Thursday, April 30, 2009

Little Awful Annie

As an aficionado of community theatre, I have seen some wonderful productions presented by talented amateurs over the years. Unfortunately, I have also seen  some interpretations of classic shows and musicals that would have the original creative teams behind the plays rolling in their graves. Provided, of course, that they were dead.

There have been many. Some, blessedly, have faded into memory. Others, like the 3+ hour version of "Fiddler on the Roof" performed by 7th graders, or the production of "70 Girls, 70" (a show about senior citizens performed by actors aged 12 to 17), remain all-too-vivid memories. To be fair,  I have also appeared in some clunkers.

There is one show, however, that wipes  all thoughts of a 12  year old Frumah Sarah from my mind.

The opus I'm speaking of was a presentation of the Broadway hit, "ANNIE". Back in the 70's this show was a huge hit on the Great White Way, so when the local PTO of the school my Mother was Principal of heard of a company that would  come and do a benefit performance of this show as a fundraiser, the local PTO leaders jumped at the chance, and booked them right away.
Since the company was traveling without a backstage crew, my Mother asked my friend Bob and I if we would help out, as we both had some backstage experience in high school shows, and I had the honor of being the President of my HS drama club. (By the way, if you think that being the President of the drama club could help me score the respect of my peers,  you couldn't be more wrong. I would have saved time by wearing a tee shirt that said, "HEY, I'M PRESIDENT OF THE 'FAGGOT CLUB'! MOCK ME!")

I was a bit puzzled at the time that a local group was performing "ANNIE", as I didn't think the rights to present it had been released to amateurs yet. I questioned my Mother  about  this, but she assured me that the PTO had checked everything  out, and all was  legit.

It wasn't.

When the group showed up to perform for a packed house, we discovered the "company" was a group of local kids aged 8 to 17, performing an unlicensed version of the show, under the direction of their "instructor", a 35 year old woman named Cindy. Since Cindy wasn't sure that her cast could adequately perform the title role with all the nuance it required, she herself portrayed  Annie. You may wonder if  a grown, pudgy woman could pull this off, especially since she towered over the children in the cast and could not sing. Well, even though she delivered her lines in a creepy baby doll voice, and sang as loudly off-key as she could, in all kindness, I must say she did not do justice to the role. It was more like watching out takes from "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane".

There are so many horrifying aspects to this show that are burned in my memory, that I haven't the time or the stomach to regale you with all of them, so here  are some "highlights":

• The role of Sandy the Dog was played by Cindy's own dog, a beagle who was 19 years old with a grey, wizened face, and chronic arthritis. He was also not a method actor, and had to be dragged around stage against his will,  causing him to begin choking up phlegm balls. This spoiled a bit of the pacing of the show. With all his coughing, hacking and creaking joints, it didn't look like Sandy was going to live through the performance, but trouper that he was, he did.

By the way, if you are wondering why a beagle was playing the role of a dog named after his "sandy" color, this was explained in some clever dialogue added by Cindy, who explained, "I call him 'Sandy", because of the sandy color on his head". Since he also sported the colors white and black, why didn't she choose to call  him "Blackie" or "Whitey", or, given his advanced age, "Grey-ie"? The author chose to avoid this question.

• Given the small amount of performers in the piece, there was  a lot of doubling up on roles amongst the cast. No one had it harder than the only male in the cast. A 13 year old who portrayed every single male role. Fortunately for him, director Cindy didn't think the character of Daddy Warbucks was essential to the plot, and limited his appearances to the boy shouting Daddy's lines from offstage. Other characters sang his songs, after telling Annie "Daddy wants me to sing this for you". Such liberties with the script  were  common in this production, and by the time the show was over, none of us who were there were sure whether it had lasted 45 minutes or 45 hours. Some even wondered if it happened at all.

We got our confirmation soon enough. The next day, my Mother began to receive hate mail from disgruntled parents. The general tone of most of the letters was that the show was a "piece of crap", and they had been "ripped off", and blamed my Mother for the whole thing. They were correct about the quality of  the show of course, but my wise Mother wasn't about to jump in front of the bus for this one, and passed the comments (and blame) on to the true culprits, the misguided board of the PTO. All parties involved put the whole nightmare behind us.

Or did we? Later that year, I was at my local library, when the librarian asked me and a friend to help her set up chairs, as a group was  coming to perform the next day. You can see where this is going. Yes, it was a production of "ANNIE". My friend and I regaled the librarian with the tales of horror of what we had seen, and she was deeply concerned. We told her not to worry, we were sure the group we had seen wouldn't dare set foot in our town again.

The next day, curiosity got the better of us, and we went to  check the show out. Sure enough, if was the same group doing the same awful production. Even Sandy was still alive and kicking, although by the looks of him, we were sure he wished he wasn't.

We felt terrible for the poor librarian, but after the "performance", she came running up to us with a big smile and said, "Wasn't that darling?! I'm so glad it  wasn't that group you told me about!" We just smiled and nodded. As we ran out, we passed  Sandy throwing up in the lobby.

We knew how he felt.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm Back! (Sort of)

Well, I took a week off from this site, and what a week it was! It was such a madcap week of new experiences and adventures, that I am still recovering.

Rest assured, Faithful Readers, in the days to come I will prattle on endlessly about all the things I've done and the places I saw, as well  as all the junk food I ate.

For now, though, I really need a good lie-down.


Friday, April 17, 2009

A Momentary Pause...

Although I don't post every day, I try to write often enough to make a visit to this site worth the trip.

Don't waste your valuable time over the next week (4/18/09 to 4/26/09). I will be taking a brief respite from blogging, and I would hate for my faithful readers to eagerly come here, seeking a new sample of my puckish wit, only to find the same ol' crap.

Don't despair, though! I will return to this Cavalcade of Cartoons and Comedy on Monday, April 27, 2009. I promise.

If you are new to this site, feel free to scroll down and look at past postings. It will feel just like I'm still here!

See you soon!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Sad Day (For Me!)

Twenty and counting. I have twenty cigarettes left, and when they are gone, I am giving up smoking.

This was not a decision that I reached in haste. I enjoy smoking. However, given the high taxes that have been slapped on cigarettes in my little corner of paradise, as well as all the "no-smoking-anywhere-anyone-might-enjoy-a-cigarette" laws nowadays, as well as the social stigma attached to smokers, I have no choice.

Besides, Perfect Wife asked me to.

For those of you who have never smoked, you don't know what you are missing. Sure, you may find smoking "disgusting", and can't stand to be around people who are smoking, but I find seeing people eat creamed corn disgusting, and can't stand to being around people who are doing that. I realize though, that for some reason, some people enjoy eating cream corn, so I am tolerant.

Now there are those of you who say, "Yeah, but cream corn doesn't hurt anybody! What about second-hand smoke?!" Frankly, just the sight of cream corn hurts me very deeply, and if you don't like cigarette smoke, stay away from smokers. It's very easy to do nowadays. 

So farewell cigarettes. I'll miss you. Of course, there are some things I won't miss too, so here's a list for all of you:


• That first puff in the morning.

• That last puff at night.

• All the puffs in between.

• The sweet, sweet combination of a cigarette and a cocktail at your local watering hole. For you non-smokers who never had this experience, I pity you.

• How cool Hollywood actors looked smoking. Can you imagine any of the hard-bitten detectives in old movies without a smoke dangling from their lips?


• The cost. Even before the government started taxing smokers up the whazoo, cigarettes were an expensive habit. Now, it's crazy!

• Rabid anti-smokers, who treat smokers like lepers, and react to a lit cigarette like you just dropped you pants and went potty in front of them. Hey, maybe you don't like the smell of burning tobacco, but I don't like the smell of the three gallons of perfume you doused yourself in. The difference? None to me. Maybe someday, stanky perfume will fall out of favor in our society.

• In a similar vein, I won't miss the people who helpfully inform you how bad smoking is for your health. I was already aware aware of this before I started smoking, but it's always nice to be reminded. Especially by folks who are 40 or 50 pounds overweight. 

As you can tell, I have not reached the decision to stop smoking happily, but I've made up my mind. Will I succeed? I hope so. One thing is certain: I won't be too pleasant to be around!

For those of you who'd like to make a comment on this post, please note that I will delete any comments of a self-righteous or congratulatory bent. 

I'm now down to nineteen...

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Freaks VS. Geeks

This week was Opening Day for The Boston  Red Sox, so we here in Massachusetts were subjected to countless "Human Interest" stories on local news broadcasts. No matter where you reside, I'm sure you have seen similar stories in your area. You know, like:

• Tales of the enormous lengths folks have gone to to get opening day tickets.

• Interviews with people who have lined up hours, even days, in advance in horrible weather to be the first to enter the stadium.

• My favorite: When a reporter asks some yahoo if they are missing work to attend the game, they reply, "Yeah,  my boss thinks I'm sick, HAW!" Guess what, genius? There is a really good chance that your boss isn't a (complete) idiot, and might have done the simple equation, YAHOO YOU + OPENING DAY = YOU'RE  NOT SICK  BUT ARE SKIPPING WORK TO GO TO OPENING DAY.

Even if his/her math skills are poor, the odds are pretty good he/she or someone he/she knows owns a television set. Imagine his/her surprise when he/she sees you laughing about his/her naivety for all the world to see. We hope you enjoyed the game, it might be the last  one you can afford to see for awhile.

• Another classic: Parents bringing babies and toddlers to their "first game". Note to these people: Junior will have no memory of this, and enjoying the game while juggling a screaming brat is as much fun for you as it is for everyone around you.

• The likelihood that any or all of the above individuals have painted their entire body the team  colors or are wearing a ridiculous outfit to demonstrate their "team loyalty" is also excellent.

To the uninterested observer, the above behavior may not seem very rational. However, to the media and their fellow fanatics, they are "true fans supporting their boys", and "what makes this game great", etc.

There is another group of people who are equally passionate about their interests, and exhibit the same sort of  behavior. They are the Sci-Fi/Comic Book/Fantasy fans, or "geeks" as they are more commonly referred to  by the press and the general public.

These people have all the same enthusiasm for their passion as the sports  fan, and behave in similar ways. They too wait for  days in long lines, wear ridiculous get-ups, skip work, etc. However, when ever there is a news story about them, they are always labeled, "weirdos", "nuts" or worse. On any story about a comic book convention, will you see a story about a literate  author like Harlan Ellison talking about the trends in science fiction literature? No, you will see a reporter talking to some awkward teen dressed as a Klingon, while the reporter rolls his eyes and adds  snarky commentary.

This attitude to me is highly hypocritical. Is a kid dressed as a Klingon any more ridiculous than a 300 lb. guy in a bathing suit who has painted his entire body red & blue? Of course not, but sports are "cool" and comics  and the like are for "nerds" and "people who have never grown up".

I  wish this attitude would  change. Can't we just see all these people as fans going all out to enjoy their interests, instead viewing one group as demonstating acceptable behavior and one as weird?

Of course we can't. This is America, Land of the Double Standard.

I'll cut this post short now. My new Doctor Who DVD just arrived, and I still haven't set all my action figures up in front of  the TV!

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Monday, April 6, 2009

I Went MAD!

 Any day now, everyone's favorite humor magazine, MAD, will publish their 500th issue!

Back when I was growing up, Mad magazine's cartoonists were a major influence on me. This, of course, is something just about every cartoonist can say. The cartoons of Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Paul Coker Jr., Al Jaffe, Don Martin, et all, were a big inspiration to a legion of young, wanna-be cartoonists. (Especially Jack Rickard! A big influence on my drawing. Anytime you see me draw a figure with their pinky finger extended, I am channeling Jack!)  Not only were the cartoons drawn so freakin' well, they were really funny too! Every young cartoonist dreamed of someday working for MAD, of one day joining the ranks of the "Usual Gang of Idiots".

Except me. The artists at MAD were just too damn good. Why would they ever need to replace one of them? Not that I didn't have lofty hopes and dreams, but even as a young lad, I could never conceive of the idea that the editors of MAD would ever think enough of my work to say to one of their artists, "Hey, Bob Clarke, thanks for all your good work, but we think this Bill kid is much better than you, goodbye". 

So I never, ever, considered submitting material to MAD, even at the start of my incredibly naive freelance career, when I thought all you did was send in some samples, and art editors would give you all the work you wanted and/or needed. (Note to young cartoonists: It's a little harder than that.)

I did write a lot of fan mail to MAD however, usually questions to the cartoonists, asking about the materials they used in their work, etc. Once in a while, I would illustrate the envelope, perhaps hoping someone would write back  and  tell me how good I was. Sometimes they wrote back and answered my questions, sometimes they didn't. When they wrote back, they were always very gracious and very kind, and even when they didn't, I didn't take it personally. After all, they worked for MAD! They were busy!

One Summer, in 1985, I sent one last letter to MAD. I have no idea what the topic of the letter was, but I do remember that as an afterthought, I doodled a cartoon of publisher William Gaines as a caveman with a dinosaur on the front of the envelope. My letter was never answered, and I went on about my life.

Imagine my surprise, when, 4 years later, I opened an issue of MAD (#291, 12/89) and saw  that my envelope was on their letters page as the envelope of the month! Many thoughts raced through my mind as I looked at my cartoon, among them: "I'm in MAD!", "What took them so long?!", and, "If I had known they  were going to publish this, I would have done a much better drawing!" (The drawing really makes me cringe now. A lot.)

I would love to know the story behind how it took 4 years for my drawing to get published. Knowing the magazine industry as I do now, I'm sure it had to do with some space to fill and my drawing lying around  somewhere.

I don't really care. I was  published in MAD!

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Look at Books: Walter & Woody Teach Me How to Draw

Thanks to the overwhelming (5 Comments!) response to my last blog on how-to-cartoon book recommendations, I thought I'd give another shout-out to a book that was invaluable to me as a young, budding cartoonist.

Be warned: This book is long out of print, and to find  it you will have to do some serious searching on the internet to find a seller willing to part with a copy, but if you have a young, budding cartoonist in your life, or just need to reexamine the basics for yourself, this book is well worth the hunt.

The book is, "Walter Lantz, Easy Way to Draw, Featuring Woody Woodpecker and Friends". It was published by Whitman Publishing sometime in the early 60's, no doubt to cash in on the popular Woody Woodpecker show that aired at the time. I had this book as a lad, and in addition to Preston Blair's Animation book (which you are probably tired of hearing me mention), this book really gave me all the the fundamentals on cartooning and drawing that a little geek cartoonist-wannabe like me needed.

I had this book as a child, but over the years, I somehow lost it (I suspect Ronnie Forfia borrowed it before he moved, and never returned it. Ronnie: If you're reading this, I want my book back!). As the years passed, I looked for this book in vain. Not only could I not find it, but I seemed to be the only person who had ever seen it. Fortunately, awhile back, after listening to my rants, Perfect Wife found me a copy online. It was relatively cheap too! It was everything I remembered.

Although Walter Lantz is listed as the author of this book, it is really the work of 2 cartoonists from the Whitman ranks, Frank McSavage and Norm McGary. These guys were two workhorses for the Whitman line of publications, and their work pops up in a lot of Whitman products of the era. Although they are  not  well-known in the annals of cartooning, they knew their stuff, and every page of this book shows off their expertise.

This book covers it all, from the tools you need, from basic construction, expressions, backrounds (a fabulous chapter for me, as I hated drawing settings, and Preston never mentioned them in his book), to lettering and more! They even touch briefly on drawing "realistic" figures (I still use their easy breakdown for drawing a horse, one of the most difficult critters to draw).

Granted, this is not a perfect book for the modern young cartoonist. Most of the characters will be completely unknown to them (although you can remedy that by buying one of the excellent Woody Woodpecker DVD collections, and screening it for them the next time they want to watch whatever dreck they want to watch on Cartoon Network®), and the "folksy" tone of the writing might be off-putting to your young "playuh", but if you can find it, buy it.

If you doubt this book is worthwhile, I drew the Woody in the cartoon above from memory, after all these years, so there!

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