Halloween Scene Book Report: Lady From The Black Lagoon By Mallory O’Meara

During this scare season, I’ve been trying to focus on all manner of horror: on the screen, in comics and on the page. I’ve watched a lot of movies, read a pile of comics and even made my way through a few fiction novels. But there are also so many great true stories about the people who made this awesome art. With The Lady From The Black Lagoon, Mallory O’Meara chronicles the life and career of Milicent Patrick, the woman who designed the Creature From The Black Lagoon, my personal favorite of the Universal Monsters!

Enter, if you daree…

My Favorite Book Reading Experiences Of 2019

Let’s keep this Best Of 2019 thing going! So far, I’ve covered my favorite classic horror movie viewings of last year and now I’m on to books. I keep this rad super hero wall-mounted shelf in my office and stack up the physical books I’ve read throughout the year. As you can see in this photo, I also have a list next to it that I can put digital and library conquests on as well. It sure makes it simple to do a list like this!

Continue reading My Favorite Book Reading Experiences Of 2019

Trade Post: Feynman, Two-Fisted Science & Pumpkinheads

I’ve long been a proponent of local libraries. I use my area’s system constantly, requesting books and trades from several counties away to expand my literary horizons. But, it’s also fun to actually go to the library itself and just see what they have! A few weeks ago, after my son’s dance class, we walked over to the nearby branch and I had a great time perusing the stacks while he hung out with one of his friends. I walked out of there with a great stack of books!

Continue reading Trade Post: Feynman, Two-Fisted Science & Pumpkinheads

Strip Search: Al Capp By Michael Shumacher & Denis Kitchen (2013)

Al Capp By Michael Shumacher & Denis Kitchen I should probably stop accepting books from PR folks. The people over at Bloomsbury were nice enough to offer me a copy of Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary by Michael Shumacher and Denis Kitchen way back in January and promptly sent me the book when it was available. Here I am writing about it three months after the biography came out in late February, so I feel bad about that.

I was initially interested in this book because it covers an almost total dark spot in my historical knowledge of sequential storytelling. As a kid I loved the funnies and would gladly leaf through them in the morning and on weekends while eating breakfast, but aside from buying or borrowing a few collections here and there, my knowledge of comic strip history doesn’t go very deep. In the past 6 or so years I’ve tried to remedy that by snatching up classic collections, but my slow, sporadic reading habits have left most of them half-read. However, I felt the need to finally finish A Life To The Contrary so I made  a big push recently and cleared the last 100 pages or so over the holiday weekend.

Of course, the big question then comes, what took me so long to read the book, right? I knew absolutely nothing about Capp or his most famous strip Lil’ Abner going in, but the more I read the more interested I became in this man who was not only the most successful cartoonists of his day, but also one of the first to really capitalize on his popularity in the way that someone like Walt Disney was able to (both men inspired theme parks after all). And yet, I would put this book down for long segments of time. Part of that was my own desire to not read anything without pictures, but I think there’s also something about the book I can’t quite put my finger on that doesn’t fully draw you into the character of Capp.

I was contemplating this idea while reading through those last 100 or so pages recently as things were getting pretty exciting. Capp was hugely successful and had been for a long time. He even seemed to be doing pretty well with his friends, family and colleagues and then the 60s hit and I found myself liking him less and less (as did many people of the day). He’s one of those guys who claims to have been a liberal in the 50s, but switched to conservatism in the 60s (he and Nixon became acquaintances and often wrote letters to one another). Capp took it so many steps further by going on college speaking tours where he would spend his time haranguing the peace-nicks and protestors in the audience. He did the same on television, radio and in magazine pieces to the point where his meanness was making people not want to  bother talking to the once witty personality. Heck, he even traveled to John and Yoko Ono’s bed-in for peace just to give them shit. It basically sounded like he — a kid who connived his way through art schools thanks to his silver tongue — liked expressing his opinions, but wasn’t such a big fan of a younger generation coming along with their own.

And then it got so, so much worse when Schumacher and Kitchen drop the biggest bombshell in the whole book: Al Capp lured college women into his hotel room and tried to force them to perform sexual acts on or with him. He did this while on his college tours and it was apparently a pretty common occurrence with a half dozen cases mentioned in this book alone, plus instances of similar behavior with young starlets of the day like Goldie Hawn and Grace Kelly. He even wound up getting punched out by Harlan Ellison after Capp tried the same thing on a photographer friend of Ellison’s. Capp wound up getting outed by a scandal columnist and eventually going to trial, but it sounded like everything pretty much got swept under the rug because this was a time where that kind of thing was apparently tolerated.

Of course, I found this behavior repugnant and was instantly disgusted by the man to the point where I almost stopped reading. The news came as a shock to me because I knew absolutely nothing about Capp going in, so this was a whammy indeed. His story doesn’t end there, though. The man suffered personal tragedies in the form of family deaths as well as the decline of his creative work and the success of his strip until he wound up retiring. Two years later he died. As much as I was turned off by him as a person at that point, I did find it interesting that by the end he had basically turned into Ham Fisher the man who gave him his break in comics, at least partially inspired Lil’ Abner and eventually became his mortal enemy (these guys pulled some serious shady business on one another). At one point, before Fisher’s suicide, Capp said something along the lines of his nemesis being an example of evil old men just getting more evil and more old without justice ever being served. Some might say that’s the same road Capp set himself down.

I realized while gathering my thoughts to write this post that Schumacher and Kitchen might have purposefully kept the reader at arm’s length from Capp. I was pretty thrown when the full extent of his sex crimes was explained, yet I would have been thrown for a total loop had this been a person I really found myself invested in. I wonder if they chose language, situations and turns of phrases that didn’t overly ingratiate the reader to the subject for fear that either, 1) the reader might not be able to take the news or 2) they wouldn’t believe the news like many of the people of the day when it broke by way of scandal column. Either way, it was a difficult road creating a book about a man who clearly thought he was owed something by the younger generation.

I think I can recommend this book, though even though I have immense reservations about Capp. It’s impeccably researched with 16 pages of notes citing everything from articles in Time and Life to correspondences written by Capp to the people in his life. It also does a great job of painting a picture for the modern reader about how large of a figure Capp was both because of his personality and his fame, the former of which clearly lead to the latter. And even though I’m disgusted by Capp’s action and how they were handled by the colleges and local governments of the time, I do think Schumacher and Kitchen present all sides of the man, from the fast talking kid who hustled his way into cartooning to the dirty old man who used cartooning to hustle women. I might be disgusted by his choices, but the book paints a round, full portrait of a man who had hutzpah, artistic talent, jealousy, greed, a keen sense of humor, rage and a need to overpower those around him in all ways. For that, Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary gets a thumbs up.

ARL3: Raiders! By Alan Eisenstock

Raiders by Alan EisenstockLike a lot of people, I heard about the Raiders Of The Lost Ark fan film made by a bunch of kids in the 80s. I don’t remember the exact details, but it would have been sometime in college. I even wrote a little bit about it for a huge never-published article my pal Rickey Purdin and I put together for a Wizard movie issue (I should check my files and see if I have a copy of it anywhere). I thought it was cool, but never saw it or thought much more about it. Then I saw Son Of Rambow, a British film that seems to take many of the ideas of the true story, switched the movie to First Blood — which I  incidentally just watched again recently — and made a film I fell in love with. There’s something so amazing about the youthful drive to make something, especially when it took so many years and involved so much work. Again, the Raiders fan film left my consciousness again for a while.

Until I got an email a few months back about a book documenting the making of the movie. Would I like a copy? Hell yes, send it over! I wanted to jump into it right away, but a lot of things got in the way. I wish it hadn’t because Alan Eisenstock’s Raiders! is a fantastic, magical book. Knowing the broad strokes of this story really isn’t enough, it deserves the intense level of research that Eisenstock surely did to get such amazing results.

The Raiders fan film was created by director Eric Zala and star Chris Stromopolos, two kids from Mississippi who loved a movie and decided to remake it. They banded together with several friends and friends of friends and over the course of seven years, shot and edited the film. It was amazing reading how they figured out every shot of the movie, developed storyboards (which I’d like to see, actually), scrounged allowance to buy props, raised local awareness and struggled to find locations to match the film. All that makes the story epic, but that’s only half the story.

In addition to being a story about the making of a film, Raiders is also the story of a pair of kids who become friends, dedicate themselves to a project, both falter, grow up and hit a rough spot before SPOILER rekindling their relationship several times and eventually having their movie discovered and loved by people all over the country. There’s a few chapters in the book after they finish filming the movie. At that point I was like, “What more could happen?” And then, bam, you’re hit with some intense, real world drama, the kind that hits a lot of people. These guys went through a lot of crap, lived together, went their separate ways, built families and eventually became creative partners again. Chris especially had it tough, while Eric used his steadfastness to excel in the video game industry.

The beauty of this story is how theatrical it is. Just when everything seems lost at one point, the boys get word that they can shoot a scene on a dry-docked submarine. Boom, they’re back in it. There’s so many ups and downs like that that you almost forget your reading a biography and have drifted into fiction territory. Eisenstock does a wonderful job of weaving these tales together, taking Chris and Eric’s detailed memories and putting together a narrative that might hold a few things back for dramatic purposes, but always pays off. Well, almost always pays off.

arl3My only complaint about this book is that it didn’t finish one important storyline: Eric and Chris’ in-the-works screenplay. The last section of the book makes a point of the two reuniting to work on something creatively, but then leaves off in 2005.  What happened?! Did they write a screenplay? My quick IMDb search shows that Zala doesn’t have any more credits past his student film, so I’m guessing it never got made, but did they at least finish writing it? Not following up on that one thread seemed odd, especially considering the book came out last year and could have done some kind of follow-up in the eight years between the end of the book and it’s publication. I had a similar problem with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pusher which didn’t go into detail when it came to the band’s break-up. If you’re going to go into huge detail about this story, you’ve got to deliver on the important final moments or at the very least,  catch us up on what they’re currently up to.

But, that’s a small complaint. There’s so much goodness in this book, so much that got me fired up both as a fan of things and a wannabe creator of things, that it’s really a minor quibble. I really can’t express how much I loved this book. It made me want to create things, it made me want to be a bigger fan of things and it made me wish I had had more of a creative spark when I was younger. I can’t recommend this book any higher, it’s amazing and deserves to be read by anyone even remotely interested in film or fandom. Read it!

As far as the latest Ambitious Reading List, I’ve definitely stalled out a bit. I started reading Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap, but it really didn’t grab me. I think I’ll read something else and then maybe go back to it and see if I find something in there. I’ve got another book sent to me by PR folks that’s not on the list, but should be read pretty quickly. Seems like the right thing to do.