PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Ren and Stigma

Yesterday Comedy Central announced that they will produce a reboot of the classic Nicktoon, Ren and Stimpy. They will be doing this with no contributions from the show’s creator, John Kricfalusi, whose history of grooming and sexual harrassment came to light a couple of years ago.

When the news of John’s alledged and well-documented pervishness came to light, I wrote about how you probably wouldn’t be reading PopCult if it hadn’t been for Ren and Stimpy. Mel Larch and I were such fans of the show that we talked about it non-stop, and that led to us writing the “Animated Discussions” column for the Charleston Gazette from 1992 to 2005, at which time I transitioned into writing PopCult as a blog. Finding out about John was a gut-punch from which I have yet to recover. What we thought was goofy mysoginistic shtick was actually the way John viewed the world.

Knowing about the scandals and considering that R&S was rebooted as an adult cartoon about 18 years ago with somewhat disastrous results, this is a bit of a surprise. That John K has been so disgraced that Comedy Central not only had to declare not only that he wouldn’t be involved, but that he wouldn’t even profit from it, makes it even more of a surprise that they bothered to try this at all.

This revival/reboot is the brainchild of outgoing ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group president Chris McCarthy, who is moving upstairs to run several Viacom networks. Marvel Studios and Fox Entertainment alum Grant Gish, will be taking over the Youth Group and implementing the revival.

“We are excited to reinvent this iconic franchise with a new creative team and our partners at the Nickelodeon Animation Studio,” McCarthy said. “Ren & Stimpy joins our rapidly expanding roster of adult animation including South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head and Clone High as we continue to reimagine our treasure chest of beloved IP for new generations.”

It’s purely a nostalgia move, probably encouraged by the fact that R&S merchandise still sells so many years after any new cartoons were produced. The characters still have appeal to mainstream audiences, who may not know or care about their creator’s actions.

These new shows, plus a spinoff of the Daria cartoon, are being produced by ViacomCBS’ in-house production studios, with Nickelodeon — home to the original Ren & Stimpy — overseeing the new take, while the others are from MTV Studios. McCarthy launched MTV Studios two years ago with a goal to monetize the company’s vast library and sell to third-party buyers. Older animated properties have been turning up on Viacom’s streaming service, Pluto.TV, since Viacom purchased the platform last year.

If it is possible to set aside the stigma attached to Ren and Stimpy (a crowdfunded documentary about the show and about John K’s behavior will premiere on Video On Demand next week), then there’s a chance that this revival might be good. No creative team for the new series has been announce yet, but as mentioned in the press release it will be produced by Nickelodeon Studios.

That means that they could simply give it to the crew who produce SpongeBob Squarepants, and wind up with several R&S veterans who could give them a better show than the original few John K-produced episodes, which, to be honest, have not aged particularly well.

Master animators Bob Jacques and Kelly Armstrong work on SpongeBob now, and the executive in charge of creative for the show is Vince Waller, who directed many of the most memorable R&S episodes when he was just breaking into the business.

I would hope that Viacom reaches out to former “Spumco Big Shots” Bob Camp and Lynne Naylor to participate, as well as voice artist Billy West, writer Rich Pursel and background artist Bill Wray. There are a few other people who contributed greatly to R&S‘s initial success who have gone on to work on SpongeBob Squarepants. The show can be done without John K.

However, there is the question of whether John K’s dark past will still cast a shadow over any revival. That remains to be seen, as does this entire reboot, which won’t make it to the air for at least a year, and that’s if they really rush things.

Your PopCulteer has mixed feelings.

Wednesday afternoon The AIR brings you brand-new episodes of Beatles Blast and Curtain Call!  You can tune in at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

At 2 PM, your humble blogger returns with the long-delayed first post “Lost Beatles Project” edition of Beatles Blast.  This week we take an in-depth look at the new Archive remastered edition of Sir Paul’s 1997 album, Flaming Pie. The show opens with the title track of the album, then brings you all six parts of the rarely-heard Oobu Joobu, a “radio show” that was presented as B-sides to the various singles and 12″ mixes released from this album. You’ll hear Mr. McCartney play song fragments and talk about the composition and recording of songs from the album. We wrap up the show with a couple more rare tracks from the boxset of the Flaming Pie album.

Beatles Blast can be heard every Wednesday at 2 PM, with replays Thursday at 10 PM, Friday at noon, Saturday at 4 PM, Sunday at 5 PM and Tuesdays at 9 AM, exclusively on The AIR. For the next few weeks you can hear mini-marathon replays of “The Lost Beatles Project” every Sunday at 2 PM.

At 3 PM Mel Larch devotes the entire hour of Curtain Call to tracks from non-cast albums recorded by Broadway stars. Since theaters are still dark due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mel decided to bring you music from the side gigs of Broadway stars when they’re not gracing the stage. Some of them release studio albums, while others perform cabaret shows, either way, they continue to make music outside of the theatre.  You’ll get to hear stars like Ben Platt, Betty Buckley, Michael Ball, Lea Salonga and Huntington’s Michael Cerveris, cutting loose on different songs than they usually get to sing. Check out the playlist…

Curtain Call 091

Ben Platt “New”
Betty Buckley “I Feel Lucky”
Michael Ball “Bright Eyes”
Lea Salonga “Where Is Love/As Long As He Needs Me”
Ramin Karimloo “Moving Too Fast”
Max Von Essen “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”
Kristen Chenoweth “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart”
Jessica Vosk “The Entertainer/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
Michael Cerveris “Tenth Grade”
Jan Daley “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”
Barbara Sreisand, Anne Hathaway and Daisy Ridley “At The Ballet”
Mandy Patinkin “Take Me Out To The Ballgame (Yiddish)”
Cassie Levy “Out of the Blue”
Sarah Brightman “Fly”

Curtain Call can be heard on The AIR Wednesday at 3 PM, with replays Thursday at 8 AM and 9 PM, Friday at 10 AM and Saturday at 6 PM. An all-night marathon of Curtain Call episodes can be heard Wednesday nights, beginning at Midnight, and an additional marathon can be heard Sunday evenings from 6 PM to midnight.

NEW! NEW! NEW On The AIR Tuesday!

Tuesday on The AIR it’s ALL NEW as we deliver brand-new episodes of Radio Free Charleston, NOISE BRIGADE and The Swing Shift.  In order to hear these bright, shiny new gems, you simply have to move your cursor over and tune in at the website, or you could just stay on this page, and  listen to this excitable little embedded radio player…

We have yet a new Radio Free Charleston at 10 AM and 10 PM Tuesday.  And when we say “NEW,” we mean it. Every song in this three-hour epic was released in 202, even the mystery bonus track at the end. We mix in some new local music, but we also have newly-released tracks from The Aquabats, The Rolling Stones, Blancmange, Pretenders, John Foxx, Miles Davis, Psychedelic Furs and many more.

Check out the playlist to see all the brand-new goodies we bring you this week…

RFCv5 027

The Aquabats “Aliens and Monsters”
The Rolling Stones w/Jimmy Page “Scarlet”
Jay Parade “Hearts and Minds”
The Light In The Ocean “Hamilton Big Boys”
Battleship Battleship “Ad Hominem”
Pretenders “Hate For Sale”
Psychedelic Furs “Ash Wednesday”
John Foxx and the Maths “Howl”
Release Early, Release Often “A Sarasota Maybe”
David Synn “Poseidon”
Bush “Blood River”
Jerks! “Our Ex”
My Morning Jacket “Wasted”

hour two
Mark Beckner Group “With The Scientific Curiosity of Ghouls”
PJ Harvey “Happy and Bleeding (demo)”
Rel X “Whatever It Is”
The Dead Daisies “Fortunate Son”
The Dollyrots “Make Me Hot”
Magic Bus “Easy Om”
Scarlet Moon “Fifth Dimension”
Miles Davis “Funky Tonk”
Telergy “Georgia”

hour three
The Aquabats “Bed Head”
You Suck Flying Circus “Clean Head”
Rick Wakeman “The North Plain”
Dennis DeYoung “A Kingdom Ablaze”
Residents “She Called Me Doggy”
PRVIS “Dead Weight”
Seth Allen Holmes “Jupiter Girl”
Kansas “Throwing Mountains”
Yello “Wabu Duba”
The Molly Ringwalds “Head Over Heels”
Blancmange “Diagram”
Lady Gaga “Free Woman”
The Fratellis “Lay Your Body Down”

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.

At 1 PM we bring you an encore of last week’s “Stars Go Clubbing” episode of MIRRORBALL that you can read about HERE.

At 2 PM Steven Allen Adams graces us with a new edition of NOISE BRIGADE that’s opens with a mini-tribute to the golden girls of punk, The Go-Gos. Check out the playlist to see what Steve’s got up his sleeves…


The Go-Go’s “Fashion Seekers”
The Go-Go’s “Living at the Canterbury/Party Pose
The Specials “Do the Dog”
Bite Me Bambi “Song 2 (Blur Cover)”
The Aquabats “Karate Body!”
Mad Caddies “New Song (Sublime Cover)”
NOFX “Substitute”
The Holophonics “Spinning Wheel (Cover)”
Masked Intruder “Marry Me”
MxPx “My Life Story (LIQ Edition)
Jay Parade “August”
MxPx “Fever Dream”
The Raging Nathans “Where Ya Been?”
Masked Intruder “If You Would Hold My Hand”
The Slackers “Sleep Outside”
The Mazlows “Leaving Town”
Slick Shoes “Whispers”
Jay Parade “Mental Trillness”
Bite Me Bambi “Gangsters (Cover)”

NOISE BRIGADE alternates weeks with Psychedelic Shack Tuesdays at 2 PM, with replays Wednesday at 11 AM and 10 PM, Thursday at 8 AM, Friday at Noon, Saturday at 10 AM, Sunday at 4 PM and Monday at 7 PM.

At 3 PM your PopCulteer returns to host a new hour of The Swing Shift as do double-shots of great Swing artists from all over the last century. I was inspired to do this by Ty Pedersen, who sent me a couple of songs last week. I couldn’t decide which one to use on this show, so I just doubled up on everybody. You won’t be seeing double when you check out the playlist…

The Swing Shift 097–double shots

Ty Pedersen ” Mysterioso” “T-Boneasaurus”
Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive “Stompin’ At The Savoy (live)” “TP Special (live)”
Mariksa Veres Shocking Jazz Quintet “You Really Got Me” “A Lot Of Livin’ To Do”
Benny Goodman “Goodnight, My Love” “I’ve Found A New Baby”
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy “I Like It” “Mr. Pinstripe Suit”
Lady J and her Bada Bing Band “Sweet Talking Devil” “Let Me Pay You Back”
J Street Jumpers “Beware” “Jump Jive and Wail”
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Master and Slave” “Mister White Keys”

You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 7 AM and 6 PM, Thursday at 2 PM and Saturday at 5 PM, only on The AIR. You can also hear all-night marathons, seven hours each, starting at Midnight Thursday and Sunday evenings.


I’m sure it’s happened to you. You just suddenly get the urge to do a digital painting of a metallic sphere floating over a lake on an alien planet. So what else are you gonna do but paint the dang thing?

Yes, I was listening to music by YES when I painted this. Why do you ask?

Above you see a quick digital painting where I pay tribute to Roger Dean, famed for painting many iconic album covers for YES and ASIA and others. That I managed to create a nearly-recognizeable tribute to Mr. Dean without an ounce of his technique is a testament to how lucky I got with this attempt. Usually when I swipe from him nobody can tell.

If you want to see it bigger, just click on the image.

Meanwhile, Monday on The AIR, we bring you four episodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat from 7 AM to 3 PM. With luck, this eight hour bonus of crunchy New Wave goodness will mean that this Friday we’ll get a new episode of Sydney Fileen’s ongoing love letter to the exciting music of the New Wave era.

At 3 PM on Prognosis, Herman Linte brings us a show devoted to newly-released progressive rock. That’s followed by a classic Prognosis and an evening of Psychedelic Shack and Radio Free Charleston.

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

Sunday Evening Video: Linus The Lionhearted

August puts us right smack in the middle of Leo the Lion time, and so this week we are going to look back at Leo’s cousin, Linus.

Back in the 1960s, in the glory days before Action for Children’s Television convinced Congress to water-down Saturday morning cartoons, it was possible for a character designed as a mascot for a cereal to become so popular that a network would give him a full-blown series.

This sort of happened with The GEICO Caveman a few years ago, in prime time.

But in 1964 for the Post Cereal mascots all appeared on a cartoon program starring Linus the Lion, who was, at the time, the mascot for Crispy Critters, an attempt at making cereal in the shape of animal crackers. Linus the Lionhearted was sort of an all-star jam of Post Cereal mascots, presented as entertainment. It ran for two seasons on CBS, and was then re-run on ABC until the FCC made them take it off the air in 1969.

The cereal didn’t last long beyond that, but some of the cereal mascots that appeared as supporting characters are still around today and a few more of the cereals they represented still exist, with new mascots. Linus had actually been recycled from a previous failed cereal that was just a knock-off of Cheerios. During its heyday, this show was popular enough to spawn a lot of merchandising and even a full-length LP.

Linus the Lionhearted stood out because it was the most brazen example of taking mascots for kid’s cereals and basing a full-length show on them. Since Post Foods sponsored the show, it had the effect of being a half-hour commercial. This summary from IMDB gives you an idea of what the show was like, “Linus the Lion is the kind-hearted King of a jungle populated by such bizarre characters as the crabby Sascha Grouse and the vivacious Dinny Kangaroo. Each episode of this series features four animated shorts, the first with Linus and his friends, followed by an adventure with the cool and hip Sugar Bear (from the Post Sugar Crisp commercials) and his two foes, a fiesty granny and a scheming wolf. The third cartoon in each episode involves a kindly postman named Lovable Truly and his canine friend, who is constantly chased by a weasely dog catcher. And the fourth and final short cartoon features So Hi, a Chinese boy.”

The animation was typical low-budget fare of the day, a cut above Rocky and Bullwinkle, a few cuts below The Flintstones, but the voice cast was phenomenal. Sheldon Leonard voiced Linus. Carl Reiner voiced several supporting characters. Other regulars were voiced by Paul Frees, Ruth Buzzi, Jesse White and Bob McFadden. Guest voices included Jonathan Winters, the comedy team of Stiller and Meara and Tom Poston. Also of note is that the gag at the end of the show, an old vaudeville bit where someone “sweeps up” the spotlight, was later swiped by Carol Burnett.

This was one of the show that Chuck Jones dismissed as “animated radio,” but it has a certain charm among it’s blatant commercialism. This copy of the show is complete, but in black and white. You can find color clips of it on YouTube, but this one is a full episode, with commercials, which is more appropriate.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 112

RFC 112 "Toxic Soup Shirt" from Rudy Panucci on Vimeo.

Let’s go back to October, 2010 for Radio Free Charelston 112, “Toxic Soup Shirt.” We had three bands making their RFC debut–Crossroads, Doctor Curmudgeon and Happy Minor.  We also have a movie trailer for the documentary, “Toxic Soup,” and one for “Jazz From Hell,” which remains unfinished, ten years later.

“Toxic Soup” also provided the shirt I wore in this episode.  Host segments were shot in the Davis Fine Arts building at West Virginia State University, and it was a cool setting, and my old stomping grounds. Big thanks to Stefani Andrews for making her debut as an RFC crew member.

Original production notes can be found HERE.

The Stars Do Disco And Random Rumblings

The PopCulteer
July 31, 2020

2020 has proven to be the year of interesting times, and it’s hard to believe that we’re already at the end of July. We  have a handful of short items this week, so let’s dive in…

The Stars Go Clubbing On MIRRORBALL

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already up to our seventh edition of MIRRORBALL  Friday afternoon on The AIR. and that’s followed by two great encore epsodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat.  You can hear all this good stuff on The AIR website, or just click on this embedded radio player…

MIRRORBALL returns as Mel Larch takes you back to the days when everybody wanted to get in on the Disco act. In this episode The Stars Go Clubbing as we hear Disco tunes from such non-Disco artists as The Rolling Stones, Barbara Streisand, KISS, Paul McCartney, Blondie and more.

Check out the VIP playlist for this exclusive Disco party…


Rod Stewart “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”
Blondie “Heart of Glass”
Paul McCartney & Wings “Goodnight Tonight”
Ringo Starr “Drowning In A Sea of Love”
Diana Ross “Upside Down”
ELO “Shine A Little Love”
Rolling Stones “Miss You”
Barbara Streisand/Donna Summer “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”
Johnny Mathis “Gone, Gone, Gone”
Leo Sayer “Thunder In My Heart”
The Jacksons “Shake Your Body”
KISS “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”
Cher “Take Me Home”

You can tune in at 2 PM and hear the latest edition of MIRRORBALL. The plan is to drop a new episode roughly every other Friday afternoon, until Mel gets tired of doing it, or people stop listening. Later today, it will go up in the Podcast section of The AIR website, so you can listen on demand.  MIRRORBALL will also be replayed Friday night at Midnight, Saturday at 6 PM (part of a marathon), Sunday at 11 PM and Tuesday at 1 PM. We’ll probably sneak in a few more airings during the week.

Still No Stuff To Do

The pandemic, ensuing shutdown and continuing seriousness of the situation have combined to pretty much wipe out local events. There are a few things happening, but your PopCulteer does not feel comfortable recommending them to anyone. I can’t really suggest that anybody attend any in-person event, and there are so many virtual online events that I can’t possibly keep track of them all. So my advice for Stuff To Do remains…stay safe, use common sense, and don’t fall for any crazy conspiracy theories that say this whole thing is a hoax. Herman Cain didn’t take COVID-19 seriously, and look what happened to him.

Wrestling With Ratings

WWE, the dominant wrestling company in the world had a secret that’s been hidden in plain sight for over 19 years. Their television ratings have been in a slow, steady decline, even as their television rights fees have exploded to new heights The current viewership, in the midst of the pandemic, is about one-eighth the size it was at WWE’s peak, twenty years ago. The average age of a WWE viewer now is in the upper 50s, as the wrestling company has failed to attract younger viewers to begin watching their programming. It’s been like this since WWE bought their rival WCW, and went into a non-stop victory lap. While the company has soared to its greatest financial heights, it’s happened with a steadily eroding fanbase.

Variety has finally noticed this and called attention to it yesterday.

They Still Got The Beat

Showtime is debuting a new documentary devoted to The GoGos this weekend. “The GoGos” gives the band the chance to tell their own story for the first time. It’s getting rave reviews, and Rolling Stone has a great interview with the director and members of the band. NPR offers up a review of the documentary HERE.

To get you in the mood, you can hear “Club Zero,” the band’s first new song in 19 years right here…

With that we shall beat it for the week. Check PopCult for fresh content every day and all our regular features.

A Super Dooper Voice Has Been Stilled

Howard Irving Russell, better known to generations of Charlestonians as “Super Dooper Charlie Cooper” lost his battle with cancer last night, and the world is poorer for it.

Charlie was a legendary Charleston DeeJay, coming to prominence with WKAZ in the 1970s (and before) and gracing the airwaves with one of the most-recognizable voices you’ve ever heard. After leaving radio, he established Admix, a company that provided voiceover services for ad campaigns and TV and Radio stations across the country. He created and produced commercials, infomercials and radio drama and continued to deejay live events.

He was also very generous with his time and advice, and while I did not work closely with him for long periods like some folks, I do have a few Charlie stories.

“Irritate The Hell Out Of Him.”

Back in 1989, just two or three weeks after I began doing Radio Free Charleston for WVNS radio, Charlie came in to record some kind of commercial spot (which was odd because he had his own state-of-the-art studio…and ours wasn’t) and I got to meet him and talk for a while. He suggested that I beef up RFC with a theme song and some jingles and interstitials to create a stronger identity. He hadn’t heard the show, but encouraged me to stick with it because “It’ll irritate the hell out of John Dickensheets (the sales manager at the radio station, and a legendary villain on the local broadcast scene).” I took his advice to heart, and it did irritate the hell out of Dickensheets.

“Substitute Announcer”

After RFC ended, I stayed in touch with Charlie for the odd announcing gig, including a disastrous attempt at imitating his voice while he was on vacation. Spencer Elliott was his assistant at the time, and he was in a pinch. One of Charlie’s regular clients, a regional department store, needed new radio spots on two days notice, and Charlie was nowhere near a microphone.

I got the call because I was able to imitate a wide variety of voices, but I never really came close to getting Charlie’s voice. On top of that, I didn’t know the name of the department store until I got to the studio.

Imagine my surprise when I was handed the script, and it was for “Aide’s Department Store.” My twisted sense of humor instantly kicked into absurdity defense mode, which triggered incessant giggling that did not abate one bit when Spencer informed me that, due to the disease, it was now pronounced “Eye-yeeeeeeeeds.”

About thirty takes later we had a semi-acceptable spot. Later Charlie thanked me for filling in. I told him that I thought I sucked on that job. He quickly piped up, “Oh, you did, real bad! You were so bad that they gave me a raise to make sure I only used my voice on their spots.”

Balloons And The Gulf War

A short time after that, Charlie was in a bind. This was when our country was on the brink of the first Gulf War. Half the country was under lock and key in fear of a terrorist attack. Security was heightened everywhere. Charlie had been hired by IBM to coordinate some kind of event at Capital High School.

He had ordered imprinted balloons, but they hadn’t been printed yet, and wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon before the event–and they needed them in hand just hours after that so they could get them inflated and in place. Express shipping was not an option.

The rubber plant was in Ashland, so Charlie called me and offered fifty bucks plus a quarter a mile if I could drive to the plant and pick up the balloons. I was driving a $500 1973 Cutlass Supreme at the time, but I was confident that the duct tape holding my exhaust system together would hold for the trip.

Luckily, I was meticulous enough to call the rubber plant to get directions and make sure I could get through security to pick up the balloons, and discovered that this particular rubber plant was not in Ashland, Kentucky, but was in fact in Ashland, Ohio–about an hour North of Columbus.

I totally cleared out the trunk and backseat of my car. I was going to be picking up 50,000 balloons and hoped that I would be able to fit them all in my car.

At this point, I had been dating Mel for less than a year, and this was a day when she was not scheduled to substitute teach so she was able to tag along on the trip.  I got up at the crack of dawn, picked up Mel and we headed North, listening to either of the two 8-Tracks I had, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band or the first half of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.

We made poor time due to construction but still got to Ashland about an hour before we were told the balloons were supposed to be ready. We grabbed lunch. I bought a guitar strap (still have it) and we killed some time before making our way to the highly secure rubber factory.

I had to show my driver’s license and a letter from Charlie to be let in to the loading dock. The country was in the grip of a mighty paranoia as our troops were lined up waiting to attack Iraq (or Kuwait, or someone).

I backed my car up to the loading dock, which was made for loading huge trucks, and Mel and I went in. I showed my ID again and signed some papers and asked where the balloons were. I expected a pallet stacked with boxes that I’d have to break down to cram into the car. The nice lady behind the counter pointed and said, “They’re under that chair over there.”

Pro Tip: Balloons don’t take up much space before they’re inflated.

I felt sort of silly carrying a single box that was maybe a foot wide, fourteen inches long and eight inches deep through the loading dock area. I sat it in the trunk where it looked like a BB in a boxcar. Mel and I took off and headed home.

On the way up, we had seriously discussed how Mel might have to carry some of the balloons on her lap, or under her feet, or both.

We drove home through Amish country on a particularly buggy-heavy day, and connected to I 77 North of Canton for a straight shoot home.

As we approached Ripley, I needed to stop for gas. The 1973 Cutlass Supreme is not exactly known for getting great milage. While gassing up, Mel asked if we could listen to the radio instead of the same two (great) 8 Tracks that we’d been listening to all day. I turned on the radio and we drove to Capital High School, well after dark, listening to the reports that the bombings had started in Kuwait. Back then bombing another country seemed like a much bigger deal than it does now.

When I got to the High School, it was minutes before 10 PM and Charlie was wondering where the hell I’d been. He seemed a bit surprised by the fact that all the balloons were in a single box, and told me to bring my invoice by in a couple of days.

After some initial confusion over why I arrived so late with the balloons and why I was claiming so much milage we discovered that Charlie had not been aware that he’d sent me to Ashland in Ohio instead of Kentucky. He then cut me a check and we both had a good laugh over it. He didn’t realize that, when I showed up with the balloons, I’d been on the road for fourteen hours.

The last time I saw Charlie was at a car show in South Charleston about five years ago. I hadn’t seen him for quite some time, but as we got caught up, he looked at me and said, “I swear, I thought I was sending you to Ashland, Kentucky.” Almost 25 years after the fact, we were still laughing about it.

Charlie Cooper was one-of-a-kind and he will be missed. A Facebook Page dedicated to memories of Charlie has been set up (it’s where I swiped the image of Charlie at the head of this post), and it’s quite the celebration of a life well lived.

The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

Superman Smashes The Klan
writen by Gene Luen Yang , art by Gurihiru
DC Comics
ISBN-13: 978-1779504210
$16.99 (discounted at Amazon)

First off, Superman Smashes The Klan is a terrific Superman adventure. It presents the iconic, original superhero at his best, fighting bigotry and injustice and other anti-American ideals in an engrossing and entertaining story. Secondly, the story frames this adventure in a nuanced and intricate tale that explores the immigrant experience in post-World War II America. Lastly, it makes it clear that The Klan are the bad guys, something that cannot be repeated often enough or loud enough these days when White Supremecists seemingly have allies in very high places.

Written by American Born Chinese author and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Gene Luen Yang, with art by the Japanese art duo known as Gurihiro, Superman Smashes The Klan is a very timely story, executed in a near-perfect style. While totally appropriate for younger readers, the story has enough complexity and characterization to satisfy any adult reader.

Based on a summer 1946 story arc from The Adventures of Superman radio show, this is the story of Superman coming to the aid of a Chinese-American family that has just moved to Metropolis, and finds themselves under attack by The Klan of the Fiery Cross.

That radio story was created in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, and is credited with doing serious harm to the KKK’s recruitment efforts. The Klan even tried to organize a boycott of Kellogg’s, the radio show’s sponsor, which failed, proving that boycotts only work when they’re justifed and moral.

Yang keeps the 1946 setting, but updates and expands the story to address additional themes of the immigrant experience, and manages to very effectively tie them to Superman’s Kryptonian origins, which Clark Kent confronts for the first time in this (non-canon) story. He re-centers the story with a focus on the Lee family, and adds a daughter, Roberta (Lin-Shan) who is really the star here.

In this story Superman’s confidante on the Metropolis Police Force, Inspector Henderson, is depicted as African-American. In the regular comics he has been race-flipped before, but here it’s particular effective and greatly adds more layers of depth to the story.

This story does not only show the racism of the Klan, but also touches on the sensitive relations within the Asian community and between Asians and Blacks. It even addresses the concept of “passing,” in ways that are particularly touching. That it does so without clubbing the reader over the head with it is a testament to the talents of the storytellers.

Being that this is a stand-alone tale not set in any established continuity frees Yang from having to deal with any of the heavy baggage that 80-plus years of Superman adventures bring with them. This an old-school, liberal plea for tolerance and acceptance, the kind that bigots and demagogues despise.

A major subplot involves Superman discovering his roots for the first time, which is a new take on a story that’s been often told, and then retold before. This fresh take is really well-done.

In addition to a great script, the art by Gurihiru is perfectly suited to the story, combining the look of the Max Fleischer animated shorts with Superman: The Animated Series, and a hint of Manga, to create a slick, clean, yet detailed world that makes perfect sense.

Originally published beginning last year, this three-issue series was recently collected into one volume, and it’s a great 220-page story that can be read without any prior exposure to the Superman mythos. The end of the book contains a great essay by Yang that gives the background of the original radio story, the history of The Klan and his own experience as an Asian-American.

If you enjoy great Superhero adventures without a ton of continuity issues, but with a clear and important underlying theme, then Superman Smashes The Klan is the book for you. Available where books or comics are sold.

And before anybody starts crying about how it ruins Superman to make him political, keep in mind that doing what’s right is not political, and Superman has been fighting for what’s right all along, as you can see in this comic book ad from 1950…

Tuesday on The AIR we deliver a brand-new episode of Radio Free Charleston, that’s loaded with new music from John Ellison, David Bluegene Frazier, Taylor Swift and more. Plus we have classic tracks, rare cuts and a extra-large helping of West Virginia-based artists.  In order to hear the show, you simply have to find your way over and tune in at the website, or you could just stay on this page, and  listen to this neat-o keen embedded radio player…

We have yet another three-hour Radio Free Charleston at 10 AM and 10 PM Tuesday.  This week it’s yet another all-new show jam-packed with great music from Charleston and the whole world.  This week we open with a brand-new and extremely relevant song by legendary West Virginia native, John Ellison (composer of “Some Kind of Wonderful”) and contine with loads of great local music plus new tracks by Taylor Swift (sounding like Kate Bush), Pretenders and Fuschia. This week I felt like packing in way more local music than usual, and it all fits together into a three-hour slice of musical nirvana.

Check out the playlist to see all the goodies we bring you this week…

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John Ellison “Wake Up Call (Black Like Me)”
David Bluegene Frazier “Waiting For A Signal”
Fuschia “The Nothing Song”
Taylor Swift “Epiphany”
The Dead Daisies “Unspoken”
Todd Burge “Chocolate Pud”
Jay Parade “Misery”
Lady D “Love Will Find A Way”
The Naked and the Famous “Easy”
Dread Zepplin “Stairway To Heaven”
Seth Allen Holmes “Mystery Man”
Pretenders “The Buzz”

hour two
Bon Air “Like You’re Still Here”
Holly and the Guy “Not The Only One”
John Radcliff “Right Where We Started”
Farnsworth “Free Me”
Speedsuit “So Do I”
The Carpenter Ants “I Feel Like A Woman”
The Science Fair Explosion “Before It Ends”
Feast of Stephen “Needing Only Me”
4 OHM MONO “Crisis Actor”
Hawthorne Heights “Chemicals”
Byzantine “Map of the Creator”
Stark Raven “Terminal Lunch”
The Company Stores “Little Lights”

hour three
In The Company of Wolves “Universal Breakdown”
Speedsuit “That’s When I Feel The Weight”
Poor Man’s Gravy “A Smoke and a Gun”
Johnny Compton “2 Mad 2 Fall 2 Drunk 2 Stand”
Sheldon Vance “This Round’s On Me”
Joe Vallina “Tiles”
Payback’s A Bitch “Do You Wanna Go Out”
Esmerelda Strange “Love Bug”
The Changelings “Xenoglass”
Renaissance “Lock In On Love”
Unawoman “In Pinks and Golds”
The Ruins “It Was No Use”
dog soldier “Goldtown Motel”
Farnsworth “Already Written”
The Irreplaceables “Digital Age”

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.