Sunday 18 February 2024

ARF! ARF!

 

 
18 February: HAPPY PLUTO DAY! 

MEET THE PLUTOS...
 
 
PLUTO 1: GOD 
 
In ancient Greek mythology, Pluto (Greek: Πλούτων, Ploutōn) was the ruler of the underworld. In Greek cosmogony, Pluto was given charge of the underworld in a three-way split of sovereignty over the world with his brothers Zeus and Poseidon: Zeus ruling the sky and Poseidon being sovereign over the sea. Pluto's central narrative in myth is of his abducting Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Demeter) to be his wife and queen of his realm; a scenario that would inspire Walt Disney's 1934 'Silly Symphony', The Goddess of Spring.

 
PLUTO 2: PLANET 
 
On 18 February 1930, (94 years ago today) Clyde Tombaugh of the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona discovered a ninth planet in our Solar System and named it ‘Pluto’.
 
 
PLUTO 3: DOG 
 
In May 1931, Mickey Mouse’s pet dog (previously known as ‘Rover’) was renamed ‘Pluto’ when he appeared in Walt Disney’s short cartoon, The Moose Hunt, likely inspired by the huge publicity surrounding the then recent discovery of the planet.
 
 
PLUTO 4: DWARF PLANET 
 
In 2006, the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a ‘Dwarf Planet’. Pluto’s ‘demotion’ caused considerable outrage. Pluto the Pup, however, was unconcerned! In 2023, NASA shared images captured by its spacecraft including a photograph of a glacier on Pluto’s surface, which was shaped like a heart. Others have seen the shape as a silhouette of the head of Mickey’s doggy pal seen in profile!
 
 

Wednesday 14 February 2024

LENTEN DAYS

It's Lent!  So, here's a little Easter book for the kids...

 
 
 
(Not quite a follow up to The Fall of Númenor – but, occasionally, I can still be unpredictable!)

VALENTINE'S DAY

A Short Note on the ART of LOVE

The brilliant American artist, J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951), celebrated for his memorable poster and advertising illustrations, spent his career depicting idealized images of the sexes that were redolent of the spirit of the 1920s. That imagery, for his generation, served as archetypes of heterosexual masculinity and femininity. But while a nation adored his work – and sought to emulate the style and glamour of the Leyendecker men and women – the creator lived a closeted life common to so many gay men and women of that era.

Today, his work has undergone a process of homoerotic decoding and, on this Valentine's Day, I'm sharing three of his classic paintings: 'The Butterfly Couple' (1923) and its romantic usage as a magazine advertisement for Kuppheimer Good Clothes, and two covers for The Saturday Evening Post (March 1913 and 1934)...

 

 

 

Alongside these ladies and gents, I give you a re-imagined amalgamation of Leyendecker's craft (together with appropriate Evening Post lettering) made in 2010 by James Blah as a Valentine’s Day card for his boyfriend.

 


 As the Bard neatly observed:

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind." 

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, scene 1 

Let's remember J. C. Leyendecker for his astonishing art while celebrating the fact that we live in a time when, for the benefit of all humanity, Cupid is increasingly – and thankfully – being "painted blind". 

Friday 2 February 2024

CHRISTMAS ISN'T JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Today, the feast Candlemas, traditionally marks the 40th day of – and conclusion to – the Christmas-Epiphany season; but, maybe, it doesn't need to be... Charles Dickens certainly thought that was an option, as evidenced by Ebenezer Scrooge's declaration towards the end of in A Christmas Carol (1843):
 

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

 


[Illustration: Roberto Innocenti, A Christmas Carol (1990)]

Thursday 1 February 2024

PINNED TO RIGHTS

 


Yes, I admit it: I am a Disney-geek. And, yes, I love Disney's 1959 animation masterwork, Sleeping Beauty, now celebrating its 65th Anniversary – Blimey! Was I really 10-years-old when I first saw it? – but I am more than a tad appalled by this particular merchandising money-spinner...

The marketing pitch runs thus (my bold italics for emphasis): 

"True love of pin-collecting conquers all with this series of mystery pins celebrating the 65th anniversary of Walt Disney's 'Seeping Beauty'. Each box contains two randomly selected pins from a possibility of ten different designs featuring the classic cast. Collect them all to assemble a Maleficent dragon silhouette."

Now, the price for two "mystery pins" is £14, or £7 each, meaning that the cost for a complete set of ten would be £70 – except that, since you have to buy the badges sight-unseen, there's a strong likelihood that you'll end up with at least a few (and possibly quite a lot) of duplicates before being able to assemble your 'Maleficent dragon silhouette.'

 



Maybe all pin-badgers are in swapping-circles or (perhaps more likely) will sell them on eBay for in excess of £7 apiece; but to my mind, "Once Upon a Dream" could very easily turn out to be an expensive nightmare!

So, yes, the set is a clever design and, indeed, looks pretty cool, but I really hope those crazy Disney pin-punters will, in this instance, consider choosing abstinence over collector's obsession!

But, hang on... I've just remembered: when Sleeping Beauty was first released, it proved an expensive box-office failure, so maybe Disney are still trying to recoup those 65-year-old losses!  

Friday 26 January 2024

THE TRAITORS FINAL (UK, Season 2)

 
"Our doubts are traitors, 
And make us lose the good we oft might win, 
By fearing to attempt."
 
– William Shakespeare 
Measure for Measure 
(Lucio to Isabella, Act I, Scene IV)
 
 
The Final of The Traitors (UK, Season 2): I'm not sure whether I was more depressed by the Traitor's ruthless brutality or the Faithful's sadly misplaced trust. 
 
Brilliant TV, no question... but, ultimately, painful for its savage uncloaking of the worst aspects of human nature.

Wednesday 24 January 2024


Today, my American friends are celebrating National Peanut Butter Day!

 

I became hooked on this sticky, nutty, product when I was, maybe, six or seven years old and I pestered my mother into letting me try it solely because the jars from Sun-Pat then being sold in the UK came with a picture of this Walt Disney icon on the lid and a label carrying the sing-song mantra: SUN-PAT DONALD DUCK CRUNCHY PEANUT BUTTER.

 

Surprisingly, I succeeded in getting it added to the regular grocery shopping-list – remembering my Mother, I'm not sure how I did that! – and it became a much-loved breakfast spread long before I discovered the additional pleasure derived from a second topping of jelly – or, as we say, jam.

 

Mind you, if I'm honest, I'm no longer certain whether, back then, I actually really LIKED peanut butter that much, or whether it was totally down to the compelling marketing powers of the Disney Duck! I suspect the latter and, of course, I was – then and now – a 'Walt-nut'!

Anyway, I really wish I'd kept the empty jars: those selling on eBay (all of them with bashed, battered and rusty old lids) change hands for surprisingly toothsome prices.

 

 


 

Wednesday 17 January 2024

LETERS FROM THE MARTIAN CHRONICLER


 
I am very honoured to be among recipients of letters included in Remembrance: Selected Correspondence of Ray Bradbury, edited by Jonathan R. Eller; recipients such as Grahame Greene, Arthur C. Clark, Federico Fellini, Gore Vidal, Carl Sandburg, Francois Truffaut and Bertrand Russell.
 
I first exchanged letters with Ray in 1974 and we continued to write to one another and, later meet up in London and L.A., until his death 38 years later. That first letter of Ray's, in response to an enquiry from a supremely confident 25-year-old admirer, was a small but exquisite masterpiece: a fireworks display of words, thoughts and images: an explosion of stimulating ideas, questions and challenges. Over twice my age and an international literary superstar, he replied as if to an equal with such vigorous engagement and indulgent charm that, however unlikely it seems to me now, could only ever be read as an invitation to begin a friendship...
 
What I couldn't have known was that it would be a friendship would bring me, across nearly four decades, letters, notes, postcards and doodles, an annual Christmas poem (and, no surprise, zany Halloween greetings); articles, cuttings and clippings; play-scripts and hand-bills; signed books and an endorsement for the cover one of my books – and an opportunity to dramatise The Illustrated Man and more than half-a-dozen of his short stories for radio.
 
The letter itself and two of my mine to Ray (which I hadn't seen since I wrote them!) are chiefly concerned with a conversation about Walt Disney's use in his theme-parks of 'Audio-Animatronic' technology – or, to put it in non-Disney speak, 'robots'! It seems that, half-a-century ago, we were already debating the pros and cons of what we would now refer to as 'AI': Ray, obviously and unashamedly 'pro'; me anxiously, 'con'. 
 
In a few months time it will be fifty years since that wonderful letter arrived and almost twelve years since Ray's death and yet I remain as moved and eternally grateful to have received it, not just for the content, but for all the memories of which it was but the first...

Friday 12 January 2024

"AS YOU WISH"


Goodness only knows what took me so long! Only 37 years after its release, I finally watched (and loved) Rob Reiner's 1987 film of William Goldman's book, The Princess Bride

"WHAT?" You say. "INCONCEIVABLE!"

Well, there it is: life is a successions of possible discoveries: some are made early on, others made rather later than we might have wished and, of course, quite a few get missed altogether. So, I'm never ashamed about making discoveries that fall into the 'Better Late Than Never' category.

And what's not to enjoy about this magical film? As (probably) most people reading this will know, it features Robin Wright and Cary Elwes as the pretty young lovers – the latter also demonstrating a formidable talent for swashbuckling Errol Flynn-Doug Fairbanks-style swordsmanship in that exhilarating sequence in which he and his well-matched duelist, Mandy Patinkin, demonstrate their fencing skills – right-handed and left-handed! A truly heroic episode.

On the 'Boo-Hiss' side of things there's an delightfully odious Prince-portrayal by Chris Sarandon and succulent, sneering villainy from Christopher Guest that is reminiscent of Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood or the Lord Ravenhurst in The Court Jester.  

Then there are glorious Pythonesque comic turns from Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Mel Smith and Peter Cook; and we really mustn't forget the (literally) larger than life presence of Andre the Giant (French-born wrestler, André René Roussimoff, popularly known at the time as 'The Eighth Wonder of the World') playing... well... the Giant... Nor can we overlook the smaller, more intimate companionship of Peter Falk, whose endearing and reassuring performance as the storytelling grandfather holds the whole narrative together and, in so doing, 'sells' the film. Oh, yes... and there's also a lively medieval-cum-'Eighties score by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler! 

How can I have I denied myself all these rare and fine pleasures for so many years? Never mind, now (time willing) I will be able to enjoy them some... several... possible many times more!

Thursday 11 January 2024

STILL LIFE WITH SUNLIGHT

Thursday 9:00 am:
 
Early morning winter sunlight through the kitchen window-blind...
 
 

DOT-DOT-DOT DASH-DASH-DASH DOT-DOT-DOT




It's January 11th and I wish you a very happy "Learn Your Name in Morse Code Day". In case you ever need it, here's mine...
 

-... .-. .. .- -. / ... .. -... .-.. . -.--



If you want to translate your name into Morse Code, CLICK HERE

Monday 8 January 2024

THE ELUSIVE ZORRO

 
TODAY! COMIC-BOOK COVER ART: 
ZORRO – [Part ONE]

 
 
Totally stunning red, black and white cover for Zorro: Man of the Dead #1 (J. Albuquerque Variant). If you'll forgive the sloppy critique:  
 
WOWEE!!
 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ


TODAY! COMIC-BOOK COVER ART: 
ZORRO – [Part TWO]



 
Surprising (if somewhat vacant) off-white cover for Zorro: Man of the Dead #1 (Cover 'I' Blank Sketch Limited Edition) Pre-Order: ONLY 2000 PRINTED
 
BUT, beware... The website at Forbidden Planet carries the following curious caveat:
 
"COVER SUBJECT TO CHANGE"

Saturday 6 January 2024

DAVID SOUL (1943-2004)


 

Goodbye, Hutch! 

 

Ah, dear, sweet David Soul... Here he is, on the left (looking, as ever, cool in black and tan) as we knew and loved him, before he scared the bejesus out of us with Salem's Lot. By his side: trusted fellow crime-fighter, Starsky – co-star in Starsky and Hutch, Paul Michael Glaser, surprisingly hip in a previous year's Christmas jumper.

 

Thus passes another of my boyhood crushes from those innocent days before they'd invented phrases like 'homoerotic tropes'... 

 

Mind you, on Instagram, a couple of years ago, Glaser posted this 'other' photo of himself and his chum from a time gone by; "Everyone needs a Hutch to their Starsky," he wrote – so who knows...

 

ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS...

TWELFTH NIGHT... And the arrival of the last – or, maybe, the FIRST card of Christmas!

 

Friday 5 January 2024

GLYNIS JOHNS (1923-2024)

 

 

 

Farewell to Glynis Johns, aged 100: beautiful lady (with amazing eyes) and exceptionally talented actress, equally skilled at playing dramatic, romantic or comedic roles. Daughter of veteran Welsh actor Mervyn Johns (himself a considerable talent), Glynis was at home on stage or in front of the camera, but it was the movies that elevated her career to star status.

Glynis made her film debut in 1938 in South Riding and success was quickly followed with Powell and Pressburger's 1941 war drama 49th Parallel in which stepping into a role vacated by Elisabeth Bergner in a very starry cast (Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Anton Walbrook and Raymond Massey)
and for which she won a National Board of Review Award for Best Acting. In 1948 she had a triumph as the titular mermaid in the screwball comedy, Miranda which also featured David Tomlinson with whom she would later co-star in Mary Poppins as Mrs and Mr Banks.

  


Other films that followed included The Card second-billed to Alec Guinness and Flesh and Blood co-staring alongside Richard Todd; Walt Disney would subsequently cast Johns and Todd in two historical pictures: The Sword and the Rose and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue. She provided a glamorous foil to Danny Kaye in his glorious medieval musical-romp, The Court Jester; and co-starred with Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Peter Ustinov in The Sundowners, with Dan O'Herlihy in The Cabinet of Caligari and with Peter O'Toole, Burton and Taylor in Under Milk Wood.
 

On stage, Glynis was the first actress play the role of Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim's 1973 Broadway hit, A Little Night Music, in which she introduced – in her hallmark, husky voice – what would become one of Sondheim's most best-loved and enduring songs, 'Send in the Clowns'.  

 


 

This performance won Glynis a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Sondheim likened her voice to a "rumpled bed", which is less of an insult than an acknowledgement of her seductive delivery.

The song's construction (now so famously known) was solely dictated by the musical ability of his leading lady. As Sondheim once described the structure:
 
"Isn't it rich (breathe-breathe),
Are we a pair (breathe-breathe),
Me here at last on the ground (breathe),
You in mid-air (breathe-breathe),
Send in the clowns."

Writing in The New York Times, music critic Anthony Tommasini perceptively said of the song: "Stephen Sondheim composed his most famous song, 'Send In the Clowns,' for an actress with virtually no voice ... and few genuine singers have performed it as effectively." Which is unquestionably true.

Of course, Glynis had already sung a roistering number in Walt Disney's 1964 film triumph, Mary Poppins, delivering 'Sister Suffragette', a militant battle-cry for women's rights in Edwardian England in the role of Jane and Michael's mother Mrs Winifred Banks. As the story goes, Walt invited Glynis to the studio, planning to offer her the role of the mother of the two children, Jane and Michael; however, the actress (already a Disney leading lady) assumed she was going to be offered the film's title role. 

To sell the supporting role and mollify the disappointed star, Walt called Poppins composers, Richard and Robert Sherman, and told them that he was taking Glynis to lunch and, afterwards, would be bringing her to the music room so they could play the new song they had composed for her. The Sherman Brothers, decoding Walt's unexpected call, worked through their own lunchtime and rewrote an abandoned song for Mary Poppins – 'Practically Perfect in every way / In ev'rything I do and in everything I say...' as a suffrage mission statement that now began, 'We're clearly soldiers in petticoats / Dauntless crusaders for women's votes!' The ruse (and the song) worked the necessary magic and Miss Johns accepted the role. 


Monday 1 January 2024

COMIC-BOOK COVER ART: NEW YEAR SPECIAL EDITION!

In celebration of the Latest New Year, here is a selection of comic covers marking New Years from 1938-2024, featuring comic-book characters past and present from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny through to Batman, Spider-Man and Dare Devil...

 


 




 
 
 



ON YOUR MARKS!

OK! 

So, here we go again...

DAY ONE!

GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!