Monday 10 June 2024

A LETTER FROM MARS

 


Fifty years ago, today, RAY BRADBURY, visionary American writer of fantasy and sci-fi classics – think The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 – sat down at his typewriter in Beverly Hills and replied to a fan-letter from a 25-year-old guy in Britain who had sent him some provoking questions about a mutual idol – Walt Disney...
 
 
 


 
This remarkable letter was to be the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would last for almost 40 years and only ended with Ray’s death in 2012. 
 
Only a few days before he died, I received – by email, via his daughter, Zee, who latterly served as his amanuensis – a final missive…
 
 
**********************************
 
Dear Brian,
 
Thanks for your wonderful note; it's always great to hear from you.
 
Zee read your email to me and I cannot believe what you and David have to go through. [We had to vacate our flat for a year during repairs to the building] 
 
Of course, now that you've had to dig through all your treasures, perhaps we should get you two here to take care of this out-of-control homestead of mine!!!! I love this old house of mine and even if I didn't, I think I'd be stuck here because there's just so much stuff.
 
I'm glad to hear of your new book and I do hope you'll send me a copy of it when it comes out.
 
I think Zee told you that I had been in the hospital, but this old Martian is doing fine, so don't you worry.
 
I send you and David much love,
 
Ray
 
**********************************
 
My discovery, in my early teens, of the extraordinary worlds of Ray Bradbury was a fiery baptism in the waters of metaphor and simile, in the rip-tide of allusions and illusions, in the great wave of allegory and analogy. 
 
His books were like gathering the Golden Apples of the Sun; getting drunk on Dandelion Wine in the shade of the Halloween Tree in the October Country; or finding a prescription for a Medicine for Melancholy whenever Something Wicked This Way Comes.
 
Our correspondence and, later, our meetings in London, California and Florida, were treasured like the rarest and richest gifts stolen from a dragon-horde or from seemingly commonplace pebbles and shells found shimmering along new-washed shoreline in the first light of dawn.
 
To engage with Ray on any topic of conversation was nothing short of thrilling: invigorating, enlightening, challenging and inspiring. Never more so than when talk turned to shared passions and obsessions. 
 
Cue a topic; any one: Disney (especially Fantasia and the wonders of Disneyland); dinosaurs and robots; Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol; comic books (Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars and the ‘pulp poets’ of the ‘fifties); cinematic classics (The Phantom of the Opera, Citizen Kane and La Strada); the monsters of moviedom (from King Kong to the beasts of Ray Harryhausen); Hollywood’s funny men (Stan and Ollie, Buster Keaton and Chaplin); artists (especially Piranesi, Eyvind Earle and, his own frequent illustrator, Joe Mugnani) and then more Disney and so much more of anything and everything.
 
Ray became my mentor and critic, my goad and guide, source of inspiration and spur to my imagination; but he was also ever the challenger to my preconceptions and debunker of my hypocrisies. We talked about joys and sorrows, origins and destinations, risings and fallings, dreams and nightmare, realities and masquerades, every shade of love, hate and whatever lay between. 
 
Our thirty-eight years of friendship was, as I grew up and he grew older, a love-affair of ponderings and speculations. I miss him as much today, as I did twelve years ago, when that ‘Old Martian’ (as he called himself in his last email) set off on his last great exploration of the Great Unknown that, again and again, he celebrated throughout his life…

Friday 7 June 2024

'WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DISNEY?'


 
A rare item of Disneyana: a 1944 WWII poster designed by the Disney Studio for the US Government's War Manpower Commission.
 
A mean, salivating grasshopper clutches a handful of dollars and a lunchbox as he hops from job to job in search of higher wages. Disney's artwork thematically references the studio's 1934 'Silly Symphony', The Grasshopper and the Ants, that (with its popular song 'The World Owes Me a Living') would have been familiar to many Americans of working-age. During WWII, American unemployment levels dropped to 1.4% due to the influx of production jobs for the war effort. This poster sought to dissuade defense workers from using the labor shortage to 'job hop'
 
Walt Disney Studios was in difficult financial straits when WWII broke out due to animators enlisting to serve in the forces and the loss of European revues from their films. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Disney's massive studio lot in Burbank, California was commandeered by the US Army and many of Walt's animators were moved from making entertainment cartoons to making training films for the Navy. By 1943, almost 90% of Disney's work was related to the war effort, from powerful propaganda films to posters such as this one.

Monday 20 May 2024

Angry Duck:  

"What do you mean: 'WHAT OYSTERS?'"

Saturday 18 May 2024

VISIONS OF HOPE

From the covers of the American television-listings magazine, TV GUIDE, across four decades, here are seven portraits of comedy legend, BOB HOPE – as depicted by the pens and paintbrushes of six masters of cartoon and illustration.
 
Hope's familiar features – the chin, nose, forehead and eyebrows – are brilliantly captured in caricatures by Hirschfeld, Searle. Scarfe and Davis, portraiture by Bernard Fuchs and the photo-realistic artwork by Richard Amsel.
 
 

TV GUIDE, January 26, 1957 by Al HIRSCHFELD (1903-2003)

 

 TV GUIDE, January 16, 1965 by Ronald SEARLE (1920-2011)

TV GUIDE, January 11, 1969 – Gerald SCARFE (b. 1936)
 
TV GUIDE, January 11, 1969 by Gerald SCARFE (b. 1936)
 
  TV GUIDE, April 10, 1971by Jack DAVIS (1924-2016)
 
TV GUIDE, February 28, 1976 by Bernard FUCHS [Again!] (1932-2009)

TV GUIDE, May 21, 1983 by Richard AMSEL (1947-1985)

 

Friday 17 May 2024

CAT BURGLAR


 
Angry Duck:

"GET YOUR CHESHIRE PAWS –– OUT –– OF –– MY –– COMIC-BOOKS!"

Saturday 11 May 2024

THE PORTRAITS OF A LADY

The Royal Academy of Arts is currently celebrating the work of Angelica Kauffman RA (1741-1807), a Swiss Neoclassical painter who had a highly successful career in London and Rome. Remembered primarily as a history painter, Kauffman was also skilled portraitist, landscape painter. She was, along with Mary Moser, one of only two female painters who were among the 34 founding members of the Royal Academy of Art at its inception in 1768. 

 


In this 'Self-portrait in al'antica Dress' Angelica Kauffman chooses to show herself not just as an 'artist' (she holds a tablet and stylus and has her painters impedimenta within reach) but also as an idealised image of femininity. The rustic costume and the classical setting – columns, swagged curtaining and an idyllic country vista in the background – complete the romantic mood and, in doing so, effectively, effortlessly – and, perhaps, ironically – conceal the labour of the painter's craft.

There is a major focus Kauffman's portraiture in this exhibition and, in addition to the self-portrait above, I'm sharing just three works which show her very considerable talent.

 



DAVID GARRICK (1717-1779); English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of European theatrical practice throughout the 18th century. Painted in 1764, Kauffman boldly portrays Garrick with unexpected – indeed, uncommon – informality. Garrick turns on his chair to look back at the observer, eschewing the frequently-adopted 'dramatic' pose used in the depiction of thespians! This air of being 'at ease with life', combined with the intensity of his look and the hint of a wry smile, makes for a compelling portrait.

 


 

Sir JOSHUA REYNOLDS, PRA, FRS, FRSA, (1723-1792); English painter who, himself, specialised in portraits. He promoted the 'Grand Style' in painting, which depended on idealisation of the imperfect. He was a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts and was knighted by George III in 1769. This portrait of a portraitist (dating from 1767) combines the sense of a man of considerable public importance – the associated trappings provided by the studio setting with its easel, books, papers and an antique bust of Michelangelo, whom Reynolds so much admired – with a contemplative pose that reflects, perhaps, his friendship with Kauffman and, even, his acknowledgement of her worth as a fellow artist.

 


JOHANN JOACHIM WINCKELMANN (1717-1768); German art historian, one of the founders of scientific archaeology and considered by many as the father of the discipline of 'art history'. He was one of the first scholars to arrange Greek Art into specific periods, and time classifications. Kauffman depicts Winckelmann, pen in hand but looking away from what he is writing (and the observer), as if he were caught in a moment of reverie. The simple, uncluttered staging and the sitter's reflective expression suggests a man with an ordered mind who primarily seeks to bring order to the chaos of history.


The exhibition, 'Angelica Kauffman', remains on display at The Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London, until 30 June 2024.

[Photos: David Weeks]

Wednesday 8 May 2024

"GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE"

The newcomer to the bookshelves asserts his position...
 
 

"YOU ARE – NOT – MY CONSCIENCE!"
 
 
 
['Real-Life Information'. Newcomer: 'Donald Duck 70 Years' figurine by Royal Doulton (1998); Long-time Resident: Jiminy Cricket Disney Christmas Ornament (c. 1983; inspired by JC's performance as The Ghost of Christmas Past in Mickey's Christmas Carol; the original hanging eyelet and ribbon have been surgically removed!]

Saturday 4 May 2024

"WHAT DAY OF THE MONTH IS IT?"


 
Today, May 4th, has been intergalactically hijacked by STAR WARS fans with the popular meme 'May the Fourth Be With You', but for fans of Lewis Carroll, the date has an entirely different significance.
 
Carrollians have long designated today as 'Wonderland Day', marking, as it does, the birthday of Alice Pleasance Liddell, born on May 4, 1852. 
 
 

 
Alice was the fourth of the ten children of Dr Henry Liddell, at the time of her birth, Headmaster of Westminster School and then (from 1855) Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. It was there that Alice, her family (and, in particular, her brother Harry and two of her sisters, Lorina and Edith), met a young mathematics don, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who was an enthusiastic – and pioneering – champion of the new 'art' of photography and who wrote entertaining poems, puzzles and stories under the pseudonym, 'Lewis Carroll'. 
 
 

 
Alice Liddell – "Child of the pure unclouded brow. And dreaming eyes of wonder!" – would become Lewis Carroll's child-muse and provide the inspiration for a curious fantasy originally entitled, in manuscript, Alice's Adventures under Ground and, later and much amplified, published in 1865 as the book we now know as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
 
'Hidden in plain sight' in the book are two date-specific allusions to Alice Liddell's birthday....
 
In the book's sixth chapter, 'Pig and Pepper', Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat...
 
 
 
******
 
[Alice asked] "What sort of people live about here?"
 
"In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad."
 
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
 
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
 
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
 
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
 
******
 
Shortly after, the author tells us...
 
******
 
After a minute or two [Alice] walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. "I've seen hatters before," she said to herself; "the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad--at least not so mad as it was in March."
 
******
 
So, the month of the year is now established as being May.
 
Then, in the following chapter, 'A Mad Tea-Party', we find this exchange...
 
******
 
The Hatter was the first to break the silence. "What day of the month is it?" he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.
 
Alice considered a little, and then said "The fourth."
 
"Two days wrong!" sighed the Hatter. "I told you butter wouldn't suit the works!" he added looking angrily at the March Hare.
 
"It was the best butter," the March Hare meekly replied.
 
"Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well," the Hatter grumbled: "you shouldn't have put it in with the bread-knife."
 
******
 
Thus it is established (if you put any credence in such nonsense!) that the 'day of the month' of May is, indeed, 'The Fourth'!
 
Whether it's YOUR birthday (or your UN-Birthday) I hope you have a WONDER-filled Wonderland Day!
 
 
[Photographs: Lewis Carroll; Illustration: John Tenniel (enlarged and coloured) from The Nursery "Alice" (1890)]

Thursday 2 May 2024

FULL OF BEANZ!

Ah, time for lunch! 

Beans on toast? 

NO!

Heinz Beanz Cheesy on toast...


It looked and sounded interesting – even a little tantalizing – so we gave it a go...

VERDICT:  

OK... We like both named ingredients, so, yes, OK. But seriously over-priced (£1.50-£1.80, depending on the store) and, yes, you could certainly make it more cheaply yourself.

WARNING!: 

Be aware there are some extremely negative reviews of this product online. For example, one Tesco customer wrote: "Tastes and smells like burnt cheese on toast mixed in with a teenager's gym sock."

THERE'S MORE!: 

What I didn't know (I lead such a sheltered life) is that 'Beanz Cheesy' (or should that be 'Cheezy'?) is just the tip of the iceberg – sorry, that's a ludicrous simile – the tip of 'a hill of beans', because Heinz have, apparently, been messing about with their legendary product for some while now... 

 


OH, AND, YES, TALKING OF SOCKS (see above): 

It turns out that Heinz really DO sell socks...  

Sorry, SOCKZ!!


NO!

ENOUGH!

Wednesday 1 May 2024

PULL YOUR FINGER OUT!

Hearing a description of someone on the radio the other day as having "A finger in every pie", made me think that this would make an excellent advertising slogan for that legendary pie-maker, Mrs. Nellie Lovett, so I made this little mock-up for her...

 


 I was thinking of adding:

"Since eating one of Mrs. Lovett's pies, I have eaten no other!" 

– His Hon. Judge Turpin (Decd.)

Tuesday 30 April 2024

PRICE WARS

Images from the British Museum's exhibition LEGION: life in the Roman army (remaining on show until 23 June 2024), reminding us of two premiere forces that have fashioned every culture across the centuries of recorded time...

WAR...

 
...and
 
MONEY...


 

[Photos: Brian Sibley & David Weeks]

Monday 22 April 2024

EARTH DAY AND POGO

Inaugurated on this day 54 years ago, in 1970, Earth Day is an annual event on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection, Today it includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by Earthday.org including one billion people in more than 193 countries. The official theme for Earth Day 2024 is "Planet vs. Plastics."
 
For that first Earth Day, legendary American cartoonist Walt Kelly – creator of the beloved comic-strip about Pogo Possum that resident philosopher of Okefenokee Swamp – produced an Earth Day poster showing Pogo surveying the mess of garbage littering his swamp homeland and carried the slogan "We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”
 
 

 
Kelly was re-working a comment made by American Naval Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who – on September 10, 1813 – having trounced the British Navy at the Battle of Lake Erie, reported to Major General William Henry Harrison, “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”
 
Kelly’s variation on this famous battle report, had a different intent: to remind us that humankind has a way of being its own worst enemy – specifically that we have only ourselves to blame for the conditions that are polluting our environment and threatening the future of human life on earth.
 
A year after Kelly's poster appeared, he created a special comic strip for Earth Day 1971 featuring Pogo and his friend Porky Pine that restated his earlier warning against the self-destructive course which we were (and are still) blindly pursuing...
 
 

You can read more about Walt Kelly, Pogo & friends HERE

Friday 5 April 2024

MORNING BLUES!

Sometimes this is just how you feel in the morning –––
even on a Friday!
 
 


 
[Illustration: Cover of vintage breakfast menu (c. 1940) from the Walt Disney Studio Restaurant, Burbank, California, USA]

Tuesday 2 April 2024

"A SKULL FULL OF MUSH!"


 

A splendid piece of cover-art featuring the work of the illustrator and distinguished fine artist Daniel Bennett Schwartz (b. 1929), made for TV Guide, the US television listings-magazine. 

 

This issue (May 5-11, 1979) features an impressive double-portrait by Schwartz of James Stephens and John Houseman, stars of The Paper Chase, a law-school drama series that was a spin-off from the 1973 movie of the same name and which quickly became one of my favourite American TV shows of the late '70s and early '80s.

 

Always a fan of 'flamboyant' acting, I adored Houseman's towering reprise of his role in the original film: the domineering, curmudgeonly, sharp-tongued law tutor, Prof. Charles W. Kingsfield Jr.  "You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of MUSH; you leave thinking like a lawyer."

 

Also, to be perfectly frank, I had more than a bit of crush on Kingsfield's student, James T. Hart, played by the blonde and bespectacled James Stephens––– 

 

And there, I think, I had better stop lest I get tempted into making inappropriate jokes about legal briefs...