Monday, March 31, 2008
We are indeed our brother's keepers. We really are responsible for each other--obligated to use whatever resources God gives us to help others.
No work of fiction makes this point more effectively than Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," first published in 1843. It's a story that's been told and re-told countless times--it may very well hold the record for the greatest number of movie and TV adaptations (both live action and animated). It seems as if every sit-com ever aired has done a "Christmas Carol" parody at some point.
You'd think by now we'd all be sick of it--that the plot would now come across as so corny that it would lose any dramatic effectiveness it once had.
But that's not the case at all. The story is as effective today as it was 165 years ago. This is largely because of Dickens' straightforward and witty prose and plot development. His skill with his characters is also responsible--Scrooge especially could have come across as mere caricature, but we have no trouble accepting him as a real person. After all this time, his journey from a prison of greed and selfishness to true redemption is still charged with honest emotion.
I've posted stuff about Ebenezer's namesake before, but Scrooge McDuck is such a cool guy, it's a good idea to pay him an occasional return visit.
The great artist/writer Carl Barks created Scrooge for a Donald Duck story in Four Color Comics #178 (1947). In his initial appearance, Scrooge was pretty much a caricature of a stingy old man--existing largely as a plot devise to thrust Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie into an adventure.
But the character hit a chord with readers and Scrooge returned for more stories, eventually getting his own comic book in 1952. His character grew more complex, though his basic character traits always remained intact. He was still stingy to the point of absurdity and he was often still consumed by greed. In fact, he keeps the bulk of his fortune in a giant money bin--in which he often goes for a swim.
But we also learn that Scrooge earned every last cent of his fortune by "being smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies." He's an adventurer and his fortune means as much (0r perhaps more) to him because of the memories it holds for him than for it's monetary value. Here's a dollar bill that's part of the money made prospecting in the Yukon. This quarter was a portion of his salary when he navigated a riverboat down the Mississippi.
Perhaps most importantly, we learn that Scrooge (though he is often loath to admit it) really does care deeply for his friends and family. It's this balance of stinginess with both humanity and a love of adventure that makes Scrooge so memorable.
Most Scrooge stories also featured Donald and the three young nephews. Often, the plots would involve foiling yet another attempt by the Beagle Boys to loot the money bin. In other stories, Scrooge would take off to some remote part of the world in search of a hidden treasure. Great art, solid plots and clever dialogue abound throughout the best of these tales.
Many talented writers and artists have contributed to the ever-growing Scrooge mythos. But those stories by Carl Barks, pouring humor & adventure & real emotion into every story he produced, are still the best of the lot. What could have been a one-joke character has grown into one of the most entertaining and enduring characters in fiction.
Gemstone Publishing recently put out a trade paperback titled Uncle Scrooge: A Little Something Special, reprinting some excellent Scrooge stories by various artists. There's a great qoute from the introduction by David Gerstein:
"Were Scrooge suddenly, one day, to exist in our real-life world, few of us can say we'd like to work for him; but almost all of us would find it inspiring to meet with him. Even though, should the meeting take place, it would likely end with our being unceremoniously thrown out of his money bin through a trapdoor."
Ebenezer Scrooge & Scrooge McDuck: They're not real, but by golly they should be.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
One of the many really neat qualities of the Popeye cartoons (and the Fleischer cartoons in general) is the seamless mesh of animation with music. These cartoons are timed to perfection--body language, movement and action all exquisitely match the accompanying music, which makes watching them an addictive experience.
One of the cartoons--The Man on the Flying Trapeze--is one of the few I had never seen before. It's so much fun to watch, I replayed it three times before finally moving on to the next cartoon on the disc.
Of course, now I have the song stuck in my head, but I've learned to live with that.
The DVD set is worth getting, both for the cartoons and the nifty little documentaries. But you can also see many of these cartoons on-line (most, if not all of them, have fallen into the public domain).
So if you want to risk being glued to your computer screen all day, unable to do anything productive, take a look at this link:
The Man on the Flying Trapeze
Monday, March 17, 2008
These are two of the many, many excellent pulp magazine covers painted by Walter Baumhaufer during the 1930s. Take note of how both covers use blank, single color backgrounds, allowing your eye to focus more fully on the action in the foreground.
Take a look also at the girl on each cover. It's the same gal--just with different color hair. This was actually Baumhofer's wife, who often acting as a model for him. Hardly a month went by during the 1930s without poor Mrs. Baumhofer being once more placed in deadly peril.
I've often wondered if he placed her in heroic situations when he was happy with her--but if she was nagging him about not doing the dishes, he'd portray her about to get gunned down by a gangster.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
I mean, he really took it seriously. Prior to playing Hopalong for the first time in 1935, he had drank, gambled and cheated his way through 4 wives. But as soon as he took the part of the cowboy and became a hero to countless children, it was as if someone flipped a switch. He cleaned up his own personal life, stayed married to his fourth wife until his death in 1972 and became as sincere a role model in real life as he was on film.
In 1950, the Hopalong movies found new life on TV and the character was suddenly more popular than ever. Literally thousands of fans would show up for his personal appearances and his lunchbox (the first ever produced that featured a celebrity image) sold like hotcakes.
Boyd made a bunch of half-hour televsion episodes to sell to TV stations along with his movies. In 1950, he also recording episodes for a syndicated radio series.
The radio show was quite good--well-written and well-directed. I listened to one particular episode this weekend titled "Apaches Don't Use Guns" that I think deserves special mention.
In terms of plot, the episode was nothing that hadn't been done a zillion times in films, books, TV and radio. A band of Indians besiege an undermanned army post. Been there, done that.
But, despite this lack of basic originality, the episode is downright enthralling. Well-paced, with good acting and sound effects, it manages to keep the listener on the edge of his seat throughout the story.
Also notable were some nice bits of characterization, especially a calvary officer who at first comes across as an arrogant jerk, but later proves to be honorable and brave. A moment in which Hopalong acknowledges this--despite having earlier been treated rudely by the man--is a nice touch.
Obviously, originality and innovation will always be a vital part of storytelling as a whole. But Hopalong's radio show demonstrates that skilled storytellers can also cover the same old ground and still be entertaining.