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11/22/17: IF IT’S NOT POLITICS…
Nov 21st, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

For your T-Day Eve perusal: ‘Other’ difficult holiday talk-topics; the local role in vinyl records’ comeback; searching for opioid-crisis solutions; plans for a Seattle AIDS memorial.

11/16/17: THE LAST SPLASH PAGE
Nov 16th, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

For your Thursday edification: Zanadu Comics’ final chapter; state’s school funding still not good enough; locals bash feds’ latest threat to sanctuary cities.

10/27/17: NIGHT OF THE HAUNTER
Oct 27th, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

In your big weekend e-letter: Local-angle Halloween costume tips; out-O-state corporate $ behind 45th District attack ads; a half-million Amazonians now roam the earth; UW’s dental-school dean extracts himself.

8/1/17: RING THE ALARMS
Aug 1st, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

Is the Two Bells Bar & Grill, Belltown’s “living room” for more than three decades, doomed for yet another high-rise? (And if not, how will it be saved?) Other topics this primary-election day include still more calls for Ed Murray to quit; Police Chief O’Toole’s odd statement on police brutality; the city’s misguided centralized-IT project; and the death of a legendary local cartoonist/illustrator/weatherman/ski promoter/supermarket spokesguy.

5/31/17: NOT SO ‘CRUDDY’
May 31st, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

Wednesday’s MISCmedia MAIL starts with a great honor for one of my fave cartoonist/novelist/playwrights. It goes on to mention the “dirty” aspect of cleaning up Lake Washington; big-big plans for the UW; the apparent end to one of our era’s most famous couples; and five years after the Cafe Racer slayings (so many senseless slayings ago).

MISCmedia MAIL FOR 3/30/17: LIFE IMITATES CGI
Mar 29th, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

It’s just a coincidence that there’s a computer-animated feature out now called “The Boss Baby,” and that the title role is voiced by Alec Baldwin, and that ads show the baby in a suit and tie with orange-ish hair. Really. In more deliberate occurrences, we note Daniel Ramirez’s freedom (at least for now); neighbors who want more public amenities in the expanded Convention Center; Jeff Bezos’ even greater (on paper) wealth; and the little Belltown restaurant that got big.

MISCmedia MAIL FOR 3/22/17: THE ZINE SCENE, RE-SEEN
Mar 21st, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

The “ZAPP” archive of self-published zines, originally assembled by volunteers working out of Hugo House, has a new and safe home; though the ZAPP folks apparently had no say in it. As they say, it’s “complicated.” We also examine the need to re-re-clean-up Gas Works Park; Bill Gates vs. the proposed federal budget; a new “health scare of the week;” and national recognition to a great local artist.

A DISNEY VILLAIN FOR OUR TIME
Jan 26th, 2017 by Clark Humphrey

The total-control regime in Washington DC, and its egomaniacal central figure, are existentially frightening in their threat to every aspect of the American Republic and its people (and, by extension, all the peoples of the globe).

I’ve been thinking of how to portray this character in the context of the great villains of fiction and lore.

I’ve compared certain past politicians to everyone from Lord Farquahr in the original Shrek to a one-shot Get Smart! villain, Simon the Likeable.

This past summer, I began to call the then GOP presidential nominee “He Who Cannot Be Named” (from Harry Potter). But that became cumbersome.

So I went in search of the perfect pre-existing fictionalization for this man-child, a figure with an insatiable lust for attention and a craving to cause suffering just to maniacally laugh at his victims.

A villain this insanely sure of his own omnipotence would never show panic, so that leaves out the Master from Doctor Who.

The pantheon of Disney villains (even if you only count the studio’s “core universe” of animated features and shorts) is vast. But even these characters usually have a relatable core motivation for their various crimes (greed, power, vanity, revenge, even fashion). They largely don’t encompass the pure “evil just for the sake of ego” that I’m talking about here.

With one recent exception.

It’s a character described in a fan-written “wiki” as: “Insane, twisted, crass, mischievous, deceptive, manipulative, sly, vague, witty, lively, whimsical, hammy, confident, spiteful, temperamental, choleric, evil, chaotic, greedy, sadomasochistic.”

The character’s “likes,” as described on the same web page, include: “Chaos, the suffering of others, destroying things, partying, manipulation.”

bill cipher

I’m talking about Bill Cipher.

He’s the main antagonist on Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel cartoon show that ended last February, after airing 41 half-hours over three and a half years (the last two as a one-hour finale).

The show’s set in Central Oregon, in one of those fictional towns where assorted weird things show up every day. In various episodes, the show’s brother-and-sister heroes encounter such anomalies as gnomes, unicorns, ghosts, zombies, dinosaurs, a crashed UFO, and video-game characters come to life.

And, like several other sagas of its type (Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Lost, et al.), there’s a “meta-mystery” on Gravity Falls.

It involves Bill, who’s initially introduced as a “dream demon” from another dimension. He sees all, knows all, and can invade people’s minds, especially as they sleep.

Bill can take any visual form, but his default appearance is as a triangle with a single eye near its center. But even though he resembles the “eye in the pyramid” on the $1 bill, Bill’s motive is not material wealth.

Rather, he wants to “cross over” from the “nightmare realm” and become a physical presence in our world—not to merely rule it but to destroy it, just for kicks.

Bill Cipher’s depicted as both a homicidal maniac and as a brilliant schemer; a good of chaos and and a master manipulator.

In the series’ climactic story arc, Bill successfully cons two characters and obtains the materials to make a “dimensional rift” between his world and ours. He summons a hooligan gang of monsters to ransack the town, turn people into statues, and otherwise spread “weirdness” (pure destructive chaos).

From there, he aims to expand the “weirdness” across the Earth: “Anything will be possible! I’ll remake a fun world, a better world! A party that never ends with a host that never dies. No more restrictions, no more laws!” As he says this, the screen shows images of a giant-sized Bill in a potential future, etching a “smiley face” on the North American continent (destroying whole cities in the process), then taking a bite out of the Earth as if it were an apple.

I believe this sadistic madness, not any mere material avarice, is the type of villainy that fits our age.

You can hear Bill Cipher’s sneering laugh among goons who laugh too hard at their own racist/sexist “jokes.”

You can see his smug taunting among the online “trolls” who belittle and insult everyone deemed different from them.

You can hear Bill’s line about how “there’s no room for heroes in MY world” echoed in the voices of conservatives who want the rest of us to shut up and fall into line.

You can sense Bill’s lust for destruction among certain “religious right” figures who not only oppose all efforts to save the environment, but who sometimes vocally wish for the “End Times” of Fundamentalist prophecy.

To prevent Bill from spreading his “weirdness” to the rest of the Earth, the surviving townspeople have to hold hands in a rite that will send Bill away. They include characters that had been mortal enemies in previous episodes, but who now must work together against a common foe.

It doesn’t work at first, because two of them refuse to cooperate with one another. In the final episode (titled “Take Back the Falls”), those two have to finally cooperate (and one of them risks losing his mind) to trap and remove Bill, revive the frozen townspeople, and bring the town back to a semblance of “normal.”

Similarly, to stop the threats to America’s civil society, we’ve got to forge alliances across lines of race, gender, region, religion, and social class.

(As an aside, someone put up a “Bill Cipher for President” Facebook page late last summer. One smarky commenter wrote: “You’re seriously making me choose between a horrible demon bent on destroying everything he touches, and Bill Cipher?”)

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/8/16: SEPARATION ANXIETY
Dec 7th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

If Eastern Washington ever does become a separate state, as some Republican politicians want, it would help the national Republican Party but hurt the people living there. (But then again, what political trends in America these days wouldn’t do that?) And we also discuss the attempt to rehabilitate the image of Pepe the comics frog; still more Seattle Times layoffs; an ex-Seahawk’s gender talk and its discontents; and whether or not Snowmaggedon ’16 will finally occur.

MISCmedia MAIL FOR 12/5/16: SNOW OR NO?
Dec 4th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

Snow in Seattle is rarely forecast. Those forecasts, in turn, often don’t come true. What will happen this time? Further topics today include a victory (for now) at Standing Rock; a big “March Against Hate;” Airbnb working with the Urban League; another longtime local biz asking for your help; and Husky and Seahawk football blowout wins (albeit the latter with a price).

MISCmedia MAIL for 10/25/16: CUBS REPORTER
Oct 24th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

There’s a baseball stadium that’s been in use for 103 years, none of which featured a championship home team. But it might soon. Closer to home, we mention attempts to heal the state’s political divisions (or at least understand them); a bus-shelter removal plan put on hold; a search for an alert system for sexual-assault attackees; and a guy turning unwanted LPs into visual art. Plus: the death of America’s most hate-filled cartoonist.

MISCmedia MAIL for 10/14/16: CALM BEFORE THE…?
Oct 14th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

The Wacky Weather Weekend® is well upon us. Be safe; if you’re supposed to go anywhere, make sure what you’re going to is still going on. Otherwise, you can always stick around and read about dueling encampment proposals; an affordable-housing project that’ll also be a center for the Black community; an idea to hip-ify Bremerton (could it ever happen really?); and the centennial of one of the region’s ugliest events.

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/26/16
Jan 25th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

Today, we attempt to understand why some GOP women are acting so sexist; follow the Legislature’s halting steps toward school reform; hail an “analog gaming” initiative; and witness the second (or is it third?) coming of “mom punk.”

THE IN AND THE OUTED FOR SWEET ’16
Jan 1st, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

new years 2016 z

Would you believe, this is the thirtieth MISCmedia In/Out List? Well, it is.

As we prepare to begin the pearl-anniversary year of this adventure in punditry, we present yet another edition of the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media.

As always, this list compiles what will become sizzling and soggy in the coming year, not necessarily what’s sizzling and soggy now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some Sears stock to sell you.

INSVILLE OUTSKI
ABC AMC
Saving KPLU Saving the Seattle Times
Turquoise Mauve
Spinach Kale
Hollow Earth Radio/KHUH KIRO-FM
“Black Lives Matter” Macho anarchists
Empathy Superiority
Gents Bros
Stopping Trumpism Treating Trump as a joke
Taking back Congress Merely keeping the White House
Ta-Nehisi Coates David Brooks
Storytelling “Branding”
Mismatched plaid separates Striped socks
High-speed rail Hoverboards
Fewer cars “Greener” cars
NHL NBA
Fiat (still) VW
We Bare Bears Teen Titans Go!
Juxtapoz Erotica Censored Playboy
Hillman City Ballard (alas)
Lalaloopsy Minions
Searching for solutions together “You figure that part out, I’m just sayin'”
Issa Rae Zooey Deschanel
Michael Fassbender Will Farrell
“Genderqueer” movement “Men’s rights activists”
Exciting machines Boring machines
Real virtue Virtual Reality
Granny shoes Skinny jeans
Justin Trudeau Justin Bieber (duh)
Sia Zac Brown
Light rail to Husky Stadium Parking downtown
Hydrox cookies comeback Crystal Pepsi comeback
Monkey Shoulder Wild Turkey
Milk stout Bud-owned microbrews
“Homey” “Artisinal”
Citizens “Stakeholders”
Uniqlo Gap
Bellingham Bellevue
Back-yard cottages “Tiny homes” in the far countryside
Millennials as defiant activists Millennials as selfish slackers
El Borracho Chipotle (duh)
Guy Maddin J.J. Abrams
Permanent progressive movements Only showing up in election years
Wisdom Data
“Snap!” “YOLO”
Moving the world forward “Taking America back”
THOSE ENDEARING YOUNG CHARMS, REVISITED
Jun 25th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

jones 3 bullseye

Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.

They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.

One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.

It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.

Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.

Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.

The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.

Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)

While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.

To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.

At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.

The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.

With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.

If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:

  • “Hello Ma Baby,” the first frog-sung tune in One Froggy Evening, was originally a novelty song about a man in love with a woman he knows only as a voice on that then-new gadget, the telephone.
  • “Those Endearing Young Charms,” used in the oft-repeated “exploding xylophone” gag, was originally a sorrowful ballad about a man promising his wife he’ll still love her in sickness and old age.

jones 2 mural and guitar cyclone

Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.

They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.

The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.

It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)

It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.

It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)

It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.

And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).

Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).

At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).

Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.

Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).

And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.

And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.

Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?

And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?

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© Copyright 2015 Clark Humphrey (clark (at) miscmedia (dotcom)).