PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

It’s the last day of the continent-spanning, time warping PopCult Gift Guide. In this final installment, we’re going to dig into the neatest gift ideas in Art Books, Movies, and just General Weirdness. We’re all dreaming of a weird Christmas, right?


Little Nemo In Slumberland-So Many Splendid Sundays
$120 whereever limited edition books are sold

You may be wondering why a collection of comic strips is listed as an “Art Book” gift. Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo In Slumberland is art. This limited edition book collects 110 digitally-restored Sunday pages from the classic comic strip in their original size: 16″ by 21.” This is a huge, beautiful book. Comics fans today don’t realize that, a hundred years ago, people all over the country would wake up on Sunday morning and rush to the newspaper to see the surreal full-color comic strip adventures of Little Nemo. Set in a little boy’s dream world, this strip is as bizarre and delightful as anything done since. With this limited edition book, you can finally see the strip reprinted close to its original size, and in full color. You can really appreciate McKay’s craftsmanship and innovative use of color. He did things in comics that nobody else even tried to duplicate for 70 years. This book will be equally at home in a comic book collection or on a shelf for fine art books.

Leonardo’s Notebooks
$25 to $40 whereever books are sold

Going back even further than we did with Little Nemo, we find Leonardo Da Vinci, the Renaissance man. This book collects the most profound writing from Da Vinci’s notebooks, compiled and translated by H. Anna Sung and illustrated by Da Vinci’s own sketches. You not only get the incredible art, but you also get a rare insight into one of the most amazing people to ever walk the planet. With all the recent “code” hooplah, you might be able to trick a mystery novel fan into developing an appreciation for fine art. With the perfect mix of writing and illustration, this is more than your typical art book. It’s more of an illustrated philosophical treatise. Since the artwork is so striking, nobody will mind the philosophy.

Shag The Art of Josh Agle
$40 where ever books are sold

Josh Agle, or “Shag,” as he signs his work, has developed his retro-post-war style into a popular look that’s become one of the most imitated graphic design motifs in years. His work can be found on cocktail napkins, lighters, and the redesigned Pink Panther, and imitators are found all over the illustration world. This book is the first collection of Shag’s paintings, wonderful time machine trips back to the days of bachelor pads, the Rat Pack, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and slumming in beatnik bars. A lot of his paintings look like the perfect illustrations for articles from Playboy Magazine, circa 1962. The 200 paintings contained here show just how much work and backstory Shag puts into his work. Many of them capture a moment, and it’s left to the viewer to decide just exactly what’s going on. This is the perfect gift for the retro hipster in your life.


The Fantastic Films Of Ray Harryhausen DVD collections $30 to $45 whereever DVDs are sold

There are two DVD collections of master special effects animator Ray Harryhausen’s films. You have your choice of “Legendary Monster” films, like Jason And The Argonauts and his Sinbad series in one box, or you could go with “Legendary Science Fiction” classics like It Came From Beneath The Sea, Twenty Million Miles To Earth or Earth Versus The Flying Saucers. Each set contains five films that feature Harryhausen’s incredible stop-motion animation. Highlights are the skeleton swordfight in Jason, The Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, and the Ymir from Twenty Million Miles To Earth. These films will make a great gift for the monster movie buff, special effects fan or sci-fi maven on your list.

The Concert for Bangladesh Deluxe Limited Edition
$35 to $50 where ever DVDs are sold

Held in 1971, The Concert for Bangladesh was the first all-star charity benefit of the rock and roll era. Masterminded by former Beatle George Harrison after hearing about the plight of Ravi Shankar’s homeland, this show brought together an amazing line-up of musicians to perform in Madison Square Garden, with the proceeds going to the devastated region. Harrison called in some pretty powerful “friends” like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston and a then-reclusive Bob Dylan, who hadn’t performed in public since his motorcycle crash in 1966. This was an amazing night, and it was captured in this documentary, which is supplemented in this set with deleted songs, footage from the rehearsals, and a new documentary detailing how the show came together. This deluxe edition also includes a 60-page booklet, a set of ten postcards, a cling sticker, and a reproduction of Harrison’s handwritten lyrics for the song “Bangla Desh.” Without the example of this concert, it’s doubtful that we would have seen such other all-star rock benefits as Live Aid, Farm Aid or Live 8. This is a great gift for the Beatle freak, music lover or philanthropist on your holiday list.

Forbidden Zone
Under $20 where ever strange DVDs are sold

This is one of the greatest movies ever made! Sure, it’s bizarre, obtuse, slightly perverted, and can be used to clear Republicans out of your house, but it’s still one of the greatest movies ever made. Forbidden Zone is a labor of love, directed by Richard Elfman, and featuring his brother Danny Elfman and his band, Oingo Boingo. Danny plays the Devil, and sings a re-written version of “Minnie the Moocher.” There’s lots of nudity and goofiness, but still, this is one of the greatest movies ever made. Marie-Pascale Elfman stars as “Frenchy,” the schoolgirl who gets transported to the “Forbidden Zone,” The Sixth Dimension, through a portal in her basement. There, she is spied by the King, played by Herve Villecheze, and challenges the evil Queen (Susan Tyrell) for his affections. Things you need to know: Although this movie was made around 1980, it was shot in black and white; many nice-looking ladies run around topless for the entire film; it’s a musical, but most of the songs are from the 1930s, or earlier, with some performers lip-synching to Cab Calloway or Josephine Baker. Mixed in among the classic tunes are original songs and the first film score by the Oscar-nominated Danny Elfman. If you have a film buff with a zest for adventure on your shopping list, then this is the gift for them. It is one of the greatest movies ever made. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a short test film, a documentary, and hysterical commentary by Richard Elfman and co-writer, Matthew Bright.


Punk Rock Candles
$9.95 each from Wicked Cool Stuff.com

Sure, the idea of candles may seem somewhat at odds with the world of punk rock, but aside from the hippy-dippy connotations, candles are nothing more than tiny fires. And fire can burn and destroy. What could be more punk rock than that! Over at Wicked Cool Stuff.com, you can find these candles in tin boxes that bear the graphics of the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. They’re perfect for that intimate romantic encounter with your spiked and pierced sweetie. If you want you can save the Ramones candle to light in mourning the next time one of them kicks the bucket (there are a couple of drummers left, right? ).

Mexican Wrestling Masks
$9.95 for a set of four from Archie McPhee.com

Not quite apparel, but not purely a wrestling item, these cheap Wrestling Masks are just strange enough to land in the General Weirdness category. For ten bucks, you get four masks that are perfect for wearing to church, school or to dinner with the boss. Or you could just put one on and run up El Drunko’s bar tab at The Tank. This is a must-have item if you plan to call out El Santo for a Tijuana Cage match. And these are a great security item. Nobody will mess with you if they think you might slap the “claw of death” or the Scorpion Leg Lock on them. This is the perfect gift for the delusional psychotic on your holiday list.

Braxton County Monster book, prints, T-shirt
A variety of prices from The West Virginia Book Company

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Braxton County Monster. Our own homegrown General Weirdness has inspired books, fine art prints and a cool T-shirt, all of which can be found at the West Virginia Book Company website. Frank Feschino has a whole cottage industry going based on that night in 1952 when the strange visitor from beyond landed in Flatwoods. Of course, we now know that it was merely a time-traveler who had miscalculated. Seems he wanted to go to the FiestaWare Outlet store, stock up, and make a killing on intergalactic eBay in the year 2985. But that’s all water under the bridge. The legend of the Braxton County Monster is West Virginia’s own little Roswell, and you can delight the conspiracy theorist on your list with the book, prints and T-shirt that feature the most famous vacationer to ever take a wrong turn in the Mountain State.

That wraps up the bloated and inspirational PopCult Gift Guide. I hope you got some workable gift ideas, or at least a chuckle. Remember to keep reading PopCult every day, and check back next year for a Gift Guide that will be much, much shorter.

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day Four: Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman

Day Four of the infamous PopCult Gift Guide finds us staring in the face of three things we can all use more of in our everyday life: Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman.


King Kong (Collector’s Edition) DVD
$40 or less, where DVDs are sold

With Peter Jackson’s remake hitting the big screen soon, interest in the story of King Kong is at it’s highest since 1976, the last time someone tried to re-do this classic. To commemorate the release of the new Kong, the folks at Turner have put together an amazing package that includes a restored print of the 1933 film, King Kong, along with two documentaries about the film; “lost” sequences; commentary from legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen; a 20-page reproduction of the original souvenir program; postcards depicting scenes from the movie; and a mail-in offer for a movie poster, all housed in a collectible tin. This is a great gift for the movie buff, monkey aficionado, or big hairy guy on your Christmas shopping list.

You may want to consider a different option, though. If you think your giftee cares more about the movie than the packaging and extras, for the same price, you can get a 4-DVD set that has the same discs as this set, but also throws in the sequel, Son Of Kong, and the related film, Mighty Joe Young, in which master animator Willis O’Brien, who brought Kong to life, was joined by a young Ray Harryhausen, who took the craft of effects animation to new heights. All the films have amazing restoration jobs, with the prints looking better than they have since their original theatrical release. The 4-disc set doesn’t have the extra goodies or tin box, but it does have two more movies. Either way, King Kong is a must-have for the simian cinema fan on your list.

Zippy The Chimp Look-a-like
$19.95 plus shipping from The Vermont Country Store

Zippy the chimp was a beloved fixture on The Howdy Doody Show, and for years after that show went off the air, toy versions of Zippy were a popular toy all over the world. My kid sister had one of these, and she was born long after the Doody gang had shuffled off the airwaves. Millions of kid had this faithful companion, with his monkey grin and ever-present banana. To clarify, this is the Zippy the Chimp from the Howdy Doody Show, the one who wears the yellow shirt with red suspenders. There were other, different Zippy The Chimps, including one who painted abstract art, and another who appeared on many TV shows during the 1950s and 1960s, and may have possibly been a Gabor sister. This is not a licensed copy. His shirt doesn’t say “Zippy” on it, but otherwise, it’s a perfect replica of the classic toy. If you know somebody who grew up with one of these toys, this is the perfect gift to take them back to the days when they liked to monkey around.

Smoking Monkey
$5.95 plus shipping, from Archie McPhee

Smoking is a nasty habit–one of my pet peeves, in fact. So what better way to illustrate how horrible smoking is than to have a monkey–an animal known for throwing and flinging all sorts of nasty things around–demonstrate how silly an addiction tobacco is.

Well, not really. Monkeys are just funny. And a monkey wearing a fez is even funnier (a fact of which Archie McPhee is well aware). So when you have a ceramic monkey in a fez with a butt going, well, it’s pretty funny. The tiny monkey cigs are not real demon tobacco, they’re just incense wrapped in paper, so you don’t have to worry about giving cancer for Christmas. This is a cheap little stocking stuffer that’s guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face. If you know somebody with a really twisted sense of humor, you might want to try the Smoking Baby!


Indiana Jones Hat
$100 plus shipping from Miller Hats 1-800-789-0839

I started wearing hats this year. After seeing myself in the audience on the IWA East Coast DVDs, I came to grips with the fact that I am fairly, well… bald. Now, it’s not pure vanity, or displeasure over my missing hairline that has me wearing hats. You see, having no hair means that I no longer have to worry about HAT HAIR! I’ve always liked hats, but whenever I wore them, once I removed the hat I looked like that mug shot of Nick Nolte. Not anymore! Now I can wear any kind of hat available, and not worry about mussing up that what ain’t there no more. If you have someone on your shopping list who has been liberated from worry about their hair, you might want to consider giving them a hat. You can’t go wrong with a fedora, and the coolest fedora is the one worn by Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Miller Hats is the world’s largest online hatter, and aside from the Indy hat, they carry tons of headgear, from bowlers to gauchoes. This is the perfect gift for hat-wearer on your holiday list.

Kinky Friedman Campaign T Shirts
$20-$25 plus shipping from Kinky Friedman.com

Kinky Friedman has been a comedy country balladeer, a best-selling mystery novelist, and now, he’s campaigning to become the next Governor of Texas. You can support Kinky’s quest by marching over to his website and snapping up one of his 20 or so campaign T-Shirts. They sport some pretty funny logos and slogans–my favorite is “Why The Hell Not?”–and they’re a great way to interfere in the politics of somebody else’s state. Your support may help Kinky ascend to the top spot in Texas government, and then, maybe he can rinse the horrible taste out of the country’s mouth that was left by a certain other Texas governor. Bop around his website and you can get an idea of Kinky’s platform, and take a look at his other fund-raising merchandise, like the talking Kinky Friedman action figure. Do you have people on your list who have become disillusioned and depressed over the state of politics in this country? Well, you can buy all of them Kinky Friedman T-shirts. I think they give bulk discounts.

Wicked Cool Wristbands
$4 to $10 from Wicked Cool Stuff.com

Do you have a cool, yet sweaty person on your shopping list? If so, you should head on over to the Wicked Cool Stuff.com, and snap up some of these nifty wristbands that feature a variety of pop culture images. My favorite, pictured in the middle of the photo at right, is Meatwad, from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. You can also find wristbands featuring The Muppets, Invader Zim, Family Guy, various superheroes, and other pop icons of the modern age. And they’re really absorbent! Who wouldn’t want to wipe their brow with Davey and Goliath? This is a good, cheap stocking stuffer with a coolness factor that can’t be matched by any other perspiration-inhibiting device.


Superman 13 Inch Deluxe Collector’s Figure
$89.99 plus shipping from Entertainment Earth

Ninety bucks may seem like a lot to spend on an action figure, but this is one very cool action figure. This 1/6 scale Man Of Steel has many points of articulation, and sports some incredibly-detailed sculpting. Not only do you get the Last Son Of Krypton, but you can also dress him in his Clark Kent outfit, which is included in the package. The cool thing is, once you dress him as Clark Kent, nobody can tell that he’s also a Superman action figure. He looks totally different! Superman comes with two sets of interchangeable hands, the Kent clothes and glasses, a “steel” girder that he can bend, a copy of the Daily Planet, and breakaway chains. There are plenty of Superman fans out there, and if you have one on your holiday shopping list, this is a great toy for them to put on their shelf. Then when no one’s looking, they can hold it and run around the house making “whoosh” sounds.

Smallville DVD sets
$20 to $55 where ever DVDs are sold

A few weeks ago, I sang the praises of the television show Smallville, and one great way to catch up with this terrific retelling of the Superman legend is with the DVD collections. Each DVD boxed set contains an entire season of the show, and you’ll get to watch them with crystal clear DVD quality, instead of the really crappy local broadcast signal that we get. This is the story of a high-school aged Clark Kent, as he learns of his Kryptonian heritage and great powers. Long time fans of Superman will get a kick out of this fresh re-casting of the legend, and they’ll really enjoy the foreshadowing and in-jokes. You can find these sets at a variety of prices. Season Four has just been released, and will cost the most, but many stores are discounting the earlier boxed sets to as low as twenty dollars each. This is perfect for the Superman fan on your shopping list.

All Star Superman #1
$2.99, where ever comic books are sold

The ideal stocking stuffer for the super-hero fan on your holiday list, All Star Superman is what happens when DC Comics decides to clear away all the convoluted continuity and back story from the current comics, and allow the top creative talents in comics to tackle iconic stories featuring that pre-eminent superhero, Superman. Grant Morrison has been one of the top writers in comics for years. He managed to bridge the gap between Vertigo-style modern Goth, and DC’s standard superheroes. After becoming a sought-after commodity in comics, Morrison was hired away by Marvel, and spent a few years taking The X Men to new heights. Now, he has returned to DC, and brought his X Men artist, Frank Quitely, with him. The result is wonderful. This is the most fun Superman story in ages. Lex Luthor is trying to kill Superman. No pretenses, no convolution. Superman is a good guy with a secret identity, who fights to protect the world. The writing is sharp, the artwork is gorgeous. This is what Superman is supposed to be. At three bucks, it’s a great, inexpensive gift.

On Friday, we wrap up the gift guide with PopCult picks for Movies, Art Books, and General Weirdness.

Day three of the larger-than-life PopCult Gift Guide brings you gift ideas for three things that will enrich your life: Toys, Chocolate, and Comedy


G.I. JOE ADVENTURER Limited Edition Reproduction
$43 or $79 from the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club
(817) 448- 9863

Full disclosure time: I am a member of the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club, and I write for their website. The reason is that I’m a die-hard, unrepentant G.I. Joe collector. The club produces some of the best reproductions of classic toys in the world. For the past few years, the club has treated us to top-notch reproductions of the Adventure Team G.I. Joes, complete with accurate packaging, and authentic materials. These toys are near-perfect copies of the toys we had (or wanted) from our childhood.

This year, the club has stepped up a notch and has given us the “Adventurer” (commonly known among collectors as the “Black Adventurer”). This African-American figure was produced in small numbers, and is very hard to find in decent condition today. I don’t remember even seeing them in stores when I was a kid. Examples in mint condition, still with their packaging, can run hundreds of dollars, or more. This club edition features a perfect copy of the original figure, complete with the flocked afro, shoulder holster and pistol, and Adventure Team dog tags. The reproduction box also includes copies of all the original paperwork.

As a bonus, you get an enamel pin depicting the Adventure Team’s trademark Yellow ATV. The reason there are two prices listed is because these are produced for club members only. If you aren’t a club member, then you have to join to get this item, and your membership is included in the price. This is a great gift idea, because, not only do you get a really cool gift to wrap and put under the tree, you also get a monthly reminder of how cool G.I. Joe collecting can be, with the club newsletter and Mastercollector Magazine and other benefits. The G.I. Club figures are a rush of nostalgia for the person who had these guys as a kid, and it’s much more affordable to buy this reproduction than it is to lay out the big money that the vintage figures command on eBay.

$39.99 plus shipping from Back To Basics Toys

Speaking of cool toy reproductions, Back To Basics Toys has an exclusive set featuring a reproduction of the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, one of the best-selling toys of the 1970s. This set includes a figure of Evel, his famous motorcycle, the crank-operated launcher, and an assortment of ramps and obstacles. Plus you get a ring of “fire” and a brick wall, into which you can propel your miniature daredevil. Each set is individually-numbered, and comes with a booklet explaining the history of the toy. Anyone who had this toy as a kid knows how much fun it can be to make the much-injured Evel jump over the furniture, bounce off walls and crash into the grill on the front of the refrigerator. This could be a great bonding gift for a father and son. Maybe you’d better buy two, though. Some dads aren’t going to want to share.

$6.99 to $24.99 only at K Mart

You know, maybe I should have called this the “cool retro boy’s toys” category. This recommendation for your Holiday shopping list is yet another blast from my past. Mattel has gone back to the halcyon days of the late 1960s and recreated the original Hot Wheels experience. K Mart is the only place you can find these Hot Wheels Classic race track sets, with the original bright orange track. There are a variety of sets available, including the basic set with five feet of track and clamp to hold it onto a table, and the elaborate Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set (pictured). You can also find the famous loops and ramp stunt sets. Coolest of all, Mattel recreated the original box graphics, with the then-cool mustard yellow motif, and great paintings of the toys in action. Next March, I’m expecting a new nephew to be bounding about, and it’s great to have an excuse to stock up on cool toys for him. Of course, I’ll have to try them all out, first.


$125 plus shipping from Godiva Chocolatier

Well, the toy category was dominated by gifts for the guys, so to make it up to the ladies, here’s some Godiva Chocolate. A huge, expensive box of Chocolate, to be exact. For this very high price you get 48 assorted pieces of fine Godiva Chocolate, the kind for which women are known to kill. There’s a lovely presentation box with a ribbon, so if you want, you can be a total cheapskate and keep refilling it with Brachs Candies that you bought at Fas Chek. Offer it to your guests and they’ll tell you how much they love Godiva Chocolate, and how this is the best they ever had. You can get smaller assortments, but why be cheap when you’re being so extravagant?

$12.95 plus shipping from The Vermont Country Store

You know, some people go nuts over the Godiva stuff, but for my money, the best chocolate in the world is good old ICE CUBES. These used to be found almost anywhere candy was sold, but lately you pretty much have to resort to the Internet to track down these tasty little morsels. You can get a bag of 28 of the double-thick Ice Cubes from The Vermont Country Store, which has a lot of other cool antiquated brands of food, candy and cosmetics. They also carry about 400 things made out of maple syrup. It is Vermont, after all. Ice Cubes are a great little chocolate treat, and if frozen and smashed, they make the best chocolate-chip cookies you”ll ever cram sideways into your mouth.

Around $2.50 at many area grocers

So you need a stocking-stuffer for a choco-holic, eh? Well, Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup is just what you’re looking for. I first heard of this on a Food Network show about Egg Creams, and when I found it in a local store, I picked it up to see what all the fuss was about. This is, quite simply, the best chocolate syrup you’ll ever taste. It’s perfect for homemade milkshakes, egg creams, hot chocolate, and particularly creative romantic evenings. This stuff is so good that I want a blender now, just so I can make more milkshakes, and I don’t even like milk! It’s just a U-Bet syrup delivery system for me. It’s cheap. It’s chocolate. What more do you need to know?


Around $150 where DVDs are sold.

If you don’t like Monty Python, then you don’t like comedy. This gigantic 16 DVD set contains all 45 episodes of the original Monty Python television series, plus 1982’s “Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” 1989’s “Parrot Sketch Not Included,” and 1998’s “Live In Aspen.” You also get all the extras from the original 14 DVD Megaset, interviews, behind the scenes features, and the infamous German-language program. I could start reeling off the classic comedy sketches contained in this set, but I’d be here all day. Suffice to say, this set is the perfect gift for the Python freak in your life. In addition to the pure joy of simply owning this set, you also get to stop watching the show on BBC America, with the 8-minute commercial breaks. This set preserves the shows uncut, and uninterrupted. It’s like the Encylopedia Britannica for anglophile comedy geeks.

$26.97 from Amazon.com

Unless you’re an anglophile comedy geek, you may have never heard of BOTTOM. Maybe you’ve heard of The Young Ones, the hit Brit comedy that MTV brought over in the mid-1980s. Well, Rik and Vivian from that show were portrayed by two British mainstays of the Alternative comedy scene, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson. BOTTOM was a series that ran from 1991 to 1995, and basically told what happened when Rik and Vivian grew into middle-aged losers and were forced to live together because nobody else could tolerate them. They have different names in this series, but they’re essentially the same characters. Rik Mayall is Richard Rich, the creepy twit, and Ade Edmonson is Eddie Hitler, the dangerous lunatic. This is crude, outrageous fun, and you’re likely to hurt yourself laughing. Don’t expect anything highbrow here. BOTTOM is like a live-action Ren and Stimpy with every cheap laugh possible wrung out of the material. After the series ended in 1995, Mayall and Edmonson continued playing the characters in a series of live tours (preserved on DVD) and a feature film, none of which have been released legally in this country. If enough people can rush right out and buy this set, maybe we’ll finally be treated to the DVDs that tell the rest of the story, farts and all.

$11.98 plus shipping, from Concord Music Group

Without Lenny Bruce, comedy today would be vastly different. This guy blazed the trail that made Richard Pryor and George Carlin possible. He was rude, profane, controversial, and brilliant. This collection of routines recorded in clubs from 1958 to 1963 captures this tortured comic genius at his peak, with classic riffs on Tarzan, Jazz musicians, Superheroes, and of course, the Lone Ranger. The real treat of this enhanced CD is that, in addition to the audio content, you can slip this sucker into your computer and watch the classic cartoon, “Thank You, Mask Man,” with Bruce doing all the voices. This cartoon played on the midnight movie circuit for years before disappearing from sight in the mid-1980s. It was last seen intact on USA Network’s “Night Flight” in the early days, before they started censoring their programs. The obscure and soon-to-be-ex network, Trio, made a big deal out of showing this cartoon during their “celebration of free speech” festival last year, but they bleeped the more offensive words, which sort of defeated the purpose. On this enhanced CD, you get the full, uncut cartoon. Any fan of edgy comedy will love this CD.

Tomorrow, Day Four of our epic journey through your wallets continues, with gifts ideas centered on Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman!

Art Blogging

Getting self-referential for a moment, my aforementioned Animated Discussions writing partner, Melanie Larch, is going to get to sing solo with the West Virginia Symphony next February, at their Pops concert. And she needed a headshot. So, for the first time in the 15 years that we’ve been dating (I’d mentioned that before, right?), Mel let me take her photograph. I gave her a couple of standard shots for the program and publicity, but for my own amusement and distraction, I digitally assaulted one for my own darn self. To the right, you’ll find the cover of Mel’s New Wave album that she never recorded back in the 80s.

Animals, Vegetables, and Bratz

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

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

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

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.

Art Blogging

A Starry Night Over the South Side Bridge

Digital painting over photograph

after Van Gogh (duh!)

November, 2005

IWA: Triumph out of Tragedy

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.