Afternoon TV belonged to Us Kids. Before the Oprahs and the Katies and the Judge Judys took over the afternoons, this was where local TV stations would strip great old shows from TV’s past. This was where I finally got to see all of Star Trek (and by that I mean the original series — the only Star Trek worth watching) and where I got to visit old friends like The Addams Family and The Munsters and Gilligan  and Batman again. 

It’s all Phil Donahue’s fault. He’s the one who opened the door to let all those sickening, smarmy Orpahs and Katie Courics through. Oh, they’re so caring and sympathetic — that is, when it suits their own egos — someone bring me a bucket. Women like to put men down for what they call their “male ego,” and yet they flock to watch shows named after the most egotistical people in the universe.

Anyway… suddenly finding myself tuned in to Katie Couric was like being in a Horror Movie. I couldn’t turn the set off fast enough.

In the evenings I missed a couple of things on TCM that I would have liked to watch, because they came on too late for me. Suddenly, I was finding myself in the bedtime land of my neighbors who typically roll up the sidewalks out in front of their places while the night is still extremely young. Seriously, their houses are all dark at nine o’clock. I wasn’t quite that bad, but I found myself heading for bed around 11:30, because it had already become my 12:30.

One of my Facebook friends shared a MEME kidding that the hour we lose came out of the hour that she would normally spend at the gym. But honestly, instead of forcing us to lose sleep over it, why shouldn’t the hour that we lose come out of other parts of the day? Or other days of the week, for that matter? What if daylight savings time began at noon on a Monday? Then, instead of losing an hour of sleep, we’d lose an hour at work and be that much closer to getting home. This would make at least one Monday a year something to look forward to, rather than dread. It would make the day we go onto Daylight Savings time into something much more like a holiday… which is what it should be.

— Freder.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Rooftops of Paris, The Rehearsal-Halls of London

It’s increasingly rare that the $5 DVD bin offers anything of interest; funny, you’d think it would be the other way around. Recently, though, a bin dive turned up a terrific little item called A Cat in Paris — an animated film from France all about a girl, her cat, her mother and a burglar. “Enchanting” is a word that gets tossed around altogether too much by film critics to suit me, but it absolutely applies in this case. To tell you anything much about it would spoil the movie’s pleasures: it’s very short (just over an hour) and its story is simplicity itself. But the art style is charming and the way it’s brought to life is delightful. As movies go, it’s hardly a four-course meal; rather it’s one of those elegant French pastries that soothe the soul.

If you are at all interested in the theatrical arts, by all means pick up Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy. Out of print for an unconscionable amount of time, now Criterion has given it one of their usually extravagant releases: and if A Cat in Paris is the desert, Topsy-Turvy is a smorgasbord. It all hangs together so beautifully that it’s astonishing to learn that the picture had no real script when Leigh made it, and that he essentially made it up (with the help of the fine cast, including Jim Broadbent, Alan Corduner and the always-strangely-enticing Shirley Henderson) as he went along on his merry way. The story concerns that period in the collaborative history of light opera-meisters Gilbert and Sullivan when their creative relationship was on the rocks and in danger of an abrupt and early end. Thanks to Gilbert’s trip to the World Exposition and the resulting leap of faith, instead of breaking up the two men produced what’s arguably their greatest work, The Mikado. And the rest is history.

We are treated to the entire creative process in the film’s breezy two-and-three-quarters of an hour runtime… and everyone in the cast does their own singing and playing of instruments. It’s got genuine drama, heart and humor… and great music. What more could anyone ask? I picked this one up at the same time as Tristram Shandy, and what a relief it was after that disaster to find that Topsy-Turvy more than lives up to its promise. Unfortunately, being a Criterion release, you won’t find it in the five-dollar bin.

— Freder

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Falling Back on Flickers (and Not Always Being Caught)

Cowboys and Aliens is just barely worth watching, if only because it shows Harrison Ford up as the Lightweight that he truly is. Safe inside his virtually interchangeable Han Solo Indiana Jones Fugitive persona we hadly noticed: but when he’s plunked down into a milieu in which we’re used to seeing the likes of John Wayne and James Stewart and Henry Fonda, Ford comes off looking more like Rock Hudson in John Wayne drag. Cast as a mean SOB with a heart of gold (say what?), Ford is about as genuinely mean as a ripe tomato. 

The picture also proves that Daniel Craig has considerably more gravitas and is closer to heavyweight status than anyone else working in the business today. IT’s unfortunate that he reportedly hates playing James Bond, and would rather be seen in tripe like this.

Maybe tripe is too strong a word. The picture is totally harmless, and just exactly the sort of thing that Jon Favreau does well. In its early scenes it offers some genuine Western grit; but when the CGI aliens start bouncing around, chewing up humans at a rate far faster than the eye can follow, the picture just falls apart into another generic modern 100 percent computer generated extended explosion. For five bucks I wasn’t exactly robbed… but as the credits roll a viewer is likely to get the sinking that they’ve badly wasted another two hours of their life,

As proof that even outwardly trivial pictures can carry weight and intelligence, the somewhat sad and depressing 1955 musical It’s Always Fair Weather tells the story of three G.I.s, fresh from the war, who swear eternal friendship and vow to meet again ten years later. The ten years pass, and all three faithfully return for their reunion, only to find that they no longer have anything in common and actually dislike each other. Enter the always-amazing Cyd Charisse, some gangsters and some ad people and a cynical thing called television… and after a day of fighting back from a deeply assailed defensive position, the three men find that they are bound by more than trivial differences. It’s a powerful picture, but you sometimes forget that because the patter and songs by Comden and Green are so much fun, and the dance numbers staged by co-star Gene Kelly are, as you might expect, vibrant and exciting. The nominal director is Stanley Donen, though Kelly was a forceful presence behind the camera as well. Kelly has always been one of my favorites — he’s such a very Cool Cat that you can’t even hate him for being full of himself — but anyone who doubts that the man had a sharkish side to his nature need only watch the extra features in which it’s revealed, among other things, that Kelly insisted on cutting his co-star Michael Kidd’s only solo number for no other reason than that it was better than Kelly’s. Unconventional as all get out, and very very Fifties, with all of cultural explosion of that time period, It’s Always Fair Weather is a lesser-known classic well worth tracking down.

I can’t begin to express how disappointed I was by Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, starring Steve Coogan. The picture should have been a postmodern triumph. Just read the promotional copy on the box: “An inventive adaptation of the notoriously unfilmable British comic novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy … Skipping back and forth between the 18th century and the efforts of 21st century filmmakers attempting to shoot the classic … the story focuses on his life from conception onward, with numerous digressions and unfinished thoughts.”

If the movie was actually anything like that, it might have been brilliant. But the movie is not like that. It begins in the 18th century, spends about seven minutes there, and then leaps to the present day… where it stays, focussing almost entirely upon Steve Coogan’s extremely unlikeable portrayal of himself as an actor. We don’t see the 18th century again until just before the credits roll. I might be inclined to forgive the picture if anything in the middle modern bit was even the least bit interesting, humorous or entertaining… but it isn’t. This should have been an outlandish piece of moviemaking along the lines of The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole… instead it is a plodding, self-regarding bit of twaddle, a waste of talent and money. More than a few times in the viewing I sighed and wondered when it was going to start being good, or, barring that, when it was going to be over. Movies that are self-consciously very very clever can not afford to be boring as all get-out. I’m going to have to call it a comedy, but it’s snot. It runs 94 excruciating minutes.

— Freder
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...