Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Walt Disney Company: There's a-Doin's Transpiring

So, Eisner's finally stepped away from the company after 20 years and Iger is in the driver's seat. Longtime Disney fans and observers such as myself are wondering what the immediate results of the changeover are going to be; will the slide of the Disney company continue? Should we have faith in Iger's ideas and believe his creativity was silenced by Eisner's dominance? Is he a diamond in the rough, waiting for his moment?

One thing is for sure; Bob Iger wants to hang back and run the company, not be the celebrity CEO Eisner was. Probably Eisner’s heaviest criticism comes from his celebrity CEO status–he rebuilt the Walt Disney Company from the ground up, then became fearful of any new advances, pissed off everyone he had built relationships with (Lucas, Spielberg, Henson, Steve Jobs), and became cheaper and cheaper, putting out inferior product while kissing up the corporate culture at ABC, thereby destroying all of the work he had done in the first place. But now that Iger is officially running the show, that means a new president needs to be found.

A lot of people inside Disney are campaigning for Dick Cook, the head of Walt Disney Pictures. He’s been with the company 34 years, and talk about working your way up! This guy’s first job with Disney was helping guests onto the monorail at Disneyworld for minimum wage! Cook’s probably a good choice; after all, he’s a likable guy (even the Weinsteins and Jobs still go out of their way to say nice things about him), and he’s something like this close to turning Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone into studios that don’t put out cheap crap just to have some product (which is a key facet of Eisner’s reign; to see the history of Touchstone is to see a legacy of forgettable crap).

For his part, Iger seems to be going on a virtual killing spree, firing off close Eisner associates; he not only fired Chris Curtin, one of Eisner’s right hand men and the head of the Muppet Holding Company, he also fired most of the executives working at the MHC (all but three, apparently). And this was just yesterday with no public warning–and, unfortunately, it seems to have stalled plans for America’s Next Muppet, Kermit’s World Tour, the new Christmas special, and all of the other plans that were in store for the Muppets.

My advice? Install Cook as president and get someone with an odd sensibility to replace him at Walt Disney Pictures; maybe someone from outside the company. Put someone responsible in charge of the Muppets who has worked with them before. And bring back hand-drawn animation and put some interesting talents there, like Sylvain Chomet and Richard Williams. Give Andreas Deja a bigger role to play. Stop trying to make the same film over and over again (the Disney formula has worn thin), and gentlemen, let’s make some art!

Cool Thing of the Week

One Mandy Morning by Dean Yeagle. I first discovered Dean's animation-like work in the pages of Playboy, where he's been doing cartoons for the last couple of years. Being a fan of animation, and of pulchritudinous pinup girls, it seems to me that he provides the best of my two major interests. He's got a couple of sketchbooks available, and for the first time, he's put out a book (entirely in wordless sketches) featuring his signature character, Mandy. It's a wonderful book for people who love sketch art, sexy girl art, or just a charming little (slightly adult but the nudity is innocent and fun) story about a girl and her dog in the early pre-work hours. I ordered mine from Bud Plant Comic Art (check the links on the right), but you can buy them from him, too. Another cool thing that you need to check out. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Another Piece of My Childhood Passes

Jerry Juhl, one of the founders of the Muppets and their longtime head writer and gagman, dies this past Monday. You'll be missed, Jerry. And thank you. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Graham Crackers Comics and Why They Suck

Man, I used to love reading comics. It started off slowly; every week, my mother and I would go grocery shopping at Jewel, and I would get to buy one comic--usually Amazing Spider-Man or Uncanny X-Men, or a Star comic like Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (hey, when you're a kid, a pig dressed up as Spider-Man is pretty fucking funny)--along with a Watchamacallit or a Rolo, and a generic can of strawberry soda (when there was such a thing). As I got slightly older, I started going hardcore into comic collecting. I found out about a comic book store in Naperville called Graham Cracker Comics, and I started heading there every week to buy the new issues of my comics. I enjoyed this relationship for a long time, mostly because I didn't know of any other comic book stores in the area.

Well, as time went on Graham Crackers expanded, buying these other stores I didn't know about and turning them into other Graham Crackers stores. This chain was started by Jamie Graham, and having met him and been served by him as a customer, let me tell you one thing: Jamie Graham is a prick. He basically started this as a way to subsidize his habit of collecting vast numbers of Golden Age comics, and has no real interest in customers save for the constant presence of their money.

Well, let's not cut to 1989, the year the speculator boom completely fucked up the comic book industry. Thanks to superstar artists like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld, comics were no longer for teenagers and children; they were now something hip. And with the Batman movie coming out, most of the stories about comic book centered on the incredible worth of these things. See, old issues were worth a LOT of money, because they were so rare; after all, most people threw out their comics eventually (or, more often, their mothers did), and that rarity made them valuable. Suddenly, every idiot thought his comics were going to be worth a ton of money some day, and the comic book stores were flooded with geeks who wanted to jump on the bandwagon.

Well, the comics industry responded with multiple covers or gimmick covers, which drove prices up anyway, but the market was so flooded with this crap that nothing was worth anything anymore. Plus, comics were now attempting to be "cool" and "hip," rather than telling good stories. It was a bleak decade or so in comics, despite the occasional Warren Ellis or Greg Rucka. (As a side note, the comic book industry is falling into this idiot mentality once again, and once again I've responded by curbing much of my habit.)

Well, there were so many people buying comics that Graham Crackers responded by creating the Collector's Club. If you joined, they would pull your comics every week and hold them for you, along with any other special issues or merchandise you asked for. This sounded good, but I was still in high school when it came along, and I didn't have a blank check or a credit card number to leave with them. Eventually, though, someone let me join, mostly because I used to come in every week and they knew I was a loyal customer and would buy my comics every week. It was great.

So, this arrangement continued for years, until I quit my job in 2001 and decided to go to college. I didn't have money for a couple of months, but I would come in every week and explain my situation to the manager, and he was cool about it. I wasn't the type of person who ordered a lot of stuff and didn't buy it; I always bought everything that I had on my pull list or ordered specially. I was a loyal customer, and the manager of the shop knew it.

But Jamie Graham... fucking Jamie Graham didn't give a shit. He saw all the stuff I had on hold and kicked me right out of the club. No explanation, no chance to plead my case--just get the fuck out. Me, a loyal customer for 15 years, a loyal Club member for half a decade. Thanks for nothing. I basically got kicked out of the Club for always buying my stuff, and I was bitterly disappointed that the chain I had been so loyal to had thrown away my business without a second thought.

So, I moved to DeKalb and, lo and behold, there's a Graham Crackers out here. I know the guy who runs it, too, because he had been at the Wheaton store I used to shop at. He's not a guy I like to deal with on a business level, and I'm sure I annoy him, too. But, what the hell, at least there was still a place that I could go to every week and get my comics. Well, most of my comics.

See, this is why Graham Crackers Comics sucks vast tracts of ass; many of the comics I get are ordered in such a low number that they don't have any left for the rack. They give first preference, of course, to the Club, and then treat you like you're a fucking idiot for not being in the Club when you're complaining that you couldn't get the new issue of Plastic Man or Dork Tower. But I'm not allowed IN the fucking Club, so I can't get my fucking comics. Thanks for absolutely nothing.

Well, now that the new semester has started at NIU and DeKalb is flooded with new students again, Graham Crackers has many new people who moved their Club memberships here, and apparently a ton of them get Previews, because it's never on the rack. Previews is a wonderful catalog put out every month by Diamond Distribution that stores use to order their stock from. Graham Crackers gets several copies so that people like me--who want to plan their spending two months in advance--can get, well, previews of every comic coming out two months from now. It's one of the things I really look forward to getting every month, like a kid when the new toy catalog comes right before Christmas.

And today, for the third month in a row, there were no issues of Previews for the rack.

"No Previews?" I asked the manager.

"No Previews," he said simply with no explanation whatsoever. After a minute he asked me about a comic I was looking for.

"You already found it for me," I told him.

"I did? I'm awesome."

"Well, if you were that awesome you'd have Previews," I told him.

"Well, if I were that awesome, I'd let you back in the Club so you could get Previews when it comes out," he responded.

And that was the breaking point. I just couldn't fucking take the bullying of Graham Crackers Comics anymore. They hoard everything, and when you don't get what you want, they make you feel like an asshole for not being part of their exclusive group. They take boxes that candy bars or cards come in, and they sell the boxes to you for twice the cost of the contents if you express any interest in them. They all have stocks of pirated videos and CDs, and they regard anyone who looks at them as intellectually inferior morons who might purposely try and get them in trouble. The open and friendly atmosphere of a great comic book store (like Unicorn Comics of Villa Park, Illinois) is replaced by something angry and scared that bullies you into submission rather than welcoming you in. Enough is enough.

From now on I'll get my comic books by mail order, and that'll curb my impulse buying. Graham Crackers has chased away my business forever. There are websites that offer Diamond's discounts if you order early enough, and once a month a box will come in the mail.

It beats the shame of self-degradation that goes along with stepping into Graham Crackers, anyway.

Yeah, But What Are the Odds of Conviction?

Tom DeLay stepped down as House Majority Leader today after being charged by a grand jury (from Texas, surprisingly) with conspiracy. If convicted (insert rueful laugh here), he could see six months to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.

It should come as no surprise that this involves a PAC, which is an organization basically designed by politicans so they can pretend that corporate campaign contributions no longer exist (they have the same thing in the music industry, so they can act like there's no such thing as payola anymore). Basically, corporations--in this case Sears Roebuck--give contributions to Political Action Committees, and that PAC (often set up by the politicians themselves, despite all pretense to the contrary) then takes that money and makes the contribution to the politician in their own name (in this case, Texans for a Republican Majority).

Of course, DeLay's lawyer blames the Democrats (the prosecutor in this case, Ronnie Earle, is a Democrat). They're acting like it's not a big deal, even though these people seriously thought Whitewater was something they could bring down Clinton with. That was a real estate deal; this is misuse of contribution funds in the political arena. DeLay says there was no crime (which shows you the balls on this guy, since it seems pretty open-and-shut).

The Democrats are at least jumping on this opportunity; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is quick to point out that this is "the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the people." DeLay has been cited for his ethics in the past. Hell, the House Republicans have tried to clear the way for DeLay's reptilian awfulness in the past; last November, they repealed a rule requiring leaders to step aside if indicted; gee, do you think they knew this would be a possibility? They only reinstated the rule in January because of voter backlash.

Oh, yeah, they have our best interests at heart, those Republicans. DeLay, who has had 11 fucking terms (seriously, we have to have limits so these people are forced to make a real living and learn what real life is like), wants to keep misappropriating tax money to pay for his trips to Europe, and the Republicans want to make it easy for him to do it. You know, the only reason the Republicans even have the majority in the House is because DeLay redistricted Texas legislature to give the Republicans the majority control. He had to change the rules in order to win.

So, it's nice to see the Republicans embarrassed yet again, but I won't be holding my breath for a conviction on this asshole. They love him so much in Washington that they're willing to change laws to protect his precious bottom. They only people they want to persecute are... well, us.

Film Week

A review of the movies I've seen this past week.

Well, my love for Robert Rodriguez continues unabated. I purposely waited until DVD to see this movie, because I hated sitting through the headache-inducing 3-D of Spy Kids 3: Game Over. This is a better movie than that one, and works much better both on the imaginative level and on the special effects level. Unless you're a kid or have a serious case of arrested development (as I do), you may not end up liking it very much. I found it creative and often funny (in a Looney Tunes sort of way), kind of like The NeverEnding Story with less nihilism (but not much less). Not Robert's best movie, but... well, anyway. **1/2 stars.

This Canadian/Indian co-production tries hard to be fun while showing off what Bollywood could do with North American money. Unfortunately, this film apparently can't do very much. It's first mistake: killing off wonderful Jessica Pare in the first 9 1/2 minutes. Telling the story of a man who can't escape his family (and who wanted to marry popstar Pare, who then dies in an accident). His family is ashamed by his love for a white girl, and they basically blackmail him into marriage by telling him his sister won't be allowed to marry until he is engaged. So, he hires a woman to pretend to be his fiance, but the family loves her, and she basically worms her way into his heart (eventually) by conquering his entire life first. The actress, Lisa Ray, is extremely beautiful, but spends most of the movie being a first class bitch. The main character, Rahul, is dull and weak. So, whom do we root for, exactly? I found this movie both pointless and irritating, which is a shame, because it really, sincerely wants to be enjoyable and funny. It just isn't. Good performance by Ranjit Chowdhry, however, as Rahul's cross-dressing limo driver. **1/2 stars.

I have a somewhat love/hate relationship with Family Guy. I hated it when it first started airing, then it grew on me, then I loved it. But the constant criticisms people hurl at the show--the humor is all based on references, unfunny scenes go on too long so that the joke becomes how unfunny the scene is, they rely on the same jokes over and over again, they have no edge, the animation is primitive and awful, the characters don't work and it's all a rip-off of better shows (especially The Simpsons)--those criticisms are all deadly accurate (see the new issue of Mad magazine for some spot-on critique). Sometimes, however, it's funny. Something just clicks and it works. The current season, however, is absolutely dreadful; one of the unfunniest things I've ever seen, even on Fox. This movie is a mix of all those things; it starts off kind of embarrassingly--okay, you can say fuck now, I get it--then it looks set to become just another Stewie and Brian go on the road formula. It pulls out of it right away, though, and becomes pretty damn funny for about the first hour. But the final third falls apart; when we see the characters in the future, they're supposed to be funny, but none of the humor on the show ever comes out of the characters themselves, so the humor completely fails. We don't know these people, we only know the parts they've been assembled from. And the end of the film is a total mess. Nice try, but it can only sustain itself for so long. *** stars.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Downstairs Saga Continues

A while back, I complained about the girls who live downstairs and how they complained about our bird feeder. Well, one of the little darlings came upstairs on Saturday night to warn us that they were having a party that night.

"Um, if we make too much noise downstairs, please let us know. I promise, we'll turn everything off if it's too loud." She seemed a little desperate, and I couldn't figure out why she was so anxious, until she suddenly said: "We had the cops called on us before, and we don't want to get in trouble with management again, so we're just warning everyone."

Funnily enough, I had forgotten that I had called the cops on them back about the first week they moved in. They like to sit on the back stairs (right underneath my window) with a couple of different guys and talk and joke and laugh very, very loudly. I tried to be cool the first time it happened, but the second time it didn't start until something like 3:00 in the morning (it's illegal to make noise after midnight in DeKalb, and besides, Becca gets up for work at six). Apparently, the girls downstairs have yet to realize that I'm the one who reported it.

So, now they come upstairs and ask me to tell them if I have a problem, rather than call the authorities directly. Which is ironic, since that's exactly what pissed me off earlier this month: they hid behind the curtain of authority and complained directly to the management about my bird feeders rather than tell me if they had a problem or not. I know this is the kind of thing that little college girls away from their parents don't remember, but it takes a lot of guts to come up and ask your neighbor for the same courtesy that you once denied him.

God, this would be a wonderfully vengeful story if I had actually called the cops on them that night. But, we turned on the stereo in the bedroom and managed to sleep through their party. But I have a free out now, don't I? Because, when she asked me to please be courteous, I simply said: "Oh, sure. Thanks for letting us know in advance. No problem." Which means, of course, that the next time I do call the cops, they won't think it's me.

Man, I can't wait for next time.

Political Action Scorecard

There’s this e-mail that’s been going around that supposedly originates with a professor at the nearby Northwestern University in Evanston. I’ll summarize it, because I’m a prick and it’s another one of those things I think is incredibly funny as far as Americans go.

It’s called "Who Sends Whom to War," and it creates a list of the notable politicians who have served in the army. To wit: Dick Gephardt, David Bonior, Tom Daschle, Bob Kerrey (Medal of Honor), John Kerry (Silver Star), Tom Harkin, Leonard Boswell (Bronze Stars), Pete Peterson (a POW who received the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, and the Legion of Merit), Mike Thompson (Purple Heart), Bill McBride (Bronze Star), Chuck Robb, and Howell Heflin (Silver Star). These men all served in the Vietnam War. Al Gore was a journalist for the army in Vietnam, but he enlisted and was sent there (as opposed to, say, Dan Quayle, who served as a journalist defending Indiana in the National Guard during Vietnam).

Furthermore, Daniel Inouye (Medal of Honor), Fritz Hollings (7 campaign ribbons plus Bronze Star), and John Glenn served in World War II (Glenn, the former astronaut and first man to orbit the Earth, also served in the Korean War and has been decorated numerous times). Tom Lantos was a member of the Hungarian underground in WWII. Pete Stark, Jack Reed, Ted Kennedy, and Charles Rangel also served in the military.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that there are no major Republicans who served time in the military. Dick Cheney had several deferments (including one for marriage, which is kinda lame, though even John Wayne did that). Dennis Hastert, Tom De Lay, Roy Blunt, Bill Frist, Mitch McConnell, Rick Santorum, Trent Lott, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, Vin Weber, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eliot Abrams, Richard Shelby, Tim Hutchison, Christopher Cox, Phil Gramm–none of them ever served a day in the military. Bob Dornan intentionally waited to enlist until after the Korean War had ended. Jack Kemp claimed that he had knee problems which, despite not stopping him from enjoying a career as an NFL quarterback for another eight years, disqualified him for service. John Ashcroft let the eagle soar by racking up a total of seven deferments because he thought it was more important to teach business. No, the closest we get on the Republican side is Donald Rumsfeld, who was a Navy flight instructor in the 50s, and, of course, George W. Bush, who supposedly served in the National Guard.

And then, of course, there’s John McCain. A Vietnam POW, McCain received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. But he wasn’t business-friendly enough to be our president, apparently. An interesting thing about the presidency–Clinton never served in the military, and critics took him to task for this. No one pointed out at the time that Ronald Reagan, the great Republican hero, also never served in the military, despite his eligibility for service in not only World War II, but the Korean War (Walter Mondale was in the Army in the early fifties, by the way, and Jimmy Carter spent seven years in the Navy). No, Reagan’s supposedly poor eyesight (anyone ever seen that ghoul wear glasses?) kept him in war films, which is apparently just as good.

This is what’s so amazingly funny about Republicans forcing patriotism as an issue; most of them don’t defend their country. They profit off of its wars, which would get you shot in most countries. But they don’t defend it. They merely scavenge. But, as ever, Americans only care about charisma and what people say. So Gray Davis, a Captain in the Army during Vietnam who received the Bronze Star, can be usurped by Arnold Schwarzenegger, not only the son of a Nazi officer but also an Austrian soldier who was once AWOL from his own base. But, hey, Arnold’s a movie star, and he has lots of experience, you know, firing fake guns at other actors, so that must count for something, right? And the Pope was a Nazi, so what the hell. And no one laughs at Saxby Chambliss, who stays out of the war because of a "bad knee," when he attacks the patriotism of Max Cleland, an Army Captain (1965-68) who is now a paraplegic because of injuries sustained during the Vietnam War.

Ask yourselves: who, exactly, are the ones clamoring for war? And why are they sending your children there?

Monday, September 26, 2005

More Sentiment Porn

There's some e-mail called "Green Dog" going around now that is indicative of what I once called Sentiment Porn. To wit, Sentiment Porn are those e-mails that people keep sending to one another because they are apparently comforting. Remember those horrible Love Is cartoons? They're like those: relentlessly cute, reducing complex feelings to little aphorisms for people who are scared of life and scared of their own emotions. My mother sends me these things (my stepmother does, too), and I resent them tremendously. Yes, yes, dance like no one's watching. Whatever, thanks for the incredible help. Lame.

Well, from now on, I'm declaring war on Sentiment Porn and returning it to sender with a sarcastic, cynical retort to each one.

Porn: I love you not because of who you are, but because of who I am when I am with you.
Retort: Oh; well, I love you unconditionally for you, but if your feelings hinge on the depth of your response to me, I'll try not to find that disgustingly selfish. Why don't you keep this info to yourself next time, eh?

Porn: No man or woman is worth your tears, and the one who is won't make you cry.
Retort: Huh? I don't know about you, but my girlfriend and I make each other cry every couple of weeks. We're human beings, not ideals. But if you want to make this about how scared you are to feel, adjust your helmet and go ahead.

Porn: Just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have.
Retort: "You're good enough for now, Lurlene. For now."

Porn: A true friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your heart.
Retort: For "heart," substitute "penis." Go ahead, it still sounds less icky.

Porn: The worst way to miss someone is to be sitting right beside them and knowing you can't have them.
Retort: I hope this thought isn't going through peoples' heads all day at work. It's a little too self-important for me.

Porn: Never frown, even when you are sad, because you never know who is falling in love with your smile.
Retort: Ew, that's fucking terrible. So, you want me to be self-conscious, self-aggrandizing, or both? You know, cuz I just go around all the time so certain that everyone's watching me and fawning. I mean, when I wear my tight jeans, sure, but...

Porn: To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.
Retort: I hear they use this little gem to stop people from jumping off skyscrapers.

Porn: Don't waste your time on a man/woman who isn't willing to waste their time on you.
Retort: That's the problem with man-women, they're always so into themselves. I don't know, I don't think that my self-worth hinges on how much I can shame another person into making their whole life about me.

Porn: Maybe God wants us to meet a few wrong people before meeting the right one, so that when we finally meet the person, we will know how to be grateful.
Retort: Maybe God should stay out of my love life if he knows what's good for him. As if God has nothing better to do than govern every moment of every person's life. If you did that, you'd be a stalker, or they'd take your kid away.

Porn: Don't cry because it is over, smile because it happened.
Retort: This reveals a fear of feelings so deep that it practically asks you to hit yourself in the face with a pot to keep from thinking about reality.

Porn: There's always going to be people that hurt you, so what you have to do is keep on trusting and just be more careful about who you trust the next time around.
Retort: Shouldn't that be "whom you trust"? This one seems so self-contradictory that I can't even analyze it. Maybe it's all the terrible wording. Trust me, constructing aphorisms isn't as easy as it looks. I mean, all of these are awful.

Porn: Make yourself a better person and know who you are before you try and know someone else and expect them to know you.
Retort: Duh. Oh, and look both ways before you cross.

Porn: Don't try so hard, the best things come when you least expect them to.
Retort: Just keep clicking your heels like an asshole instead of getting any work done.

Porn: Remember, whatever happens, happens for a reason.
Retort: This is still the stupidest rationalism I've ever heard. Yes, "crisitunity" and all, but the use of this phrase reveals a mind that is so lacking in any constitution and hardiness, in any sense of reality, that I don't know why they leave the couch in the morning...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Jim Henson: 9 September 1936 - 16 May 1990

Born 69 years ago.

"My goal is to leave the world a little better than when I got here." Posted by Picasa