Friday, April 30, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

What to think about the remake of 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street, released today in theatres? On the one hand, the original film, and the franchise it spawned, remain quintessential 1980s popular culture, forever entrenched in the minds of those who knew them then. If you were a child of the 1980s, but too young to sneak into an R-rated movie at the theatres, it was the perfect video rental (particularly, or perhaps only, if you were crashing at the home of a friend with cool parents). On the other hand, the films are, by today's standards, dated, and as the original franchise evolved, it aimed more at campy gross-out humor than fright, suggesting that a new direction and tone may be welcome. Certainly, cinema-goers have become more sophisticated in the past two and a half decades, and what might have frightened an audience in the halcyon days of the 1980s might no longer scare their modern day counterparts in 2010. (An interesting aside: Does that issue, in and of itself, forgive the producers of a horror movie remake?) Whatever the case, the original film does not seem immune from a remake.

The original film was written and directed by Wes Craven, and starred Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, and a young Johnny Depp, as Glen Lantz, Nancy's boyfriend. The remake stars Jackie Earle Haley as Krueger and Rooney Mara as Nancy. (Mara was born after the release of the original 1984 film). Haley is actually an interesting choice, and one that makes me suspect that the remake might not be all bad. Haley was wonderfully creepy in 2006's Little Children, and he, as Rorschach, was one of the few good things about last year's adaptation of Watchmen. Maybe it's Netflix queue-worthy.

As an aside, the original franchise did attempt a change in tone with 1994's Wes Craven's New Nightmare, a film with an interesting twist: It takes place in the real world and follows the exploits of the cast of the original film, including Englund (who plays both himself and Freddy Krueger), Langenkamp (as herself), John Saxon (who plays himself, the actor who was Nancy's police officer father), and even Craven himself. How postmodern is that?

As for the remake, released today, we reserve judgment.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Free Comic Book Day (2010)

This Saturday, May 1, 2010, is Free Comic Book Day. Not unlike the recently celebrated Record Store Day, this annual event is designed to entice customers to visit their local comic book shop with the promise of a plethora of promotional goodies and freebies. It might be fun, right?

I began collecting comic books, mostly Marvel titles, back in the mid-1980s. That era was, in many respects, a second golden age of comics with lots of storylines that are remembered fondly today, from the Mutant Massacre plot in the X-Men books to Scourge of the Underworld in the Captain America titles. (Don't forget: that decade also brought us the reinvention of Batman and the publication of Watchmen, as well.). I also credit the weekly trip to the comic book store with fostering my interest in reading. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, not too long after Tim Burton's Batman hit theatres, I began to sour on the whole enterprise. Prices for individual issues began to rise, and at that time, there were so many collectors in the market that no single issue purchased at the local shop was ever going to meaningfully increase in value. Most importantly, though, the quality of the narratives seemed to decline, making reading comic books less interesting. So sometime in 1990, or perhaps even as late as early 1991, I kicked the habit. From what I have come to understand, I missed little, as the comic book industry in the 1990s was a narrative wasteland which everyone today is too embarrassed to discuss.

Years and years later, in the mid-2000s, after beginning my career as a young professional, I made a few nostalgic trips back to several comic shops to reminisce about the 1980s. I began to purchase comic books again, some new, some old. There were some great stories being told, from Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men to the compelling Identity Crisis. Further, I felt somewhat liberated in that I wasn't collecting titles which might someday increase in value; rather, I was simply reading comic books, which in my mind, I began to think of more like magazines to be read and enjoyed and forgotten. I did this for several years in fact, before the practical disadvantages of the hobby began to resurface. As a completist, I always feel obligated to purchase and read every episode of a limited series, or worse, all of the titles impacted by a massive crossover event. But that approach becomes counterproductive, especially if one has little time to actually read the comic books one purchases during one's weekly visit to the local shop. One falls behind in the reading schedule as one's own peril, and as the stack of unread comics becomes larger and larger, the entire enterprise simply becomes a chore. That, of course, assumes that one has time to make it to the local shop in the first place. Occasionally, I would be too busy at work for that errand, and after a several week absence, my store would contact me to inquire why I hadn't been in to collect the issues from my watch list. That voicemail always seemed more like one from a bill collector than a fellow geek. But nevertheless, I would make a guilty appearance at the shop, and buy three or four weeks of comics, which I might or might not ultimately read.

Other logistical issues abound. Where does one keep several longboxes full of comic books? How much time should truly be spent on organizing one's comic book collection so that particular issues are readily locatable? Should minimal efforts be made to preserve the integrity of the books themselves, i.e. bagging and boarding? If I decide to rid myself of an old cache of comics, what's the best way to do that: sell them back to the store, donate them to a literacy-based charity, or simply pack them all up in a box and mail them to Ryan S.? Whichever of those options I ultimately chose, it's a time consuming and wearisome task to address.

So I quit the habit again.

These days, I read a number of comic book blogs, and if something strikes my fancy, I'll order it online. More often than not, I'll have a fond memory of a particular issue or title and then make my way over to eBay to see if that run or series of issues can be bought in one fell swoop.

I suppose this is not much of an endorsement of Free Comic Book Day, but I plan to make an appearance at one of my local shops and peruse some titles from the mid-1980s. And someday, someday dear readers, I'm going to find the time to cull through my longboxes and toss the issues that I never got around to reading or will never read again. But not today.

For more on this topic, please see:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Congratulations to Ryan and Jamie S.

Here at Chronological Snobbery, we traditionally deal in maudlin nostalgia, not joy. However, something is different about this day. Today, Ryan S., the author of the now defunct pop culture blog The League of Melbotis (and the creator of the brand new blog, The Signal Watch) and his wife, Jamie (a blogger in her own right) celebrate ten years of marriage. Ten years! That's quite a feat: a decade of matrimony. How can Chronological Snobbery commemorate this festive occasion? By doing what we do best. Since this is a blog dedicated to forgotten popular culture, let's see what was happening on that fateful day in the realm of entertainment.

So without further ado, here is the day that was in pop culture, Friday, April 28, 2000:

Above: The Melvins, with former teen idol Leif Garrett on guest vocals, cover Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2000. (Don't forget: Kurt Cobain co-produced the Melvins' 1993 album, Houdini.).

Above: The Donnas perform "Skintight," from their 1999 LP, Get Skintight, on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn," on April 28, 2000.

Above: Nine Inch Nails perform "Hurt" at the Maple Leaf Center in Toronto, on April 28, 2000.

But more: Death Cab for Cutie played a brief show at Good Records in Dallas, Texas that day.

April 28, 2000 was a Friday, which means new films were released to theatres that day. That particular day saw the release of the following films: Frequency, Where The Heart Is, and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, none of which are very memorable ten years later. Also on that night, "Cosby," the second sitcom featuring Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad, ended its four year run. On that date, Kurt Russell, star of the 1994 flick Stargate, visited the set of the Sci-Fi television series "Stargate SG-1," but only because he was already in town filming another movie.

As you may have guessed from the comic book covers interspersed throughout this post, Ryan S. is quite the fan of Superman. On the Internet, there is no better source of Supes-related news than the Superman Homepage, which had this to say on April 28, 2000:
An inside source has reported to me that progress on the Superman: The Movie DVD is going very well. The final edit will include some of the best material from the ABC-TV extended version with computer enhancements, interviews, stills archive, and more. It promises to be spectacular.

Warner Bros is going all out, releasing all four Superman titles on DVD -- with the first slated as a special edition. Superman: The Movie is reported to be a 2-disc set that will include audio commentary by director Richard Donner, a separate music-only track featuring the wonderfully beautiful score by John Williams PLUS his commentary on the film. There will be special features on the casting of Superman, screen tests, a documentary on the making of the film, theatrical trailer, TV spots, deleted scenes, audio outtakes, as well asan extensive cast and crew bio/filmography.

Warner Home Video is putting a load of money into this DVD and it will include special motion menus and scene transitions on the DVD. It will be in Widescreen and digitally mastered, both picture and sound.

Superman II will have much less. A theatrical trailer, screen tests, and deleted scenes. The other two (Superman III and IV) will be quite generic.
The films would later be released on DVD after an extended period of Internet gossip.

And that, dear readers, was the day that was, in pop culture, on April 28, 2000.

In this cynical, cynical world, it is nice to have a reminder every so often that there are those that have truly found meaningful and sustaining happiness. Happy Anniversary, Ryan and Jamie!

(See here for Jamie's post on this historic occasion - complete with pictures from the 1990s.).

UPDATE: (See here for Ryan's post commemorating this fine day.).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Donwill's "Don Cusack in High Fidelity" (2010)

As I was finishing up my coverage of the tenth anniversary of the 2000 film High Fidelity, I received an unsolicited, but very polite, email from Dan Friedman, the Online Marketing Manager of Audio Treats, a marketing company. He alerted me to the existence of the new album by Donwill, a member of a hip hop group called Tanya Morgan (made up of Donwill, MC Ilyas, and Von Pea). This album, apparently, is an homage to High Fidelity like no other.

Some Googling later, I find the official site for Audio Treats, and its entry on this album, which notes:
Don Cusack In High Fidelity is Donwill’s musical representation of the movie from which it took its name. Not only is High Fidelity Donwill’s personal favorite film, but he identified with John Cusack’s character, Rob Gordon, so much that he created an entire album inspired by the movie. Donwill incorporated personal stories of falling in love, fearing commitment, hating his job, and learning life lessons, to create a clever and deeply personal musical interpretation of the film. Skillfully and artfully crafted using direct subject matter and quotes from the cult classic, the 16-track personal odyssey will resonate not only with fans of the original movie but also with anyone who has spent time trying to figure out the opposite sex. "The album is based on being in a state of perpetual pre-mid-life crisis," says Donwill. "Nothing in life will give you all the answers, but this album will help people find some of the answers they might be looking for."
Apparently, I'm not the only one with a great fondness for the film. But I'm not certain that I'm as confident as Donwill about the solutions to the problems presented in the film. Oh, well. (You can hear some of the tracks from Donwill's new album at his MySpace page here.).

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Last Generation (1986 - 1989): A Case Study of the Challenges of Independent Comic Book Creation in the 1980s

Above: Firecloud and Artra on The Last Generation #1 cover (1986).

These days, it must be difficult to be an independent comic book creator, even with the advantages bestowed upon them by technology, computers, and the Internets. Imagine, though, what a difficult feat the creation of a new comic book series must have been in the mid-1980s, when the use of personal computers was still in its infancy and the Information Superhighway was years in the future. Somehow, though, Memphis-based comic book creators Dave Bennett, writer Bill Bryer, inker David Porch, and artist Mitch Foust found a way, and in so doing, they created The Last Generation, an anthropomorphic, post-apocalyptic black and white comic book series which saw its first issue brought into being in 1986.

Published by Black Tie Studios, the series was certainly ambitious. With a mythology that spanned millennia, beginning in the times of ancient Egypt and going forward thousands of years, well into the distant future, the series attempted to create a vast mythology addressing issues of bioethics, nuclear proliferation, and space travel. The principal narrative is set several hundred years in the future, and the protagonists are these: Firecloud (a warrior Bear with shamanistic powers who is the last of his clan), Artra (a wolf and a thief who carries a strange and powerful radioactive medallion emblazoned with a peace symbol), Eremos Polastar (a mentally unbalanced humanoid with memories and dreams of the past which may or may not be real), Sh'Kreech (a winged female archaeologist in love with Polastar), and Thomas O'Malley (a former resident of the twentieth century awoken from his cryogenic sleep chamber by the other aforementioned protagonists). Ultimately, the five of them band together, in part driven by Polastar's quest to find the mysterious "ben-ben," an artifact which dates back to Egyptian times and may, in fact, be extra-terrestrial in origin. Complicating all of this is the presence of a sinister villain, Dr. Clavius, who in the 1990s tricked the world powers into nuclear disarmament by rendering all nuclear material in the world inert. The protagonists find themselves in the hollowed-out mountain lair of Clavius, who is somehow still alive. Much of this the reader must piece together, as the back story is something that must be ascertained from bits and pieces of the narrative, as well as supplemental materials outside the narrative proper, like a time line which appears in several issues or copies of news articles about the characters.

In the very first issue, the introduction notes that the series would be limited to eighteen issues:
Unlike so many of today's story lines we want you to know that this one has a definite end. The way I now have it plotted the book will end on/or about issue 18. For those of you who like riddles the book has a beginning and an end which is also its beginning. We hope that you will our story through to its end.
In late 1986, Memphis's Commercial Appeal newspaper ran a story on local comic book creators, including those behind The Last Generation. In the piece, the author explored their diverse backgrounds and their connection to the characters they had created:
"There's a lot of people who know me as a police officer because I come in contact with 'em, said David Porch, who put pen and brush to The Last Generation. "Hopefully, a lot more people one day will know me as a comic book artist."


"The characters are not just supernatural beings who can leap over a building in a single bound," Porch said. "They all have well-developed personalities. We kind of see ourselves as the characters."

Porch, a member of the motorcycle squad of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department, sees himself as Artra, a prankish wolf who walks upright and wars a strange artifact - a peace medallion.

Mitch Foust, the comic's main artist and a shopping mall airbrush artist by profession, is big and bearded. He's reflected in Firecloud, a warrior bear.

Hobby-shop worker Dave Bennett helped conceptualize the comic and work out the business problems. His long blond hair is the visual basis for a restless seeker-after-truth named Eremos Polestar, who cavorts with a beautiful winged woman.

Only Bill Bryer, a factory parts worker, who scripted the book, doesn't have an alter ego in the story.1
(Note: These guys weren't the only ones in Memphis producing indie comic books back then. Memphis-based Philip Hwang achieved some level of success in the mid-1980s with his similarly independently produced Hey Boss! #1, a Bruce Springsteen parody, which we here at Chronological Snobbery profiled in this piece back in 2007.).

Above: from left to right, are Dave Bennett, Bill Bryer, David Porch, and Mitch Foust.

Contacted in late 2007, before this blog's extended hiatus, Foust, Porch, and Bryer were kind enough to submit to brief email interviews. (Efforts in both 2007 and 2010 to locate Bennett were unsuccessful.). We've collected the three sets of creator interviews below.

1. How many issues of The Last Generation were published? I understand the original plan was to have 18 issues, published four times a year. Were you able to complete that plan?
FOUST: We actually completed five issues. By issue three, we had a good friend, Rich Herold, to do the lettering. After issue 4 was complete, Rich was killed in a car accident. It really took a lot of the wind out of our sails. The main reason the books were never finished was that I couldn't meet the deadlines. We averaged about one book a year.

PORCH: Only five issues? It seems like it was a lot more than five books with all the blood, sweat, and tears we put into each issue. I was intrigued by the story that we wanted to tell and was personally saddened that we never got the opportunity to complete the series. The plan, as with so many things in life, did not go as intended.

The death of Our Book was TIME. We did not have enough of it. All of us, Bill, Mitch, Dave, and myself all worked full time jobs. I had gotten used to eating and decided a steady job was the best way to continue the habit. I had no illusions or expectations of the book making me wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, so from my point of view,
the book was a labor of love. As I alluded to earlier, time was the major factor for the book's demise. Time was required for writing, drawing, inking and toning the books. In the five years we worked on the books, we averaged one issue a year and you cannot do that and survive in the comic business. Naturally, with every issue after the first one, our sales were becoming less and less and finally, with the fifth issue, the decision to stop production was made. A labor of love is one thing and losing money to keep the series going, well, that's another thing altogether different. Mitch and I did all the artwork for the series. We both did full paintings for the front and back covers as well as doing other art projects like the prints that went into the portfolio. With full time jobs, there was just not enough personal TIME to finish the books.

BRYER: Yes, we had planned to publish eighteen issues, and I had the entire story line plotted out from beginning to end for those eighteen issues. We did only complete five issues and the portfolio, but we had a compilation printed which included a reprint of issues one through three along with an introduction by Chuck Dixon. The short of it all was our letterer, Rich Herold was killed in an automobile accident while going to Memphis State University (as it was called then), Mitch Foust lost his job at the T-shirt shop he was working at and he decided to open his own business, and we did have the time to invest in the project anymore along with the fallout of [comic book] distributors in the late eighties and early nineties. We had several of them go bankrupt, and we never received payment for our books that we published and shipped to them.
2. Have you collaborated with your Last Generation colleagues on any other projects?
FOUST: I haven't seen or heard from Bennett in years. Bill and I keep in touch, His wife cuts my hair. Porch is a real close friend. We haven't worked on any other major projects together. A few illustrations, but nothing major.

PORCH: I am sorry to say that with the exception of Mitch, I have not worked on any other projects with the guys. For a while after the book, Mitch and I did work together on generic prints for fantasy and sci-fi conventions. As with the original arrangement, Mitch would pencil in the artwork, and I would ink the pieces. Over time, damn that 'word' again, we did less and less collaborating, and now, Mitch has developed into quite a good pinup artist with a neat web site, and I basically do commissioned artwork and haven't thought a lot about The Last Generation, but what thoughts I do have, are fond memories.

BRYER: No, we all sort of went our own way, and Bennett actually left after the third book or so, and we took on Rich Herold. When Rich was killed, we dedicated our fifth book to him, and I even rewrote the story to include him into it.
Above: The Last Generation #2 cover (1987).

3. How would you describe the challenge of putting together and marketing an independent comic in the 1980s prior to the Internet?
FOUST: The whole world was different. Diamond wasn't the only comic distributor. Capital was very good to us. We sold to four or five others, including Diamond. The demise of the other comic distributors certainly made our sales numbers dwindle. We did comic store appearances, regional conventions, and old fashion mail outs. We had some good heat at first, but with the glut of black and whites, it got harder to get attention.

PORCH: Self publishing is an easy concept to come up with; however, bringing it to life bears as many problems as Dr. Frankenstein faced in creating life in a dead body. Bottom line is that you have to have a good product, or no amount of marketing or promotion is going to bring it to life. The Last Generation was my first contact with the business end of the comic industry. Up to this time, I only bought and read comics. Starting out in the pre-Internet era, you have to have a product in hand to be able to send out to the distributor, the retailer and any other promotional outlet you can think of. A book in the hand was always worth more than a picture in a catalog to convince people to carry your product. Having a product in hand, means that you have already contacted several printers and gotten the best price per book for printing. You have set a production date and once the books are printed, you can store them somewhere until you can ship them out. You have handled the menial tasks of physically handling and packing orders. When you sit down and look at the cost per book required to produce it (keeping in mind that the more your have printed reduces the cost per book, but also means that you have to sell more to break even) and how much you can charge for it, you think, man - that's a good profit. Au contraire, self publisher. From the get go, everyone connected to the book gets a cut of the action. The printer gets his money up front - the distributor gets the book for a percentage of the cover price - the retailer gets the book from the distributor a little over what the distributor paid and finally, the reader gets the book at cover price. You had to anticipate how many books were to be printed for each issue, and if there was an over print, you lost money and if you under printed, you lost the sale. You had to have a major distributor like Diamond in order to get your book out nation wide. You just cannot make enough sales from your garage to survive. Today, with the Internet, it would be easy enough to get pre-orders for your product and print only what copies you need at the time. More individuals would be able to see a product with the click of a button. The money received would not have to be discounted through so many hands. With proper equipment, you could even print at home. Original artwork can be put on the Internet and bidded on. Before this, you basically had to handle the sale of the artwork at conventions or "again" through a distributor.

BRYER: It was very difficult as we came into the business right before the major fallout of the distributors and the collapse of the distribution network. As I said earlier, we had quite a few of them go bankrupt and not pay us for books that we shipped out to them. The marketing part wasn’t too difficult, and we even hooked up with several other small publishers that we meet at conventions and book signings and ran ads in our book for them and they did the same for us along with directly marketing to the distributors.
4. Of what part of the first issue are you the most proud?
FOUST: Finally seeing a finished, printed book. It was the first time I had ever seen my work in print. Back then, there was no digital printing. If it was printed, it was offset. The first issue took us two years to produce. Just going through the process of getting the book printed was an education. The covers were manually color separated. THAT is a dying, if not dead, art in itself. To actually hold the book for the first time was great. The Last Generation was certainly a learning experience. We got to meet several people in the industry. Some became good friends. I would have like to have finished the project, but it wasn't economically possible at the time. Maybe one day. Probably not.

PORCH: Personally, even though the book was a great means of getting my artwork out to the general public, and I did enjoy doing the paintings, I would have to say I was most proud of the storyline. It had a lot of twists and sub-plots, as well as a surprise ending. I wish I could go into more depth about the story, but that wouldn't be fair to the guys or the fans. To be honest, at my age, I can't remember a lot of it. I noticed you did not ask about what part of the series I was least proud of. I'm going to tell you anyway. It was the countless hours spent with an X-Acto knife and form-X film laying down the tones and gradation that gave the book its look. The book may have been a Labor of Love, but I didn't LOVE that part of it.

In closing, I would like to add that I would not trade those years I spent with the guys (Bill, Mitch and Dave) for anything. It was a great learning experience and taught me a lot about myself. You don't know what you can do until you're under a deadline! To all our fans out there, I know of at least three, I am sorry that we did not get to finish the series. I don't like leaving anything undone or hanging.

BRYER: Well, the story starts off, in issue number one, page one with someone telling or retelling the story of The Last Generation in the last issue you find out who is actually telling the story and to whom. The actual story line would have been complete in a broad sense; however, there would have been plenty of room for continuation stories involving the characters who were left alive at the end of the first eighteen issues along with the new ones who would have been introduced at the end of this story.
For his part, Foust noted that he was only 20 or 21 when he began The Last Generation, and the very first comic book page he ever drew was the first page of the first issue. At that time, he was spending 50 hours a week airbrushing t-shirts and attending college and notes that he initially "thought doing comic pages at night (after 10:00pm) would be easy . . . . Didn't happen that way." He's still in the game, though. You can see his current work at his official website, which also features an official biography which references his work on The Last Generation.

By the second issue, the series was printing letters from its readers. Interestingly enough, one letter writer was Landon Cary Dalton of Bowling Green, Kentucky, who would go on to win a 1998 short fiction contest and help create the Batman: Date with Destiny fan film. His letter appeared in the second issue of the series, some of which I excerpt here:
Despite the fact that I was left with a handful of questions at the end of the first issue, I am still impressed. Why? Because the creators of The Last Generation have begun to tell a story that is so involving that I care about knowing the answers. I care enough to read the next seventeen issues.
Reached by email in late 2007, Dalton remembered The Last Generation, copies of which he still has in his collection. "The comic book was recommended to me by the owner of a local comic shop called Pac-Rats," Dalton recalled. "He was trying to support the book, and encouraged me to write a letter of support. The only other book he ever recommended in this way was Roachmill." Interestingly enough, the second issue of the series is filled with letters from citizens of Bowling Green, because Tony Anello, and his daughter Kathy Anello, who owned Pac-Rats, offered a 100 percent money back guarantee for the first issue of the series on the condition that buyers was to send written comments to Tony, who forwarded them to Black Tie Studios.

Above: The Last Generation #3 cover (1987).

In the fourth issue, Memphian Charles Ettinger submitted a drawing of some of the characters for publication on its letter page and noted he wished to become a comic book artist (which came true). After Herold's death, Ettinger would complete the lettering on the fifth and final issue. Reached in late 2007, Ettinger was also kind enough to submit to a brief email interview.

1. What do you remember about The Last Generation comic book series?
ETTINGER: That it was short lived. It had a lot of potential, but it's so hard to self publish. I remember the storyline and the art. It would have been nice to finish the story.
2. Do you remember submitting a drawing to that comic book for publication in its letters section? What prompted that?
ETTINGER: Yeah, I still have the issue. I was friends with those guys, and they liked my art. I can't remember if i asked them or they asked me to do it. I also got to do the lettering in the last issue.
Above: The Last Generation #4 cover (1988).

3. Would you say that The Last Generation influenced your art and work in any way? If so, how?

ETTINGER: I was influenced at the time by the encouragement of my peers. We had a great circle of guys who loved to do the same thing, and I learned a lot by just hanging out with them. I wouldn't say that the book itself was an influence, but the people that produced it were.
4. What are you up to these days with respect to art and comics?
ETTINGER: Art wise, I do a lot of freelance work. I get to do cartoony and comic bookish stuff for ads and t-shirt art. I've also gotten into sculpting recently, so I plan on doing some comic related work in 3-d. The most recent published piece was a pin-up of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew for Roy Thomas' Alter Ego magazine. It was a real kick when the creator of the book approved of your art. What I'll do from here is a mystery, but I hope to get back into comics heavily in the near future.
Above: The Last Generation #5 cover, the final issue (1989).

As noted above, Herold, who was involved in the production of the series, was killed as a result of a car accident in February of 1989. As noted by Bryer above, the fifth and final issue of the series was dedicated to Herold, who also served as the basis of a new character. (In a flashback, O'Malley recalls the 1989 death of a close friend named "Rich," whose death profoundly affected him.). At the time, Herold's passing was noted by The Comics Journal:
Rich C. Herold, a penciller and letterer for Caliber Press, Eternity, and Black Tie Studios, died February 23 in a traffic accident in Memphis, Tennessee. Herold was a 22-year-old graphics art student at Memphis State University.

Herold worked as the letterer on Black Tie Studio's The Last Generation #4 and had finished lettering the second half of issue 5 at the time of the accident. Herold was also lettering "The Philistine," a three part story scheduled for Eternity's Shattered Earth Chronicles.

The Last Generation penciller Mitch Foust called Herold "very energetic and real inspirational."

"His enthusiasm, his drive was so remarkable," Foust said. "He didn't mind redoing work as long as it turned out right. He had so much potential."

Herold was also penciling and lettering "Fugitive," a story written by Charles Marshall and inked by Greg Cravens that premiered in Caliber Presents #4. Caliber Presents #6 will feature a Fugitive cover from a design by Herold finished by Foust and Cravens.2
Cravens was also kind enough to submit to an interview in 2007 regarding his memories of both Herold and the Memphis comic book community in the 1980s.

1. How would you describe the independent comics scene in Memphis in the mid to late 1980s? How did you come to meet Rich Herold?
CRAVENS: The independent comics scene in 1980's Memphis is probably the same as it is now - and the same as it is in every town all over America. There are a lot of enthusiastic beginners pouring their time and energy into their projects, and whatever shakes out is whatever shakes out. Rich and I hung around in the same 'comic book/cartooning crowd'. At the time, The Mall of Memphis was still the #1 retail space in Memphis, and we all circulated around the T-shirt shop that employed me, Mitch Foust, A.G. Howard and a few other cartooning enthusiasts. We went to Memphis State together. He was a little younger than me. I missed out on the new Apple computer lab that the graphic design department opened when I was a senior, so Rich set some type for me for my senior project.
2. Do you remember The Last Generation series? What do you think is its legacy?
CRAVENS: Of course I remember The Last Generation. That was Mitch, Dave and David's big project. We all sort of floated in that atmosphere of "What are you guys doing with it now?" Its legacy? Hard to say. Rich's legacy to The Last Generation was that it went on longer than it would have if he hadn't breezed in and put more life into it. The way I remember it, Mitch and the Daves had decided to move onto other projects (Mitch and Dave Porch were already doing painted covers for other comic companies by then) and Rich convinced them, with his boundless energy, that they should let him do some of the grunt work, lettering and the like, and that they should keep it up. Similarly, Rich and I, and Charles Marshall, were doing stuff for Caliber Press. He breathed a lot of life into our 'Fugitive' series. Plus, Rich handed me some work that had been offered him - illustrations for a new newspaper, The Memphis Flyer. Rich never saw any of this stuff go to print. It was monstrous. He gave us all this energy and drive and got us all fired up and worked as hard as all of us, and never saw any of it hit the stands. I drew my first Memphis Flyer cartoon just after getting the news that he wouldn't ever see it.
3. What are your memories of Rich? How did you learn that he had passed away?
CRAVENS: My memories are the same goofy memories you have of best college buds. He and I cut apart a crackerjack box to hide an engagement ring inside it for a girl he proposed to. We threw him a birthday party in my apartment, and when he nodded off late in the evening, we taped him to the couch with every inch of tape in the place, which was a considerable amount. We went to a Joe Kubert's School seminar at UT-Chattanooga. Drove all night to get there. Kubert saw us and said "Oh, the sleepless Memphis guys again..." I remember his sketchbooks. All pencil. All crazy overdone doodles with neat concepts behind them. He was manic, really. Once, in my kitchen, he was all cranky and pissed off (I think it was because the girl didn't want to marry him) and idly, as he talked about whatever, he lazily reached over and got a spoon out of the drawer, nonchalantly pulled over the sugar container, laid out a line and made as if to snort this sugar right up his nose. He did the whole thing with a straight face, then cracked up as I realized what he was doing. Classic comedic misdirection, too, with all my attention on the conversation. He and I decided that we'd start working out together in my apartment's gym after that. Typical- "Yeah! We'll get up early and work out and get all studly and everything!"

I learned of his death when Mitch called and told me. I had to finish my first Memphis Flyer piece, for their second issue- a gig that Rich got me - that night. It hurt, that he wasn't sitting in the apartment cutting up with me while I finished it. And, like I said, he never got to see those cartoons, nor Fugitive, nor The Last Generation that he worked on go to print. He was a roadsign for all of us, pointing us the way we should drive ourselves, and then he was gone.
Above is pictured a flier promoting a January 17, 1987 appearance by the creators of The Last Generation at the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records' South Highland location. Note that at the event a "Watchmen trivia quiz" was conducted. (I wonder if those assembled at that 1987 event suspected they would have to wait another 22 years for a Watchmen film adaptation, and that upon its release in 2009, it would be such a terrible comic book adaptation).

In the spring of 1992, the T. Joseph Clifton Gallery at the Humphreys Center in Memphis featured work by Porch and Foust, including artwork from The Last Generation.3

I myself acquired a copy of the first issue of The Last Generation way back in 1987 and met the creators at an in-store signing on the same day. I'm not sure when I purchased the second issue, but it was not until 2007, when I began to research what would become this piece, that I located and bought the final three issues. With its premature cancellation following its fifth issue, the mysteries and foreshadowing in the series' five issues were left mostly unexplained. What was the ben-ben? Was Polastar from the distant past and/or from outer space? How did animals acquire human traits? Why was Artra's medallion significant? What was the endgame of Dr. Clavius? To where did Dave Bennett vanish? We'll never know. But considering the Herculean task of creating and self-publishing a series in the 1980s, a five issue original run is quite an accomplishment indeed.

Be certain to click on the comic book covers shown above for much larger images of the paintings done by The Last Generation artists. For additional reading on the independent comic book scene in Memphis in the 1980s, see:

1. John Beifuss, "Hopes hang on superheroes: Comic Book creators view task as serious business," The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), December 29, 1986.
2. "Caliber Presents Artist Rich Herold, 22, Dead," The Comics Journal, #129, p. 21 (May 1989) (internal links added).
3. "Best Bets," The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), March 27, 1992.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Welcome Back, The League, er, Signal Watch.

If you frequent this site, or have read it much since its unofficial relaunch late last year, you know I've spoken occasionally of Ryan S., who I always make certain to describe as the author of the now defunct pop culture blog, The League of Melbotis. That blog folded in 2009 after a six and a half year run, though its author, Ryan S., always hinted that he might triumphantly return to the blogosphere at some unspecified future date. (During his absence, he did a guest post at this site this past March.). No Godot, he has returned, and shall make us wait no longer. I encourage you to visit his new site, The Signal Watch, the logo of which is depicted above. His first formal post, published just two days ago, can be found here. Whatever the case, welcome back to the blogosphere, Ryan S. We here at Chronological Snobbery are looking forward to your upcoming posts about comic books, Krypton, and popular culture. Here's the best "Welcome Back" themed cover book cover we could locate for this festive occasion:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Being Deathurge

Let's talk about evil comic book characters. Deathurge, pictured above, is a villainous omnipotent being; he is composed of black matter and wields a weapon made of same. Look at how menacing a villain he appears to be. He is clearly meant to inspire fright. According to Wikipedia, here is what we need to know about this "wraith like superhuman entity":
Deathurge has the ability to become intangible at will, and draw forth from his non-reflective ebony body a variety of simple objects and weaponry such as swords, spears, axes, bows, and arrows. These weapons, also non-reflective black, appear to be made of the same unknown substance as Deathurge's body. He can fly at great speeds by riding upon an ebony spear or using skis created from his body. These weapons do not inflict physical wounds, but are imbued with life-annihilating properties that can kill even powerful superhuman entities. However, they prove to be effectively useless against spirits and demons . . . .
But pause for a moment. Are there limits to his omnipotence? He must find the time to shop, because he wears gloves, boots, and a cape. And his choice of color for his clothing is white, which must certainly get dirty when fighting superheros. Does he have a personal shopper? But the real issue: Why not pants? That's sort of embarrassing, isn't it, especially when your super moniker includes the word "urge" in it? Anyway . . . .

Friday, April 23, 2010

Remembering OK Soda

Those of you who were young in the early to mid-1990s may remember OK Soda. I myself remember the pseudo-hipster ads published in the local newspaper my freshman year of college. Certainly, it is a product recalled with fondness by Eylúðr, who went to the trouble to create his own nostalgia page for the product. Back in December of 2007, before this site went on an extended hiatus, he was kind enough to submit to a brief interview on his tribute site. Unfortunately, when Chronological Snobbery returned from its extended vacation, Eylúðr's tribute site, hosted on the now defunct GeoCities, was no longer online. (In fact, all GeoCities sites were apparently wiped from the face of the Internets in 2009). But in the spirit of preserving Eylúðr's effort for posterity, I will run this long lost interview, despite the fact that the website in question is now and forever lost to history. Alas.

1. Why a website on OK Soda?
I was going through old magazines in my basement when I was around 14/15 and I found this article in Time about this line of soda that Coca-Cola tried to market and I just thought it was very interesting. It was the May 1994 issue. I have the article saved in a folder somewhere. Corporations just want to make money off you . . . bottom line. They marketed this soda to the disaffected Gen-Xers of the early 90s.
2. What do you remember about the marketing and release of OK Soda? Were you in one of the test markets?
I was not in a test market. I was 7 when it came out and I don't ever remember seeing it. There used to be empty cans on sale on eBay and empty cardboard cases, stuff like that. I wanted one.
3. What did it taste like?
People who actually had the soda said it tasted like a slightly fruity rendition of Classic Coke with a little spice/kick to it. You might be able to find "recipes" on some other tribute sites. I have made it before at a soda fountain. It's basically like . . . 3/4 cola (some use semi-flat cola), 1/4 orange soda, and a splash of Mr. Pibb/Dr. Pepper. (Fans say this is one of the closer recipes).

(Personally I think about a 1/3 cola, about a 1/3 Mr. Pibb, and about a 1/3 orange soda tastes BETTER OR 1/2 Mr. Pibb and 1/2 orange soda but then its not "OK Soda.")
4. Do you believe OK Soda is something that is quintessentially 1990s? If so, how and why?
I would say it is "90s" but not VERY 90s. Just a huge company trying to manipulate your specific demographic and "zeitgeist" just to make their wallets fatter. You get that every decade.

P.S. I miss Pepsi Blue. And I am crazy about Limited Edition Mountain Dew "Game Fuel."
If you're interested in other OK Soda tribute sites, though, see here and here (the latter of which includes a complete text of the OK Soda Manifesto, not to be missed).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Well, it's Earth Day. The fortieth anniversary of the very first Earth Day, actually. You were expecting some type of nostalgic homage to TV's "Captain Planet and the Planeteers"? Not today. I'm not quite sure what to say about Earth Day, other than that I hope that the planet is around long enough for someone in his or her mid-30s to be posting nostalgic posts about 2010 twenty years from now, just like I do here in 2010 about 1990. We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Administrative Professional's Day

Happy Administrative Professional's Day!

To celebrate this day, I offer the following thoughts on the 2002 film, Secretary, written by Erin Cressida Wilson, Mary Gaitskill, and Steven Shainberg, directed by Shainberg, and starring James Spader and, of course, the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal as the title character:
  • Gyllenhaal really came into her own with the role of Lee Holloway, and I'm not sure that any other actress could have played it with the same type of sweet vulnerability. Prior to that, she was playing the best friend character to other female leads. With this film, she illustrated that she could play the lead herself, and has done so now, for some time.

  • Spader has had an interesting career arc, hasn't he? He began by playing smug villains in 1980s movies like Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero, and later, evolved into a nerd hero in movies like Stargate. Ultimately, though, he revealed that he was born to play creepy lawyers, as he did in this film as attorney E. Edward Grey, and later in "The Practice," the TV series which gave birth to his character, Alan Shore (a role which would unfortunately be watered down considerably when spun off into a new series, "Boston Legal").

  • During a wedding scene early in the film, Lee dances with her father, Burt (Stephen McHattie), to Frank Zappa's "Directly from My Heart to You," from his 1970 album, Weasels Ripped My Flesh. You can't go wrong with that.

  • Early in the film, when Edward and Lee realize that they share mutual interests and affection for each other, a montage of their newly refined working relationship is set to Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" (from his 1988 album of the same name).

  • Anachronisms abound. Grey's law office contains no computers, and Lee uses an old school typewriter to do Grey's dictation. Even the phones are ancients. In fact, there's something very retro and bizarre about Grey's entire law office set up, but it works.

  • In sum, the chemistry of the two offbeat and off kilter main characters, coupled with the aforementioned odd set dressing for Grey's law office, is reminiscent of the work of David Lynch. If you've not seen the film, or if it's been a while since you've seen it, celebrate Administrative Professional's Day by revisiting the film for good measure.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Miami Blues (1990)

Twenty years ago today, on April 20, 1990, the film Miami Blues was released. It starred Alec Baldwin as Frederick Frenger, a con man and murderer who impersonates a police officer. Rounding out the cast were the lovely Jennifer Jason Leigh as Baldwin's pixie-esque love interest and Fred Ward as his police foil. Surely, the film received some attention at the time, as only a month and a half before its release, The Hunt for Red October, featuring Baldwin as Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, had been released to popular and critical acclaim. But these days, little is remembered about Miami Blues, a film based on the book by Charles Willeford and written and directed by George Armitage, who would go on to direct the wonderful Grosse Pointe Blank seven years later. (Not everyone has forgotten the film, though: Two years ago, The Onion A.V. Club featured Miami Blues in its New Cult Canon series.).

But look how different Baldwin looks on the poster as opposed to how he looks now as we know him as an older, much funnier comic actor on TV's "30 Rock." My, how time flies. And look at how cute the then 28 year old Leigh was at the time with her incredibly short haircut:

Of course, if you're doing an Internet search for any other screen captures from the film, good luck finding anything other than nude pictures of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Oh, well.

The Stoned Age (1994) (Including New Interview with Director James Melkonian)

What better film to revisit on 4/20 than 1994's The Stoned Age, a comedy set in the 1970's dedicated to the proposition that even routine deadbeats can find a night of misadventure if the stars are properly aligned? Today, Chronological Snobbery is proud to present its review and analysis of that film, as well as an original interview with its director, James Melkonian.

Written by Melkonian and Rich Wilkes, and directed by Melkonian (who would later write and direct 1995's The Jerky Boys flick), the film is a low budget look at high school life in the late 1970s and the social dilemmas confronted by those in that world. Perhaps its most important lesson: Beware of lasers striking you at Blue Oyster Cult rock shows. Released one year after Dazed and Confused, The Stoned Age still has a nice charm to it, in that way that some indie flicks of the early 1990s still do, despite the passage of so many years.

Above: The film's protagonists, Hubbs and Joe.

The plot: Hubbs (Bradford Tatum) and Joe (Michael Kopelow) are two burnouts looking for something to do on a weekend night. They ride around in Hubbs' vehicle, dubbed the "Blue Torpedo," which has a large flying eyeball painted on its side. Armed with only a bag of "skankweed" and a huge bottle of Schnapps ("The Schnappster!"), they scour the town for parties and chicks. An alpha-male burnout bully, Hubbs takes for granted his friendship with Joe, who is often the object of insults by Hubbs. Joe, for his part, is a far more sensitive soul, especially after a bizarre experience he had at a recent Blue Oyster Cult concert. It appears that during the solo of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," a laser shone directly upon him, at which point "everything got kind of weird" when he had a vision of a "huge gnarly eyeball." Yikes.

Above: Joe is hit by a laser at the Blue Oyster Cult show.

The cardinal sin in this world is to be a "worm," namely, one who pilfers from another the opportunity to pursue "chicks." You see, information about the existence and location of single females is great currency. Rumor gets out that Crump's Brother (known by no other name in the film), recently released from jail, has located "some chicks." Tack (Clifton Collins, Jr.), an acne-plagued deadbeat, wanders off with this information, but ultimately alerts Hubbs and Joe, who ditch Tack and make their way to the home where the chicks are staying, which happens to be near "the old Frankie Avalon home," a convenient landmark. This irks Tack, who spends the rest of the film attempting to regain possession of the chicks.

Hubbs and Joe find the two chicks: the blonde Lanie (Renee Griffin), who multiple characters comment looks like the girl on a Scorpions album cover, and the dour brunette Jill (China Kantner) who is, at best, unappreciative of the presence of the two deadbeats at her father's home. Madcap hijinks ensue as Hubbs and Joe first attempt to buy liquor for Lanie, who is apparently accustomed to more adventurous suitors than they. Then, the four of them trek across town to a party held at the home of jock Jimmy Muldoon (Jake Busey), who admits Lanie and Jill but bars Hubbs and Joe from the party. When that affair is busted by the cops, the foursome escape back to the girls' home, only to be besieged by Tack and his cadre of beer swilling friends, and later, the very angry Crump's Brother who, it turns out, only claims the chicks because he saw them first and not because he actually knew them.

And then, after all that, Jill's father arrives. Hubbs and Joe can't catch a break.

Above: Lanie (Renee Griffin) opens the door and scowls at Hubbs and Joe.

Hubbs spends much of the film attempting to woo the traditionally hot Lanie, who ultimately accepts his bedroom advances. (Nudity alert!) Joe also spends much of the film pursuing Lanie, who rejects him, but who also causes him to realize that sometimes the girl who doesn't look like she belongs on a heavy metal album cover is the right one. He also owes this epiphany to his being hit by the laser, an experience Joe revisits often during the film. The bookish and demure Jill, initially stand-offish, warms up to Joe, and by the end of the film, they realize their mutual attraction for each other. (Joe scores major points by praising her intelligence when standing up to Jill's angry father, who seems to wish his daughter was more like Lanie.).

Above: Hubbs and Joe.

Located via his Facebook account, Melkonian was kind enough to submit to a brief email interview about the film and his experiences in bringing it to life.

1) Looking back from 2010, what do you think of 1994's The Stoned Age and its place in film history?
It is hard to say what place The Stoned Age has in film history. To me, I like to think it is in league with films like American Graffitti or Dazed And Confused, but since it was made for so small a budget and never really promoted, it is hard to say how many people even know the film. I honestly think it does a good job of capturing and satirizing the attitudes of a certain time period and subculture, and is actually funny, which makes it worthy of some note. The fact that it has a loyal albeit small following even 16 years later makes me think that it does deserve a place along with those other films.
2) What were some of the challenges you faced in making the film?
The tough thing was trying to get it made at all as an R rated teen comedy and with me as a first time director. My writing partner (Rich Wilkes) and I had a lot of interest from studios for the script, but since it was before American Pie or Superbad had cleared the way for R rated teen comedies, the studios wanted to make it a PG. So, we ended up making the film for a tiny budget so that we could do it with all the language, sex and drug references which were important to capture that world authentically.
3) I've read that although the year the film is set is not stated, you had 1978 in mind. Thus, it's been sixteen years since the film was released in 1994, and the film was set sixteen years before that. What do you think became of the characters shown in the film?
Hah! In some ways to me the characters seem so much part of the world of that time and the film, it's hard for me to imagine what they might being doing today. I would assume Joe, Hubbs and Jill would have ended up okay and been productive members of society like many of us who might have been rowdy in our youth. Things may not have gone so well for Tack and Lanie, but I hope they turned out okay. The 70s were an odd time to grow up with all of the drugs and debauchery, but most people I know no matter how off the deep end they were back then turned out okay.
Until a few days ago, when I began preparations for this post, I had not seen this movie since 2000. (Get this: The film can be streamed on Netflix.). It has a some amusing moments and catchphrases, and there is always a charm to a film made at this budgetary level. Much of the humor and fun comes from the characters themselves, their exploits, social etiquette, and slang. (A favorite moment: One character is almost offended when offered a regular sized can of the fictitious beer, Ox 45, because it is not a "tall."). For a low budget flick with a cast of unknowns, it works, and sometimes, even just the characters repeating phrases like "Tack's Chicks," "Crump's Brother's Chicks," or variations of the insult "worm" are enough to provoke a laugh.

For a film called The Stoned Age, there isn't much marijuana. Joe has a bag of "skankweed" with which he attempts to seduce Lanie in a hot tub, although she rejects it for its poor quality. Joe ultimately smokes it with Lanie, but despite it's title, the film is not really a pot comedy.

Above: Tack (Clifton Collins, Jr.) tries to find transportation to the chicks.

So, what became of the cast? As the blogger Darsh has noted at the HappyOtter blog, few of the actors and actresses in the film achieved any level of success after 1994; only Clifton Collins, Jr. truly remains active in the profession. For a film set in the 1970s, it's odd that there were no references to Jefferson Airplane, especially since Jill was played by China Kantner, the daughter of singer Grace Slick and vocalist Paul Kantner. (In fact, an infant China Kantner appeared on the cover of the 1971 LP Sunfighter by Slick and Paul Kantner, who were doing a solo effort away from Jefferson Airplane.). Social media alert: Michael Kopelow, who played Joe, has a MySpace Profile and plays in the band, Captain Pants. And finally, behold, the trailer for the film:

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Oklahoma City Bombing (April 19, 1995)

We spend a lot of time here at this site discussing frivolous popular culture, but sometimes, it's appropriate to pause and reflect upon more somber topics. Fifteen years ago today, on April 19, 1995, domestic terrorists attacked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people (including a number of small children), wounding more than 680 others, and frightening the nation as a whole. This was the Oklahoma City bombing. The first time I visited Oklahoma City was years later, in the mid 2000s, and on that trip, I toured the area affected by the blast, which has now become a quiet memorial to those who perished that day. A museum nearby offers exhibits related to the bombing and its aftermath. The most chilling thing at the museum is an audio recording of the meeting of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, a body which met near the federal building that morning. Visitors to the museum stop in a room as this recording plays over a sound system. The board's meeting began at 9:00 a.m., just two minutes before the blast. As visitors listen to the recording, they hear what would under any other circumstance be the routine administrative minutiae of an administrative body, but this is far more ominous, as the listeners know what is about to happen. (You can hear that recording here, but it is disturbing.). So, take a moment away from the banality of popular culture today, and think about that terrible day in 1995, when our nation suffered this great tragedy. Normal pop culture posts will resume tomorrow.