PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Animals, Vegetables, and Bratz

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Animated Discussions
By Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Creature Comforts

BBC America has picked up the rights to Aardman Animation’s Creature Comforts series based on Nick Park’s Oscar winning short which featured “man on the street” interviews with the words put into the mouths of a variety of clay animated animals. This delightful series of nine half hour episodes has been held hostage by Comedy Central for the past couple of years. For some reason, Comedy Central snapped up this show, which was one of the highest rated programs aired in Britain, and buried it in hard to find time slots like 2:00 a.m. Monday morning and 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning. While we were confused by this, it seems clear now that Comedy Central only bought the show to keep it out of the hands of Cartoon Network. Now that Comedy Central’s contract has expired, BBC America has stepped up and put the show on its schedule in a still unfriendly 11:00 p.m. time slot on Friday evenings. This show is very funny and well worth going out of your way to watch.

You’d think with Nick Park having such a high profile coming off the success of his Wallace and Gromit movie that the folks at BBC America could find a more appealing time slot. But, we’ll have to take what we can get. Fans of clay animation, Wallace and Gromit and clever comedy should make a note to watch Creature Comforts at 11:00 p.m. starting this Friday (12/2/05) on BBC America (Channel 100 on Charter Digital).

Coconut Bob Fruitpants

Sometimes an imitation is so blatant, so raw, so naked, that you just have to step back and salute the person who had the cajones to try and pull it off. Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island is such a blatant, obvious ripoff of Spongebob Squarepants that we have to wonder two things: First, did they REALLY think no one would notice? Second, what took them so long? Coconut Fred seems to be the result of a frantic meeting at the studio where someone realized that Spongebob Squarepants was the hottest cartoon on television and they’d better do a quick knockoff to try and cash in on its success. The problem is, it appears the writers only saw about five minutes of one Spongebob episode. They completely missed the point of what makes a good cartoon and the result is a soulless, joyless, mean spirited, hyperactive triumph of marketing over creativity.

As best we can determine from watching several episodes, Coconut Fred is an omnipotent being with the power to create things out of thin air who delights in torturing everyone else on the show. Oh yes…and he’s a coconut. For some reason, all the characters on the show are fruits. We don’t know if you remember the old Funny Face fruit drinks. They were the commercial mascots (Goofy Grape, Rootin’-Tootin’Raspberry, etc.) for a competitor to Kool-Aid in the 1960s. The reason Coconut Fred brings to mind Funny Face drink mix, aside from the obvious fruit based cartoon characters, is that Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island reminds us of the Reverend Jim Jones. Watch a few episodes of this show and you’ll be begging for some of his Kool-Aid.

Coconut Fred is just something to be avoided. You can avoid it every Saturday Morning at 9:30 on Kids’ WB. Still, like a guy trying to sneak a 50 inch television out under his coat, you have to admire them for trying.

Death to Barbie

Coconut Fred, though notable in it’s awfulness, is not the only new cartoon to hit the airwaves lately. Saturday morning cartoons debuted a couple of months ago on the broadcast networks. While they’re not as important in the annals of animation as they used to be, due to the emergence of several 24 hour all animation networks, there have been some notable new entries. Foremost among these is the Bratz cartoon. This computer animated series depicts the adventures of the grotesquely distorted fashion dolls who have finally toppled Barbie from her pink pedestal. The shock is that this show, which has every right in the world to be completely horrible, is in fact cleverly written and quite enjoyable. Rather than make the mistakes that Barbie has and sticking with fairy tale material, the Bratz cartoon gives each character a distinct personality and has them established as teenagers running a fashion magazine. This leads to some surprisingly contemporary storylines. Bratz is like a slightly sanitized Absolutely Fabulous for the tweener set. We have a feeling that this show could very easily become a Saturday morning guilty pleasure for lots of adults.

Next Monday, Animated Discussions kicks off Popcult’s Holiday Gift Guide, with our suggestions for the animation fan on your holiday gift list.

Music blogging

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With the post-Thanksgiving shopping orgy in full swing this weekend, I thought I’d share some perky, happy music with you so that you can feel soothed and relaxed. Unfortunately, I don’t write much in the way of perky, happy music, so here’s something hyper and unpleasant instead.

Beating Plastic starts out nearly funky, before turning into a blast of mechanical percussion and snarky synth. It’d make a good soundtrack for the moment when you’re stuck in traffic at Corridor G trying to find a place to park, right before you reach your limit and explode with an obscenity-laden tirade and start shooting laser beams out of your eyes.

Art/Cool Toy Blogging

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On the left is a digitally assaulted photograph called “Looking up on Hale Street”
On the right is a similarly assaulted photograph of one of my favorite toys when
I was a kid, Zintar the Robot, from the Zeroids line, by Ideal.

I thought they looked good together.

Somewhere, buried in a deep, secret place, these have something to do with Thanksgiving.

Have a good one!

What John K. Is Up To These Days

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Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Note: This week’s Animated Discussions is truncated due to Mel being waylaid by a nasty sinus attack. So we’re just doing one item this week. We’ll be back to full strength next week, fortified by loads of tryptophan. That’s a stimulant, right?

Our Pal, John K.

When we first started writing Animated Discussions back in 1992, our main motivation was that we wanted to spread the gospel of Ren And Stimpy. R & S was unlike any cartoon we’d ever seen. It was wildly insane, a spastic blast of inspired frenzy that elevated the art of character animation to heights that hadn’t been seen since the heyday of the legendary Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1930s and 40s. After an explosive start, Ren and Stimpy and their creator, John Kricfalusi, ran into a brick wall of creative interference and resistance at their network, Nickelodeon. John and his studio, Spumco, were eventually fired from the show, and with a replacement squad of less-talented cartoonists, the show limped along before being cancelled in 1995. We covered this period extensively for the Gazette, and while it was great getting to do so many interviews with John and his crew, watching the cartoon after he left was like spending time with a friend who had a terminal illness. The deterioration was depressing.

However, the influence of John’s run of Ren And Stimpy simply can’t be denied. Nickelodeon couldn’t manage to duplicate the success of John K. on Ren And Stimpy, but they had pretty good luck with a little show called “SpongeBob Squarepants,” which could never have existed without Ren And Stimpy pioneering the renaissance that animation saw in the 1990s. You can see the Spumco influence all over TV, today.

Since the end of his run on Ren And Stimpy, John K. has done some pioneering web cartoons, taken a memorable shot at Yogi Bear, directed a video for Bjork, and produced the series “Ripping Friends.” He’s also done several commercials for clients around the world. In 2003, he was given the chance to reunite with his abducted children, Ren And Stimpy, for “Ren And Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoon” for Spike TV. Sadly, this experiment didn’t pan out so well. Spike was struggling with their identity as a network, having just changed their name and focus, and didn’t really know what to do with the show. They tried to build an animation block to imitate the success of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, but they had no idea how to program it.

There was also the problem that John K. had to fire up an animation studio from scratch, staffed mostly with fresh, young talent, and wasn’t able to meet the delivery schedule that the network wanted. The first couple of “Adult Party Cartoons” were uneven, and by the time the new Spumco hit its stride, Spike had lost interest and never bothered to put the show back on their schedule. There are three unaired episodes that are said to be among the most brilliant Ren And Stimpy cartoons ever produced. Word is that we may get these gems on a DVD collection early next year.

When that DVD finally does see the light of day, animation fans will rejoice! But that’s not all that John K. is up to these days. Katie Rice, one of the fresh, young talents that worked on the “Adult Party Cartoon,” has spilled a bit of info on her blog: John K. is directing a new video for Weird Al Yankovic. There’s no word yet on what the song is, but you can read more about it on Katie’s blog, and see a tiny sneak preview to the right of this paragraph.

IWA: Triumph out of Tragedy

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Tuesday night’s IWA show, “Psychopathic Tendencies,” could easily have been a disaster. At the last minute, their star attraction, the Insane Clown Posse, had to cancel. Late Monday afternoon, Violent J of the ICP called and explained that he had suffered a broken eardrum (doing something violent, no doubt) and IWA was left without a main event. Neither member of the ICP, nor Rude Boy, would be making the trip to South Charleston. However, something amazing happened. Even without the Insane Clown Posse, IWA East Coast managed to put on their most memorable show ever, in front of their largest crowd ever.

The show got off to a classy start. Mad Man Pondo announced that anyone who had come to see the ICP could get a full refund. This is very unusual for indy wrestling federations, who often use the “card subject to change” fine print as a way of getting out of giving refunds when the advertised stars don’t show. I didn’t see anyone leave. The fans started an “IWA, IWA” chant. The show was on. Then hardcore legend Ian Rotten spoke about Eddie Guerrero, the WWE Superstar who died unexpectedly on Sunday. Guerrero had worked with Ian in ECW and held the heavyweight belt in Rotten’s IWA Mid-South promotion. The entire roster came to the ring for the traditional 10-bell salute to the much loved Guerrero.

After that somber note, the surprises began. We’re talking Midget Wrestling, folks. Four-foot-four-inch Puppet, took on four-foot-four-and-one-half-inch Little Justice in a hardcore midget match. If you want a surreal experience, you can’t beat watching midgets staple dollar bills to each other’s heads. The winner was Puppet.

Ruckus then retained his CZW Heavyweight title against Old-school heel Tracy Smothers. Ashland’s The Juggulator (with Woody Numbers and a wheelchair-bound Crowza) lost in a shocker to Homeless Jimmy. All the matches were fast-paced and exciting, with memorable spots that the crowd of 400 was loving.

During the intermission, Charleston’s own Brain Trauma entertained with their theme song for IWA East Coast. I’m not big on rap music, but these guys sounded pretty good and really worked the crowd.

After the intermission we were treated to a women’s match, as Mickie Knuckles took on Portia Perez. Mickie is probably already the best female wrestler in North America, and is still gaining confidence as a performer and getting better with each show. Portia Perez looked like she was about 12 years old, but turned in a surprisingly strong match before being pinned. After the match, Perez ambushed Mickie and pinned her neck with with a steel chair. She then tore into the crowd, challenging any woman in the audience to take her on. This set up the next surprise of the evening, as Putnam County’s own Skytriss appeared and walked up behind the oblivious Perez.

Rusty Marks wrote a great profile on Skytriss in the Gazz a few months ago, but until you see her in person, you don’t realize just how enormous this woman is. Seeing her stride to the ring was like watching the Tall Ships come into Boston Harbor. Needless to say, the crowd loved it as Skytriss dwarfed Perez, who quickly made herself scarce. Then Skytriss carried a grateful Mickie to the back.

Following this match, Ironton’s Trik Nasty managed to defeat the monster Warpig and his keeper, Dr. Max Graves, by handcuffing Warpig to the ropes while he pinned the mad doctor. However, Dr. Graves swore some sort of evil retaliation, so this story is not yet done.

IWA East Coast Champion Chris Hero retained his title against what appeared to be an even more inebriated than usual El Drunko. Despite help from Woody Numbers, Crowza (still wheelchair-bound) and The Juggulator, El Drunko couldn’t pull off a win against IWA’s resident super-hero.

Then we got to the main event. Mad Man Pondo and Ian Rotten taking on “Mr. Insanity” Toby Klein, and The Necrobutcher in a bloody brawl that went all over the arena and wound up with Necrobutcher and Klein pinned beneath 40 or 50 steel chairs in the middle of the ring. When Pondo called for the fans to throw their chairs in the ring, it looked like some giant demented popcorn-popper, only with steel chairs instead of popcorn. When the DVD comes out, you’ll want to see this again and again. This was some first-class mayhem!

It was a wild night, even without the Insane Clown Posse. IWA East Coast’s shows just keep getting stronger and stronger, and when they return to the South Charleston Community Center in February, you can be sure I’ll be there.

The Next Wave from Adult Swim

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Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Adult Swim, the late night adult cartoon programming block on the Cartoon Network, has unleashed a slew of new programs lately. Some of these have been one-shot specials and others are long-term series. We’re going to catch up with some of the more notable efforts from the people who gave us Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021.

First up, we have Squidbillies, which is largely the work of Dave Willis from the ATHF creative team. This tale of inbred squids living in the backwoods of Georgia is a veritable whitetrash-apalooza. The star is Early Cuyler, a squid that embodies just about every negative redneck stereotype imaginable. After an iffy first episode, Squidbillies has proven to be just as perversely funny as ATHF turned out to be. Subversive and wilder than you’d think a Cartoon Network show could be, Squidbillies could become a breakout hit, or at least a cult favorite. It’s a crudely drawn, yet skillfully crafted cartoon for people who think that “Deliverance” is one of the funniest comedies ever made.

12 Oz. Mouse, like hard liquor, explosives and pharmaceuticals is an acquired taste. Imagine if the late Hunter Thompson and comedian Steven Wright were held at gunpoint and forced to write a cartoon after a three day drunk. Now imagine that their hands were crushed with cinderblocks before they were then forced to draw this cartoon. That’s the spirit of 12 Oz. Mouse. 12 Oz. Mouse follows the adventures of a liquored-up mouse who drives a yellow jet taxi, robs banks and creates mayhem. It looks like it was drawn on cocktail napkins two minutes before last call. This cartoon will NEVER win any awards for animation. But if you find anarchy, violence and exploding stoners funny, this is the show for you.

The Boondocks, based on Aaron Macgruder’s controversial comic strip, despite having several laugh out loud moments is a bit of a disappointment. Maybe we’re just over-reacting to the hype, but we expected something better than this. For some reason, rather than imitate the style of the strip, the producers chose to make the show look like a generic anime influenced TV cartoon. The pedestrian animation is a bit of a distraction. The pseudo-militant ironic observations about race don’t quite work, at least in the early episodes. The show seems to rely too much on the shock value of repeatedly using the “N” word, but unlike Dave Chapelle’s show on Comedy Central, the jokes aren’t funny enough to justify it. You have to wonder if, rather than being a cartoon that demonstrates the futility of racism, that Boondocks will become the favorite cartoon of racist morons who just can’t get enough of hearing that word. If Boondocks can evolve beyond the simple shock humor, it may grow into an amusing and possibly important show. For now, we’ll take a wait and see attitude.

In what was probably a one-shot deal, Adult Swim recently ran a cartoon called Minoriteam, about a team of racial stereotypes who fight against “the white man.” There are two notable things about this cartoon: The racial jokes, though well intended, fell completely flat and were totally unamusing. However, the cartoon itself was done in the style of the 1960s “Marvel Superheroes” cartoons, which were barely animated and used artwork traced from the actual Marvel comics. If you can ignore the ham-handed, rather pathetic attempts at humor, you’re left with a nice visual tribute to the late Jack Kirby, whose influence on this cartoon is so strong that they even bothered to acknowledge him in the credits.

If they run this again, watch it with the sound off. It was written by Adam De La Pena, from Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers, which explains how it was totally devoid of laughs. In an unfortunate bit of timing, this show premiered the same night as Boondocks, and aired right before an episode of Squidbillies where Early Cuyler declares his hatred of “the white man.” It made it seem like it was white guilt night on Adult Swim. Minoriteam, with any luck, will not be picked up as a series. The joke didn’t even last 11 minutes without growing stale.

Next week, we’ll bring you the latest animation news about John K. and an Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, and we’ll take a look at some interesting Saturday morning cartoons.

Weekend Injury Report

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I now have one grand piece of advice that I can share with the world: If you must fall face-first, taking the full brunt of an impact on your visage, try not to do it in a gravel alleyway.

Saturday afternoon I was preparing for a visit from my sister and her kids, and took out the trash. Nothing unusual there. I noticed that, due either to a sloppy garbageman, strong winds, or a particularly muscular neighborhood rabbit, the garbage cans belonging to my neighbor across the alley were in my yard. I decided to be a good Samaritan and took his cans back to his yard. But I forgot about the old fencepost a car sheared off about 30 years ago that sticks up about three inches at the end of my yard. Beyond the yard lay the alleyway, in all its gravelly glory.

I don’t fall a lot. and I’ve never fallen and hurt myself. There’s a first time for everything. I had one empty garbage can in each hand, and didn’t let go of them. They acted like parachutes, catching the wind and pulling my arms back, so that the first part of my body to make contact with the ground was my face. (Actually my shoulder and face, but my face was the part that really counts here.)

Time slowed down, just like in the movies and in overly-dramatic first-hand accounts of stuff. As soon as I started falling, I realized that I’d tripped on the old fencepost. Then I thought, “This is going to hurt, but I’ll stop falling soon.” Only, I didn’t. I remember thinking, “Why aren’t my hands going in front of my face?” Then as the ground approached, I thought, “Something’s wrong here.”

So I went face first into the gravel. Once I stopped falling, I thought, “That wasn’t so bad.” Then I lifted my head, opened my eyes, and saw my glasses. And then I saw the rest of them. One lens had popped out, and the frame was smashed flat. It was at this point I realized that blood was pouring out of my face. The face is the second worst part of your body that you can have blood pouring out of. So I gathered up my glasses, returned my neighbor’s trash cans, and made my way to my house. I can see fairly well without my glasses, and it was clear that I wouldn’t be wearing them until I got the bleeding stopped. When I looked in my bathroom mirror, I was in for a surprise. My nose was split open, with an “S” shaped scar running right up the middle. It looked like I pissed off Zorro or something. (Actually, I looked like IWA wrestler Necrobutcher after one of his typical matches. I was wearing the “Crimson Mask.”)

I was hardcore!

Hurt like hell, too. So I cleaned myself up, loaded up a towel with ice, and called my brother. “Hey Frank, I just smashed my face open in the alley. I might need some help.” Then, I recalled my sister was on her way from Pittsburgh with the kids. Funny Uncle Rudy’s going to be a bloody mess. That’ll make the kids happy! She called with a progress report as they were passing through Fairmont. “Tell the kids Uncle Rudy has a boo-boo on his face. Lots of them!” While I was on the phone, my brother Frank came in.

Frank is the man to ask about falling. He’s been falling, walking into things and generally maiming himself for 35 years, ever since the infamous “glass door at Angela’s Pizza” incident. Frank has dozens of stories that start with, “Everything was covered with ice…” So I took his word on the facial damage I’d inflicted on myself– no plastic surgery needed. I may have a scar on my nose, but it’s not going to be prominent. Even if it is, I’ll just look like a Bond villain…..“Rudy Scarnose!”

Everything else will heal up fine–the eyebrow gash, the chin scrape, the two nose gashes. I think I know how Rocky Marciano felt after his second fight with Ezzard Charles. The only difference is that I didn’t come back to knock out the alley.

So when little Gina and Gino (the Ginoids, as we call them) showed up, it took a few moments for them to get used to seeing Uncle Rudy look like he was made up for Halloween. Luckily, I had Hot Wheels track, so they got over it real quick. And so did I. There’s nothing quite like playing Hot Wheels with a three-year-old to make you forget that you almost left your nose out behind the house.

Sunday morning I woke up, and to be honest, I didn’t feel that bad. My face is still a mess, but heck, that’ll just let me fit in with the IWA guys Tuesday night! I now know what it feels like to be busted open “hardway.” I figured I’d write up my story of smashing my face open, not because it’s really pop culture or anything, but at the very least, the guys over at WHCP will find it amusing. But I would like to not hear any more jokes about this happening because I was drinking. I am a notorious non-drinker. I’ve probably consumed less than three ounces of alcoholic beverages my whole life. I’d hate for anyone to think that I had to resort to artificial means to achieve an act of stupidity this monumental. The whole point of this self-indulgent post is that I’ll probably be posting a bit less this week. I’ll do a quick run-down of the IWA show on Wednesday, and Mel and I have an “Animated Discussions” on deck, but I have to take some time to get my glasses fixed and heal up a bit.

To make up for it, I’ll give you an Art Blog on Friday—“A Starry Night Over The South Side Bridge.” Things will be back to normal next week, barring any more face-smashing incidents.

Juggalos Invade South Charleston

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Next Tuesday, the Insane Clown Posse will appear at the IWA East Coast Wrestling show, Psychopathic Tendencies, at South Charleston Community Center. This is going to be a wild night, as ICP’s faithful followers will gather to see their favorite horrorcore rap band charge into the squared circle. Despite being voted “worst band in the world” by several magazines, ICP has a rabid following, and their fan’s devotion is legendary.

At the last IWA East Coast show in September, ICP’s Violent J came to the rescue of Rude Boy, who had been brutally attacked by hardcore legend, Sabu. This was a huge surprise, since ICP is a nationally-known entity, and to see an unadvertised run-in by one of them was quite a shock.

However, after Violent J ran off Sabu, Rude Boy (a longtime associate of the Insane Clown Posse and their own JCW Wrestling federation) shocked the crowd by turning on his ally, beating on him and challenging him to a cage match. To make things even more surreal, he asked that Violent J’s partner in ICP, Shaggy 2 Dope, be the special referee.

So, next Tuesday night, Juggalos (diehard ICP fans) from all over the country will congregate at the South Charleston Community Center to see how this drama will play out. Will Shaggy 2 Dope be an impartial referee, or will he favor his partner? Heck, Shaggy may even turn on Violent J and break up the band. We’ll just have to see what happens.

In addition to the Insane Clown Posse, IWA East Coast will present a full card of their finest mayhem, with Mad Man Pondo and 2 Tuff Tony taking on “Mr. Insanity” Toby Klien and Necrobutcher in what promises to be a tag team bloodbath. El Drunko challenges Chris Hero for the IWA Heavyweight belt. Plus we’ll be treated to matches featuring IWA mainstays The Juggulator, War Pig and Dr. Max Graves, Trik Nasty, Mickie Knuckles, Ruckus, and more.

Juggalos are stridently loyal and follow the ICP with an almost-religious fervor. This will probably be the largest crowd ever at an ICP show, and from what I hear, ringside tickets are nearly sold out. It’s going to be a memorable evening. When it’s done, there should be blood, sweat, and Faygo everywhere.

If You Go: The IWA East Coast Wrestling show “Psycopathic Tendencies” begins 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15 at South Charleston Community Center, 601 Jefferson Rd. Tickets $10 general admission, $15 ringside. Order at www.iwaeastcoast.com.