PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The PopCult Toybox

In the most recent PopCult Gift Guide I recommended a designer toy that’s been around and collecting accolades for some time, Automoblox. These are exquisitely-crafted wooden cars that can be disassembled and reassembled into different styles.

Each Automoblox vehicle sports a body made of European beech wood, and includes multiple interchangeable components, including tires, rotors and calipers. It’s easy enough for kids as young as 4 to get in on the fun, and the cool, collectible mix-and-match designs appeal to older kids and adults as well.

I finally got my hands on a couple of Automoblox Mini sets, and I have to say, they’re as impressive in person as they look in print. And they have been covered extensively. Besides being in the PopCult Gift Guide, Automoblox has received attention from the media in publications such as Motor Trend, Newsweek, Parents Magazine and Car and Driver. Automoblox also received the prestigious Oppenheim Platinum Toy Award for its line of emergency vehicles.

The two sets I have in hand are the “Minis,” which means they’re about four to five inches long for the cars (longer for the truck and trailer) and these are really cool little toy cars. The size makes them just about compatible with a vintage Marx garage, and the wooden cars with rubber tires are quite a step up from the simple plastic cars that originally came with the Marx playsets.

First up we have a two-pack of cars featuring an HR5 Scorch (below), a super-luxury car, and the SC1 Chaos, a super-sportscar. The laquered wood construction for the car bodies is simply brilliant, like a tiny work of art. Adding to this are the color-coordinated plastic roofs and rubber tires, and the deluxe chrome hubcaps.

The cars roll freely, which is pretty important for a toy car, and they can also be taken apart, and combined into new configurations, adding considerably to the play value. These are really sharp-looking toy cars, and I’m posting close-up photos to give you an idea of how cool these look. Right below you see the SC1 Chaos.

 

Our second example is the X10 Timber Pack, which consists of a huge SUV with a trailer carrying a motocross motorcycle. This is another great set, with the green-accented SUV sporting gold chrome rims and the matching trailer toting a nifty little red-and-orange motorbike.

 

These cars come assembled, so they don’t immediately indicate that they are building toys in addition to being toy vehicles, but they do list the number of pieces on the box, which will help parents keep track of them once they do get scrambled.

It’s almost a shame to take them apart. These are great toys and kids will love them, but they also work as tiny works of art. They make great office decorations without screaming “NERD,” and they’re just really cool to look at and admire. The Motorbike alone, is a teensy masterpiece of simplicity.

 

Seriously, I don’t know whether to recommend Automoblox as toys or as cool decorations. You might want to buy one for your kids, and one for yourself.

A couple of years ago Automoblox was acquired by our friends at Playmonster, and they’re easier to find now. You can always look for them at their own store or at Amazon, but they’re also turning up in more independent toy stores and museum shops and online at Walmart and Fat Brain. These are not the cheapest toy cars on the market, but they’re well worth the price considering the craftsmanship on display. These are the kinds of toys that kids grow up remembering.

Radio Free Charleston and The Swing Shift are back today on The AIR. You can tune in at The AIR website, or just listen on this little embedded wonder…

At 10 AM and 10 PM our latest Radio Free Charleston mixes a couple of new tunes with about forty-five minutes of music resurrected from one of our old Voices of Appalachia shows. This was a voice-conserving move, since yours truly is still not 100% (but doing much, much better, thanks for asking). Check out the playlist below…

RFCv4075

Poor Man’s Gravy “Leaving Today”
Brian Diller “Hey Mister Auctioneer”
Jordan Searls “Any Kind of Wind”
Dina Hornbaker “Black Coffee”
Sheldon Vance “Birthright”
Hitchcock Circus “Dirty Girl”
Three Bodies “My Friend”
Blue Million “Don’t Leave”
The Bounty “Buffalos”
Science of the Mind “Son of Sam”
David Synn “Anesthesia”
Karma To Burn “Bobbi, Bobbi, Bobbi, I’m Not”
BobaFlex “Strangle You”
Ptolemy “Event Horizon”

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

At 3 PM point your ears to The AIR for a new hour of The Swing Shift, continuing our mission to bring you the best Swing music from the last century. This week we open with some hot Electro-Swing featuring vocals by Cosby protester Nicolle Rochelle. Here’s the playlist for this epic swingin’ hour…

The Swing Shift 040

Bart and Baker with Nicholle Rochelle “Swing Phenomenon”
Frank Sinatra and Chrissie Hynde “Luck Be A Lady”
Dem Brooklyn Bums “Switchblade Mambo”
Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers “Blow Me A Fat Note”
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Fly Me To The Moon”
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald “It Aint Necessarily So”
Indigo Swing “Hot In Harlem”
Jack’s Cats “Puttin’ On The Ritz”
Casey McGill “Sing Brother Swing”
Kitten and The Hip “Don’t Touch The Kitten”
Royal Crown Revue “Walkin’ Blues”
Louis Prima Jr. “I Wanna Be Like You”
New Morty Show “In The Groove”
Arite Shaw ” Scuttlebutt”

You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 9 AM, Thursday at 7 PM and Saturday at 9 AM, only on The AIR.

Monday Morning Art: Campfire Girls

 

Above you see a digital painting based in images from a session of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School from a few years ago. That seems to have become the theme for April’s MMA. In this piece we have Luna L’Enfant and Pepper Fandango doing something really sexy: reading and roasting marshmallows by the campfire.

This was another case of me going back to a batch of old Sketchy’s photos to find something to paint over with my new toy. It’s been over two months since I had to start using a new computer for my artwork, and I’m finally starting to get comfortable with my new software and my recovered brushes and stuff from the old PC. I was going for an illustrative look for this one, with a slight oil pastel touch. As always, click the image to see a larger version.

Sunday Evening Videos: Kirby and Ditko

Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (right) created the Marvel Universe. Sure, Stan Lee played a large part in its creation too, but his main function was to hire these guys to make up the stories, point them in the right direction, and clean up the dialogue after they were done. Kirby and Ditko were the storytellers. Lee was the editor. Stan Lee has spent decades receiving the kudos and reaping rewards for work for which he did not do the heavy lifting.

It was always a bone of contention that Stan Lee was compensated much more handsomely for the work that these men did than they were themselves. It wasn’t until Kirby’s family was on the brink of arguing before the Supreme Court that Disney struck a deal to give Jack Kirby his fair amount of credit for his creations, and pay the family a more equitable share of the proceeds. Sadly, this all happened many years after Jack Kirby passed away, but it’s still good to see him get the recognition that he always deserved for being the dominant co-creator of The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Black Panther, Silver Surfer and so many more of the pillars of the Marvel Universe.

Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-man and Dr. Strange, and by most accounts was doing almost all of the writing before he left both strips after a prolonged falling out with Stan Lee. Ditko is still with us, but has not spoken to the press for nearly fifty years, preferring to let his work do the talking. Personality-wise, he’s the complete opposite of Stan Lee, shunning the spotlight and going out of his way to share credit where its due.

At the top of this post you see a documentary about Jack Kirby that runs a little over an hour. It’s a good, basic introduction to the mind that created so much of what is the foundation of modern comics. Below you’ll find a documentary by Jonathan Ross where he tries to track down Ditko. It’s a fascinating look into the vapor trail that is Ditko’s public presence. Both of these documentaries are more than ten years old, but they’re still very much worth watching.

This is not meant to slam Stan Lee, who has sadly been in the news a lot lately, but it’s an attempt to set the record straight and recognize the indispensible contributions of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to Marvel Comics.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 135

For the next few weeks The RFC Flashback will go back to the most ambitious series of episodes in Radio Free Charleston history.  In June, 2011 I decided to try and do something sort of crazy. I’d managed to crank out Radio Free Charleston on a weekly basis before, which was no mean feat since the show was basically produced by me alone, with camera help from my now-wife Mel Larch and occasional help from other friends. For FestivALL 2011, I managed to produce eight episodes of Radio Free Charleston in under two weeks.

This week we being you the third special FestivALL 2011 episode of Radio Free Charleston, which features music from The Kingfish Five (pictured), Joseph Hale, 600 lbs of SIn and Uncle Eddy and Robyn. There are also scenes from Sunday Funday at The Clay Center and Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art Show. By the end of this show we’d posted more than an hour of FestivALL in three days, and next week you’ll see the episode that we posted on the fourth consecutive day of our insane production schedule.

Friday, and then Saturday

The PopCulteer
April 20, 2018

It’s a short PopCulteer this week. Yours truly is still far under the weather, but if I write any more about being sick here in PopCult it’ll be a HIPPA violation, so let’s just get on with some random notes.

Tonight at 7 PM at Unity of Kanwha Valley, The BrotherSisters are holding their last concert before going their separate ways.

This has been a long-term and fruitful musical union that has produced some of the most thoughtful and entertiaining high concept music in the area, and it’s a shame to see them go, but it’s good that they’re splitting on their own terms.

Your last chance to hear the BrotherSisters before they disband to go their separate musical ways is Friday night at Unity, 804 Myrtle Rd, Charleston. $5 suggested donation. Feel free to bring snacks, wine or non-alcoholic beverages. This is one I’m going to try to attend, if I can quit coughing for more than five minutes.

As one band ends, another finds itself with a new beginning. At 9:30 PM at The Boulevard Tavern the recently reunited band, In The Company of Wolves, finds themselves holding a CD release party for their new album. In support are two other local powerhouses, Scarlet Revolt and Luna Park. Check out the graphic below. Cover is a mere five bucks.

 

Record Store Day

Record Store Day, the national movement to get people into records shops by offering hundreds of exclusive releases on one day each year, is Saturday, and three local stores are participating.

Bill Lynch covers the story for the Gazette-Mail so that your PopCulteer can just slack off and post a link. This is always fun, and I’m hoping to be physically able to get out and find some crunchy vinyl goodness. Last year I was in Chicago for Record store Day, and had to miss all the local fun down here.

Earth Day

Saturday is also Earth Day, and Fletcher’s Grove is headlining a show at the Bakery…

That’s a wrap

It’s a short PopCulteer this week, but we did offer up a PopCult Comix Bookshelf earlier today, and a PopCult Toybox is on the way later this afternoon, so it’s not like I’m really slacking off much while I’m hopefully in the last days of this infernal crud. Keep checking PopCult for fresh content every day.

Hopheads Go Wild On The Pot

The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

Reefer Madness Comics
edited by Craig Yoe
comics by Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Frank Frazetta, Jerry Robinson and more
Dark Horse Books
ISBN-13: 978-1506702278
$19.99

Master comics historian, Craig Yoe, has gone to pot…literally. This new collection of comics brings together some of the most hysterically dramatic and unrealistic portrayals of the dangers of marijuana that you’re likely to ever find. Reefer Madness Comics may very well be your gateway drug into the world of vintage crime comics.

It’s not all presented for laughs. Yoe’s introductory essay touches on the power of propaganda and how the comics medium was used to help villify marijuana, only to see the same tactics of junk science and ethically dubious evidence used against the comics industry in the 1950s. It’s a meaty topic and one well worth considering now that we seem to be living in the golden age of misinformation.

But beyond that, the real attraction in Reefer Madness are the comics. Comics that, no matter how skillful the creator, or how sharp their storytelling abilities, are solidly rooted in an almost total ignorance of their subject matter. These comics are uproariously entertaining because they are so spectacularly dumb.

The comics reprinted in Reefer Madness Comics (which takes its name from the classic and now campy propaganda film of the 1930s) read like Jack Chick Comics on drugs.

Mostly gathered from crime comics of the 1940s and 1950s (with a few exceptions), these comics are so over-the-top in their presentation of pot as being the most dangerous menace to society ever that they rise to a sublime level of ridiculousness.

With titles like “Satan’s Cigarettes,” “Hopped up Killer,” “Dope Menace” and “Monkey On Her Back,” you can be assured that you’re in for an epic unintentional humor contact high.

Evidently written by people who had absolutely no firsthand experience with marijuana, these cautionary tales are filled with wild behavior that no educated person would ever associate with the use of pot. There are murder sprees, robberies, prostitution and everything they could imagine. The Kirby story (that’s a panel at the bottom of this post) is about a serial rapist/torturer/arsonist/murderer who is driven to kill when he doesn’t get his reefer!

You need to have a fine appreciation of irony and the absurd, and enough knowledge to determine how mind-blowingly silly these comics are, to find them as entertaining as I do. However, if you’re looking for the absolute perfect gift for a pothead or pothead sympathizer, you’ve found it. Processed through the mind of someone who, in their day, may have “smoke too many pot,” Reefer Madness Comics may elicit a manic giggling fit not unlike some of the bizarre antics seen in this book.

If you are looking for a gift to celebrate 4 20, Reefer Madness Comics is your book. Seriously, this is some good sh*t.

It’s An RFC International Flashback

Bronchitis week continues on The AIR and rather than croak out a new episode of Radio Free Charleston International, your PopCulteer decided to repackage a classic episode that hasn’t been heard since 2016. This one re-debuts Thursday at 3 PM. Listen at The AIR Website or tune in to this little embedded player…

We threw down the guantlet of free-format radio with this episode of RFC International devoted to complete unpredictability.

You can hear RFC International Thursday at 3 PM, Friday at 7 AM and 10 PM, Saturday at Noon and 1 AM and next Tuesday at 11 PM, exclusively on The AIR.

Here’s what’s in store for you this week…

John Cale “Changes Made”
They Might Be Giants “Black Ops”
Dirty Heads “Oxygen”
Green Day “Bang Bang”
John Anderson “Midnight Dancing”
Frank Zappa “Uncle Remus (Mix Outtake)
Peter Garrett “Homecoming”
DEVO “I Love Ur Gun”
No Doubt “Snakes”
Kate Pierson “Guitars and Microphones”
Neil Young “Vampire Blues”
Mi Sex “Not Such A Bad Boy”
Sabaton “Camoflauge”
The Who “Cook’s County”
A Day To Remember “Bullfight”
DGM “Animal”
Placebo “Twenty Years”
Faith No More “Why Do You Bother”
Paul McCartney “Check My Machine”
Ultravox “There Goes A Beautiful World”
Shakespeare’s Sister “Catwoman”
Screamin” Jay Hawkins “Frenzy”
King Grizzard and the Lizard Wizard “Mr. Beat”
George Harrison “Party Seacombe”
Kate Bush “James And The Cold Gun”
The Temptations “Ball Of Confusion”
Strawberry Alarm Clock “Blues For A Young Girl Gone”
The Radio Department “The Thing Was Bored”

Get MAD All Over Again

PopCult Magazine Rack

Last year when it was announced that DC Comics was going to move MAD Magazine from New York City, where it’s been headquartered since it was founded as a comic book in 1952, some folks got worried that the very soul of the magazine, and its New York attitude, would not survive the cross-country journey.

When it was learned that the editorial staff would not be making the move to Burbank, more folks got worried. Then, when it was announced that Bill Morrison would take over as the Editor I stopped worrying.

What, me worry?

I’ve been a fan of Morrison’s work since his days as the creative director of The Simpsons Comics, and knew that the magazine was in good hands. There have been changes: A new (old) logo; renumbering the book at #1; adding some new blood to the mix of talent and making a few cosmetic changes to the layout, but happily, if it wan’t broke, Morrison didn’t try to fix it.

This first new issue of MAD is ad-free (save for a subscription page), and Al Jaffee is still on board with his classic fold-in, as are Sergio Aragones, Peter Kuper, Tom Richmond, Dick DeBartolo and a good number of “the usual gang of idiots. There’s also some new blood, and it’s all top-notch. The cover (seen at the head of this post) is by Jason Edmiston, whom I interviewed for Non Sport Update a few years ago, which led to use becoming Facebook friends. His career has taken off and it’s huge that he was chosen to contribute the first cover to the relaunched MAD.

The comics section is expanded, with new work by Bob Fingerman (Minimum Wage), Luke McGarry and Kerry Callen. There’s a two-page spread written by comedian Brian Posehn with art by Peter Bagge. As always, Advertising is in MAD‘s crosshairs, and the movie and TV parodies are still here, and funnier than ever.

In fact, there is a brilliant parody of Riverdale by Ian Boothby and Tom Richmond that starts out with several pages drawn perfectly in the style of Will Elder’s 1950’s “Starchie” parody. When you add that to the fact that the “new” logo is pretty much identical to the one MAD had on it’s very first issue in 1952, you realize that MAD Magazine is in good hands indeed.

That’s bad news for celebrities, ad men, parents, and certain orange-hued politicos, but good news for anybody with a healthy sense of humor.

MAD Magazine #1 should be available nationwide today, with a cover price of $5.99, where ever magazines are sold.

Yesterday afternoon the news broke that Isaac Larian’s bid to buy 215 of the remaining US Toys R Us stores, along with the Canadian arm had been rejected. This was not a shock. His bid was almost embarrassingly low, at under 900 million dollars for both countries’ stores combined, and there was no way the court was going to take such a bid seriously. Larian (right) says that he’s disappointed, but didn’t give any solid hints to his next move.

His bid was so low that “unnamed sources” leaked its rejection to the Wall Street Journal before he’d even been formally notified. What is not clear is whether or not there are any other bids that would keep any of the stores in the US open. Lairan’s bid for 215 US stores was $675 million dollars, which is probably half of the minimum amount it would have had to have been to be taken seriously.

Larian had to have known this. My guess is that he went ahead with his bid in the hopes of bringing other bidders out of the closet that he could possibly team up with them and come up with an offer that might be considered by the trustees. At this moment, building a coalition of investors might be the best hope to keep TRU alive in the US.

While Toys R Us went bankrupt due to the overwhelming debt it was saddled with after a questionable leveraged buyout, it is not a worthless company. The name has value. The website has value. There are large real estate holdings worth a fortune. The reason nobody stepped in to buy them before they were forced into bankruptcy was that debt, estimated at five-to-twelve billion dollars, depending on the source. Aside from the debt, the company is probably worth four to six billion dollars, worldwide.

The Asian Toys R Us operations, of which TRU owns 85%, have reportedly drawn multiple bids of over a billion dollars.

It remains to be seen if there are enough interested parties looking to acquire any of the US stores to see any stores in the chain rescued. If there are, they’ll need to have way more money on hand than Larian had. Otherwise his best effort might be dropping his bid for the US stores, and tripling his bid for the Canadian arm of the company.

This story is likely to develop rapidly over the next few days. By this weekend, the liquidation sales should move into the next phase, with deeper discounts, but that could be pushed back if the court sees a ray of hope that some may stay open. Some stores are now telling customers that they might remain open into July.