Monday, May 31, 2010

Catching Up

Before we get onto to any new postings, or ravings as some have described this blog, I want to catch up by saying thanks to everyone who reads this regularly. I received a lot of e-mail about the great Frank Frazetta and I appreciate that. Several of you wrote in wanting more blogs about music- well, they're coming up, don't despair.

Right now, I'd like to commend HBO's Treme, which gets New Orleans about 85- 90% right, a very good average in my book. Little by Little regulars may have recognized our friend Irving Banister's son, Honey, in one episode playing a drummer in a Mardi Gras Indian band. Not to slight Honey's (billed as Irving Banister, Jr. in the credits) acting ability, but since he is the TOP Indian drummer, let's just put it down to great casting. My two favorite characters are Antoine Batiste, played by Wendall Pierce, the frustrated musician forced to negotiate all his cab fares and, of course, America's greatest character actor, the Thomas Mitchell of our time, John Goodman as Crieghton Bernette.

Next thing you know, we'll be seeing the Freeland- Archers traipsing through Treme. It's only a matter of time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta (February 9, 1928 – May 10, 2010)

Was anyone ever better at doing Frank than Frank? Hell, no.

For me it was the Ace Tarzan paperback covers from the early '60's. If that wasn't what Tarzan and his world looked like, then what was? The colors, the elegance of the Frazetta line, the design, and of course the musculature. That ridiculous anatomy, where every living thing looked as if steroids grew on steroid trees, and the trees were in Frank's backyard. Even the big cats, the lions, the tigers, the panthers looked like they worked out at the cat gym every day.

After the Tarzans were the Conan covers. If anything, Conan took Frank even further into the savage realm than Tarzan. Remember, Tarzan was an English lord, despite the whole ape thing. But Conan, well, he was something else. Barely civilzed, barely human. A kind of primal fighting machine, unstoppable, amoral, invincible. Frank got the whole thing right. Conan's women even seemed more savage, and Frank definitely got the whole big butt thing way before the rappers did.

At the same time, his great painting of Ringo Starr for the Mad back cover came out, as well as the first issue of Creepy Magazine. By then, every kid my age into comics knew who Frazetta was.

Later on when I interned in comics, I found out he had a past. Funny animal comics, Buck Rogers and most importantly, the Lil' Abner Sunday strips that were ghosted by Frank but still signed by Al Capp.

I also learned more: that all the men in Frazetta paintings are Frank, that he had the single coolest signature in all of illustration (even better than Norman Rockwell's- yeah, I said it), that he never sold his paintings, only the reproduction rights, that the paint on them was very thin, almost like watercolor (they were oils), that he could paint a Frazetta in about four hours and that he would copy his existing paintings if there were enough demand. Okay, I don't know for certain how true all that is, but I think there's something there.

Self- portraiture in comics is not unique. In fact, it's very common. Example: Ben Grimm is Jack Kirby. In fact, all those Kirby monsters are rooted in Jack's self- image. But especially Brooklyn tough guy Ben Grimm. It didn't really matter that Jack was a little guy (more like Scrapper in the Newsboy Legion), what mattered was that this was how Jack saw himself.

The thing is, all of Frank's guys really did look a lot like Frank. I don't think his beloved wife Ellie was the model for all those incredible princesses or queens, but hey, I could be wrong. I did try to find some of the Abner strips where Frank introduces a character completely based on himself, but for once, the internet did not provide. The books are available on Amazon if you want proof. Plus, they're great.

There's no real need to go into his bio any further- plenty of stuff out there and a great New York Times obituary. So let's just say goodbye to a guy that my old friend Howard Chaykin once described as "the best cover guy in the business", and do what Frank would have wanted: let's look at the pictures.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Terror in New York City and Hurray for T- Shirt Vendors

Last Saturday night a smoking car was found parked near Times Square. T- shirt vendor Lance Orton, with the help of handbag vendor Duane Jackson, called the NYPD and the car, which turned out to be filled with potentially explosive materials, was neutralized by the bomb squad.

By May 4th the NYPD, working with the FBI, pulled a suspect, Faisal Shasad from a plane waiting for take-off at New York's Kennedy Airport. The plane was bound for Dubai.

In other words, another would- be domestic terrorist incident was prevented by the efforts of observant and courageous everyday Americans.

Ever since Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001, American citizens have become the first line of defense against domestic terrorism. From inept would- be hijacker Richard Reid (the Shoe Bomber) to equally inept but more self- destructive would- be hijacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Underwear Bomber), attacks have been thwarted by the quick thinking of citizens in the immediate area. Obviously the Times- Square incident is no exception.

Everyone from Dick Cheney on complains about the so- called soft stand of the Democratic administration on terrorism. Well, it doesn't take a genius to realize that terrorism, like assassination, is extremely hard to prevent. The terrorist has the advantage, obviously, because he (or they, or whatever) know when and where the attack will take place.

This is why police aren't waiting in bank vaults for the robbers.

But given the alertness of decent citizens, who seem all but invisible to politicians these days, coupled with the safeguards in place, such as no- fly lists (not really working right now, evidently), airline safety measures and very capable law enforcement agencies, terrorism in this country seems far lower than in others, at least to me.

I really like the way we've stepped up to the plate to prevent terrorism from terrorizing us. Because when it does, then the terrorists have won. And I want them to lose.

A tip of the L By L hat to Lance Orton and Duane Jackson, as well as the NYPD for doing what they did.

Vietnam veteran Duane Jackson with his daughter Tiffany