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Today's Video Link

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Last May, my friend Carolyn and I attended the annual meeting of the National Cartoonists Society, a hallowed organization of which I am now a member. I've been poaching at N.C.S. events for decades now and figured it was about time to pay dues and get a pin.

The meeting was held in San Diego at the Omni Hotel, right across from where Comic-Con is held every July. The high point was the formal dinner on Saturday evening and the presentation of the group's annual awards. For the first time ever (I believe) a video of the entire ceremony has been posted online. It runs two hours so you may not want to sit through all of it but you might want to move the slider bar ahead and catch a few highlights…

  • At the beginning, current N.C.S. President Tom Richmond welcomes the members and extends a special welcome to Stan and Pauline Goldberg, who were not expected to be there. In fact, they were not expected to be anywhere. Not long before, the two of them were seriously injured in an auto accident and no one thought they'd ever be well enough again to travel…but there they were. You don't see them on camera in this video nor do you hear the full, loving applause for them, but it was there. Sadly, Stan passed away less than three months later but it was so good to see him again…and it made him so happy to be there.
  • Around 12 minutes and 30 seconds in, Tom introduced the Master of Ceremonies for the night — TV writer and cartoonist Tom Gammill, who favors us with an opening musical number that would make Neil Patrick Harris give them up forever. Any name in the lyrics you don't recognize is probably a cartoonist who was in the room.
  • At 42:45, Tom introduces Sergio Aragonés to present the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award to Russ Heath…whose pants were literally falling down.
  • That's followed at 49:00 by the "In Memoriam" reel honoring members and prominent figures in the world of cartooning who left us in the preceding twelve months.
  • And that's followed at 52:30 by a film Tom Gammill made to kick off the post-Intermission festivities. It starts as a visit to the home of Bunny Hoest, the widow of cartoonist Bill Hoest and still the writer/supervisor of his comic strips, including The Lockhorns. The film is full of cameos by famous folks in the world of comic strips.

Amidst those highlights, there are many presentations of awards including, at the end, Mell Lazarus bestowing the coveted Reuben Award on Wiley Miller, creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. Somewhere in there — I won't tell you where — you might find me in a tux presenting Sergio with his ten-thousandth award and some of us cavorting with a life-size cutout of Ernie Bushmiller, the gent who drew the Nancy strip for many decades. There were many other moments of note, as well. Enjoy…

About Stuff I Don't Get…

Steve Iverson came up with a good explanation for that graphic on Saturday Night Live that wrongly claimed what you were about to see was Christopher Walken's first time hosting. The previous week, a graphic like that correctly identified that week's episode as Alec Baldwin's first time hosting. Apparently, when someone changed the name and date, they forgot to take out that line about first time hosting.

Several folks have written to me with tales of when some comic book creator was handed a comic to autograph and he or she had to tell the person, "I didn't work on this." To which the person then said, "I don't care…sign it, anyway." Since it's easier to sign than to argue or disappoint someone, the person signed. I think I've done this a few times.

Well, that would explain a kid having Stan Lee sign something he didn't work on at a convention…though given what Stan has been charging for his autograph for several years now, I'm not sure I believe that. If you were paying a guy that much for his autograph, I think you'd make sure it was on something he'd actually done.

This reminds me of an incident a few years ago at a Comic-Con. A person came up to me with a page of original art and asked me, "Was this done by Sam Pencilpusher?" (That's a name I just made up to disguise the true identity of a popular artist who was at that convention.)

I told the fellow no, the page he'd purchased — which its seller had represented as being by Sam Pencilpusher, was not drawn by Sam Pencilpusher. Dejected, the kid wandered off. An hour or so later, he came back to me with the page. "I took it up to Sam Pencilpusher and asked him if he'd drawn it. He said yes so I had him sign it!"

Whereupon I grabbed the page from the kid, marched over to where Sam Pencilpusher was signing things for people, waved the page in his face and told him, "You did not draw this!"

He looked at it more closely and said, "Hey, I think you're right…"

Stuff I Don't Get

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A firm called Geekroom is running an online auction now of a copy of Strange Suspense Stories #53 signed on the cover by Stan Lee. What's the part of this I don't get? Well, for starters, how come Stan Lee signed a comic book he had nothing to do with?

This was a comic book published by Charlton Publications. Stan Lee never worked for Charlton in his life. It wouldn't surprise me if he'd never read a Charlton comic book in his life.

So the first thing I don't get is why Stan signed the thing. I mean, I know they probably paid him a nice piece o' change for his autographing services that day and he probably signed many, many items. But did he say to the people paying him to sign this, "Hey, you know I didn't do this one"? Or did he just not notice? Then the other thing I don't get involves the description in the auction listing…

Strange Suspense Stories was a comic book published in two volumes by Fawcett Comics and Charlton Comics in the 1950s and 1960s. Starting out as a horror/suspense title, the first volume gradually moved toward eerie fantasy and weird science fiction, before ending as a vehicle for the superhero Captain Atom. The title's second volume was more in the horror/suspense vein. Altogether, 72 issues of Strange Suspense Stories were published.

It contained science-fiction mystery/suspense stories written primarily by editor-in-chief Stan Lee and his brother, Larry Lieber, with artists including Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck.

The first paragraph is correct. The second is a somewhat-accurate description of the monster comics like Strange Tales that Marvel was publishing at the same time. Obviously, someone found this info online and put them together. Did they not understand that Strange Tales from one publisher was not the same comic as Strange Suspense Stories from another? Steve Ditko had work in both but not those other guys. Maybe that confused someone.

Or maybe this is a joke that someone at Geekroom decided to try to see if anyone would spot it…but if so, why? Just another piece of stuff that I don't get.

Late Night News

Tony Mendez, the longtime cue card wrangler at Late Night with David Letterman, was fired after a physical altercation with Bill Scheft, one of the show's longtime writers. Very bizarre.

Stuff I Don't Get

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Each Saturday evening now, NBC is rerunning an old Saturday Night Live episode cut down to 60 minutes. Last night, they ran one hosted by Christopher Walken that first aired April 8, 2000. This was announced on a title card along with the statement that "It was his first time hosting."

It wasn't. As you can see here, it was his fourth time hosting. How does a mistake like this get made? I mean, if someone in Lorne Michaels' office didn't know it, couldn't they take the five seconds it took me to Google and verify they were wrong? The show had to be edited so someone had to watch it. Didn't someone notice that Walken's monologue began with him saying how happy he was to be back hosting Saturday Night Live again?

This has been another episode of Stuff I Don't Get. Why do I even bother doing this? Well, that's something else I don't understand…

Freberg News

As I mentioned here a week or two ago, I'm one of the organizers of a big, upcoming tribute — a salute to one of my heroes, Stan Freberg. This press release will tell you a little about the man and the event…

"THE GENIUS OF STAN FREBERG: 70 YEARS OF CREATIVE ENTERTAINMENT" SET FOR NOVEMBER 2 IN HOLLWOOD. HOSTED BY HARRY SHEARER WITH SPECIAL APPEARANCES BY "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC, MICKY DOLENZ AND OTHERS

American Cinematheque at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater will showcase the astonishing versatility of beloved humorist Stan Freberg in "The Genius of Stan Freberg: 70 Years of Creative Entertainment" on Sunday, November 2 at 7 pm.

This special evening of tribute will be hosted by actor-satirist Harry Shearer (The Simpsons, Le Show, This is Spinal Tap) and will feature special appearances by "Weird Al" Yankovic, Micky Dolenz, award-winning filmmaker Bob Kurtz, animation experts Jerry Beck and Eric Goldberg, and many other Freberg colleagues and celebrity fans.

In addition to spontaneous humor and live musical performances, the program will present a dazzling array of favorite clips chosen by Freberg fans, as well as rarely-seen examples of Stan's ground-breaking writing and performances in radio and records, television series and specials, animated films and of course his hilarious TV ads. Stan will also explore his own career and legacy in a lively exchange with his wife and partner, Hunter Freberg.

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Celebrated as much for inspiring others as for his own creativity, Freberg has been named as an important influence by a wide range of artists. In addition to Harry Shearer and Al Yankovic, Freberg is revered by director Steven Spielberg (who has referred to him as his boyhood muse), Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, and actor-comedian Billy Crystal. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Freberg's gifts came from another genius, Albert Einstein, who once famously apologized for leaving a Cal Tech meeting by explaining, "You'll have to excuse me gentlemen, but it's Time For Beany."

A clip from that classic kids show, Time for Beany, is just one of the timeless Freberg performances to be showcased on November 2. Others include excerpts from recorded comedy classics "John and Marsha," "Saint George and the Dragonet," "Banana Boat," and "Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America." Also featured are rare segments from Freberg's television specials, The Chung King Comedy Hour and The Federal Budget Revue, as well as Stan's hilarious Clio-winning TV ads for Sunsweet Prunes (featuring sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury), Jacobson Lawn Mowers, ("Faster Than Sheep!"), a dazzling production number for Great American Soup, and because his fans demand it, The Lone Ranger and Tonto promoting Jeno's Pizza Rolls.

Among his other notable achievements, Freberg is credited with creating the word "Grammy," and Ad Age has dubbed him "the Father of the funny commercial."

Information about the evening is available at the American Cinematheque website and advance tickets can be purchased at www.fandango.com. Ticket prices are $15 for general admission, $13 for students, and $11 for American Cinematheque members.

That last paragraph contains a lie: Tickets are not available right now online. They were supposed to be there last week but someone has erred or something. The event is two weeks from tomorrow and you can't yet order tix. I assume that will be fixed Monday morning and when it is, I'd like you to all do me a favor, especially if you know and love the work of Mr. Freberg. That favor is to spread the word on other websites and via all manner of social media. But don't do it yet. Wait until tickets can be ordered.

We have some wonderful film clips from Stan's career, both familiar and rare. And not only have you probably not seen a few of them but we have a couple that even Stan hasn't seen. We have guest speakers and we have surprises and now, if we only had tickets, the evening would be complete.

So if you live in or around Los Angeles, save the date (November 2) and check back here for a link to purchase tickets whenever that becomes possible.

In other Freberg News…

Tomorrow morning (Sunday, October 19) the Profiles in History auction house will accept bids on five items of Frebergian history: The typewriter and the piano on which Stan wrote the greatest comedy album ever done — Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America — as well as other compositions; the prop suitcase Stan carried on that record's iconic cover; a copy of Fahrenheit 451 signed to Stan by his friend, Ray Bradbury; and an original Charles Addams cartoon. Click here to see these items and to consider bidding thereupon. Great stuff.

Stay tuned to this website for more Freberg News. I'm hoping the next bulletin will have something to do with tickets being on sale.

Today's Audio Link

37 minutes of Stephen Colbert going into great detail about how The Colbert Report is put together four days a week…

More About Deadlines…

A writer I know suggested I relate the following true story. This is probably the first in a series of postings that will convey the following advice: "When something is late, don't always assume you know who is at fault." Here is but one example…

Some years ago, an artist friend of mine (a very talented, popular guy) was approached about drawing a mini-series for a major publisher. The artist had other committments so he said to the editor who called him, "Look, I can fit it in between my other assignments for this other publisher. I can draw an issue for them, then an issue for you, then an issue for them and so on."

Everyone agreed on a timetable and work began on what we'll call The Deluxe Mini-Series. The plan was to have the first issue out in July, the second issue in August, the third in September and the fourth in October. Based on when the artist would be completing each issue, that left ample time to get each one to press on time.

The artist had just completed the first issue of The Deluxe Mini-Series when the company suddenly decided they needed the series to come out earlier. Some other big project had fallen through for May and they felt they needed to give their retailers a big event in May. So they solicited orders for #1 of The Deluxe Mini-Series to ship in May, meaning that if it kept to the expected monthly release schedule, #4 would be out in August.

On the old, agreed-upon timetable, the artist wouldn't even be drawing #4 until August. To get it out that month, he'd have to draw it by the end of June…which he couldn't do and still meet his obligations to the other publisher. When he pointed this out to his editor on The Deluxe Mini-Series, he was told, "Then you'll have to get out of what you're doing for them or postpone it." He said no, he wasn't going to leave them stranded like that.

Various pressures were applied. Various veiled threats were made. The artist refused: He would adhere to the timetable they'd agreed upon in the first place…and he did. As a result, the later issues of The Deluxe Mini-Series shipped late. When its publisher was asked why it was late, the answer that was given was: "We were waiting for the artist to deliver." That was technically true but everyone who heard that assumed that meant the artist had blown his deadline.

A year or so later, I was talking to another editor at the same company about a possible project. I mentioned this artist as someone who'd be great for it. The editor, who had been uninvolved in The Deluxe Mini-Series but around at the time, said, "Oh, no. Not him. He couldn't meet his deadline on something here last year."

I have more of these stories.

Today's Video Link

Last week, Live From Lincoln Center presented the recent Broadway production, The Nance by Douglas Carter Beane. The play, which ran for a limited engagement of four months in New York, starred Nathan Lane as a burlesque performer in 1937. His character is gay and plays outrageously gay and campy on stage, a job description that leads to bouts of persecution and self-loathing.

Here's the entire show, which runs two hours and fifteen minutes. Critics were pretty much unanimous in praising Lane for a stellar performance and singling out his frequent co-star, Lewis J. Stadlen, for playing his "straight" man. They also liked how director Jack O'Brien and the play's designers re-created the burlesque era and staged the musical numbers. They were more divided about the play itself, a few feeling that it said everything it had to say in the first hour or so. I'm afraid I agree with the few, though I found the show well worth watching. If you'd like to, click below…

From the E-Mailbag…

Tom Collins writes…

In your recent post, "The Deadline," you made it very clear how you feel about writers unable to deliver work by the date promised. (You were against it.) Which is why I'm curious to know how you feel about George R.R. Martin.

I don't know whether you're a fan of Game of Thrones, either the novels (which are known collectively as A Song of Ice and Fire) or the TV show, but I'm sure you know the situation surrounding Martin's falling behind on writing the book series. The first three books were released fairly regularly, appearing in 1996, 1998, and 2000, which is not atypical for an epic fantasy series. Then the deadlines began blowing up, and Martin kept falling further and further behind. Book 4 took five whole years to hit the shelves (2005), which was apparently practice for blowing deadlines compared to Book 5, which took six years (2011).

Meanwhile, HBO created the TV adaptation, also released in 2011. American TV obviously has a slightly more stringent system of deadlines it must adhere to, which means that as the 5th season of the show is set to debut next April, there is not even a hint that Martin is making equal (or any) progress on Book 6. At this point, the TV show is almost certain to surpass the novels in terms of plot progression. In effect, HBO will be writing an ending to this epic story before Martin does.

Genre fans, as you may have encountered from time to time, are not renowned for their patience. In response to a query from a frustrated fan about Martin's blown deadlines, in a blog entry called "Entitlement issues…," Neil Gaiman famously responded, "George R.R. Martin is not your bitch."

Do you have an opinion here? Is Gaiman right in thinking that Martin's fans are acting wrongly entitled — are treating Martin like a "bitch" — for expecting him to deliver a book in a timely manner? ("Timely" is subjective, but I'd suggest expecting delivery of subsequent books on a schedule comparable to the first three books, or expecting at the very least adherence to the numerous publicly stated and blown deadlines for the next two, is not unreasonable.) Or is Martin an artist whose timetable ought not be questioned, who should be immune from deadline expectations?

First of all, you're wrong: I didn't know the situation surrounding Martin's falling behind on writing the book series but I guess I do now. Secondly, Neil is right. Neil is always right. And if he says I'm wrong when I say that, he's right about that, too.

This is actually quite some distance from the issue I was talking about, which is that writers need to finish their work for themselves. They need to not find excuses to not write (very easy to do) and complete their projects if they really want to claim to be writers. There's a whole other set of reasons to finish work and it has to do with not screwing up your collaborators, destroying production schedules, etc. I've written about that in the past.

In the matter of Mr. Martin and Game of Thrones, I have to admit I'm not familiar with the circumstances. I'm always a little hesitant to jump on the Blame the Writer bandwagon because I have seen a number of times when the writer is not to blame for a project's tardiness but it's easy for everyone else to presume he or she is at fault. I'm sure someplace on this site, I've told a few of these stories but sometimes, the reason something comes out way past the announced on-sale date is that the folks who did the announcing announced an unrealistic, never-gonna-happen date. That has been done by accident and it's also been done quite deliberately.

There are also delays of the "Act of God" variety or which come close to that. Our Groo Vs. Conan mini-series didn't meet its advertised on-sale date because Sergio was hospitalized.

And of course, sometimes the writer is just plain late. That may well be the case with Game of Thrones, I don't know.

If it's late because George Martin is lying on a beach somewhere, partying with bikini girls and chortling, "Those dweeb fans of mine can suck it and wait," those dweeb fans might well be justified in their anger. I wouldn't blame them one bit if they stopped buying his books and put that money towards the purchase of, say, the new Groo mini-series — which will be out on time. Somehow, given Martin's reputation for excellence and his many years writing good stuff and meeting deadlines before anyone ever heard of Game of Thrones, I doubt that's the case here.

And if it's late because it's just taking longer than it should for Martin to be happy with the material…well, if I were a fan of that series (which I probably would be if I read it), I'd be inclined to cut the guy some slack. I'd have affection and understanding for a guy who was giving me something I loved so, rather than anger. I might even think, "Boy, given how he's sweating over this next book, I bet when we do get it, it'll be especially awesome."

In the piece I wrote the other day, I wasn't talking about guys like George Martin. At least, I don't think I was. I was talking about someone who's screwing his own life up and blaming others for the fact that he can't get his work done. I doubt that is the case with Game of Thrones. My guess is it's just taking longer than anyone expected. If I were in his position — yeah, like there's a chance of that happening — I might have a little trouble with the expectations and also with the ancillary demands on my time that come with that kind of success. If you love what he does, grant him the right to be a human being and not a machine.

Today's Video Link

Here's an ad for this new book by the guy who's going to host the Academy Awards next year…

And if you're interested, you can order a copy of this book here.

Straightening Wikipedia Out (An Ongoing Series)

I seem to have bad luck lately making corrections on Wikipedia. Could you someone who's better at this than I am please go over to the page for the great comic book writer-editor Archie Goodwin and fix something?

In two places, they say that Archie wrote the Star Wars comic strip under the pseudonym of Russ Helm or R.S. Helm. Archie did write the Star Wars comic strip (as well as other Star Wars material) but only under his own name. Russ Helm was a completely different person writing under his own name. In fact, I just searched and found the website of Russ Helm, aka Buddy Helm. The Star Wars Wiki is also wrong on this page about the comic strip…and a lot of other pages on the web seem to be wrong, too.

I'm a little fuzzy on the chronology but as I recall, Russ Manning was writing 'n' drawing the strip and due to ill health (and for a time, the fact that he was concurrently trying to do the Tarzan strip), he was falling hopelessly behind. The Lucasfilm people decided to hire a writer to help him out and I don't recall why they called me or why I went out and met with them since I was the wrong guy for the assignment.  I wound up recommending my pal Steve Gerber and he wrote it for a while, then fell behind…or something. Whatever the reason, one of the Lucasfilm execs hired a friend for the job and that was Mr. Helm. So Helm was not a pen name for Gerber either, as some have speculated.

The Deadline

I have a script that needs to get done by tomorrow morning and somehow, instead of writing it, I'm writing this piece about how to deal with deadlines. There's a famous quote from the great playwright George S. Kaufman that was uttered when a producer asked him if he could have a certain script done by Tuesday. Kaufman asked him, "Do you want it Tuesday or do you want it good?"

There's a point in there but it's not the one that some writers want to extract from it. That quote is used to justify lateness and it's employed as such by folks who forget that Kaufman did operate under deadlines and did meet them. He had to. An awful lot of his best work was produced on the road when a play was in tryouts and wasn't working. Kaufman and his collaborator (whichever one it was at the moment) would hole up in his hotel room, write an entire scene by dawn and then rehearse and stage it in the morning. That was probably the most grueling deadline-meeting you could have in his profession.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

Others have said that what you have to do is to make it as good as you can by Tuesday. That's one of the things you need to learn to do as a professional writer. And what that involves usually is not seizing on any of the eighty thousand reasons you can come up with not to write and not to finish by Tuesday. There's always one. Sometimes if you're sharp, you can use all eighty thousand.

I have a couple of writer friends who sometimes need to be scolded a bit in this regard. Recently, one wrote me to detail all the things that were happening in his life that were preventing him from finishing his novel by the deadline. Actually, this was about his fourth deadline on this alleged book. He blew the first one so they gave him another. Then he didn't get it done by that date so they gave him an extension…and so on. I would ordinarily be more tactful and friendly in my response but this friend's recent antics seem to demand something more like this…

Stop explaining to me how it's everyone's fault but yours that you're not going to finish your book by the latest in a long series of deadlines. I'm surprised you haven't found some way yet to blame Vladimir Putin, Tony the Tiger, me and Edward Everett Horton. If you took all that effort you're putting into blaming others and applied it to the book, you'd be autographing printed copies by now.

Yes, yes…I know this person distracted you and that person put you in a mood where you couldn't write and some other person didn't get your computer fixed on time and on and on. There is always a reason to not get one's work done and you're seizing on every one of them. You probably won't get anything done before Thanksgiving because you have to decide which dinner to attend…so it'll be the Pilgrims' fault your book isn't finished.

Look, I'll say this simply: Get the book done. A writer who can't get his or her work finished is like a plumber who can never fix a leak. You're kind of useless. 20% of your excuses are probably valid but we all have those things happen to us and still, we get to the last page and type "The End." The other 80% are you looking for excuses not to write or, at least, not hand in anything.

Remember our friend [Name Redacted]? She never got anything finished which is why she's now in another line of work. I understood why she couldn't finish her work and it wasn't all those problems, not unlike yours, which she claimed to have. It was because she was terrified to finish the script and hand it in. She was terrified of the moment that the editor would call up and say, "I have some real problems with his." Or she was terrified of it getting published and then getting bad reviews or not selling or something. As long as she didn't finish, she was putting off those catastrophes.

I'd be sympathetic if this happened once in a while. It happens once in a while to everyone. But you have developed this dogged determination to not accept the responsibility for what you're doing…or more significantly, not doing. I like you and your writing too much to go along with this. Finish the script or give up and go apply for a job at Subway making sandwiches.

In case you haven't figured it out, this is me being supportive. I'm always supportive. If you decide it's time to go work at Subway, I'll have a foot-long meatball on Italian bread with provolone cheese. Toasted. And a bag of Baked Lays.

At last report, the novel wasn't finished yet but I think I got him from Chapter 8 to Chapter 9. He was almost to 10 before his sister came into town to visit for six weeks. And as we all know, you can't possibly be expected to do your job when your sister is in town. Since I have no sister, I'm going to go finish my script.

Today's Video Link

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John Green tells why he hates Batman. I love Batman but I can't disagree with much that he says.

I started reading Batman when he looked like the left-hand picture above and now he looks like the right-hand picture. As he and his world have gotten grimmer and darker and more realistic, the "logic" in his presence has gotten shakier and shakier. At times also, the character himself has had moments of such total ugliness and insanity that I've imagined a story where the old Batman battles to rid Gotham City of its worst menace ever…the new Batman.

A certain amount of darkening was probably necessary from a commercial standpoint and in some ways, that old art style just came to look like an old art style. But there's a problem with making a fantasy character more "realistic," which is that it's harder to make those huge leaps of logic in his premise. We can buy a talking rabbit named Bugs Bunny when he's in his world. Put him into ours and it's suddenly quite different.

In a way, the great thing about Batman is that there are so many of him that you can usually find one you like. Often, it's the one that was current when you began following the character. But though you like the Batman of one decade, you may well despise (and not recognize the validity of) the Batman of some other decade. If you've been a fan of the character for forty years, you probably hate half of them. One of these days, I'll write a post about the issues and dramatizations that I liked.

Here's what John Green has to say. This man does interesting commentaries as he sculpts his haircut into odd shapes. There are times when it looks like he's trying to replicate Batman's cowl…

My Latest Tweet

  • Neil Patrick Harris to host 2015 Oscars. Wonder if he'll do a big, splashy opening musical number.