Christmas Stories: Listening To The Jack Benny Program

I want to paint you a bit of a picture of my childhood. My room, throughout most of my growing up period, used to be the dormer of our house which means it had these sloping walls. The middle of the room, from door to wall (which also held a window) was regular height, but on both sides from there, the walls angled down to about three feet tall. Being short that aspect of the room rarely gave me trouble. In fact, the sloping walls were perfect for sky lights, which is exactly what my parents installed in the conversion process from dormer to bedroom and my bed was often directly under one of them.

When I was a kid, I had trouble falling asleep and at some point in my youthful days, my dad introduced me to old time radio. He had a set of tapes which I had access to and then, after a while, I wound up having my own tapes. I had classics like Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen and Amos & Andy, but my favorite became The Jack Benny Program. For those of you who might not know, before TV came around, folks got their entertainment through the radio. Some soap operas that are still on now got their start in radio as did a few news shows, I believe. Like TV now, there were all kinds of shows from comedy and mystery to romance and science fiction. Shows were aimed and kids (like Ralphie listening to Little Orphan Annie in A Christmas Story) and adults and both, but I found myself drawn mostly to the comedies. I would up with a whole brief case-looking case of tapes that were all old time radio. I have very distinct Christmas memories of lying in my bed, with one strand of Christmas lights thrown around the window to my right along with one of those plastic light-up Santas and a ceramic Christmas tree with lights that my grandma made and listening to Jack Benny as I fell asleep. I rarely made my way through an entire half hour episode, so I became kind of an expert in the first 15-20 minutes of those episodes.  In college I found a website that sold DVDs of the old time radio with tons and tons of shows on them. Most of those discs don’t work on my computer now, but I was able to salvage two of the shows that happened to be on those tapes I used to have. Every now and then I’ll put on the story of how Jack Benny dealt with getting a polar bear named Carmichael and even though it might sound ridiculous, I’m transported right back to those days in my old room with the only light coming from Christmas decorations and the stars above me. I can still recite the shows verbatim, but only up to a certain point because, even now, I have a tendency to fall asleep before the show’s end. Listening to those two episodes while driving around in the craziness that is pre-Christmas traffic not only brought a huge smile to my face, but also made some of the awful driving of my fellow New Yorkers not so bad. I had a good time writing about this and think I might dig out some of those tapes when I’m home and write more about old time radio and my interactions with it.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Nerf Blast-A-Matic

I’m finishing off this month of Nerf TCTs with one that I don’t actually remember, but it’s for a product we did have in my house. I think my dad actually got the Blast-A-Matic which shot the then-familiar soft yellow balls, but I was the one who wound up playing with it. I always loved to set up targets, either hand made ones or other toys to test my accuracy and, before the launch of the dart guns, this was a fun, though far less accurate, way to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised if this toy is actually still in my parents house somewhere. Dig that wild commercial, man, balls all over the place!

Christmas Stories: Drinking Apparatuses

I don’t particularly care that it’s past regular Christmas, I want to bestow the virtues of my family members who both support and seem to encourage my drinking. Last year my mom got the wobbly glasses seen in this pic and this year the missus got me whiskey stones. The glasses are rounded bottom whiskey glasses from a company called Sagaform. They’re pretty rad and wobble around without falling over, kind of like a Weeble filled with sweet, sweet booze. They’re a lot of fun, but can be hard to handle the more you drink. The whiskey stones are a pretty ingenious idea in that they’re chunks of soapstone that you put in the freezer, drop into a glass, pour the whiskey and let sit for five minutes before drinking. That way you don’t water down the hooch! These are from a company called Teroforma and work excellently.

Before anyone starts worrying about my drinking habits, I’m having only one glass tonight and I think it’s well deserved. Not only did we pop a tire while ten minutes away from home after a four and a half hour drive yesterday (which got fixed pretty easily today, thankfully), but we also went through a crappy snow storm, had to dig our cars out and then just finished doing our best to clean up a hot water heater that had been dripping in our utility closet for God knows how long. I figured out how to shut the water off, ripped up the tile and dried everything inside as well as I could while the missus took care of the wet spots under the carpet. Gotta call a plumber tomorrow, but tonight, I’m gonna enjoy some Christmas presents and try not to freak out too much.

Casting Internets

Well, between traveling for Christmas to New Hampshire, getting a flat tire ten minutes from home and surviving the Snowpocalypse of last night (we got 18-24 inches), I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging. Anyway, I did read a few things here and there and wanted to pass the goodness along. Sure it’s a little late now, but Scott C posted a Showdown from Elf and I just had to link to it. That’s one of my all time favorite Christmas movies and possibly Will Ferrell’s best performance.

Tim Bruckner’s DC Dynamics Joker statue looks amazing, check out some of the shots over on Pop Sculpture.

I don’t think I knew that George Romero and Marvel were working on a project together. Thanks Comic Books Legends Revealed!

Hugh Hefner got engaged again? Wonder if Bridget or Holly are pissed. The missus and I were big fans of Girls Next Door.  (via Esquire)

I really enjoyed Jonathan Hickman’s early issues of Fantastic Four, but fell off the wagon along with a lot of other books a while back. I’ve heard good things about it still, but this whole “killing off a member of the FF and putting it in a polybag” reeks of 90s moneygrubbing. Reed’s already “died” once, right? Ah well, I’m sure I’ll catch up on the trade eventually. (via Robot 6)

Finally, Archie Comics released this mysterious teaser that lots of places, including Robot 6, think might be a way of announcing a new Mega Man comic. Depending on how they handle this book, it could be either a really good kids comic or an interesting look at a character with a deep, deep mythos just waiting to be explored by a great comic book writer. I’m available for either, even though I’m not technically a comic book writer. Just wanted to throw that out into the internet ether.

Friday Fisticuffs: Lock Up (1989)

Sylvester Stallone’s Lock Up is not a good movie. I’m actually not sure whether to put it firmly in the “Bad” category or not, but as of now it’s getting spared. The plot revolves around Stallone, a guy who went to jail for beating up a guy who roughed up his father figure. While serving that sentence, Stallone broke out to see the old man before he died, which rubbed the warden, played by Donald Sutherland the wrong way. We learn all this later and start off with Stallone being taken by guards in the middle of the night and transferred to Sutherland’s jail, a real shithole. Apparently Sutherland holds a mean grudge and sets his sites on tormenting Stallone throughout the flick, using all sorts of devilish tricks from leaving him in the delousing fumes for too allowing a convict to threaten Stallone’s girlfriend. As if that element of the movie wasn’t ridiculous enough, we’re treated to some truly strange scenes of Stallone hanging out with some of his prison friends (like Tom Sizemore and Sonny Landham) in a garage where they not only get to work on a car and have paint fights (seriously, it feels like something out of an 80s car wash movie, but with sweaty dudes) but also be completely unsupervised.

Sutherland’s warden character comes off as one dimensional as possible. We’re not talking about a complex villain here, his ego is bruised because Stallone broke while under his watch. In the usual form, his friends become either victims or turncoats and Stallone has to exact his vengeance on his own. Being the good guy that he is, he only tries to break out again once he thinks his girlfriend is in danger. I’m not sure why his girlfriend didn’t try to get a lawyer, but I guess that’s some of that suspension of disbelief stuff.

Anyway, the point of Fisticuff Fridays isn’t to discuss the merit of a movie’s artistic integrity, but to talk about what’s really important: the action scenes. This flick has a few some of which are pretty intense actually. We start off light with a pretty rough and tumble football game to show that Stallone can hang with the prison’s big dogs (the main one of which is played by Billy from Predator). It’s pretty rough, but the cartoonish sound effects don’t help matters. Later, Stallone has a full-on brawl with Billy that’s pretty enjoyable as is the near-end battle between Stallone and the asshole guards you’ve been wanting to see dead since the 15 minute mark. The trick they pull is making Stallone SUCH a nice guy (in the beginning he’s playing football with kids, we see him try to stop a murder without calling attention to it and he even gives his cake to a prisoner trying to take it from another and no that’s not a euphemism) and then making the bad guys SUCH assholes, that you can’t help either rooting for him or getting a headache from so much eye rolling (and there’s a fair amount of that, trust you me).

So, if you’re into full-on action movies, this isn’t the Stallone movie for you. I’d go with Cobra, First Blood 2 or Expendables, but if you really dig on spray paint fights, weird male bonding, the occasional prison fight, muddy football scenes or movies that make you crave revenge then Lock Up will be perfect for you. In the end, I guess I’ll leave this one off the “Bad” list but might consider a “Cheesy” category for it and its ilk.

Casting Internets

Hey gang, this’ll be the last Casting Internets for the week as we’re traveling to New Hampshire for Christmas. It’s kind of a light day, but there’s some goodies in here.

Lucasfilm has been sending out rad Christmas cards for 33years and now you can see them all on StarWars.com! The missus literally laughed herself to tears reading the latest Hyperbole and a Half which recalls Allie’s recreation of the nativity story when she was 6. My favorite quote is “Jesus loves Kenny Loggins” followed close by “Kenny Loggins is immortal.” Check out Gentle Giant’s new series of Doctor Who Masterpiece busts starting off with Matt Smith’s Doctor and Amy Pond.

Mattel sent out Gray Ghost figure holiday cards to places like Fwoosh? That’s awesome. Mine must have gotten lost in the mail…I’ve had the black & white one volume version of Bone sitting in my to-read pile for years, but now I kind of want to wait for the fully colored version. (via Robot 6)

Trade Post: Shortcomings

SHORTCOMINGS (Drawn & Quarterly)
Written & drawn by Adrian Tomine
Collects Optic Nerve #9-11
Adrian Tomine is a creator I’ve heard a lot about from my more indie-oriented comic friends. I even remember when Shortcomings came out in trade format in 2007. Actually, I remember when it was announced the book was coming out a few months before. I was working in the research department at Wizard at the time and if memory serves my buddy Sean Collins was going to write about the book for Book Shelf (the monthly trade review section of Wizard at the time). I loved writing for Book Shelf and reading it, but I also hated that section because it meant a full day of me sifting through boxes in the hot, stuffy comic book library trying to track down certain issues. For the most part we didn’t get advance copies of the trades, so we would just get the issues together and read them all together, asking the companies if there were any extras of note. I developed a bit of a system, writing the cover date month on many of the long boxes, which worked out pretty well, but it was never an easy task, especially if the books were sought after by other folks which meant they would be all out of order. It might surprise some that the Wizard library did in fact include Optic Nerve, but since the book had a non-traditional shipping schedule it took the longest to track down. For whatever reason, possibly bitterness, I didn’t wind up reading the book.

Until now, thanks to a D&Q sale that I took advantage of, ordering Shortcomings along with the first Walt & Skeezix Tinpan Alley volume. The book stars Ben Tanaka a generally caustic dude in a relationship with Miko who winds up heading to New York for an internship. His friend Alice, a skirt-chasing lesbian, seems okay with his general assholeishness because she’s used to it, but it comes as no real surprise when he starts having trouble getting a hold of Miko and tries to start flings with his punky coworker Autumn and later Alice’s friend of a friend and “fence-sitter” Sasha, neither of which are destined to go anywhere. Alice heads out to New York in order to clear her head, finds something that Ben just has to see and the pair of them find out what Miko has really been up to in the Big Apple.

After reading the book in a single sitting, I’m not really sure what to think of Shortcomings. It’s not bad, by any means, but it left me slightly flat. I think one of the reasons for that is that the comic has a lot of echos back to Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Chasing Amy. Ben works at a movie theater, hates his job and seemingly everything else, but doesn’t want to leave it, he doesn’t have any further career aspirations and seems unable to make a real change in his life. He also starts dating a lesbian who has a more varied sexual history than him and things work out until something happens and they break up in a big fight. I don’t want to imply that Tomine borrowed those elements from the movies, but I have trouble thinking of anything else when those elements are put into place in close proximity. I have seen those movies a LOT by the way. One of the guys at the movie theater even notes that Jay and Silent Bob Strike back is one of his favorite movies. I can’t tell if that that’s a subtle form of what the Lost writers called “hanging a lantern” on the festivities (i.e. drawing attention to something in-story that the reader/viewer might be commenting on in the real world) or a dig at Smith (is the soon-shushed guy who also likes Fight Club and Reservoir Dogs being silenced because he’s one of those dudes who never shuts up about movies or because his favorite movies suck?). I’m probably thinking way too much about all this.

I’m also getting a little tired of reading indie books with unlikable characters as the leads. I’m trying to get through Jimmy Corrigan and am having a ROUGH time of it (he’s such a sadsack loser, I’m having trouble caring about him whatsoever). Ben’s nowhere near that annoying and he does remind me of a younger version of myself and plenty of my friends, but that whole “bitching about everything and thinking it’s clever” mentality has been annoying for years to me at this point. Luckily, I don’t equate an annoying and hard-to-like character like Ben with bad writing and Tomine does a great job of turning things around, getting me to actually wind up on Ben’s side by the end of the book. He might be kind of an ass, but at least he wasn’t a huge liar. That’s way worse in my book. Plus, I dug the character of Alice and even more so, her lady friend Meredith, who winds up being the most likable, non asshole-ish character in the bunch, probably because she’s slightly older and definitely more mature than the others.

On the positive side, the story is well told, the characters well rounded for all their craggy exteriors and the art well done in a simplistic but expressive pen and ink style. Had I not seen some of the elements previously, I think the story might have hit me a little harder in the heart or gut. As it is, I dug the story, laughed a few times here and there and had a generally good time with the proceedings, but I wasn’t overly wowed. It felt like an indie movie, but, again, not one I loved, just one I liked.

Speaking of movies, I have a lot of respect for Tomine for having a story in mind, writing it out and turning it into a comic book. Anyone with that level of creativity and follow-through is aces in my book. I wish I could do something like that. He’s actually a lot like the aforementioned Kevin Smith in those regards in that he took something he loved and turned it into his job, something that I think many people want to do, but much like Ben Tanaka, don’t have the guts to drop everything and actually attempt. In Tomine’s case, according to his bio on the D&Q page, he actually started Optic Nerve when he was 16 and has turned it all into a career. I love that kind of ingenuity and spirit and even though Shortcomings didn’t floor me, I like the story and the artist enough to give some of his other work a try. What should I read next?