Saturday, August 27, 2011

Further additions

A few updated pictures of the studio's progress. I added a few new pictures to the wall.

Ruben giving the studio his approval.

A painting by my late Grandfather Herholz.

Page one of the Loved One. The first work I've done at my desk in a couple months.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tour of my Studio

A quick photo tour of my brand new studio. It won't be much of a tour because it's not a huge space. But it's perfect for my needs. Just need to bring in a few extra supplies and hang a few more pictures on the wall but it's pretty much ready for me to start working on projects in.

I've had this picture of Charlie Chaplin probably since the fifth grade. My studio wouldn't be complete without it.

My good friend and former roommate A-Town Krolikowski wedding gift which he gave me on the night I we all went out to Northampton to tie a few on.

A close-up on the last panel. A-Town envisioning what my wedding night was like.

A gift from my sister Trish. A photo of the Marx Brothers.

A Birthday gift from my wife Sydney.

My studio is finally set up... well... NEARLY set up...

Well, it took me three months with getting the place straightened up and plowing through the Summer Session at the Worcester Art Museum. But I FINALLY have my studio pretty much set up. Well, pretty much the essentials of getting work done set up.

I need to work on a raised area so doing projects on the dining room table and at the Museum during break was driving me crazy.

So I finally have my drawing desk (which I've had since the seventh grade and looks very much like the one Walt Kelly worked at), my Mac Computer, drawing utensils and bristol boards of various persuasions all set up. I am now proceeding to hang up pictures around the studio.

As much as I would idealistically love to go for the whole John Lennon blank wall to evoke creativity aesthetic I really know it's just not me. I need things hanging on the wall.

One of my brand new pieces is a wedding gift created by my good friend and former roommate A-Town Krolikowski. It's a comic piece involving my wedding night in a way that only A-Town can envision it.

Pictures should be posted very soon. But at least now I can work again.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spike Milligan as Willy Wonka???

It's true!! Roald Dahl originally wanted Spike Milligan to play the part of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And as much as I like Gene Wilder I really have to go with Dahl on this one. For those of you who are familar with Spike Milligan's work from television, movies and the books he has wrote you should know that Milligan was completely mad. Brilliant and mad. Which would have made him the perfect Willy Wonka.

I'm actually thinking about working on a Willy Wonka sketch using my Spike Milligan as the model for the character. I will be certain to post it on this blog so stay tuned.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The second week of the Summer session at WAM Has Rung Down the Curtain and Joined the Choir Invisible...

Both my first two sessions for 8 to 10 year olds both ran this year and it looks like at least the first week of the August Workshops will run as well with the second one still up in the air.

I've definitely noticed that this has been kind of a crabbier Summer Session for students and instructors alike. Which I think is because it's been a particularly hotter than average Summer. July especially.

And here I was worried that we would have the type of Summer we had in New England a couple years ago where it was rainy and didn't get past 60 degrees until the last week of August.

THAT has not been a problem this year to say the least. This has been a scorcher and so naturally temperatures never getting below 99 degrees does have a tendency to bring out a bit of crabbiness in everyone.

But it hasn't been a bad Summer at WAM. I've gotten the opportunity to try a new project with the students which I had them do a comic called The Adventures of Turtleboy and Larry.

Think The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack meets Adventuretime type of characters. Turtleboy is a wannabe pirate with his friend who is a flying turtle named Larry. And they travel the world in their ship the SS Boat which is a bathtub.

They had a new sculpture up in the American Art wing with Cupid sitting on top of this turtle. So naturally the first thing I thought of was our famous Turtleboy sculpture near the Worcester Public Library and that's how I came up with that project.

I may try the project next week and see how receptive my 11 to 13 year old students are.

I should mention I was able to use my good friend and fellow cartoonist Brian Nelson's strip Laurel as an example of how to do a one panel gag strip. Sort of like Ziggy or the Far Side type of comic. Brian's comic is hanging on Honee Hess's office door at WAM so I was able to dyop by outside her office and point out what makes a one panel gag strip effective.

I'm kind of amazed how fast the first two sessions have flown by. Oh well. Onto the first week of the August Session...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


About a month or so ago I did an interview which I discussed how I went about adapting William Gillette's play Sherlock Holmes into a graphic novel.

Many of his questions made me stop and think about the whole approach. Especially since now I am hoping to embark on a new adaptation. This time with The Loved One. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, so many people have their own opinions and ideas how the character should look and be approached.

Is it really THAT important to please the reader and remain true to the original character and the original story?

Is a modern retelling of a classic tale blasphemy?

Yes and no. Actually, the last question I probably would have answered in a resounding "YES!! about a couple years ago. But the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series has made me rethink my outlook on the whole idea of a modern retelling.

But in the case of any adaptation of classic literature, I feel the only way a writer or artist will have a successful adaptation is if they have a love or appreciation for the character and story they are adapting.

To put it simply, if you do not appreciate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, then you really should not be doing an adaptation of it. Your lack of enthusiasm will show in the finished project.

And on a personal note, no more fetishist adaptations of Alice in Wonderland. Please?? It's somewhat creepy.

It also helps to know the character well. Especially in the case of a modern retelling. A good example of this is my buddy Andy Fish's Dracula series. What helps is series to be successful is his appreciation for not only the original tale but also the classic Dracula movies as well as movies from the 1930's, adventure serials and film noir. He has taken all those elements and put them together in his own adaptation. The result is probably the most dynamic and truly frightening Dracula to date while still remaining true to the original story itself.

This is also the reason why people like the series Sherlock. Even though the production team has made an effort to make it a more modern and action-packed version of Sherlock Holmes, their understanding of the character and keeping that spirit intact is what has made the series a success. They have also kept that element of mystery and suspense intact as well.

And made people wait impatiently for it to return.

That's something that the recent Robert Downey Jr. movie has lacked. There's too much excitement and no mystery.

But just remember you can only do so much as far as getting it spot on. Even in the case of my own Sherlock Holmes adaptation while some people thought it was "The best Holmesian graphic novel I've come across in a long time" there were a few that thought "The art looks freakish, all right, and not in a good way".

So you're not going to please everyone with your approach. But whatever approach you wish to take as long as you remain true to the character you can't lose...

...or at least you run less of a risk to lose.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fake Shemp

Fake Shemp or simply, "Shemp," is the term for someone who appears in a film under heavy make-up, filmed from the back, or perhaps only showing an arm or a foot.

The term references the comedy trio The Three Stooges. In 1955, Stooge Shemp Howard died suddenly of a heart attack. At the time, the Stooges still had four shorts left to deliver (Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers, and Commotion on the Ocean), by the terms of their annual contract with Columbia Pictures. By this point in the trio's career, budget cuts at Columbia had forced them to make heavy use of stock footage from previously completed shorts anyway, so they were able to complete the films without Shemp. New footage was filmed of the other two Stooges (Moe Howard and Larry Fine) and edited together with stock footage. When continuity required that Shemp appear in these new scenes, they used Shemp's stand-in Joe Palma to be a body double for him, appearing only from behind or with an object obscuring his face. Palma became the original "Fake Shemp," although the term was not officially in use at the time.

First usage of the phrase was by aspiring filmmaker Sam Raimi, a professed Stooges fan, coined the term in his first feature-length movie The Evil Dead. Most of his crew and cast abandoned the project after major delays (mostly due to budget issues) pushed production well beyond the scheduled six weeks. He was forced to use himself, his die-hard friends Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, Josh Becker, assistant David Goodman, and brother Ted Raimi as "fake shemps."

When is it time to throw in the towel?

From time to time I tend to think about this. Especially when I happen to be watching a movie on really the tail end (or very end) of an actor's career. Comedians especially. You just find yourself saying "It's just not the same". The Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges are the best example of "living past their prime". For the Marx Brothers probably their last pure film was Night in Casablanca. Which wasn't a perfect film. But it still had that faint glimmer of their glory days. You can see with their last film "Love Happy" it's just not there anymore. Groucho's not even bothering to put on the old greasepaint mustache and eyebrows.

I suppose to be fair, Love Happy was really a vehicle for Harpo but I believe it became a Marx Brothers film to once again get Chico out of gambling debt. Which was the reason A Night in Casablanca was made.

But even the films following it, it's not the same Groucho anymore. The sharp wit of Duck Soup and Horse Feathers has been replaced by what appears to be a very caustic and cranky old man.

The Stooges are another example of that. After Curly died they were able to continue on with the help of Shemp returning to the group. And even after Shemp died they were able to complete the remaining films with unused footage and a technique of showing another actor from behind which has been referred to by Sam and Ivan Raimi as a "Fake Shemp".

I'll talk about that more in a future blog. It's actually rather fascinating.

But the later films with Joe Besser and later Curly Joe are just unwatchable. And you can see it in their faces. It's just not that same energy and excitement of their earlier films with Curly. And it's almost depressing to watch.

And there was talk about a new line-up of the Stooges after Larry Fine had died which would have starred in... brace yourself... an R-Rated sex comedy!

Moe died before both this incarnation and the movie starring the Three Stooges could be realized. The movie itself, however, ended up being produced as Blazing Stewardesses and starred the surviving Ritz Brothers.

I suppose it's easy for you or I being on the outside looking in to say "Yeah, they're washed up! They shoulda hung up the baggy pants and put away the greasepaint a long time ago".

Then again, I don't know if there are many young actors or actresses in Hollywood nowadays we will be debating this subject years for now. I mean really! Sit down and think about it for a little while. How many young actors and actresses out there can you think of have the staying power of a Carey Grant or a Katherine Hepburn? I'm not even sure if I can count that many on my fingers.

But back to my original point. I think a great deal of this was to do with the fact that many of these acts were really doing the same schtick they were doing when they were young. I think seeing a 70 year old still trying to do the same pratfalls as when he was a 30 or 40 year old just isn't the same.

How do you want to remember Mae West? Trading barbs and double-entendres with WC Fields. Or as the plastic surgery nightmare she would later become?

The only comedian I think really worked well into his later years (not counting George Burns because I think he was always an old man) was Charlie Chaplin. But I think a great deal of that was to do with the fact he was not still playing the Tramp well into his sixties and seventies. And I think he knew when it was the right time to retire that character. It would have been somewhat sad to see this fat little old man with white hair still trying to pull off the floppy shoes and derby while trying to squeeze into his old Tramp costume. Unlike many of the people I mentioned above, Chaplin seemed to age with the characters he played in his later films. Not to mention he seemed to go out of his way to go with parts that were out of character for him.

Even one of his later films Limelight which he played a Tramp-like character he played a performer nearing the end of his life trying to grab that one last shot at old glory.

Which is even more poignant to see him acting this out with his one film rival (or contemporary) Buster Keaton. It's a great scene of these two old school comedians who took somewhat different approaches to their characters.

I suppose I didn't really give much of an answer to the original question. But then again it really wouldn't be an answer as much as my own personal opinion. I suppose it's not so much hanging up the towel but evolving. And as much as I enjoyed the Stooges or Groucho they never really evolved from what they were originally doing when they were younger.

But at the same time, their later years do not ruin those earlier performances. And I suppose that's because despite their decline at the end of their career, they did something that was timeless and memorable.

I kind of wonder how many young comedians can say the same?