Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Make Magic Happen at Kickstarter!


ABRACADABRA! My new deck Mystic Tarot is now Live on Kickstarter. Inspired by the gorgeous posters designed for Victorian and Edwardian era stage magicians such as Thurston, Kellar, Blackstone, Houdini and may others, Mystic Tarot is a deck that looks boldly ahead into the past. Watch the video, read all about it, and consider pre-ordering the deck via Kickstarter to help make it happen. Thank you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Looking Ahead Into the Past

Hard as it is to believe, 2023 marks the ten-year anniversary of TAROT OF THE ZIRKIS MÄGI, the project that quite literally saved my life. The correct pronunciation, by the way, is “Maggie” — as with the old comic strip characters Maggie and Jiggs, or Maggie O’Connell, the free spirited lady pilot of NORTHERN EXPOSURE whose boyfriends are known for their mortality rate. It is an Estonian surname.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. I didn’t know the correct pronunciation myself until years after the deck had been published! This is particularly embarrassing, as before the deck arrived I wrote an entire novel centered around a circus family named Mägi — and I was mispronouncing the name in my head the whole time! The misperception within the tarot community is that the deck is named for the Biblical Magi, who were the three Kings “following yonder star” of the song. It’s not: it’s named for a circus which is the focus of all the action in my novel SEE THEM DANCE (which is still in print, by the way!).

So now you know! 

Ten years seems like a long time when those years are in front of you, but once they’ve passed into the rear-view mirror they seem like Nothing At All, Really. Just little “phht,” and then they’re gone.

Life Never Waits, always remember that. I wish I could remember it more consistently myself, or at least live as if I remembered it!

When I worked in the library at a local college, I used to say to my work study students, “Nothing in the first twenty years of your life prepares you for how fast the next twenty go by.” That still holds true, but I must say it gets Markedly Worse after forty.  Some of you already know what I’m talking about. Those of you who don’t, will. Surviving ten years in any business would have seemed like a Big Accomplishment to my Younger Self. Now I’m old enough to understand that it’s nothing more then pure stubbornness!

The big news this month is that I have Mostly Finished work on my latest deck, MYSTIC TAROT, and hope to fund the publication of a nice offset edition in 2023. Watch this space for future announcements. In the meantime, you can see all the cards in the short teaser film that’s currently playing right up there at the top of this post!

My main inspiration for this one comes from the strikingly gorgeous posters produced in Victorian and Edwardian times for the great magicians of that era — Thurston, Blacksone, Kellar, Houdini, and others less well-remembered. These images often dealt in supernatural themes, and were designed and made with a lushness of detail that is unequaled to this day. Not surprisingly, since our modern mode of tarot derives from works created in the same time period, I was able to find many connections between the two art forms. This was another labor of love that combined several of my enthusiasms, and I hope that the resulting deck will resonate with Tarot readers and collectors. 

You don’t have to live in the past or blind yourself to the many injustices and hardships of the past to appreciate the historic accomplishments that humanity made with fewer technological advances than are available to us now. But after all, there is still injustice in the world, and just as in the past, much of it is perpetrated by self-righteous chest-beaters who are convinced that right is on their side. I do not advocate living in the past. I never have advocated that. I *do* advocate familiarity with the past, warts and roses and all, to inform the work we do now, and help us decide how we move into the future. That’s where I’m coming from with the tagline I’m using for this deck, “Look Ahead into the Past.”

Watch for a crowdfunding campaign, coming soon! In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who has supported my work for the last decade. Without you, I might very well not have survived these ten years. You are my hope for a better future.


Friday, February 17, 2023

A Dose of Happiness


It was with a mixture of Bliss and sadness that I finished reading volume 2 of Jack Kent's KING AROO the other day. AROO is a genuine Hidden Gem, a not-widely syndicated comic strip that ran in newspapers for a decade and a half, from 1950 to 1965, kept afloat during that time more by its ardent supporters within the industry than by the kind of reader success found by Charles Schulz and others. The Library of American Comics was able to bring two volumes of the strip back into print in 2012 and 2013, covering adventures through 1954, but as LOAC Associate Editor (and longtime personal friend) Bruce Canwell informed me, humor does not seem to be performing well with the modern audience.

This is probably because no one under the age of about fifty even knows what humor is anymore, or has been exposed to genuine humor in any of the available mediums, but that's a subject for another post, maybe.

The message I want to get through here is that KING AROO is a rare joy and a delight: dealing in the adventures and conflations had by the citizens of the little kingdom of Myopia. There's Aroo himself of course, the pudgy, earnest and well-meaning if ineffectual ruler of the land, aided and abetted by his jack-of-all trades retainer, Yupyop. There's Wanda Witch (a personal favorite), and Professor Yorgle, and Mister Elephant (who is of course the most forgetful resident), and Mr. Pennipost (a kangaroo who serves as the local postman) -- and a host of others, as has sometimes been said; even, occasionally, the Beautiful Princess from the kingdom next door, who may or may not be a frog under a spell. The humor is frequently reliant on whimsey and puns; and it's always gentle, kind-hearted and charming -- something we need more of in the 21st century!

I was saving the second volume for Someday, and this winter proved to be That Day. I'm very sad that it's over, I love it that much, but I know that I will return to these books (which I believe are still available, hint hint) again in the future. They are Just That Delightful. They make me Happy in a world that is currently crushing happiness as fast as it can push its shoots through the surface.

For your edification, I include a few AROO strips below (click to enlarge, I think) that I was able to glean from online sources. If you like the samples, you will LOVE the books, as I do. And Because Reasons, here is an interview with LOAC Associate Editor Bruce Canwell -- who additionally, wrote the new QUIRK adventure which I'll be posting at this site, come Springtime. Everything that The Library of American Comics publishes is worth your attention, but KING AROO is good for the SOUL. It will pick you up, dust you off make you smile and put a bounce in your step.


Monday, February 13, 2023

Back to Gont


Because Reasons, it seems to have taken me sixteen years to get around to Goro Miyazaki's TALES FROM EARTHSEA. Despite its deliberate slow pace (and it is sometimes VERY slow) I thought it was Kind of a Masterpiece -- especially for a first-time director. I was a little bit shocked afterward to discover how badly the critics savaged it, and by how wide a mark they missed the whole point of the thing. I was a little bit less surprised to learn of Ursula Le Guin's disappointment with it, although reading her full comments I could at least understand why she felt that way.
A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA was one of the first fantasy novels I read as a young teenager, and it made a big impression on me: although I was not smart enough to grasp all the implications of Le Guin's themes, I could at least see and understand that she was dealing with Big Stuff: like, quite literally in this case, coming to grips with one's own mortality. It remains a favorite, although I never went on to any of the other Earthsea stories that Le Guin wrote later. To some extent I afraid of being disappointed; and Ged's story was complete in this one volume; I didn't feel a need for continuation. I feel differently now, and suspect I'll headed back to this realm after all.
Because it was a joy to see Ged turn up forty years later, very well realized on film. Some of his story was given to another character, but despite the author's disappointment I very much felt her presence in this picture.
I was forced to watch this in the English dub, which is NEVER my choice for foreign language movies; but this is a better than average job with a good cast.
I say the critics and the author are both wrong here! This is a very good (though slow and measured!) film fantasy, and MUCH more thoughtful than the average.

-- Thorn.


Friday, February 10, 2023

"D'you Want Onion Rings With That?"


Something at the heart of Popular Culture died on the day that we started to accept the notion that our heroes are nothing more than “franchises.”

I hear it all the time: the STAR WARS “franchise,” the MCU “franchise,” the DOCTOR WHO “franchise” — even The Universal Monsters “franchise,” although the franchising of anything, even food, was scarcely a phenomenon back in the 1930s when Universal was first spinning its shambling, misfit anti-heroes into sequels. 

But fiction, art, film and pop culture are not hamburgers, although the huge multi-national conglomerates that own everything in the twenty-first century have certainly been treating them as if they should be served with a side order of fries. Today, it’s considered simpler and more cost-effective (as it probably is) to keep artificially pumping life into an existing “property” than to create something new. There’s no profit in originality, at least not a profit that’s perceptible to their tiny little business-college trained minds.

The problem is that, inevitably nowadays, the management of a “franchise” falls into the hands of someone who would rather be doing something else, and the “property” falls into disrepair in a way that is painful for the fans.

Once upon a time, people made Entertainment. Even when Television was a meat-grinder and series producers were expected to churn out as many as thirty-eight weekly episodes a year, producers still took some pride in what they were doing, in delivering real stories about interesting characters — and when those series had run their course, as happens in the real world, the tent was folded and everyone moved on to the next Big Thing.

Characters and stories. Cycles that end. What a concept!

Fictional characters, just like living people, have a lifespan. They live, and they die. We have reached a time in the death cycle of Popular Culture when long-established characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Doctor Who and Superman have been done, and done again, and again, and again, until all that is left is ridicule and disgrace. They have long outlived their natural lifespan. 

Perhaps their ethics and character become incompatible with a new generation; perhaps they exhaust the potential of their notions. The time comes for them to pass on, and join the Immortals in another realm. Those of us who love them can still hold them in our memories, and continue to enjoy their adventures in the same way that we watch old serials and read old comic books, but the window for new adventures has long been closed, though we hate to admit it.

The world of the present seems inhospitable for my dusty old heroes. Time for new adventures from a new generation of heroes — if a new generation of creators can step up to the plate and deliver fresh characters and stories worthy of our time and support. The failing here is that not much of value has come down the pike, and the only thing that young creators seem capable of is mocking the work of their betters. 

And so rather than give the heroes of a more civilized world a decent burial, we are forced forever to watch their crumbling, reanimated corpses lumber across our screens in an ever more tragic state of decomposition and decay. I for one am tired of it. Let our heroes rest in peace. They have earned it.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Quirk: Resurrection

I'm happy to announce that QUIRK will return in 2023!

For something like five years in the late '90s it ran as a weekly webcomic on my old site. I'm not going to go into the whole backstory at this time, but if you're curious about QUIRK, the place to start is the dedicated mini-site attached to this blog, linked here and in the sidebar. There you will find character descriptions, story synopses and more.

The comic ended right in the middle of a terrific story written for me by my good friend Bruce Canwell, associate editor of The Library of American Comics and co-creator (with Lee Weeks) of a little something you might have heard of: BATMAN CHRONICLES: THE GAUNTLET

For reasons that you will probably be able to infer if you're familiar with the contents of this blog, I was unable to finish drawing Bruce's story. I made several attempts to complete it over the past decade, but it was a struggle. I was never able to finish the story until now. 

It's done. "In the can," so to speak. And it will FINALLY premiere here (and on the page linked above), starting probably in April. 

If it goes well, there are several other untold QUIRK stories that I would quite like to get out of my system. Stories that will allow me to finally write "THE END" to the whole saga. We'll see about that. 

The main thing is "The Prunes of Ire" is at last seeing the light of day. Keep watching this space for more on this, that, and the other thing!



Saturday, January 28, 2023

After Time After


Last night Essie I and traveled back to 1979 to watch TIME AFTER TIME, the directorial debut of Nicholas Meyer, featuring Malcom McDowell, a very young Mary Steenburgen, and the recently late David Warner. This was one of those very talked-up, log-rolled pictures back in the day, receiving glowing notices from the critics, that now seems largely forgotten. Film criticism was not then the lost art that it is today, film critics had not yet become mere shills for the huge corporate conglomerates that now own the studios; even so I had already learned a healthy mistrust of certain critical types. Janet Maslin of the (New York) Times thought it was terrific, and I respected her opinion a lot; still, I stayed away from this one, until now.

It was probably for the best; there’s much more to appreciate about TIME AFTER TIME in 2023, with the movie industry in absolute tatters, than there was in the late seventies, when far better movies were still relatively abundant.

It's very much “all right.” Meyer does love those High Concepts, and that's fine; but this one involves Jack the Ripper, a figure who is probably not as “old hat” nowadays as he was in ’79. In Victorian England, yet-to-be Famous Novelist H.G. Wells has invented a real Time Machine, which the nefarious Jack avails himself of to escape apprehension. Wells (McDowell) then pursues Jack through time, which might have been an even higher concept if that pursuit wasn’t confined to 1979 San Francisco.

Meyer instinctively knows how to tell a story and frame a shot, which guarantees a strong first effort, but a visual stylist he is not. In a way, that made him perfect for STAR TREK a couple of years later, because he brought to the table everything they needed and nothing that they didn't need. But this picture? It really could have used the visual flair of a Terry Gilliam. Just as an example, the Victorian scenes look dreadful: very artificial and inauthentic. The time machine itself looks as if it’s made of plastic, which it probably was. A good production designer could have concealed this; perhaps the studio was not entirely convinced that Meyer, who rose to sudden fame with a clever pastiche novel about Sherlock Holmes, could hold down a picture with a larger budget.

Warner is fine, Steenburgen is TERRIFIC, but McDowell looks like a fish out of water. He was trying to shed the mayhem that saturated his acting image thanks to a certain couple of movies, and this doesn’t quite do the trick. He’d already attempted this to greater effect a year earlier, in SHE FELL AMONG THIEVES, a terrific television melodrama starring Eileen Atkins in the villainous, Cruella DeVille-type of role, but neither part succeeded in washing Alec or Caligula from his shadow, did they? Not all that long after, he was back to Evil Things like killing Captain Kirk and harassing Tank Girl.

Meyer really is kind of the smartest guy in the room, and yet he still can't come up with a time travel story that isn't riddled with gaping holes. It's just the nature of the beast.

— Thorn.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Winter (Be)Wilderland


Yes, it’s Winter here in the northeast United States, and although the season has been notably kind to us until now, she has finally gone into Full Queen Bitch mode. Although some people persist in characterizing Winter as an Old White Man, those of us who have lived through a few bad ones know better. Winter is Female. And She is Not To Be Trifled With.

The cold spell that was her first gambit wasn’t nearly as bad as some that I wish I hadn’t experienced. Once, in a December still within human memory, the temperatures never rose above fifteen below zero during the day, for an entire month, and at night regularly dipped down to thirty below. Cold like that kills: Misty the horse went out of our barn one morning dragging a foot as she walked; by night she was dead, and we could not even bury her because the ground was frozen too hard.

But this winter we’ve yet to reach temperatures significantly below zero, and have hardly seen single digits. The snow held off almost entirely until last week. The fifteen inches we got at that time was bothersome but not an extreme hardship, as it was feather-light, halfway between powder and fluff.

But the two inches that we got overnight Wednesday? That was a different story. Two inches doesn’t look so bad on the ground, compared to fifteen or more, until you try to shovel it and discover that it’s saturated with two more inches (at least) of Freezing Rain. This is the kind of snow that makes you feel your age, no matter what your age is; and quite suddenly you begin to understand that you are not as young as you used to be. That’s the message that Lady Winter delivered to me yesterday: “I’m coming for you, and you can’t escape me forever.” Death comes not with a scythe, but with a freezing thick coating of white.

If you’re casting around for something to read this winter, I would heartily recommend Robertson Davies’ “Deptford Trilogy,” comprised of FIFTH BUSINESS, THE MANTICORE, and WORLD OF WONDERS — in which the lives of at least four people are forever changed by One Single Snowball. Actions Have Consequence, after all: this is a lesson that the human race never seems to learn. The second book is the real climax of the series, with WORLD OF WONDERS acting as a pleasing, prolonged epilogue. If you enjoy it, Davies was a prolific writer who found real magic in life and left many volumes of it behind for us when he left. 

Stay warm.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

I've (Finally) Got a Little List


Folks often talk about their "Top Ten" or "Top Fifty" favorite films -- I never made a formal list until the other day. 

It was hard! At the start I had a list of 130 movies all wanting to be in my Top Fifty! As I whittled titles away, the choice of what to keep and what to cut was often pretty arbitrary, and often turned on whether the director or stars already had one or more pictures on the list. On any given day, most of the titles that got cut might outrank some of the titles that stayed. At least a couple of titles only made the final cut because better movies were culled for the above reasons, and others. Ask me tomorrow, and the list might be different.

Also, this is a list of FAVORITES, not a BEST list. A "Best" list would look very different indeed. It also wouldn't tell you as much about me as this list does.

The films are listed are in no particular order, not ranked in any way -- other than that the first ten or fifteen titles probably do rank higher the ones that follow. 

I've already written about some of these pictures here on the blog: a quick search should take you right to those posts. I'll be writing about some of the other titles here in the coming days.

Why did I do this? "Just Because." I'm twelve years older than I was wren I started this blog. As you start getting on in years, you start wanting to codify things, if only to bolster your sense of perspective.

Here we go: "Doug's Favorite Fifty, Sort Of"

Sherlock, Jr. - 1924

Oliver! - 1968

King Kong -1933

Metropolis - 1927

M. Hulot’s Holiday - 1953

The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain - 2001

Modern Times - 1936

My Little Chickadee - 1940

Yellow Submarine - 1968

Kid Millions - 1934

Lawrence of Arabia - 1962

They Might Be Giants - 1971

The Maltese Falcon - 1941

Lili - 1953

The Wizard of Oz - 1939

Godspell - 1973

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 1988

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir - 1947

The Horse Without a Head - 1963

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean - 1972

Rose Marie - 1936

The Late Show - 1976

The Magician - 1958

The Bride of Frankenstein - 1935

Dumbo - 1941

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? - 1969

The Fearless Vampire Killers - 1966

The Crimson Pig / Porco Rosso - 1992

Annie Hall - 1977

Babes In Toyland  - 1934

Duck Soup - 1933

Way Out West - 1937

Ninotchka - 1939

Sweet November - 1968

Paper Moon - 1973

The Commitments - 1991

7 Faces of Dr. Lao - 1963

Return to Oz - 1985

Peter Pan - 2003

The Mummy - 1932

The Abominable Dr. Phibes - 1971

Black Narcissus - 1947

The Night Stalker - 1972

Carousel - 1956

Flash Gordon (serial) - 1936

Duel In the Sun - 1948

The Ladykillers - 1955

Pay It Again, Sam - 1972

Willard - 1971

The Mark of Zorro - 1940


More later! I really am going to make an effort to post here more often. Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Something's Coming


For reasons that I vaguely remember writing about here, some time in the distant past, This Ol' Website has lain Mostly Fallow for some time now. 

That's about to change, because for the first time in ages, I actually have Things to Post and possibly even some Things to Say. 

I can't promise you that it'll be The Greatest Thing since the invention of toenail clippers, especially in a world that's resoundingly flooded by content and drowning in voices. Everyone's talking at once, fewer people than ever are actually listening, but Because Reasons I've got the clutch down to the floorboards and am toying with the notion of actually throwing the vehicle into gear. 

We'll see what comes of it, okay?

-- Thorn.

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