Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happy Birthday, Norm Breyfogle!

February 27, 1960 is artist extraordinaire Norm Breyfogle's birthday! If you've read any BATMAN comics in the 90s chances are you are familiar with Norm's work, as he was the lead Batman artist from 1987 to 1992. I was living in Japan at this time and actually subscribed to DETECTIVE COMICS to get every issue of this guy's art. Of course, DC then switched over to BATMAN, screwing me, haha. Among his many accomplishments was the re-design of Robin's costume in the early 1990s and the co-creation of the super-villain group The Mud Pack.

Currently Norm is working on the ARCHIE series, so you can find him in most Toys'R'Us or Barnes & Nobles stores. Check his work out!

Happy Birthday, Norm Breyfogle! 


A commission Norm did for somebody that I found on his homepage, 
This is Aquaman and Black Panther 
against their foes, Klaw and Black Manta. I love it! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Larry Gelbart!

Yesterday February 25, 1928 was the birthday of Producer-Writer-Director extraordinaire Larry Gelbart. Nowadays he is best known as the co-creator of the classic TV series, MASH. When the movie MASH was a financial success, Twentieth Century Fox proposed a television series version to CBS. Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart came up with the simplified TV version, centering the action on "Hawkeye" Pierce, "Trapper John" McIntire, Col. Henry Blake, "Hot Lips" Houlihan, Frank Burns, and "Radar" O'Reilly. From a terrible idea (comedy set in war-torn Korea) came a cultural icon that lasted for 11 years.

Larry Gelbart was the chief creative force behind the show for its first four years. It was Larry, working with  Gene Reynolds, who came up with the idea of killing off Col. Henry Blake when McLean Stevenson the actor wanted out of his commitment. It was he and Gene who came up with four of the greatest TV characters of all-time: Corporal Klinger, the Section 8 candidate; Father Mulcahy, the spiritual leader of the camp; Col Sherman Potter, the Career Army in charge of the insane asylum; and BJ Hunnicutt, a family man surrounded by immorality.

Larry Gelbart died on September 11, 2009. If he was still living he would have been 85 years old.

Happy Birthday, Larry Gelbart! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, George Harrison!

February 25 would have been George Harrison's 70th birthday. Unfortunately for all of us, he died in 2001 of cancer.
When I was a kid my favorite Beatle was Paul. He was the cute and out-going one, and he was very seldom shown with really long hair and a beard. To me as a kid I thought bearded and long-haired John and George were kind of intimidating or even scary. Ringo was the comic relief.

As I got older I came to side with John against Paul's "silly love songs" and actually started to dis-like Paul. However, for years John was a bit too radical for me. So that means I just naturally came to like George more. I definitely think it's part of my personality...I like the supporting characters over the leads, and Aquaman instead of Batman. Obviously, all of the Beatles were musical geniuses, and I like them all. But to me George had a sense of class that stood out above the rest.

George took his fame and used it for the good of the world. He was the performer who helped organize the charity concert for Bangladesh, for example, which was the first world-wide rock and roll charity event of its kind.

George took his money and helped fund HandMade Films, which produced Monty Python's Life of BrianTime Bandits, and Mona Lisa, among other movies.

George was also the one who recorded two songs dedicated to John Lennon, "All Those Years Ago" and "When We Was Fab." We played his song, "I've Got My Mind Set On You" at our wedding. He was the one who helped co-create The Travelling Wilburys, a wonderful non-band of other musical geniuses Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne.

When all is said and done, George left a lot of good music and movies out there for us to enjoy.

Happy Birthday, George Harrison!
We miss you

art by Steve Lightle 


The last time the three surviving Beatles played together? 
For the ANTHOLOGY project in 1995. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Johnny Cash At San Quentin (2-24-69)

On February 24, 1969 Johnny Cash recorded another LIVE album at another prison: JOHNNY CASH AT SAN QUENTIN. Because his previous album, JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON, had done so well the year before, he and his label (Columbia) decided to again record his concert. It was the absolutely right decision.  

During this concert, Johnny performed the novelty song, "A Boy Named Sue" for the first time in concert. It was written by Shel Silverstein (of A Giving Tree fame) and Johnny had only heard of it at a recent jam session with Silverstein and other guitarists. According to Silverstein, the song idea came from one of his friends whose name was "Jean." Johnny included it in his set to see what the reaction would be; you can see in the video below that he continually references the notes on this band stand because he had not memorized it yet. When the reaction to the song proved good, the decision was made to release it as a single. It eventually became the biggest pop hit of Johnny Cash's career and helped jump-start his career going into the Seventies.

Friday, February 22, 2013

BHM: RIP Florence Ballard

Florence Ballard died on February 22, 1976.

This was before I even knew who she was. Now, of course, she is one of my musical idols. If you know her story it can not only serve as a primer on "what to do" but also on "what NOT to do." And that is the tragedy of her life.

Florence Ballard was the lead singer of a group of high school girls who were destined to become The Supremes. She joined with her friend Mary Wilson and several others, including new recuit Diane Ross, to try to become famous. By the time they were touring and trying desperately for a hit song, they were a trio. And, more significantly, Diane had became Diana, the lead singer.

Diana Ross is incredibly talented. I'm not here to say anything overtly negative about her. However, there seems to have been some assumptions made over the years that because Diana was talented, Mary and Flo were NOT. And  I will always work to prove that assumption false. Listen to the earliest recordings or the live broadcasts and you can hear the three beautiful voices, often raised in harmony. When the decision was made to make Diana Ross a solo artist, it came at the expense of two very talented women, and that is a shame.
Florence Ballard quit/was fired from the Supremes in 1967. She was replaced as a body by Cindy Birdsong, but the Supremes as a group ceased to exist at that time. From then on, it was de facto Diana Ross and her back-up singers.

Nine years later, Florence Ballard died of cardiac arrest. She is survived by her husband and three daughters.

If I had a time machine I think I would like to go back to 1965 or 1966 and go to a Supremes concert. I have listened to the Live At The Copa album and seen them on recordings from The Ed Sullivan Show, but I just don't think it would have been the same LIVE. If I could possibly have been in a line with an album, asking Flo for her autograph, telling her to not give up....

Rest in Peace
Florence Ballard 
(6-30-43 ~ 2-22-76)

"What's that woman doing?!"

Live on Hullabaloo with Frankie Avalon (circa 1965)
they end the clip with "Back In My Arms Again" 
which features Mary and Flo as characters in the lyrics! 

Ken-Bun-Ki "Black History"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from February 13, 1997. 

In America, February is "Black American History Month." "Black History Week" was started on February 7, 1926 and from the Seventies it became a national and a monthly event. In many cities there are special events such as parades, displays of the works of black artists, and speeches by black authors. In schools famous black people come to speak or there are special seminars about Black American history.
My home-town in St. Louis was approximately 50% Black, so every year there was something fun going on in February. I like history, so I really enjoyed studying about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights movement or Black politicians or scientists. Also, because all of the Presidents and politicians used to be White men, I liked studying average Americans more than studying them. For example, I first learned during Black History Month that the first victim of an American war was a Black man and about the bravery of the Abolitionists. Also, Black American inventors have created quite a lot of stuff! The fire extinguisher, the traffic signal, the fountain pen, and the golf tee were all invented by Black Americans.
I think a lot of Japanese have a misunderstanding about Black people. I sometimes hear prejudicial things like "Black people are fast" or "They're good dancers." Sometimes the idea of "Black people = Bad people" still exists. I think people are people. It would be wonderful if people could judge others without considering the color of their skin.
Everyone, won't you please use "Black History Month" as a chance to study more and more deeply about American history?

JL #26 'The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!" Afterward

So...what did you think?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

BHM: RIP Malcolm X

Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

The facts of his life are long and complicated; however, it can be summed up in one sentence: Malcolm X  saw injustice and tried to right it. For that, he has been one of my heroes since I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in junior high school.

If Malcolm X had lived I think he would have gone on to to even greater endeavors and not been anywhere near as marginalized as he has been. Like all assassinated leaders, the real tragedy is the "what could have been." I would like to think that he would have come to appreciate well-meaning White Americans, but he probably wouldn't have. He was in the middle of re-creating himself after his trip to Saudi Arabia, so perhaps he would have had an even greater role to play.

Rest In Peace
Malcolm X 
(5-19-25 to 2-19-65)

The only meeting between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, in 
March 1964. 

JL #26 Profiles and Background Info

Brainiac is incredibly arrogant. He considers all other living things to be stupid. He thinks he is the greatest creature in the universe. For example, when he talks about Red Tornado he doesn't call him a "he," he calls him an "it." He doesn't believe in Red Tornado's humanity.  Red himself believes he is a machine
until the very end of this adventure. He speaks in a computerized voice whenever he is in costume. Then he realizes that he has friends and feels affection for them. He realizes that he is indeed human. On the last page, he begins to speak in a non-mechanical voice. 

Red Tornado's first Press Conference!    

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

BHM: Happy Birthday, Sidney Poitier!

 February 20, 1927 is Sidney Poitier's birthday. Sidney Poitier for several years was the only Black actor in Hollywood. Well, not really, but it certainly does seem that way!
After his star-making turn in 1955 in The Blackboard Jungle he followed it up to became the first Black American to be nominated for Best Actor for his role The Defiant Ones. Both he and his co-star Tony Curtis were nominated in 1958; neither won. (The Oscar went to David Niven for Separate Tables.) Poitier spent time on Broadway in a play called A Raisin In The Sun, then made the film adaptation in 1961. Then in 1962 he was nominated for another Academy Award for his tour de force role in Lilies of the Field. He portrays an American worker hired by German nuns to build them a chapel; for long stretches of time he is the only character speaking in English! Still, this was a huge deal in 1963 when he became only the second Black American to ever win an Oscar  (Hattie McDaniel in 1939 for Gone With The Wind was the first).

Since then Sidney Poitier has taken one iconic role after another. Take a look at his films listed below; if you haven't seen any or all of them, head to the library TODAY. They are all wonderful.

Happy Birthday, Sidney Poitier! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

BHM: Happy Birthday, Smokey Robinson

February 19 is Smokey Robinson's birthday. He'll be 73 years young.

If you know anything about popular music in the United States then you either 1. know who Smokey Robinson is or 2. know songs by or from him without knowing his name or face. You definitely should recognize his voice.

Smokey (real name William) was Berry Gordy's right-hand man at Motown Records during the initial start-up of that company. He became Vice President in the late Sixties and served in that capacity until Gordy sold the company to MCA in 1988. He retired from touring in 1972 to spend more time at his "day job," then went solo after a year. He then had a strong solo career. His biggest solo hits ("Cruisin,""Being With You") were in the early Eighties.

A partial list of songs written by Smokey Robinson for other Motown groups includes these huge international hits:
"My Guy" by Mary Wells
"My Girl" by The Temptations
"The Way You Do The Things You Do" by The Temptations
"Don't Mess With Bill" by The Marvelettes
"Ain't That Peculiar" by Marvin Gaye
and he wrote/produced/performed dozens of hits with his own group, The Miracles:
Shop Around
You Really Got A Hold On Me
I Second That Emotion
The Tracks Of My Tears
Tears Of A Clown
Now tell me you've never heard of at least half of those.

As a kid Smokey & The Miracles were my fourth or fifth favorite Motown act behind The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Temptations. The Miracles have great songs, don't get me wrong! "Tears Of A Clown" and "Tracks of My Tears" are probably two of my all-time favorite songs, period. But in general, he doesn't hold the power over me that other singers do. For one thing, Smokey's falsetto makes it hard to sing along with him on the radio! For another, his songs, especially his solo songs, always seemed too "smooth" for me; I preferred the passion of Stevie Wonder or Martha & The Vandellas to all of them.

That being said, I'm pretty sure Motown would not have been Motown without Smokey and The Miracles, so for that on top of so many other great reasons I want to wish him a very happy birthday and many, many more!
Happy Birthday, Smokey Robinson! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ken-Bun-Ki "St. Valentine's Day"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from February 6, 1997. 
Next week is Valentine's Day. The men will enjoy thinking about how much chocolate they are going to get, and the women are going to think about who they have to give chocolate to, along with the one person they want to give it to.
In the West, Valentine's Day is for friends and lovers. It is not just that girls give to boys and boys don't give anything back to girls. In Elementary School class-mates and friends give each other valentines. Everyone gets one. I like comics, so I always gave away Batman (Super Friends) cards. In the classroom there is usually a mini-party. In Junior High School, students only give cards or chocolates to their friends, mostly on the low-down. There aren't any class parties in Junior High School. Then in High School and College it is all about couples. For those with crushes, the notes usually say, "From a person who loves you." For couples they usually go out for a romantic dinner. Men don't buy chocolates; they buy flowers. This is a very romantic time, so a lot of people stage their marriage proposals around this date. That is why there are so many June Brides.
In the West there is no such thing a White Day. I think it is only Japan. I have heard that it was only created to help sell chocolate. Every year (in Japan) I would make hand-made chocolate chip cookies and hand them out to my women friends on Valentine's Day. Of course, there is no such thing as "required chocolate." Men, screw up your courage and give the person you love some chocolate. I guarantee the person will be touched by the gesture.
Hope you have a fun Valentine's Day!

So this is another article that needs something of an explanation.
In Japan, Valentine's Day is just for women to give chocolate to men. I don't know how it started, but the women buy all the chocolate and the men don't have to do anything. Not only do the women buy chocolate for the boy(s) she likes, she is expected to buy chocolate for *all* the men she knows. So in offices, for example, she has to buy chocolates for all her co-workers. It's pretty stupid, really. And if she has a man she actually has her eye on, she has to somehow get the point to him that she likes him while hiding in plain sight.
Then, in theory, the men are supposed to reciprocate on March 14, one month later, in what Japan calls "White Day." Of course, most men don't play along. So the women end up with nothing, haha.
And *that* is why I wrote that I make cookies and give them out on Feb 14. I didn't do anything to celebrate White Day, ever. Oh, except at home, because March 14 just happens to be my wife's birthday. :-)