Month: January 2012

What Movie Should We See This Weekend?

We’re going to the cinema to see a motion picture this weekend. Maybe we’ll even see a talkie.

So tell me All Knowing Internets, what’s good? What’s worth seeing that’s in theaters right now, this upcoming second weekend of 2012?

A big Hollywood blockbuster? An indie film? A Hollywood blockbuster masquerading as an indie film? A foreign film? An indie foreign film? A Hollywood blockbuster masquerading as an indie foreign film? A documentary? An indie documentary masquerading as a Bollywood film? Porn?

Most compelling argument wins the priceless respect of your peers.

New Carly Simon bio book is pretty bad actually

I don’t talk about this on here too much but I am a big sucker for singer-songwriters from the early 1970s. I love that music. Well, there’s a new biography that just came out about Carly Simon called More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon. And… it’s got some problems. Plagiarism, messed up facts, lazy writing, rushed to print. I blogged about it on my secret and long neglected singer-songwriter blog here and here. If you’re a Carly Simon fan like me, I would instead highly recommend getting Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – And the Journey of a Generation, which was made with Carly’s cooperation and is apparently being made into a movie.

(Back to comics soon! I promise! It’s been a wacky week.)

Jump Start 2012 with Improv Comedy!

Get it? “Jump start”? Jump Start? Huh?

Well if you don’t get it now, you will this Saturday night, 8 PM, at the Mary Pickford Studio when Jump Start starts off a two-fer night of fully improvised comedy, followed by us (the Magic Meathands, silly!). Tickets are $7 ($3 for 12 and under).

Find out more about the show on Facebook. And while you’re over there, why not Like the Magic Meathands Facebook page. Then you’ll see all of our show invites, get special status updates fresh from the Meathand factory, and meet and interact with other fans as well as some of the Meathands themselves!

The above was cross-posted on the Magic Meathands blog. I’ve been a member of the Magic Meathands for nearly 3 years, performing well over 100 shows of improvised comedy. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, give yourself a treat and catch one of our shows.

Something for Music Fans: Ten on the Tenth

If you love music, sharing it and discovering it, you should head over to Ten on the Tenth. Every 10th of the month, I’ll throw out a theme and then you have 24 hours to post 10 songs you feel fit within that theme. Any musical genre, any variety. Check it out, it starts tomorrow! There’s also a Facebook page.

A bunch of things inspired this, but a few things in particular seemed to jump start it. The classic rock/album rock Los Angeles radio station 100.3 The Sound does a set of ten songs from a particular year every 10:00 AM and PM, which they call 10@10. It’s always fun to see what they pick. Then my friend Paul Bushman was a guest DJ for the free form KXLU 88.9 FM because he was such a generous donator to the Loyola Marymount-based station. He brought in a set of songs built around his own theme. Then another friend, Bill Faure, sent me a mix CD of songs covered by Carly Simon. All of the songs were covers of songs written by men in her life. Then yet another friend Glenn Blakeslee set up A Day of Sunsets, where people from all over the world come together once a month to share photos of their local sunset. All of these things seemed to eventually coalesce in my head to create Ten on the Tenth, a fun interactive game for music lovers to come together once a month. I’m very curious to see the turnout and the creative songs picked for our first theme.

British Cartoonist Legend Ronald Searle Dies at 91

St. Trinian's: The Entire Appalling Business

“Did I do all that?” asked Ronald Searle in an interview with Channel 4 News last year, reflecting on his immense body of work. “I must’ve been a maniac.”

Searle, who created the popular St. Trinian’s, died in his sleep during the night of last Friday, December 30. He was 91 years old.

The St. Trinian’s cartoons, first growing to prominence in the late 1940s, satirized British boarding schools by depicting subversive and naughty, at times criminally so, school girls. They inspired a series of movies in the ’50s and ’60s, and a recent relaunch. But perhaps more significantly, they catapulted Searle onto a national and even international stage, as he went on to illustrate books, such as the popular Molesworth series by Geoffrey Willans; magazines like Life, The New Yorker and Punch; travel and poetry books; advertisements; and more. His immense output influenced hundreds of future artists, including Matt Groening (The Simpsons), Pat Oliphant (Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist) and Richard Thompson (Cul de Sac).

In the Jungle - Prisoners Cutting Into the Mountain near Konyu, Thai-Burma Railway, June 1943 (Imperial War Museum)

More amazing than all of that is Searle’s World War II experience, which established him as a fearless artist and chronicler. He enlisted in the Royal Engineers, where he was stationed in Singapore until it was overtaken by the Japanese in late 1941. Searle became a prisoner of war, where he was eventually shipped to Burma as forced labor on the Death Railway. Over 60,000 Allied POWs worked on the project, with 16,000 dying in the process (6,000 of them British soldiers), in addition to some 200,000 Asian laborers with about 90,000 dying. The jungle was a breading ground for cholera, and the harsh conditions and poor treatment left those that didn’t die malnourished, sick and near-death. Over the four years as a POW, Searle’s weight dropped to 85 pounds or less, he contracted malaria (25 times!), dengue fever, beriberi and suffered from a tropical ulcer that ate his ankle to the bone and some skin condition that covered his body in a festering crust. He was also subjected to beatings and even a guard’s pick axe in his back. Through it all, he kept drawing to capture the horrors he witnessed. Some 300 illustrations were created and hidden away under the mattresses of dead cholera victims and other places that guards wouldn’t touch. Discovery would’ve resulted in decapitation.

Following his liberation at the end of World War II, some of this work was published but it was apparently “too soon” for readers at the time. However, To the Kwai – and Back: War Drawings 1939-1945, published in 1986 by Souvenir Press, fared better. Most of the illustrations are also displayed in the Imperial War Museum in London.

In the ’70s, he helped his wife Monica, who was going through intense chemotherapy treatment for an aggressive breast cancer, by drawing “romantic and perfect” cartoons of Monica as Mrs. Mole, a blissful cartoon character content at home. Each time his wife received a treatment, he would give her a new drawing of hope for what the future could hold. 47 were made in all. The two ended up having 50 long years together. She died this past July. Last October, following one of her final wishes, Searle published for the first time the illustrations he had made for her. Les Trés Riches Heures de Mrs. Mole was released in Europe in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Following his death, his family released the following statement earlier this week: “Ronald William Fordham Searle, born 3 March 1920, passed away peacefully in his sleep, after a short illness, with his children, Kate and John, and his grandson, Daniel, beside him, on 30 December 2011 in Draguignan, France. He requested a private cremation with no fuss and no flowers.”

Nucleus just east of Los Angeles has a gallery exhibit on Ronald Searle scheduled to begin this Saturday, January 7, with an opening reception from 7 to 10 PM. The exhibit closes Sunday, January 29.

Year in Review: Digital Comics are Really Here

ComiXology leads digital revolution

While comic book stores were struggling (and in some cases closing) through much of 2011, the other major distribution outlet for comic books and graphic novels also faced a tough time. Book stores became a major outlet in the 2000s, primarily due to the manga explosion that brought a whole new audience back to sequential art in the United States. But with the dominance of and the rise of digital e-readers, book stores were forced to evolve. Unfortunately Borders, the second largest US book store chain and the first to usher in manga to American readers, failed to do so in time and went into bankruptcy this year and caused a ripple effect throughout the comics industry.

For some comics publishers, the effect was minimal, as previous payment issues with Borders caused some to shift their business away from them before the bankruptcy was announced. But others felt it more strongly, such as Los Angeles-based Tokyopop, the second largest manga publisher in the United States. In the beginning of the year, Borders stopped paying its vendors in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. This resulted in orders getting cut, and with Borders being Tokyopop’s largest customer account, income was severely damaged. Layoffs at Tokypop followed. Despite the late-entry hit manga Hetalia: Axis Powers, it couldn’t reverse the damage of a closing Borders, online piracy (and a digital strategy that amounted to too little too late), and the under-performing Priest feature film. By May, Tokyopop was holding a garage sale to empty out their LA offices. With their termination of US publishing, licenses were canceled, leaving a good number of manga series unfinished. It’s difficult to know how many casual readers of those series drifted away from reading manga and comics entirely after their favorite manga simply stopped coming out. In October, Tokyopop founder Stu Levy revealed that he is “continuing to explore any and all opportunities to relaunch the manga publishing operations” but it will require him having to renegotiate contracts with Japanese publishers. In the meantime, Tokyopop remains as a modest web-newsletter about Asian pop culture, in a partnership with GeekChicDaily.

Viz blazes own path, offers digital subscriptions to Shonen Jump Alpha

It was clear that another distribution outlet was needed, and fortunately one has been steadily growing over the last two years. Digital comics allow people to read print comics and manga on the web or mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Android phones and tablets, Kindle and Nook. Companies have been popping up to provide publishers with the service of configuring their comics to the digital landscape and selling them on these devices. The digital distributor ComiXology has pulled ahead as the clear industry leader, with an exclusive partnership with DC Comics and partnerships with almost every other major comics publisher and many smaller ones too. Other prominent digital distributors are Graphicly, with their focus on community-building, and iVerse Media’s Comics+. Some publishers have chosen to build their own in-house digital distribution systems, such as Dark Horse Digital and Viz Manga. Some publishers are even shifting entirely to digital or publishing digitally first, mimicking the successful web-comics model of building an audience to support print releases.

Most significant in 2011 is the near industry-wide move by comics and manga publishers to ramp up their digital output. This was most notable in numerous announcements by publishers to release digital and print versions simultaneously (frequently called “day-and-date”). Prior to this, digital comics were released erratically, sometimes as far out as 6 months after the print version, seriously undermining the ability of digital to be taken as a serious method for consumers to become engaged in specific titles. The brand new Kindle Fire tablet/e-reader, which had huge sales for the holidays, has available an exclusive set of 100 DC Comics graphic novels, along with a free, pre-loaded Comics by ComiXology app.

Before a lot of these digital announcements were made (and when most digital comics were only available through the iPad and iPhone), digital comics were showing significant growth as sales doubled for the first half of 2011. Prior to that, digital comics sales were estimated at $6 to $8 million for 2010. Print sales for the North American comic book industry were estimated at under $420 million for 2010. While still only a fraction of print, digital is still extremely young with immense potential to reach new and lapsed readers.