PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

WWE Stock Woes and Toy Trains In Chicago

The PopCulteer
January 31, 2020

This week The PopCulteer is once again roaming in the wilds of randomosity as we bring you a one news item about WWE, and some leftover photos from last month, showing off part of the awesome train layout at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

WWE’s Financial Beatdown

Yesterday WWE announced that the company’s Co-Presidents, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson (seen left), have exited the company, effective immediately. Barrios and Wilson were also dismissed from WWE’s Board of Directors. After years of serving in senior positions, they’d been named co-presidents in 2017 and presided over the recent massive TV deals and other major initiatives.

Vince McMahon is quoted in the press release as saying, “I would like to thank George and Michelle for their 10+ years of service and contributions to the organization. I am grateful for all that was accomplished during their tenure, but the Board and I decided a change was necessary as we have different views on how best to achieve our strategic priorities moving forward.”

Frank A. Riddick III, who has served as a member of WWE’s Board of Directors for more than 11 years, has been named interim Chief Financial Officer, reporting to WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon. WWE has begun a search for both a permanent Chief Financial Officer and Chief Revenue Officer.

WWE has an investors conference call next week to report it’s 4th Quarter and full year 2019 financial results to it’s investment community. This will be the first quarter since the beginning of their new and very lucrative television contracts, but it’s not clear if the first payments for those contracts was made in this quarter, or if those are still yet to come.

After this announcement, WWE stock plummetted, losing more than 20% of its value, which is bound to have an affect on the wrestlers, many of whom hold stock options as part of their contracts. WWE stock, as I write this, is hovering around $48 per share, after reaching a high of $101 mid-way through last year.

Observers speculate that Barrios and Wilson are scapegoats because the 4th Quarter results are going to be disappointing. Ticket sales to live events are way down and have been declining for years, and as a result T shirt sales and some merchandise sales are down. Last year WWE revamped the WWE Network, bringing the technical end of things in-house after the company that had been running it for them was purchased by Disney. Following the switch, the network was plagued with technical issues, and some reports are that they’ve lost 40% of their subscribers.

On a personal level, I subscribe to the network, and for most of the month of December it was unwatchable. The channel would shut down every thirty or forty seconds and hang up or reboot.

Customer service was horrible, no refunds were offered, and had they not ironed out their issues, I’d planned to drop the network after last weekend’s Royal Rumble. Luckily for them, they seem to have figured out their issues because during the entire seven-hour Royal Rumble special, I didn’t have a single streaming glitch.

So I can understand why the WWE Network has been losing so many subscribers. I think the low ticket sales and merch sales can be chalked up to viewer fatigue. WWE now has seven hours of live programming on the USA Network and the Fox Broadcast Network each week, and there’s no compelling reason for any fan to spend another three hours paying to watch a wrestling show where they are guaranteed that nothing important is going to happen in any of the storylines.

In the end, all this maneuvering is essentially meaningless. By the time the next quarter comes around, the bottom line will be boosted by the new TV deals. With hundreds of millions of dollars coming in from USA and Fox, plus the giant payment coming from the Saudi Crown Prince for the specials that they do twice a year in that country (he’s paying almost as much as one of the TV deals) WWE will eventually report record earnings, and will continue to do so for at least the next five years.

It may well turn out that there’s more than just simple scapegoating going on here. McMahon cited “different views” on the company’s priorities. There are many ways to interpret that. It might be related to McMahon’s re-launch of the XFL, which kicks off it’s first season the weekend after The Super Bowl (and just days after the investor conference). It could be dissatisfaction over the progress of WWE Network, or frustration over the drop in attendance at the live events.

There’s even a theory that the split was because Barrios and Wilson were pushing for WWE to revise their way of contracting talent, hoping to move WWE to a more equitable working relationship with their wrestlers before their current methods are legislated out of legality. Another rumor gaining ground is that Barrios and Wilson are both separately involved in controversial business dealings that WWE wanted to distance themselves from.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when WWE reports their earnings next week. It’s expected that they will be below the projections, but I have a feeling that they won’t be as bad as it seems now, and I bet the stock rebounds a bit a week from now. It’s not likely that any of these off-screen developments will be reflected on the WWE TV shows.

Trains at MSI

Last month when your PopCulteer and his lovely wife visited Chicago, we made our first trip the Museum of Science and Industry, and somehow I have managed not to post a photo essay of their massive model train layout in their Transportation Wing.With The Kanwha Valley Railroad Association‘s Annual Model Train and Craft Show coming up February 22 and 23, I thought it might just be a good time to trot these out.

This massive layout includes scale models of Chicago’s skyline and Loop District, as well as suburbs, rural areas and small towns, and even part of Seattle. Check out the pics here…

Beyond the full size steam locomotive, underneath the hanging aircraft, lay a gigantic model train layout.

The Chicago Skyline. The layout periodically changes the lighting from night to day.

The riverfront in the loop district, with a CTA bridge for the “L.”

Continue reading…

Charleston Events: January 30-February 1

STUFF TO DO

Evidently there’s some sort of big Sportsball event taking place on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun leading up to the battle between two boring teams on the grandest stage (besides Wrestlemania).  So below, in our usual graphic manner, we tell you about some great shows happening in town this weekend.

I also want to remind you that you can tune in to The AIR all day, every day, for lots of cool music and talk programs.

Point your ears toward the website, or listen to this embedded player right here…

Now check out a tiny sampling of the live music and cool things happening in and around Charleston…

Thursday

 

 

 

Continue reading…

Lost Kirby: From Romance To Kid Gangs

The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love
by Jack Kirby and others
compiled by John Morrow
TwoMorrows Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1605490915
$43.95 (discounted at Amazon)

This strangely, yet aptly, named book is a must-have for the Jack Kirby completist. It collects over 100 pages of stories written and drawn by Kirby that have never been compiled, or in most cases even published, before. Kirby’s DC-era work has been reprinted in multiple editions over the years, and almost everything he did for the company is in print. This book collects all the remaining work Kirby did for DC Comics in the 1970s, save for three missing pages from one story.

These are examples of Kirby stretching beyond the superhero genre in the early 1970s, when he was under contract with DC Comics. The text features in this collection (by John Morrow, Jerry Boyd, Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier) provide the context and set the stage for these comic book stories.

We get stories from two aborted romance titles, True Life Divorce and Soul Love, and two issues of Kirby’s Dingbats of Danger Street, which remained unpublished after the first issue ran in DC’s tryout title, First Issue Special. A special treat is a short story newly-inked by longtime Kirby collaborater, Mike Royer, over Kirby’s Xeroxed pencils.

The two Dingbats of Danger Street stories included here were part of the legendary Cancelled Comics Cavalcade Xeroxed publication that DC issued in 1978 to protect the copyright of dozens of unpublished works, but they appear here newly-colored and look great.

Kirby, with his 1940s partner Joe Simon, had created the romance and kid gang comics genres in the Golden Age, and it’s wild to see him returning to those forms twenty-five years later. Even though True Life Divorce never got beyond the pencil stage, the stories show a maturity that was not typical of comics of the day. These were definitely aimed at an adult audience.

With Soul Love we get to see a full-color, slick paper insert facsimile of what the first issue of Soul Love would have looked like, had it been published in the format that Kirby intended–complete with articles and mock-period advertisements. It even sports an Alex Ross painted cover, based on Kirby’s rough layout.

Dingbat Love is a very well-done presentation of this work. Some of the pages are presented in both pencilled and inked form (allowing us to see how badly inker Vince Colleta butchered Kirby’s work), and the new coloring, courtesy of Tom Zuiko and Glenn Whitmore, works perfectly with Kirby’s art. Aside from the slick magazine-style insert, the paper is thick, archival white, non-glossy stock, and looks terrific.

There are some stylistic choics in presentation that might confuse a newer comics reader. With the Dingbats material, some of the pages are presented in pencil form alternating with the same page fully-inked and in color. While this is great for comparing Kirby’s pencils to the finished art, it can keep the stories from flowing perfectly. That’s a minor quibble, and it’s worth noting that the reason for alternating the pages may have been to allow fold-out pages for the two-page spreads, which often don’t look right when the pages are bound into a hardcover book. They look fantastic here.

The essays build a pretty good “what if” scenario of what might have happened had DC had enough faith in Kirby’s ideas to fully finance the publication of True Life Divorce, along with Kirby’s other magazine titles Spirit World and In The Days of the Mob (both of which had their sole published issues previously reprinted by DC Comics along with previously unpublished material intended for their second issues) the way Kirby originally pitched them, as full-color slick magazines.

It’s another example of how Kirby was years ahead of his time. When he created the Marvel Universe (with some help from Stan Lee), Kirby knew that, someday, those concepts would be turned into major motion pictures. He knew that comics, as an artform, deserved a better presentation than being spit out on cheap newsprint, intended as disposable entertainment for kids.

Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love showcases Kirby’s reach, and shows how he had to battle to try to realize his dreams.

This is not a great book for the Jack Kirby novice. It’s not his most mainstream comic book work, but it might just hook non-comics fans into exploring more of his work. Most of all, it’s important from an historical standpoint.

Plus the comics are by Jack Kirby. What more do you need to know? If you’re already a fan of Kirby, you want this.

New RFC With New 4OHM MONO Highlights The AIR Tuesday

Tuesday brings a new three-hour episode of Radio Free Charleston The AIR!  You may point your cursor over and tune in at the website, or you could just stay on this page, and  listen to this happy little embedded radio player…

We have yet another new three-hour Radio Free Charleston at 10 AM and 10 PM Tuesday.  This week it’s another show jam-packed with great music from Charleston and the whole world.  Leadinf off the show we have brand-new music by Huntington’s 4OHM MONO.  This week brings you tons of great new music, with a heaping helping of classic tunes, deep album cuts and the best local music from our archives. Check out the playlist…

RFCv5004

hour one
4OHM MONO “Dead Air”
Church of the Cosmic Skull “The Hunt”
Offramp “Turbulence”
Holden Caufiled “Let It Go”
Stone Ka Tet “Adam’s Song”
Barclay James Harvest “Alone In The Night”
Lower Case Blues “No Good Reason”
Nektar “Love Is _ The Other Side”

hour two
Karen Allen “Here We Are Now”
Missing Words “Breathe In”
Model Kaos “Heroes”
Ptolemy “Wax Knoll”
Nina Hagen “Geburt (Extended Mix)”
Tarja “Tears In The Rain”
Bobaflex “Long Time Coming”
Hawthorne Heights “VANDEMONIUM”
Emmalea Deal “Ghost”
Time And Distance “Sell”
Fontaines DC “Boys In The Better Land”
The Revillos “Can I Have Some? (Demo)”

hour three
Adrian Tabacuro “Lucifer”
Ovada “Blood of the Sun”
David Cross Peter Banks “Plasma”
Qiet “Pet Driftwood”
Miniature Giant “Wendigo”
Jack Griffith “Alone With You”
Psychedelanaut “Saturnine Serpent”
Midge Ure “Vienna”
Toyah “It’s A Mystery”
The Stranglers “Bless You”

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 9 AM and 7 PM, Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, Sunday at 1 PM and the next Monday at 8 PM, exclusively on The AIR.

The remainder of Tuesday will see hand-picked encore editions of our programming. You can keep up with the schedule right here…

Monday Morning Art: Pennsylvania RR Art Deco Flyer

 

Your PopCulteer is still working in pencil again this week.  Armed with my trusty Blackwing Palamino, a tissue for smudging and a sharpener and a ruler (well, an Architect’s Scale, to be precise), I sat in front of my computer screen and dashed off a quick outline of this drawing of the famous 1937 prototype steam engine, the PRR S1, duplex steam locmotive engine AKA “The Big Engine” sporting an Art Deco shell designed by Raymond Loewy. Even though only one of these was ever built, and it wasn’t put into full production because it was too long to navigate the curves on the Pennsylvania Railroad, it remains one of the coolest-looking Art Deco behemoths every created, so I wanted to try to do justice to it in pencil form.

You can read about the PRR S1 at its Wikipedia page.

Once I got the outline where I wanted it, a few hours of rendering and shading happened on the kitchen table. I have to confess to a little bit of digital smudge and fingerprint removal, after I scanned it into the PC.

This is yet another one of my practice pieces as I teach myself how to make physical art again. It was my first time using pencils on Pentalic Paper For Pens ultrasmooth finish paper (thank you Blick Art Supplies).

If you wish, you can click this image to see it bigger.

Meanwhile, over in radio-land, Monday on The AIR, our Monday Marathon runs from 7 AM to 3 PM, and brings you four episodes of Radio Free Charleston International, which will soon be saying goodbye to our servers, as RFC International and Radio Free Charleston are now combined into Radio Free Charleston Volume Five.   At 3 PM, we will present an encore of a recent edition of Prognosis, because show’s host, Herman Linte, is still tied up with other work.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

Sunday Evening Videos: Winsor McCay Animation

Winsor McCay (1866-1934) was a pioneering cartoonist and animator, and you can read all about his life HERE. This week we’re going to look at some of his surviving bits of animation, which range from almost a hundred years old to over 110 years old. These include animated versions of his comic strips, Little Nemo and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.

While McCay’s claims of “inventing” animation might be a little overstated, it’s clear that the man was decades ahead of his time when it came to the art of animation.It was decades before anybody came close to mastering his abilities in creating fluid animation.

Working on his own he created some of the most impressive animation in history. I used much of his Sinking of the Lusitania cartoon, which was finished in 1917, for the music video for the song “Swamp Thing” by The Scrap Iron Pickers. That’s at the head of this post. Below you’ll see a few more of his animated shorts, all of which were created in 1921, or earlier.

These cartoons are filled with McCay’s trademark impeccable draftsmanship combined with surreal humor and bizarre situations.

There is an urban legend…supportedt by geographical facts…that McCay, in his later years living in Brooklyn, gave drawing lessons to a poor, young neighborhood child named Jacob Kurtzberg. If this is true, then it might explain who it was that encouraged the young cartoonist who would become more famous under the name “Jack Kirby” when he grew up.

The RFC Flashback: MINI SHOW number Eighteen

This week we go back to April, 204, for a special RFC MINI SHOW featuring The Terra Firma Ensemble, plus a bonus video featuring the entire concert we recorded and excerpted for this show and for the episode of Radio Free Charleston that you’ll see in this space next week.

This video presents The Terra Firma Ensemble, recorded at The Kanawha Forum at Kanawha United Presbyterian Church on Quarrier Street. The Terra Firma Ensemble is Jim Lange, David Porter, J. Scott Milam, Lisa Peery, John Inghram and Ryan Kennedy. The Kanawha Forum offered up free half-hour lunch concerts at the church.

At this particular edition of The Kanawha Forum, The Terra Firma Ensemble performed three pieces: “Innocente,” by Robert Towner and Gary Burton; “Eye of the Needle,” by Robert Fripp and the world premiere of “Brambles and Briers,” a piece composed by Jim Lange. You will see Jim Lange’s composition next week on the full-length Radio Free Charleston number 197. This RFC MINI SHOW features “Innocente.”

As a bonus this week in the RFC Flashback, below we will bring you the entire program from The Terra Firma Ensemble’s Kanawha Forum peformance, with all three pieces presented in the order which they were performed.

It was a real treat to get to record this group. Jim Lange has been a friend of RFC dating back to our broadcast radio days, when he appeared live, on the air, with The Velvet Brothers. His guitar work is legendary. David Porter brings his virtuosity on the EWI wind-controlled synth to the ensemble. Lisa Peery contributes acoustic flute. Scott Milam brought percussion and the malletKAT to the table. And eagle-eyed viewers of RFC may recognize Ryan Kennedy (guitar) and John Inghram (fretless bass) from The Bob Thompson Unit, who appeared on our 2013 Christmas show and their own RFC MINI SHOW.

This is an amazing collection of musicians who include three current or former members of The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra among their ranks, alongside musicians with lists of credits that would take up several paragraphs. It was truly an honor to record them for the show.

The PopCult Toybox

Fans of 1/6 scale action figures were surprised with quite a few cool treats, mostly at Walmart, at the beginning of the year.

Walmart licensed the rights to Robbie The Robot, from Forbidden Planet, and The Iron Giant from Warner Media, and hired one of their toymaking partners, Goldking, to create 14″ walking robots, with light and sound features. Robbie is perfectly in scale with the original GI Joes, while The Iron Giant is not, but could be customized.

A 1/6 scale Iron Giant would be around seven feet tall, but this version of him could easily be customized into another kind of 1/6 robot.

The best part is that these are very well-made, but only cost twenty bucks each. That is a fantastic price for such large and cool toys. Collectors haven’t been this excited by anything in this scale at a mass-market retailer for a long, long time.

These started showing up a couple of weeks ago, with lots of them flooding eBay with outrageous prices. It took about a week, but they finally hit all of our local stores, with each store getting four of each robot. I have been told that these will be restocked many times over the next several months.

With such a low retail price, some corners might have been cut. It appears that the box copy for Robbie was swiped, word-for-word, from the 1999 10″ Trendmasters Robbie, which had a wired remote control. That’s the Trendmasters box at left.

The reference to “Trendmasters Technology” on the block of copy on the back of the box is a dead giveaway. Trendmasters went out of business eighteen years ago. The box also promises a space pistol that is not included in this set. It’s like somebody handed the factory a vintage Trendmasters box and told them to make the new packaging look just like it, then didn’t bother to proofread it to see how accurately the toymakers followed their directions.

The boxes look remarkably alike, except that the bathing suit on the girl being carried by Robbie has been changed from green to gold.

Aside from that very minor and somewhat amusing packaging quibble, this is a perfect toy. Just check out how cool both of these look in the box….

 

I haven’t been able to track down any box-copy shenanigans with the Iron Giant yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.  I haven’t even had time to crack open The Iron Giant yet, but I did pop Robbie out of his box for a quick photo shoot using the 12″ Dr. Evil, from the Captain Action line, so you can see how well they mesh.

 

I would also imagine that The Iron Giant is probably compatible with O Scale model railroads, just in case anybody wants to add some spice to their train layout.

Aside from these two robots, Walmart also licensed the movie Aliens and farmed out the license to Lanard, who have released some brightly-colored versions of the movie monster.

 

 

Of note for 1/6 scale enthusiasts is the Alien Queen, who stands 12″ tall, and her inexplicable purple hue fits right in with the brightly-colored aliens that Hasbro released with their Adventure Team “Secret of the Planet Xenome” set back in 2003, as seen at right.

So collectors of cool 1/6 scale figures can now add Robbie the Robot, and an Alien Queen to their space adventures, and they can come up with ways to paint The Iron Giant so that he can be turned into a friend or foe. And it won’t break the bank, either.

After years of a 1/6 scale famine, when it comes to cool, cheap stuff, it’s nice to have some things to look forward to.

Both of the robots and The Alien Queen can all be found at Walmart right now. They’re each just under twenty bucks, and they are going to be well-stocked nationwide, so you don’t need to pay scalper’s prices on eBay.

This is a great way to get psyched up for ToyLanta in March!

I attempted to shoot some video of Robbie in action, but I did the photo shoot for this post and shot the video in the corner of my living room, which is carpeted. So Robbie didn’t really walk…he just sort of danced as Dr. Evil looked on. It wasn’t really a great video to show off his walking and talking ability so I turned the results into this video, with music by my brother, Frank…

The PopCulteer
January 24, 2020

Later today we’re going to have a long and detailed PopCult Toybox, but first we need to tell you, in a graphic manner, about some great shows happening in town this weekend.

I also want to remind you that you can tune in to The AIR all day, every day, for lots of cool music and talk programs. Point your ears toward the website, or listen to this embedded player right here…

Now check out a tiny sampling of the live music and cool things happening in and around Charleston…

Friday

 

 

 

 

Saturday

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday

 

And that is this week’s PopCulteer, but check back later Friday for a long article about 1/6 scale action figure goodness.

R.I.P. Terry Jones

We lost a Python yesterday.

Terry Jones, a member of the Monty Python troupe passed away after years of suffering from a degenerative brain disease and dementia. It was not a shock because Jones and his family had been quite open with his diagnosis since 2016, but still it’s very sad.

Of late, it’s been very trendy for internet comentators to villify and attack the members of Monty Python, essentially because the group was not somehow retroactively diverse enough, and were pretty vocally unapologetic about that fact. The mob decrying them for criticizing the concept of mob mentality is quite Pythonesque. The fact is that they brought joy to millions of people over the last fifty years and changed the face of comedy.

The Pythons have been called “The Beatles of comedy” and it’s a fair label. They took the conventions of the form and reinvented them into something new, special and memorable.

Jones was the renaissance man of the troupe. With his writing partner, Michael Palin, he managed to contribute material to the group that was both gentle and vicious, and always hysterical. Aside from writing and acting in Python, he also directed or co-directed their feature films, wrote children’s books, political commentary, scholarly literary works and hosted television programs about history.

In Monty Python he was the Naked Man at the organ, the Pepperpot, one of the Spanish Inquistion, Arthur “Two Shed” Jackson, Mr. Creosote and dozens of other hilarious characters.

Outside of Python, he directed Jabberwocky, Erik The Viking and other movies, and co-wrote the script for the Jim Henson movie, Labyrinth. Plus he was the only member of Monty Python to appear in The Young Ones, the British cult hit that carried groundbreaking comedy into the next generation. With Palin, Jones also created Ripping Yarns, an anthology series of very British comedic adventure tales.

His passing was long expected, so it wasn’t as shocking as the sudden death of Python associate Neil Innes just a few weeks ago, or the early death of fellow Python Graham Chapman, who died of cancer over thirty years ago. It still hits pretty hard.

I try not to focus on obituaries here in PopCult. I’ve reached an age where the death of any famous person who isn’t younger than I am isn’t really that much of a shock. Jones was 77, and Python began over 50 years ago.

However, I couldn’t let the death of Terry Jones go without a mention. Monty Python is one of the major influences in my life, and it’s safe to say that I would probably have taken a different course had it not been for the work of Jones and the other Pythons.

The fact is that the comedy of Monty Python is timeless, and it will outlive all of the members of the troupe, and also those of us who have been devout fans for the past five decades.

So long, Terry. Say “hi” to Graham and Neil for us, okay?

And quit pestering Chaucer. You’ll have plenty of time to talk to him.