Monday, January 28, 2013

Micky & Fozzi: Separated At Birth?

Amy and I saw the BSO production of "Hairspray in Concert" this past Saturday at the Meyerhoff and I was struck by how much former Monkees star Micky Dolenz's goofball character "Wilbur Turnblad" resembled Muppets star Fozzie Bear. Was it just me?

The Fozz
The Mickster

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

10cc's "Tenology" Box Set Reviewed

10cc's Tenology box set
I was going to review Tenology, the 5-disc 10cc import box set retrospective released last November that I gave to Amy for Christmas, but Amazon reviewer "containsnopartofmyname" beat me to the punch. It's a pretty good review and fairly spot on in its assessment that the later, post-Godley & Creme split 10cc songs weren't up to the high standard set by the full quartet's fantastic four album-run (not to mention their chart-topping singles run) during the years 1972-1976 (10cc, Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You?), and that the highlight of this set is the inclusion of an all-region DVD (finally!) of rare concert performances and music videos (if only so fans could finally see exactly who was singing or playing what parts in this overly-talented band that featured four singer-songwriters who could play just about every instrument). So here it is, and ta to the reviewer! Oh, I added the bold texting to highlight what I thought were the author's most cogent points; inserted pictures; inserted relevant hyperlinks; added my own parenthetical thoughts inside brackets:  [...]); and embedded some video clips that reenforce this reviewer's quite astute (and correct) observation that 10cc were a great live band (if ever in doubt, check out the 10cc in Concert CD that captured their 1975 "King Biscuit Flower Hour" performance - at the peak of their powers - at the Santa Monica Civic Center).

A Fitting Testament to the Worst Band in the World
by containsnopartofmyname

10cc was the first band with which I was obsessed. I was about 12 and already had Deceptive Bends, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You. But the twentysomethings at the record store at which I spent my after school hours all told me that Sheet Music 'was *the* album I needed to hear. At the time, neither of 10cc's first two albums were available in the US, so it had to be ordered out of the exotic JEM import catalog. I looked at the track listing. What could songs with titles such as 'Clockwork creep', 'Silly love' and 'Hotel' possibly sound like? I had to wait weeks and weeks before the album finally arrived to find out. And the advice I was given was right on. Sheet music was and is the definitive 10cc statement. Great tunes, gonzo (but smart) lyrics and hooks, hooks, hooks. Still one of the great lost pop/rock albums of the 70s, at least in the US.

10cc - Sheet Music (1974)

As I got older, my musical taste expanded. Punk/New Wave. But 10cc was a constant. Bloody Tourists was pretty good. Yeah, Look Hear? was disappointing. (Really disappointing.) But I remember listening to 'We've heard it all before', 'Power of Love' and 'Don't ask' (from their next album, 10 Out of Ten) over and over again at college, even if they were nowhere near as 'cool' as the likes of REM, Echo and the Bunnymen and Big Audio Dynamite that then dominated by collection.

10cc's "reunion" LP. Windows in the Jungle (1983)

I remember stumbling across Windows in the Jungle at a local record store. It came wrapped in the loose plastic bag (as opposed to shrink-wrapped), the sign of an IMPORT. I wasn't really thinking much about 10cc at that point, but bought it almost on reflex. And I remember the disappointment of the hookless, virtually Gouldman-less, long, sad attempts to ape Steely Dan. It was the last 10cc album that I would buy for almost a decade and the last one I bought for more than that. (Meanwhile... is the only 10cc album I've never owned. Never felt like I was missing anything. The less said about the shameless, cynical Mirror Mirror - which I did unfortunately purchase - the better.)

10cc - Mirror Mirror (1995)

Over the years, I've remained a music obsessive. My taste has deepened and widened. Hip Hop, Reggae, Brit Pop, Indie...anything with above average smarts, a bit of edge and hooks (always hooks) still catches my ear. And I've refused to be stuck in any particular era. But my appreciation for 10cc has remained. The original 72-76 era was woefully undiscovered in the States. Only 'I'm not in love' made any impression. But it's just about as strong a run as any band had at that time. Up there with the likes of Roxy Music and Steely Dan (though all three bands only share a certain cool, cynical detachment). Why is 10cc not remembered as well? Perhaps because when they fell off, the drop was so sheer (spot the reference 10cc-heads). They definitely became less loved critically after Godley and Creme left. And not without reason. Despite the relative successes of Deceptive Bends and Bloody Tourists, the band lost almost all their edge. They became known as pop lightweights, not without reason. And their biggest hit from this period (though, again, not in the US where it stalled outside the Top 40) 'Dreadlock Holiday' has not aged well. (Hey, most of us didn't know much about actual reggae in 1978.) Even as they re-expanded the band, the insecurity in Gouldman and Stewart became audible. And, as happens, they flogged the horse for too long.

Yet I continued to think of 10cc fondly. I bought the various, often-botched CD re-releases. I even found (what turned out to be) a Russian bootleg of Look Hear? on ebay, which I bought hoping it somehow was better than I remembered. It wasn't.

But the quartet of the self-titled debut, Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You have all continued to sound as good as they ever have. (Give or take a few tracks here and there on the latter two.)

So all of this was in my head when I saw there was a 40th anniversary box set. Initially, I was pretty excited. That was quickly diminished when I saw the track listing. There was very little there that a hardcore 10cc fan hadn't already owned, often having purchased the songs more than once over the years. Even the b-sides and rarities weren't all that rare, having been appended to the aforementioned CD re-releases. [Of these bonus tracks that came out on the CD reissues, my personal favorites are "Channel Swimmer," the "Life Is a Minnestrone" B-side included on The Original Soundtrack CD reissue; "I'm So Laid Back I'm Laid Out," the "People in Love" B-side included on the Deceptive Bends CD reissue; and "Hot To Trot," the "The Things We Do For Love" B-side included on the Bloody Tourists CD reissue.]

So why did I (or *you*) need to purchase most of these songs for the 3rd/4th time? For me, establishing that Universal had the good sense not to region lock the DVD (meaning it would play in North American players) is what did it. Mostly, the opportunity to see the brief 'BBC In-concert' performed live by the original quartet.

Which brings me, finally, to Tenology itself. Are there any revelations among the 4 CDs and 1 DVD? Not many. Am I glad I purchased it? Absolutely.

For starters, in terms of presentation, Universal actually showed 10cc and its fans a good deal of respect. The box is nice and sturdy, adorned (as is only fitting) with a new Storm Thorgerson design. [The box set design really is wonderful - each individual disc has neat ephemera filling in the picture of the 10cc membrane!]

Head Trip: Storm Thorgenson's cerebral design for 10cc's Tenology

Inside, you're first presented by a hardcover (!) book. The book is really well done. In the absence of a good 10cc biography in print, it's nice to have contemporary reflections from all four of the original band members on the (72-76) history of the band. And, yes, that's the emphasis. Gouldman and Stewart, while proud of Deceptive Bends, are no less aware than the rest of us of the dipping quality, particularly after Bloody Tourists. In addition to the short(ish) recap, filled with (as of this writing) recent quotes from all four, the lyrics to every song on the box are included. Right off, this made the set feel like a good purchase. Beneath that, a die cut 'well' holds all 5 discs. The discs themselves come in those thing, cardboard holders. But unlike some I've gotten, these are actually well sized. You don't have to dig the CD/DVD out, inevitably scratching/scuffing them. They slide out nicely.

As to the contents, well, if anyone is still reading, you're either a masochist or a truly hardcore 10cc fan. What you get is almost all the tracks (with an exception or two from each album) of the first four albums, spread across Discs 1 & 3. It's a mish-mash of album and single edits, occasionally mislabeled on the box. (For instance, the running time of Look Hear's 'One two five' suggests it's the almost interminable album version. Mercifully, it's actually the single edit.) Disc 2 starts with a high (heh) in 'Dreadlock Holiday' and slides all the way down to the singles from ...Meanwhile. Consequently, it's the least essential of the discs. And that's probably being kind. I imagine this one will be the one most of us will come back to least. The only two things on all three discs that I hadn't heard before are the (Voodoo Mix) of 'People in Love', indeed covered in a swampy morass of vocals and other sounds. And, for me, preferably to the Adult Contemporary version of the song that was the band's last hit (reaching 40) in the US.

10cc - "People in Love" (Voodoo Boogie Mix)

The other 'new track' is called 'The recording of 'The Dean and I'", a BBC (?) audio documentary detailing how the song was, well, recorded. I didn't make it through all 7 minutes myself. On Disc 4 are the b-sides and, I must say, 10cc knew which songs to throw away. Okay, that's harsh. These are definitely, for the most part, lesser songs of the eras they represent. But some of the 72-76 cuts are at least interesting. And Stewart made sure they all *sound* fantastic. In fact, the productions on some of these are among the most interesting, as Stewart either wanted to make up for the less stellar songwriting or just tried out things he couldn't on the albums proper. For my taste, only 'I'm so laid-back, I'm laid out' (B-side to 'People in Love') is one I'd put on a mix. Unusually funky with a great vocal from Gouldman, it's easy to hear this a song that simply didn't fit musically onto Deceptive Bends, rather than a song that just wasn't good enough. Everything sounds good. Nice and bright.

Finally (you can exhale), the DVD. Clearly, the highlight is the above-mentioned concert-ette from '74. Seven songs, starting with 'Silly Love' and running through songs from the first two albums, ending with a jam (for 10cc) of 'Rubber Bullets' that, in seemingly typical BBC fashion, is faded under the credits. For a band so richly produced, with four vocalists, two of whom possessed truly unique vocalists (Godley and Creme) its astonishing how good they are in concert. Mostly, that they could reproduce the sounds on those albums so closely.

 [I've included videos from the BBC concert below.]

10cc - "Silly Love" (BBC Concert 1974)

10cc - "Wall Street Shuffle" (BBC Concert 1974)

10cc - "Rubber Bullets" (BBC Concert 1974)

(A side note, the audience for this show could only be called 'live' in the sense that most of them, presumably, had pulses and breath. Like most BBC audiences for pop shows from the 70s, they look they were either tricked into attending the taping or are there as some form of punishment. At the end of a really beautiful version of 'Fresh Air for my momma', they cut to a couple who look they may have been awaken from a nap by the smattering of applause around them.)

[Click here to watch "Fresh Air for My Mama." (Embedding disabled by YouTube.)]

No, 10cc was not the most dynamic live band. They had no image, don't always seem that interested in each other being there and lack a focal point....but just listen. The rest of the DVD is filled out by assorted, usually mimed, appearances on a variety of televised pop shows. Most of these don't beg watching more than once. There's also a handful or so of promotional videos, most of which aren't that different from the mimed pop shows. The videos for 'Dreadlock Holiday' and 'One two five' are mildly interesting for being early versions of the kind of conceptual-lite things that would appear the first couple of years on MTV, but a few years before MTV existed.

10cc - "Dreadlock Holiday" (TOTP)

Otherwise, you're not liable to come back to most of these either. [Though the cheesy, dated MTV narrative story-style music video for "Feel the Love" - with a sexy couple playing tennis in short shorts - bares repeated viewer as a video oddity!]

10cc "Feel the Love" Get it?

The quality of the video is mostly fine, especially considering the age and source material. For the most part, they look like good standard def video. The promo videos look a little less good but, again, all things considered, they're fine. [Come to think of it, the promo video for "Good Morning Judge" is pretty amusing, too!]

So that's Tenology. Would it have been nice to have some genuine rarities? More demos and such? Absolutely. But they may no longer even exist. Did it need solo Gouldman and Stewart or duo Godley and Creme? Probably not. Frankly, most of the former was pretty forgettable (Yeah, Animalalympics included.) And the latter really needs it's own box. Or least two good discs that do a damn sight better job of getting G&C on CD then Renaissance did with their muddy releases of Consequences and L.) *you* need it? If you somehow made it all the way through this--and, holy crap, I've just looked at the preview and seen how long it is--the answer must be yes.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pratt Library's Super Reader's Advisory

"Youth services librarianship, a profession whose work centered on selecting and recommending books to young people in school and public libraries, was an established profession. Yet, in 1938, the profession found itself struggling against an upstart medium: comic books." - Carol L. Tilly, "Of Nightingales and Supermen: How Youth Services Librarians Responded to Comics Between the Years 1938 and 1955."

Skimming Larry Tye’s new biography Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero (Random House, 2012), I came across a quote that lauded the Pratt for its foresight in championing comic books both as a tool for improving young reader’s advisory and boosting circulation:  “Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore was the first to use Superman to attract kids in 1940, and the technique spread.” Intrigued, I decided to investigate Pratt’s connection to America’s most enduring superhero, who made his national debut in Action Comics #1 some 75 years ago.

Created by the team of writer Jerry Siegel (based on his 1933 short story “The Reign of the Super-Man”) and artist Joe Schuster, Superman debuted in the June 1938 issue of National Allied Publication (the predecessor of DC Comics)’s Action Comics and became an instant sensation. That first issue quickly sold out its run of 200,000 copies, with the series soon approaching sales of almost 1 million copies per month as Superman became the most popular superhero in America.

By the spring of 1940, Elizabeth Hart, a librarian at Pratt’s Waverly Branch, had become a fan after stumbling on a “recommended book list” of over 100 children’s classics appearing in Superman Quarterly #4 (Spring 1940). Hart cut out Superman’s book list, added her own reader’s advisory, and posted it on the library’s bulletin board. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response the list generated among boys and girls alike at Waverly, Hart developed a window-sized poster of Superman, as well as flyers to further publicize the recommendations.

Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
Hart wrote about her promotional experiment in the library’s Staff Reporter newsletter that March (Vol. 7, No. 5, March 1, 1940). Her article “There’s a Giant on the Beach” discussed the popularity of comic books and revealed that her own interest was piqued after observing that “young people frequenting Branch 9 [the Waverly Branch] often brought their own copies of Marvel Mystery Comics, Slam-Bang Comics, Amazing Mystery Funnies, etc. to read in the library in preference to our books.”

She decided to read some comic books to better understand them and suggested that all librarians should follow her example for a better understanding of the “psychology of the American masses.” She recommended “advertising juvenile classics” with the help of the Superman book list and directing young people to the fantasies and adventure works of writers such as Doyle, Wells, and Stevenson. She concluded the article with this resolve: “If we librarians can’t keep this giant tied down, we can at least enlist him in our service.”

A little more than a week after Hart’s article appeared in her library’s internal newsletter, the Baltimore Evening Sun published a brief article “Superman Does Super Job for Library Circulation,” about the library’s experiment. 

Baltimore Evening Sun (March 9, 1940)

“The Enoch Pratt Library enlisted the aid of the Superman today and the man from a distant planet performed a near miracle with his usual dispatch,” the Evening Sun reported. A sub-headline added that the Man of Steel’s “recommendation” brought young readers to their “special self.”

Assistant librarian Francis St. John told the Sun,  “Superman has succeeded in a project wherein the library’s success was limited – he has convinced the library’s young readers that they should read books that the library has been recommending in a select list for young readers.”

Although librarians had already been recommending titles like Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Roger Lancelyn Green’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, St. John observed that Superman’s personal “stamp of approval” instantly boosted circulation of these young adult classics. (And, after all, Superman’s biological mother Lara Lor-Van was a librarian-archivist on Krypton, so giving reader’s advisory may well have been in his blood!)

In Carol L. Tilley’s book Of Nightingales and Supermen: How Youth Services Librarians Responded to Comics Between theYears 1938 and 1955, the author speculated that Pratt Library’s experiment may have motivated DC/Action Comics to develop additional book lists in hopes of other libraries utilizing Superman materials. Regardless, soon other libraries across the nation were undertaking similar trials and experiencing similar boosts in circulation.

Yes, librarians were still able to lead kids to juvenile classics by utilizing Superman's popularity, but they also recognized the indisputable interest those kids had in reading comic books; as a result, libraries now began viewing comic books as legitimate youth literature, and started adding them to their collections.

One thing’s for sure: Pratt’s experiment in letting children’s reading interests guide the library’s reader’s advisory lists, rather than the other way around, helped change one of the basic tenets of “youth services” librarians: that kids should be told what to read.

Pratt’s once-radical leadership in this area is now an accepted norm of reader’s advisory, a lesson we see in action today as libraries program Wii events, sponsor anime clubs, and amass graphic novel and manga collections – all guided by the principle of user-generated youth appeal.

Related Links:

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You Don't Love Me Yet

You Don't Love Me Yet
by Jonathan Lethem
(Doubleday, 2007, 224 pages)

I'm a big fan of Jonathan Lethem's writing, both fiction and non-fiction. We like similar things (Marvel comics, John Ford Westerns, Philip K. Dick, indie rock) and in a perfect world would probably be friends on Facebook. Though most acclaimed for his 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel Motherless Brooklyn (his take on the detective mystery, which featured a sleuth afflicted with Tourette's syndrome and reflected his love of stretching genres "to their limits and beyond") and the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age bestseller The Fortress of Solitude - which according to Wikipedia helped seal his rep among critics as "a master craftsmen of language" and led to the MacArthur Foundation awarding him a coveted "genius grant" in 2005 - I've so far only taken the back way into his books (I guess I'm working up the courage to tackle the "heavy stuff"); thus, I've read only his shorter, smaller, peripheral works like personal fave Chronic City, the short story collection Men and Cartoons, his non-fiction essays in The Disappointment Artist, and (with co-author Karl Rusnuk and artists Paul Hornschemeir, Farel Dalrymple, and Gary Panter) his revival of the Marvel comic series Omega the Unknown.

Lethem's sixth novel, You Don't Love Me Yet - a slim, 224-page light-hearted romantic comedy-style story of struggling rock bands (struggling even to come up with a name for themselves) and conceptual artists living in L.A. - continues my strategy of tackling the shorter works before attempting to scale Lethem's literary mountains. You Don't Love Me Yet received mixed reviews at the time of its release in 2007, which Lethem attributed to his novel's intentionally "silly and light tone."

Cover girl Lucinda Hoekke
The story follows the fortunes of Lucinda Hoekke, a hard-drinking 29-year-old former coffee shop wage slave who now divides her time between answering the "Complaint Line" at her pretentious ex-boyfriend Falmouth's "performance art gallery" and playing bass in an indie rock group so unfocused they can't even decide on a name. The other members of the band include skinny vegan lead singer Matthew (yet another former beau of Lucinda's who kidnaps a depressed kangaroo from the zoo where he works in order to save it from boredom); Denise, the dedicated drummer who works at the "No Shame" sex shop (which makes me think of Audrey Tattou's elusive boy-toy in Amelie);  and Bedwin, the feckless foursome's shy genius composer and lead guitarist, who is obsessed with Alex Chilton's cult '70s band Big Star and Fritz Lang's film Human Desire (1952), which he watches repeatedly. (I most related to Bedwin, not due to the genius angle - far from it! - but because of our similar reclusive social lives; I too find nothing better than staying home listening to Big Star and watching old movies. What else is there? Especially now with Me TV and This TV as home viewing options!)

Lucinda falls for a regular caller she names "The Complainer," whose reflections about love, sex and life amuse her. She eventually hooks up with the anonymous caller, whose name is Carl Voglesong (though Lucinda re-christians him Carl Birdkiller) and incorporates his catchphrases and stories as song lyrics for her band. His musings about having "Monster eyes" becomes, in turn, both the band's signature song and, inevitably, the band's short-lived name. And Lucinda soon becomes obsessed with Carl the Complainer, to the point where she moves in with him, while Carl soon invades her space, forcing his way into the band as its proverbial "fifth Beatle" by right of his Lucinda-lifted lyrics. Carl the Complainer has become Carl the Copyright Claimer.

Monster Eyes's successful performance at Falmouth's loft party (christened "Aparty") leads Fancher Autumnbreast (a legendary John Peel-ish alternative DJ) to book the band to perform live on his popular music radio program. But Carl disrupts their radio broadcast,with unforeseen romantic and musical consequences.

This leads into the touchy area of when imitation moves beyond flattery into the murky realm of plagiarism, which Lethem apparently believes is always a fine line for artists. (Rod Serling famously said that as a young writer, he was always subconsciously parroting Hemingway, claiming all his early stories seemed to open with variations of "It was hot.")

According to National Public Radio's Linda Kulper, this gray area that surrounds "intellectual property rights" and the artist's creative process is keeping with the focus of Lethem's February 2007 Harper's essay, "The Ecstasy of Influence" (subtitled "A Plagiarism" and later to provide the title of his 2011 non-fiction essay collection), in which he posits that imitation is not just the greatest form of flattery but "lies at the core of the creative process." So much so that Lethem announced he would "give away" the movie rights to any parties interested in You Don't Love Me Yet. (And, hey, this would make quite a good film; I can see a number of cast members of Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls fitting the bill - perhaps Christopher Abbott as the sexy Matthew and Adam Driver as the arty-farty Falmouth - and Zach Galifianakis as chubby Carl the Complainer.)

To illustrate his point, Lethem even cleverly "repurposed" John Donne's famous "No man is an island" lines from "Meditation XVII" in his essay:
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . .
 —John Donne
Another case in point, Lethem adds:
In a courtroom scene from The Simpsons that has since entered into the television canon, an argument over the ownership of the animated characters Itchy and Scratchy rapidly escalates into an existential debate on the very nature of cartoons. “Animation is built on plagiarism!” declares the show’s hot-tempered cartoon-producer-within-a-cartoon, Roger Meyers Jr. “You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?” If nostalgic cartoonists had never borrowed from Fritz the Cat, there would be no Ren & Stimpy Show; without the Rankin/Bass and Charlie Brown Christmas specials, there would be no South Park; and without The Flintstones — more or less The Honeymooners in cartoon loincloths — The Simpsons would cease to exist. 
He goes on to name-check a Who's Who of Pop Cultural Appropriators, from William Burroughs (inventor of the cut-up text technique) to Bob "Love and Theft" Dylan. His own influences for "genre poaching" include everyone from Angela Carter, Robert Altman, and Raymond Chandler to and Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, and H. P. Lovecraft (to name but a few).

Lethem's web site ( further champions the principle of "fair use," the author stating that all artists should look for ways "to make material free and available for reuse."

As Hannah Gerber observed (appropriately enough in the New York Observer), "For better and for worse, Mr. Lethem is part of a vanguard of Gen-X writers whose M.O. is to put a literary gloss on their pop culture enthusiasms."

Works for me! I truly enjoyed You Don't Love Me Yet. In fact, I loved it!

See also:
"Men and Cartoons" (Media Maxi-Pad)

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Monday, January 14, 2013

The Adventures of Freddy Lombard


Chaland Anthology #1: Freddy Lombard
Written by Yves Chaland with Yann Lepennetier
Art by Yves Chaland
Humanoids/DC Comics (2004)

Chaland Anthology #2: Freddy Lombard  
Yves Chaland (Story & art)
Humanoids/DC Comics (2005)

Yves Chaland
I picked up these two paperback volumes of the Chaland Anthology series for $5 apiece at the Daedalus Books & Music warehouse outlet on Monday because, well, the ligne claire-style artwork - while admittedly derivative of Belgian artist Herge (Georges Remi), who pioneered the Franco-Belgian "clear-line" (or "Atomic") style in his Tintin comics - was so beautiful.  The stories themselves are not so beautiful, being almost an afterthought, though one at least tackles topical fare by setting Freddy Lombard's adventures against the backdrop of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution that was put down by Soviet tanks ("Holiday in Budapest").

I had never heard of the artist who created these works, Yves Chaland, but later learned he was born the same year as me, 1957, and would have been my contemporary if not for a tragic car accident in 1990 that cut short his promising career at age 33. Besides Freddy Lombard, Chaland also created the characters Bob Fish, Adolphus Claar, and Le Jeune Albert (Young Albert) in the 1980s for the weekly comics journal Spirou.

The Adventures of Freddy Lombard were the only works by Chaland
 to be released in English and were published here in two compilation albums - Vol. 1 containing the first three adventures ("The Will of Godfrey of Bouillon," "The Elephant's Graveyard," "Comet To Carthage"), and the Vol. 2 containing the last two ("Holiday in Budapest," "F.52") -  by Humanoids/DC Comics. They were initially released in hardback in 2003 and later in softback editions in 2004 and 2005.

Shop and compare: Freddy vs. Tintin

Yes, Freddy is an blatantly obvious Tintin clone. But unlike Herge's Tintin adventures, Chaland's Freddy Lombard stories are much more adult in nature, much looser in terms of narrative arc (stories tend to fizzle out at the end), and feature three morally sketchy characters - the beautiful Dina, the muscular Sweep (whose balding pate reminds me of Carl Anderson's mute comic character Henry or perhaps Harold of Purple Crayon fame), and the titular Tintin-esque Freddy Lombard (who sports a blond tuft of hair in place of Tintin's signature carrot-top but still favors "plus four"-style pantaloons) - who aren't exactly "good Scouts."

The Heroic Trio: Sweep, Freddy and Dina

The backstory is that they are Gypsy-esque slackers who sponge off the largess of Freddy's uncle as they travel the Continent and beyond, always struggling to find employment and make ends meet.

As an example of Chaland's mature approach to the Lombard adventures, look no further than "Holiday in Budapest" (a title right up there with the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia" for ironic effect) and the sexual tones of its subplot involving Sweep and horny Russian operative Svetlana. In the strip shown below, the first panel showing Sweep's head entering Svetlana's coat like a  train entering a tunnel (itself a very sexual image!) is truly fantastic; I would frame this one panel as picture on my wall, as this is the one image most evocative of Chaland's style.

Svetlana wants Sweep to flex his love muscle.

Svetlana: "Where are my lovely young cheeks of bygone days?"

Svetlana calls Sweep her "Caucasian stallion," which must be a reference to the then-Soviet Union's Caucasus region because Sweep is, for some reason (printer's error?) actually inked with brown skin in this adventure (which is kind of confusing).

Some of the stories veer into downright creepiness, especially Chaland's final story "F.52," which features a "retarded child" and a married couple who may be either kidnappers or pedophiles.

"Ha! ha! She's a unicorn!" Notify the Better Parenting Council!

"This kid is retarded. Look at me, I'm normal!"

"F.52"'s oddball characters and dialogue make me think it could have sprung from the pages of Daniel Clowes' Eightball, especially in its cruel depiction of the retarded girl and her sadistic "parents" (wards? kidnappers?) on the flight.

And Freddy isn't always the protagonist in these narratives (I'd be hard-pressed to call him a "hero" - certainly not in the Joseph Campbell sense of the term) (now both Tintin and Snowy would qualify as Campbell heroes!), sometimes taking a backseat to his muscular pal Sweep and the even-keeled Dina.

Chaland's natives are restless - and stereotypical
The two examples cited above are from the Chaland Anthology #2, which I liked better than the stories in Chaland Anthology #1 and which includes over 30 pages of bonus material, including covers, short stories, and concept sketches.

But if you thought Herge's Tintin au Congo (Tintin in the Congo) was politically incorrect, your mouth will drop in Volume #1's tale "The Elephant's Graveyard," which features Sub-Saharan Africa natives drawn in a borderline-racist big-lipped style.

At least Herge's long-suppressed Congo adventure was written in the 1930s when the Congo was still under Belgium's (cruel and exploitative) colonial rule and must be viewed in the context of its times; there's no such "plausible deniability" excuse for Chaland's 1980s depictions of Africans.

"The Elephant's Graveyard" is actually the second part of two interconnected stories (the first concerns the trio's trip to Africa to track down some rare glass photographic plates for an eccentric collector). (OK, did I mention how sketchy the narrative arcs are?)
Still, despite the confusing storylines and sometimes questionable taste, there's no denying the visual appeal of this artist and his characters. Tintin still rules the Franco-Belgian comics roost as far as I'm concerned, but the "Tintin-grown-up" adventures of Freddy and his pals are well-worth a look, too.

In parting, here's a very good overview of the Chaland aesthetic from Read About Comics:

If I had to sum up the Freddy Lombard stories as quickly as possible, it would be “what if Tintin grew up?” Like the lead character in Hergé’s famed Tintin graphic novels, Freddy Lombard travels the globe with action and adventure close behind… but there’s a more adult sort of sensibility to Chaland’s stories. Maybe it’s Freddy’s attitude of slumming his way through life, all the while still ending up in fantastic situations and adventures. Chaland’s anti-hero still brings a great deal of tension to his stories, though. The final album, F.52, was so tense that I found myself breathlessly turning the pages at 2am, unable to put the book down even though I really could have used the sleep.

As good as Chaland’s stories got the further he went along, it’s the art that had originally caught my eye. Chaland’s clean lines will once more evoke the name of Hergé. There’s a certain amount of menace that I found in Chaland, though, that I don’t remember in my friend’s Tintin albums. Maybe it’s the stories themselves, but Chaland is able to make just about any situation menacing, from a trip into the jungle to tanks rolling through Budapest. Everything is painstakingly drawn, and it’s easy to see why Chaland’s often referred to as an “artist’s artist”; the number of people who were picking the Chaland Anthology line in French who couldn’t read a single word says something about the power of Chaland’s gorgeous inks. As an added sidenote, the rich colors in these albums (especially the reds and purples) are really gorgeous, bringing an added dimension to the work.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kind of Blue

This bottled water blue my mind!
I just got into work after spending last night at the GBMC Emergency Room...Feeling parched last night, I reached into my fridge and drank half a bottle of Deer Park bottled water  faster than a blink and, as I was putting bottle back in fridge, suddenly noticed it was a weird, pale blue-greenish color.

As I held it up to the light to inspect it, I noticed there was some kind of blue-ish shit dissolving in the bottom and little specks of crap (like the stuff you rinse out after the dental hygienist cleans your teeth) floating around. Ewwwww! WTF (What the Flotsam)?

Panicking, I thought maybe it was contaminated or tampered with like those CIA-sponsored Aberdeen LSD experiments or that some mutated viral organism got in it like in Barry Levinson's "The Bay" (OK, I'm exposed to a lot of conspiracy theories at work and I guess it's rubbing off on me)...while I didn't expect a mudshark to suddenly tear open my stomach and flop around on my kitchen floor, at the very least I figured my bottled water was somehow “compromised”…

Like Shemp Howard, I was in a panic!

It's funny, but I had just been reading about Shemp Howard's legendary hypochondria (the Stooge who routinely got eye-gouged and clonked over the head with hammers was apparently afraid of his own shadow!) in Michael Fleming's The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morns To American Icons, and here I was panicking worse than the eldest Stooge. Hee bee bee bee bee!

Filipino action star Weng Weng
But better safe than sorry, especially after the medical maladies I suffered this past fall, so I went to the GBMC Emergency Room - it's less than five minutes away from my house - at around 10:30 p.m. last night to be safe (and I'm sure when I get the bill, I'll be sorry!). There I registered, gave a blood and urine sample to the affable Filipino male nurse and then proceeded to talk to the guy about the career of Filipino film star and martial artist Weng Weng while waiting. If you’re looking for a good icebreaker with people from the Philippines, you can’t go wrong with mentioning the 2 foot, 9-inch dwarf Weng Weng and his  performance as a vertically challenged spy named Agent 00 in For Your Height Only (1981). Works every time!

There was a lot of waiting.  Another aid, some white guy in a ponytail who looked like he listened to heavy metal, came in and took a blood sample. He was not a Wang Wang fan, so we didn’t have much to talk about.

90 minutes in I was told to take a seat in the Emergency Room lobby, where the TV was airing that stupid Amish Mafia reality TV show that always seems to be on the Discovery Channel and always seems to be airing in hospital waiting areas. I think the same episode was airing when I got my MRI at Hopkins back in August.

While sitting in waiting room and while reading my Three Stooges biography I noticed there was some midget chick freaking out, screaming hysterically about what meds she did or didn't take (paramedics cautiously guarded her), and causing a commotion it was impossible to ignore. Somebody eventually call the Drama Queen's parents (and hopefully her shrink)...

Moonshiners making mash
Meanwhile, Discovery Channel was now airing another reality show called Moonshiners that featuring the hillbilly equivalent of today's insanely popular (and trendy) craft brewing craze. Deep in the heart of Appalachia, local yokels were shown talking about how to make the perfect moonshine "mash" using Mother Nature's own organic ingredients of water, sugar, corn and yeast. All of a sudden this fidgety hillbilly guy (hey, he actually did introduce himself as "just a hillbilly"!)  came over, sat down next to me and started talking about the show.

"See that guy? That's Timmy, I know him -  he makes great White Lightnin'...Best moonshine is down in the Carolinas, good soil down there, gotta use copper pipes, though..." Hillbilly Man talked at a lightning pace as he proceeded to give me incredibly detailed moonshine recipes, which led into a discussion on how chickenshit and Goldfish bowl water makes pot plants grown 7-feet tall. Inevitably, the homebrew/homegrown discussion veered off into a detailed analysis of the best meth amphetamine recipes and the best meth labs (he praised the roadside vendors of Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee in this regard). 

When I asked him if he watched Breaking Bad, he yelled "Hoo boy! That's the shit!" and gave me a high-five...before abruptly going off on a tangent about (wink-wink) The Aryan Brotherhood (he was now starting to scare me! Do I look like a neo-Nazi? Or was the over-familiarity because I was reading a book about Stooges?) and "Hitler Toots" ("Them Nazis were fearless cuz they wuz doing Hitler Toots - high as kites on meth, they'd never surrender cuz to them they was seeing not double or triple but 10 enemies at a time and thinking they wuz invincible!" (Wait, wasn't this a plotline in "Hellboy 2"?) 

Hitler Toots: Methed out Nazis cranked it up during WWII

He was all cut up in his face and said something about being robbed and hit in the head with a wood plank, but he was talking so fast and pacing about so much that I figured he had had a few tokes before coming into Emergency!" Interesting character, who spoke passionately like a microbrewer  or food gourmand talking about his recipes! And he sure knew more chemistry than me!

By the time I was finally led into the Triage section, I had already been there three hours, had learned about the Amish Mafia, Appalachian moonshiners and most of the history of the Three Stooges up through latter-day stooge Joe "Cut It Ouuuut!" Besser. I was ready to go home and when an assistant tried to coax me into disrobing and putting on one of those open-back pajama tops, I refused. "That won't be necessary," I said. "I think it's all a false alarm."

I told yet another nursing aid about the recipes I had been given for "White Lightnin'" moonshine, and mentioned that "White Lightnin'" was also the name of a movie about hillbilly dancing legend Jesco White. Somehow we got on the subject of music and this aid showed me his videos from the Who's most recent American tour stop in Philadelphia.

"Small world," I said. "I saw 'em with Keith Moon and John Entwistle, the whole band, doing Quadrophenia back in 1975 at the Cap Centre. Almost blew my eardrums out, I should have come up here afterwards!"

My water bottle, now wrapped in a biohazard pouch
Finally, the doctor came in to see me at 2 a.m. and immediately smiled when he saw my book.

"Oh, you like the Stooges?"

"Sure," I replied. "What man, doesn't?"

I now felt like a full-fledged Stooge, having wasted over three hours waiting around and amassing health bills all because of blue-tinged water.

The doctor said all my vitals were good and that nothing was amiss in my blood or urine samples (go me and my liquid purity!) and that as far as testing the tainted water bottle - which was now wrapped in a biohazard baggy - he didn't know what to do with it or where to test it.

"And I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be covered by your health insurance," he added.

Say no more. In fact, 'nuff said.

I'm outta here, poorer financially for sure, but much richer in bootleg crank, weed, and alcohol recipes. Hillbilly Man should hold workshop seminars!

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