Sunday, December 29, 2019

No Elegies for Thorn.

And so another year down the tube. Another year of incident; highs, lows, water over the dam, designs run up the flagpole, accomplishments made, setbacks endured, some laughs to be had, a fountain of tears shed; just your average annual whack at life. But as I started to type this, I realized something important: unless my advancing age has already started to sap my short-term memory, I don't think that the year 2019 robbed me of any beloved family members or friends.

That makes it a unique year indeed, and one to be treasured forever in memory. It's true that important people, influential people, people who impacted my life in various ways, continued to drop like flies: but unless pain has masked the event from my recollection, none of those people were actually close to me.

So 2019 goes down as the year of No Losses. That makes it almost unique in the past decade or so. And it's not something that I expect to become a trend.

It means that as this year closes out, I don't have to raise a glass (in my case, of iced coffee) in a toast to (newly) absent friends. Instead,  I can raise it to friends and loved ones who are still with me. As in recent years I have made a kind of profession out of mourning, this is a realization that comes with no end of relief. It's kind of a small miracle. And thank goodness for small miracles.

For those of you who have lost friends and loved ones in the past year -- I know that nothing can take away your pain. But one day you'll have a year of no losses, too, and you'll be able thank the ones who are left just for still being there. And maybe, no, probably... we should have been doing that right along.

Happy Happy, Joy Joy, and Stay Strong in the New Year.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Grab it All, Own it All, Drain it All."

CORALINE -- adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman -- is not just a great Halloween movie. It is a work of genius. Don't take my word for it. Just get it. Watch it. The story is quite traditional, if given a modern spin by Gaiman, but it's how that story is brought to life and the marvelous visions created by the filmmakers that rip you out of your own circumstance and into a world of magic and horror.

Unfortunately, on the release of CORALINE writer/director Henry Selick (who also gave us THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH) made the terrible mistake of leaving LAIKA and signing a deal with Disney. And in this century, that's the exact same thing as signing a deal with the devil. It's been a decade since CORALINE was released, but Selick hasn't been able to bring a single film to completion, simply because the Disney Devil keeps shutting down his projects "due to unspecified concerns over future costs and benefits."

Translation: the projects don't fit the cookie-cutter sameness of the Disney Machine. That's right -- if they can't compete with genius, they buy it and stuff it in a closet. I would bet you any amount of money that they never intended to release anything that Selick produced. It's called "Making our crap look better by eliminating the competition."

Meanwhile, Walt is spinning in his grave.

Now there's a good Halloween story for you.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Wizard of Kangaroo

Bob Keeshan’s name has come up in a number of social media discussions that I’ve participated in lately. He’s been dead now for just 15 years; and yet, as was pointed out to me the other day, most adults under the age of 40 have no idea who he was or what he accomplished, or how important he was in the lives of those of us over the age of 40.

However, there are still a few places on the internet where the history of CAPTAIN KANGAROO (and MISTER MAYOR and THE HOWDY DOODY SHOW, in which Keeshan was the first of several actors to play Clarabell the Clown) can be gleaned, and there are even a few early episodes up on YouTube that give a good round sense of what the show, and the character, were like; and why they were important to the medium, and to a generation of young TV fans.

So I’m not here to write an appreciation or a history of the man and the show — you can get that elsewhere. I’m here today to write about a single thing: a Great Moment in Television History that is not widely remembered; indeed, it seems to be all but completely forgotten. I witnessed this Great Moment when it happened, and so (I assumed) did millions of other kids. But it was pointed out to me by a friend that a great number of those millions of other kids may not have been as impacted by the moment as I was, may not even have been able to see it as I did… and perhaps this is why that Great Moment remains apparently completely undocumented to this day.

Color was a long time coming to American television and American Homes. Walt Disney was the first producer, in 1961, to shoot and broadcast his TV show entirely in Color; most of the rest of Prime Time programming (that is, 8-11 PM EST) did not catch up to Disney until the fall of 1965. Even then, much of what was broadcast out of prime time remained in black & white; in fact, color TV sets did not become the standard in most American homes until the very late ‘60s. It was 1970 or ’71 before all American programming was produced in color, with PBS, then known as ETV (Educational Television) being one of the last to fully update to the color standard.

In the category of Children’s Television, black and white remained the norm longer than in other genres. Bob Keeshan and CBS were Early Adopters: and the way that Keeshan presented the change on CAPTAIN KANGAROO, by borrowing a page (it must be said) out of THE WIZARD OF OZ, was a brilliant, classic use of the medium. I know: I was there: I saw it.

At that time, Keeshan was doing an hour show of CAPTAIN KANGAROO every weekday morning at 8:00 AM. By 1966, this had been his regular gig for eleven years. On September 9, 1966, the show opened just the way that it always had: with the theme music playing over a black & white panel painted with some decorations and the show title. The Captain greeted us by opening the panel and admitting us into the Treasure House: a place that was part museum, part library, part circus and part toy shop. Again, this was broadcast, as it always had been, in black & white. The Captain jangled his keys as always, then throw the key-ring onto a nail, which caused the theme music to stop. Then, in his gently easygoing manner, speaking as he always did directly to us, the audience, the Captain told us that this was going to be a very special day, because the Treasure House was moving.

He didn’t say where. Or how. Instead, he wandered over to the left side of the set and exchanged a few words with Grandfather Clock — who, if you haven’t guessed it, was a “real,” living Grandfather Clock who could talk and give the time, but who was always dropping off to sleep in the middle of a conversation. This was normal. But then Captain Kangaroo, without any kind of show or fanfare, did something he’d never done before: he opened Grandfather Clock’s cabinet door… and stepped inside.

And there was no time to even think about what this might mean, because the camera cut, and the Captain immediately emerged on the other side of the wall, though the cabinet door of a Grandfather Clock who was now situated on the right side of the room. We had entered a mirror universe! As the Captain came through, the camera pulled back and we found ourselves in an all-new Treasure House, where everything, including Grandfather Clock and the Captain himself, was in full color. It was fully as magical a moment as that similar moment when Judy Garland opens the front door of her Aunt & Uncle’s recently displaced house and sees Munchkinland through the doorway instead of Kansas.

Perhaps because he knew that a great number of his viewers still did not have color TV sets, the Captain did not make much of this change; he simply went on with the show as normal, pointing out a few key differences between this Treasure House and the old one, differences that had more to do with set upgrades that everyone could see, whether they had color or not.

But it was a great, magical moment that I have never forgotten. Over the years, I’ve sometimes wondered why TV historians didn’t mention it at all, and why I never encountered anyone else who remembered seeing it. And now I understand. On the one hand, most kids weren’t watching on a color TV set as yet. And on the other: the episode aired just that one time, and no one thought that they had done anything special. Although pre-recorded, no tape or kinescope of the episode exists today. The tape was probably wiped and used again a week later. Like most kid’s TV shows of the day, and all real magic, it was temporary. History is made and whooshes by in a flash, before disappearing forever, leaving only a memory… if that.

— Thorn.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Groovy Ghoulies . . . and one Big Dud.

October of 2019 has already been exceptionally good to this Old Geezer who thought he’d seen all the good Horror Movies that were there to be seen. In addition to some old favorites, my nightly Fright-Film Fest has already turned up THREE (count ‘em!) new-to-me screamers that may not be classics, exactly, but which do the genre up right as a rain of pumpkins!

First was William Castle's gimmicky, harmless 13 GHOSTS — filmed in Illusion-o! Castle is considered the master of Contrivance, and the Contrived Contraption that he personally reveals in a fourth-wall-shattering introduction is nothing more than a classic ’50s 3-D viewer, shaped like a ghost and with the blue and red filters stacked one on top of the other instead of side-by-side. Fortunately, the DuckHaus counts several pairs of old-style 3-D eyewear among its protected possessions, so viewing the picture as it was meant to be viewed was not an issue. 

No, the film is not a 3-D headache-fest, but uses the process in several isolated sequences to accomplish its ghost effects. For no reason other than to give the viewer fair warning, the screen goes dark at various times to allow the audience to select from the “believer” or “non-believer” spectrums of ghost-watching. Inevitably, you’ll want to try both — and watch as the actors react either to empty space, or to, say, spooky ghostly lion tamers. It’s your choice… and it's a pretty good gimmick.  Castle finds a couple of ways to work it into the plot: for not only did a dead eccentric scientist leave one such pair of Ghost-Viewers for the characters in the movie, but why is it that one ghost in the girl’s bedroom (easily the ghastliest ghost in the whole picture) can be seen by us without the viewer? Hmm? Why is that? The whole thing is goofy, silly, Halloween fun — and not scary in the slightest. Among the cast of talented actors (either climbing the Hollywood ladder or coming down it), squeaky-clean Martin Milner is cast effectively against type, and Margaret Hamilton seems perfectly happy to be in on the joke when Junior refers to her as the witch that comes with the house! 

Thirteen Ghosts was later re-made in the depraved modern manner, filled to the brim with messy studies into the many disgusting ways that human body can be taken apart. Be very very certain when you check out of the movie store that you’re getting the 1960 version. It’s as good-natured as Leave It to Beaver, but with a vintage funhouse appeal. Like many another picture from bygone days, it has been restored to a condition that belies its age. It’s good, funny, seasonal fun, and its only serious flaw lies in the set decoration: such a spooky home exterior (apparently Castle used stock footage of a side entrance to the Winchester mystery house — more on that in a moment) deserves an equally spooky interior, but all the sets are '50s-bland. Still — these 13 Ghosts, vintage 1960, are keepers!


The interwebs have been whispering about BUBBA HO-TEP for years now, but increasingly in our self-defined culture it is difficult to decide when recommendations are valid and whether or not one should  trouble to call something forth from the Stygian Depths, Because Reasons. High Concepts can sometimes cover bargain basement ineptitude or intellectual twaddle, and BUBBA HO-TEP’s High Concept is not only prodigiously high, but of a uniquely Bounce-Off-The-Wall Weirdness. There are a million and a half ways that a picture of this sort can go off the rails, and most of them do just that. BUBBA HO-TEP manages somehow to stay on the Funhouse track. 

It is much more than just an inventive pop-rocks take on the old Mummy saw. Some of its humor walks dangerously close to vulgarity, while some of its horror just skirts the issue of gore, but in the end it’s a balancing act that pays off in style and enjoyably spooky fun. Don’t watch the trailer: it reveals too much, as do most reviews. BUBBA HO-TEP is best approached from a state of purity and ignorance. Relax and let Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis do that thing they do in the leading parts, and open your mind to possibility. Y' gotta take this one on faith, monster and pop culture fans... run, do not shamble. BUBBA HO-TEP is the Real Deal.

The corporate-owned and neatly muzzled critics of the shill media were not kind to last year's WINCHESTER, starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke — and that should tell you something. Critics don’t have to think anymore, and rather resent it when they are required to do so. The big corporate conglomerates that own the papers and pay the salaries know that they can count on their critical Igors to lavishly praise the latest hollow Big Studio Product to the skies, and churn out “reviews” that are nothing more than press releases lacking both credibility and integrity. Not even audience reviews can be trusted anymore, because audiences are increasingly made up of the born-yesterday crowd who have the cultural knowledge and sensitivities of a tapeworm.

WINCHESTER was almost certainly not violent enough or depraved enough for that crowd: it is a horror movie in the old style, returning the form to the days when suggestion and dread and implication were valued over shock and sick sadism.

In the manner of blogs, I now dip into that most egregious of critical devices, the Personal Backstory. My one regret in two visits to the West Coast is that I have never visited the Winchester house, the real, honest-to-gosh place upon which this movie hangs its extravagant fiction. Really, the Winchester house is much more than just a structure: it doesn’t have a story, it is a story; and a great story at that.

At this point there are so many different versions of that story that one can forgive the departures from factuality that were a necessity to make this an out-and-out horror movie. As in THE WOMAN IN BLACK, a film with which this one has a lot in common, the picture relies on jump-scares that are plentiful enough but not very jumpy. It is also wonderfully tactile, a beautiful Time-Travel sort of movie that takes us palpably back to the time period in which it's set. And it’s the atmosphere of vintage dread that WINCHESTER creates that drives this film. Like the great old Universal horror movies where the monsters come out of the fog and pose for for you, WINCHESTER makes a stylish presentation of its monster: and the monster in question, as it really should be, is the uncontrolled possession and manufacture of firearms.

That makes WINCHESTER about as topical a horror movie as they come. Its conscious decision to dial back on the gore is in line with its principles about gun violence. There are parallels here with some other great modern horror films that are also worth your attention: THE ORPHANAGE and THE BABADOOK and WINCHESTER have more on their minds than just wanting to scare you. Their real theme, all three, is human grief; how to face it, how to acknowledge it, and even how we must tame it. Grief is the Monster in the Room that we must all confront, sooner or later. This is the sort of theme that requires Real Actors, not just screamers, and everyone in WINCHESTER is up to the mark, most especially the great and almost ageless Helen Mirren. 


Alas, not all my forays into the macabre this season have been happy ones. 

There's not much of John Bellairs left in the film version of his juvenile gothic thriller THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS. About 35 minutes in, a giant topiary chimera takes a huge shit into the garden pool — and that's when you realize that this first-ever adaptation of a Bellairs novel was directed by Eli Roth, the genuine, certified Sick Fuck behind HOSTEL, HOSTEL PART II and THE GREEN INFERNO: all of which worship at the alter of sadistic depravity, viscera and Beyond Graphic gore. With a resume like that, one has to wonder why in god's name Steven Spielberg hired the depraved Mr. Roth to direct a children's movie. 

At first, the thing shows a sense of style: although the fantasy has been ramped up to the Nth degree, into gimmicky Harry Potter territory, the picture does have a smashingly stylish design. Well — that’s almost the only thing we can count on from Hollywood these days: that it will always look good. You don't begin to notice something wrong until Roth finds a way to make jokes at the expense of a crippled kid. That's offensive enough: but it isn't until we get to the Dumping Topiary that Roth begins to pile vulgarity on offense. And at that point, I was out. I'm too much a fan of John Bellairs to see his books treated in such shabby fashion by a man whose other movies present torture as entertainment. There's a special place in hell for Eli Roth, and now Mr. Spielberg is fully qualified to join him there.

— Thorn.

Friday, October 4, 2019

And Now the Comic Consequences

It’s almost fashionable now for YouTubers and bloggers who have the comics industry as their regular bale of hay to announce or predict what they see as the untimely death of said industry, and specifically of Marvel and DC. They aren’t wrong, but they’re a little late to the game, and a little bit short of the mark. I saw this coming thirty-five-odd years ago, when the Big Two finally bought into Direct Sales distribution as a last-ditch effort to save themselves from extinction in the wake of a disastrous implosion on the one hand (DC) and Stan Lee’s retirement on the other. It worked for them, for the most part, but only as a short-term solution that they should have taken as an opportunity to solidify their reader base for the long term. How? Simply by doing what Marvel did so well under Stan Lee: by telling great stories about engaging characters, and providing value to the reader.

I cannot understand how editors and publishers across all genres of the publishing business perpetually fail to grasp that (engaging) Content is King. Give people a Harry Potter and they will buy the shelves bare; but you cannot fool your audience with gimmicks and replicants and rehashes and rip-offs and manufactured scarcity. 

Marvel and DC didn’t understand this, post-Stan Lee, and they still don’t understand it today. Instead, they have for decades now satisfied themselves with milking the concept of Direct Sales distribution for more than it was worth. Direct Sales was doomed from the outset as a business model, for the simple reason that it is not sustainable at the retail level. Even if they are supported by a rich backer, retail comic shops have a financial breaking point. They can only afford to shell out so much in non-refundable purchases of material that isn’t selling before they reach that breaking point and are forced to close their doors forever.

The pressures on the comics industry are manifold and have been growing incrementally more intense every year since about 1980. Ultimately, the only way for the business to survive is for comics publishers to produce engaging and powerful stories that connect with a readership, and which are of better and more individual quality than can be found in any other mediaform. Some of the smaller publishes, Dark Horse et al, have managed to do just that, carving out a distinct niche for themselves with Hellboy and other titles. But Marvel and DC — and especially Marvel — have shown themselves to be unable or unwilling to create that kind of content, and instead have focussed on the marketing of shock value, gimmicks such as alternate covers and “collectibles” that rely on manufactured scarcity to drive their sales. 

These practices never could have sustained them forever, and it’s a little bit surprising that they’ve been able to hang on for this long. But in 2019 it would seem that the due date on their creatively bankrupt and downright cynical business practices has finally arrived. Comic book shops have been closing in record numbers because they have been betrayed by the industry that helped to create them. 

Looking at Marvel’s catalog for 2017 and 2018, I saw a company in a state of creative desperation, throwing crap ideas at the wall left and right in the wretched hope that something would stick. It was right about that time that my local source for comics, Bull Moose Music, stopped carrying new comics altogether and instead gave over the space in their store to an expansion of their board games section. While they continue to sell paperback “graphic novel” collections to this day, even that section has been ruthlessly pared back, with Marvel and DC bearing the brunt of the lost shelf space. 

I don’t have to ask why. Marvel and DC are producing rubbish. With very few exceptions (not even Marvel’s output has been all bad, but there’s a distinct sense that when they manage to publish something good, it has happened entirely by accident. There’s no more Marvel Universe to show us that it’s all connected somehow) Marvel and DC have cost themselves their livelihood because the stories have no relevance, the characters are either uninteresting or downright off-putting, and even the mainstay characters such as Batman and Spider-man are just simply played out. In Spidey’s case, Peter Parker stopped being interesting three decades ago when Marvel broke faith with their audience by freezing him and his universe outside of real time, like a spider in amber. 

Certain corners of the comics YouTubers and bloggers are soundly condemning what they are calling “Woke” Marvel: but the feminization of old mainstay Marvel characters is simply a misguided manifestation of a very much belated understanding on Marvel’s part that they could have developed a strong base among female readers, if they hadn’t been, metaphorically speaking, a day late and a dollar short. Or, more accurately, decades late and creatively bankrupt. The bottom line here is that no Marvel editor since Stan Lee got on the plane for the West Coast has been able to sense what readers want, and to connect with it.

And so comics fans: if comic shops are closing in record numbers and if Marvel and DC are on their last legs, they have no one but themselves to blame. However: it is true that the years since 1980 have been challenging in ways that not even Stan Lee could have predicted. Marvel and DC can be faulted for bad decisions in the wake of a dramatically changing marketplace and culture, but in no way do they deserve the blame for how dramatically the ground has shifted underneath them. 

Since 1980 the world has been shaken by a cultural earthquake, by a systemic tsunami that changed everything in the same way and for the same reasons that steam rocked the Victorian age. In 2019, we are now far enough removed from the 20th century to see it objectively. Among many other things, it was the century of Pop Culture: the century that birthed the whole concept of a Pop Culture — and the century that saw Pop Culture’s demise. Tendrils of the concept thread out in either direction, in the same way that “The Sixties” lasted into the 1970’s and had its roots in the decade prior, but the body is intact, encompassed in the 20th century. 

The mainstream comics industry didn’t create this situation: but it failed to react in an effective way, and so became a casualty.

COMING SOON (I hope): The Birth and Death of Pop Culture, The Rise of Personal Culture, and the interesting consequences of all these things. 



Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Leaves from The Book of Tarot

Almost by accident, it’s turned into the most colorful fall ever for Duck Soup Productions. 

That’s because almost two years of work across several projects have all reached fruition at just about the same time, with no less than four big new deck releases happening in almost as many weeks!

I certainly didn’t plan it this way, and wouldn’t have: since I think it’s better to pace new releases across a period of months. But they say things happen for a reason… although in this case the “reason” may simply be the law of averages!

First up was the Revised & Refined 2nd Edition of The Arthur Rackham Oracle, which successfully funded at Kickstarter and has been available for sale since early September. With its heavy cardboard box, gold edging and gorgeously printed images on heavy art paper, this is a truly deluxe deck, a deck that would command prices of $75 or more had not the Kickstarter campaign have been so successful. Instead,  it’s priced at just $35, and worth every penny. With its evocative images created by one of the worlds’ greatest illustrators, paired thoughtfully with keywords designed to challenge and inspire, The Arthur Rackham Oracle is one of the most evocative and effective decks you will ever own. And you know — it’s not too early to start thinking about the Winter Holidays! This is a deck that would make a striking holiday gift, at a reasonable cost.

Mid-September saw the debut of The Zirkus Mägi Classic Bavarian Oracle. This is the first time that I’ve attempted to create a “kipper” deck: interest in this almost-forgotten style of fortune-telling deck was resuscitated a couple of years back when popular Tarot artist Ciro Marchetti created his Fin de Siècle Kipper, designed in a lush Victorian style. Indeed, the kipper lends itself to a vintage approach, and so when the time came to create one of my own I thought it best to stick with a style that’s become familiar to me, that retro-themed carnival aspect of the Zirkus Mägi. The result is colorful and comfortable, showing a side of the Zirkus that we haven’t seen before, a peak into the Private Lives of the performers themselves. Comprised almost entirely of new images, the Classic Bavarian Oracle may not be a tool for everyone — but on the other hand, it provides an “easy in” to this unique vintage system.

Just this past week, the work of nearly two years was completed with the release of the Daringly Different TAROT DADA. When I first started work on this deck, in late 2017, I don’t think people knew what to expect or how it would come together. But as the images started to preview on my Facebook page, the response was both enthusiastic and gratifying. Dada has its heart in joyful nonsense, but I could not allow the card images to be completely nonsensical: the challenge with this deck was to find meaning in abstraction and a surreal approach, and with a fair amount of revisions and corrections along the way, I think that I finally struck the right balance. 

The creation of a tarot deck could be likened to the creation of a novel — both have a beginning, middle and end, and both require dedication over a long period of time. The average novel runs between 75,000 to 120,000 words, while a tarot pack requires 78 separate images each playing a unique part yet contributing to the structure of the whole. Even when you work as quickly as I do, that’s a lot of images; and if a picture is worth a thousand words, a tarot pack indeed weighs in as a short novel at 78,000 words. 

Like all the decks that I’ve worked on, TAROT DADA has been great fun, and a large challenge. Even when an artist is trying to do something different, there are traditions, customs and card meanings that must be upheld and respected. That latter part was a particular challenge for TAROT DADA: because the art movement that inspired it is all about shattering rules and breaking traditions. I hope that I have been able to do that while still creating a deck that is readable and relatable. Only time will tell whether or not I have succeeded. 

And now, today, I can announce the release of the latest in my series of “Playroom Oracles” — unique oracle packs derived from the wisdom and art of vintage children’s books. The new title is THE BIRD CHILDREN ORACLE, and as the title suggests, it is a sort of sequel to THE ANIMAL CHILDREN ORACLE. Both decks feature art by M.T. Ross, and in addition to working as a stand-alone oracle pack, the BIRD CHILDREN was specifically created to combine with the ANIMAL CHILDREN into a single, supremely versatile 140-card pack! To facilitate this, the card back options are the same. More than that, there are no repeating keywords or core meanings between the two decks, and even the two significator cards in each pack reflect male and female roles at differing stages of life. You will not find a more adaptable oracle system than this.

So there you have it. With the leaves already changing color (and beginning to fall) and the days growing shorter and shorter, it’s kind of nice to know that in 2019 I managed, without even planning it this way, to pull a real Fall Harvest out of my Tarot bag! After a short break to read, recharge, and deal with Other Tasks that have gone by the boards while I worked on getting these decks out, I’ll be selecting my Winter tarot design projects and hunkering down once again. I’ve got a lot of ideas to choose from, and if fortune permits we’ll all still be here in 2020 to harvest again. I wish you all a healthy and happy Fall season, and hope that you enjoy my crop of cards for this year!

Best wishes;


Sunday, September 29, 2019

Two Checkmarks on the Side of the Angels

Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was assured legendary status when his first attempt at filming it became, quite by accident, the documentary feature Lost in La Mancha; an exercise in creative frustration that details the succession of disasters which forced Gilliam to shut down the production.

Fifteen years later, with several other good films in the can (notably the almost equally plagued Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the excellent Zero Theorem, with Cristoph Waltz cast against type as a programmer of imaginary worlds), Gilliam finally — on his third attempt — managed to get Quixote made. Of course making a picture isn’t always the end to difficulties: although the film was in the can, finding an American distributor posed a whole other set of problems. The film never did get a fair distribution in the states, although it is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD.

And I want to pause there and say to the American film industry, in a full sense of Greta Thunberg thundering outrage, “How dare you?” Gilliam is one of the last great visionary directors of our time, but Hollywood continues to ignore him because the films he creates are not the off-the-shelf tripe that they prefer to stuff into American cinemas. As far as I know, the only exhibition that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote ever got in the whole state of Maine, USA, was in my house. 

And sad to say, for different reasons, I was afraid to approach it myself.

I was afraid that it wouldn’t measure up after literally a decade and a half of anticipation. 

And now I can say to myself, “Oh ye of little Faith.” 

It measures up.

Thematically it is deeply connected to both Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but it's deeper and richer than either — the work of a mature filmmaker in every sense. It is a riot of life’s trials, an object lesson in what can happen when the things that people create are better than the people who create them, and a cautionary tale of playing with creative fire, or the fire of creativity.  

I wonder if Gilliam is now glad that his first two attempts at making this picture failed; for the picture we have as a result is probably better for all of the trials that he suffered in its making. It’s almost certainly a better picture than the first version would have been: Jean Rochefort was a very sick man, not up to the demands of the title part (Jonathan Pryce says jokingly that the movie had to wait for him to get old enough to play Quixote, but it’s the kind of joke that causes the shade of Fate to smile and nod); in the same way, Jonny Depp had already fallen into self-caricature, and could not, I think, have delivered as powerful a performance as Adam Driver now does in the finished film.

Tears. Redemption. I feel Gilliam is the most profound filmmaker of his, my, generation. Your mileage may vary —  heck, I always seem to be out of alignment with the idiotic taste possessed by most of the rest of the world, which seems to be satisfied with live action remakes of Disney cartoons — but I loved this picture. It is original and big and great and possibly Gilliam's best movie.

Next to Quixote, 1978’s Days of Heaven (written and directed by Terrance Malick, is the best god-damned thing I've seen in many moons. It took me powerfully back to the days when the cinema was still magic and movies were worth going out to — the days when a film could transport you into another time, another life, another world. The days when movies were Faith to me. It is gorgeous and immersive and divine. There's just one thing holding it back: Richard Gere, yet another “star” that I utterly detest, and his so-called "acting" in this movie bears out why I feel that way. The man is just a pretty-boy: his hair is always blow-dried and his face never gets dirty and he never needs a shave (all things that defy credulity in a picture like this) -- and he has Just One expression, only one, that he uses no matter what is happening. Gere should never have had a career. He is a great big ZERO, and his presence here intensely damages the movie. Fortunately he is kept in the background much of the time; it feels very much as if Malick cast him to please the studio and the backers. Oh well — when Gere isn't stinking up the screen with his half-baked and half-assed performance, it's a wonderful picture.

— Thorn.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Out of the Can Episode Three

Presenting a new episode of "Out of the Can," an irregular glimpse behind the scenes of what I vaingloriously call "Duck Soup Productions." Nonetheless, there's some stuff in here that I am -- unjustly or not -- somewhat proud of... See if you can spot QUIRK peeking over the top of the can... and then retreating back into it!

-- Thorn

Sunday, September 8, 2019

New Releases for September!

In case you think I've been slacking lately, presenting not one but TWO new releases in my Tarot Shop, . The first is the beautiful new Second Edition of the Original Arthur Rackham Oracle. This was printed offset in Hong Kong and is a deluxe deck in every sense of the word, with quality glossy card stock, gold edging and a sturdy, printed two-piece box for just $35. 

The second is the ZIRKUS MÄGI CLASSIC BAVARIAN ORACLE -- which is a fancy way of saying that it's a classic "Kipper"-style deck, all done up in the colorful Zirkus style of my flagship Tarot deck. All new art, bridge size cards, packaged in a plain white tuck box.

I have two more releases in the pipeline for October, so stay tuned... and thanks for your support!


Monday, August 5, 2019

Another Day, Another Shooting...

... and all the talk about "Good Guys with Guns" vs. "Bad Guys with Guns" really gets my back up.


There are no "Good Guys" or "Bad Guys"

....because humanity is an inherently flawed animal, and we are all, every one of us, capable of doing "Good" or "Evil" on any given day. This doesn't even begin to get into the argument of how one defines the twin concepts: someone else's "Evil" may well be your "Good."

There are no "Smart People" or "Stupid People" 

... because all of us are capable of both on any given day, any given hour.

There are no "Sane People" or "Insane People"

... because "sanity" is never an absolute, and we all go crazy sometimes. I'd say my Dad was sane probably most of the time. But often enough, he wasn't. He'd probably still be alive today if there hadn't been a gun in his house.

Are the Police always "Good People"?

Hell, no. They gun down innocent people in the streets all the time.


... and that is meaningful Gun Control, starting with a Complete Ban on the sale AND MANUFACTURE of assault rifles and all other weapons of capable of firing that number of bullets in rapid succession.



It is not a matter of so-called "good" or "evil." The tools of mass murder need to be taken off of the playing field. Banning their ownership is not good enough. Only a complete ban on their manufacture and sale will work at this point.

-- Thorn.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bond and Bree

It's High Summer in Maine, and I have installed the air conditioner in my bedroom to prove it. Likewise, I've been indulging in the sort of films that feel appropriate to the season... that is, Low Entertainment: on the one hand taking the form of the early Bond films (because I just picked up the whole set, newly restored and remastered on Blu-Ray, and the obsessive Asperger's gene in me is forcing me to watch them all) and on the other hand in the form of Giant Japanese Rubber-Suit monsters (because somehow I landed on the first GAMERA movie from the mid-60's and found it so insanely entertaining in the most off-beat way that I felt compelled to track down all the early GAMERAs and the early GODZILLAs as well -- more on that "discovery another time).

THUNDERBALL has the best opening sequence of any of the Connery Bonds, and it still holds up today. I'll wrestle to the ground anyone who disagrees. But the rest of the movie is a bit slow and stately by today's standards, and in some ways (sexism, anyone?) the picture has aged more in the last decade than in the 40 years prior.

It is my third favorite of the Connery Bonds, after FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Despite all . the years and all the pictures that followed it, RUSSIA still holds its own as the best picture of the whole series: because without it, there never would have been a series.

Once again, the HD restoration from the original camera materials is the star of the Blu-Ray release: it just looks so unbelievably fresh and gorgeous. You see what the camera saw, including details in the costumes and settings and even the actors' skin that have always been unnoticeable until now. It almost has the effect of putting you in the same room with Bond, and that's the closest thing to Time Travel that I've seen in my lifetime. Just stunning.

Now, about the "Bree" in the title up there.

You might ask how I can watch the Bond movies without complaining about Bond's rough and undeniably chauvanistic character, attitude and bearing when I so vocally hated Bree Larson's arrogance and smug demeanor in [NOT MY] CAPTAIN MARVEL. At least, I asked MYSELF that question: and the answer came without a moments hesitation: 

It's because JAMES BOND IS NOT A HERO. I don't think anyone would argue that point with me: not even Ian Fleming, who called Bond "a blunt instrument in the hands of the government." If Bond sometimes finds himself in the position of saving the world, it's really of no concern to him. It's Just Another Mission: and (especially with Connery playing him) he tackles it with the same brutish efficiency that he would bering to bear if he were ordered to kill the child who would grow up to be Hitler.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is supposed to be a HERO. We expect more from a hero: including humility, good intentions and kindness. These are qualities that Bree Larson is utterly lacking, at least insofar as her approach to this character goes. Compare Bree Larson's CM not to Bond, but to Christopher Reeve's turn as Superman. There is no comparison. Larson comes off looking like a jack-booted thug, like James Bond in drag minus the sex drive. 

THIS is supposed to be a hero? Not in my universe, me buckos.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"Are You Free, Mr. Humprhries?"

I pulled the plug on broadcast TV several years ago, and except for local news and weather (which I've recently been able to get in small quantities through my Apple TV device), I haven't regretted that decision at all. The single thing that I enjoy best about the twenty-tweens is the ability to act as the Programming Director for my own personal TV station. As you might expect, its imaginary call letters are station WDUK. 

Monday nights are Comedy nights, I've been able to balance new-to-me shows like COUPLING and BLACK BOOKS with old favorites like GILLGAN and ALL IN THE FAMILY -- and just recently among the mix I've been watching the first series of ARE YOU BEING SERVED? once again, after probably more than a decade since the last time it aired on my local PBS station. 

It was and remains an absolute classic, and a textbook (along with its cousin, ALLO, ALLO, by the same creators) on how to write comedy that is clean enough to pass any censor yet filled with filthy double-entendres that actually work both ways. Where modern shows are dragged down by in-your-face vulgarity, the writers of ARE YOU BEING SERVED and 'ALLO 'ALLO mastered the art of getting away with the dirtiest jokes by making them perfectly innocent. I will always fondly remember Mrs. Slocum's pussy.

Today I looked up the actors and was dismayed and saddened, though not surprised, to find that ALL the cast, even the youngest, have died -- they're all gone. Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) outlived them all, dying at the age of 92 in 2013. They were not in the upper echelon of British actors, but they were top notch at what they diid, one of the great ensemble casts of British television.

-- Thorn.

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…”


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.


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.

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? 


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 — 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.
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