Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers" - A book review

Ed Sikov finds the man behind the characters in his Peter Sellers biography, Mr. Strangelove.

The last time we spoke about books, it was to discuss David Michaelis' gargantuan biography of Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz. That book must have gotten me on a "biography" kick because I followed it up with Mr. Strangelove, Ed Sikov's look at the life story of British comedian and actor Peter Sellers. Sellers first came to prominence as a cast member of an anarchic BBC radio program called The Goon Show in the 1950s before achieving international success as a motion picture star in the 1960s through his appearances in such films as Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and The Pink Panther. That last film provided him with his best-known role, that of bumbling Inspector Clouseau, whom he portrayed in a series of highly profitable sequels for pretty much the rest of his life. Sellers' weak heart, combined with a lifestyle of heavy drinking and drugging, led to his death at the age of 54 in 1980, not long after his triumphant Oscar-nominated performance in Hal Ashby's Being There, a personal project Sellers had been trying to get off the ground for about a decade.

It would be tempting to write a truly scathing, damning book about Peter Sellers. He had so many serious character flaws that it's almost impossible to tabulate them all. Spoiled rotten by his controlling and manipulative mother, Peg (who emerges as the second-most astounding character in Sikov's book), Peter Sellers grew up to be a temperamental and immature child-man, infamous for his tantrums and wild mood swings, marked by swift and terrible changes of heart. Married four times (with no success), Sellers was an alternately neglectful and abusive father to his three (possibly four) children. Materialistic and greedy to an absurd extent, Sellers used his movie money to buy cars, houses, and gadgets he simply didn't need and took roles in some truly godawful films strictly for the cash, despite the damage it was doing to his career. Sellers could be a terror during the production of a film, slowing down filming with his erratic behavior and having various cast and crew members fired for no good reason. Ed Sikov does not shy away from detailing all of Sellers' faults in this book.

However, the minor miracle of Mr. Strangelove is that the reader does not emerge from the book hating its subject. Sikov writes with genuine affection about Sellers' best screen work, and he makes the reader want to track down these films and watch them again. (I'm particularly keen to revisit A Shot in the Dark and The Party as well as Being There.) It helps that the interview subjects, i.e. Peter's friends, relatives, and coworkers, generally seemed to have liked the man despite his many, many flaws. Even after decades of inexcusable behavior (and, believe me, there's a ton of it in this book), very few of the people close to Peter Sellers seem to hold a grudge against him. They all recognize his talent, and they often speak fondly of the humor, charm, and generosity he displayed during his more-lucid moments. Instead of waiting for Sellers to get his much-deserved comeuppance, the reader will instead be rooting for the man to get his act together. (Spoiler: he never does.)

I guess since I read the Schulz book and the Sellers book back-to-back, there's a temptation to compare the two. There are several parallels between the lives of Schulz and Sellers. Both were stereotypical "mama's boys" whose relationships with their mothers defined their adult lives. Both fought in World War II, though Schulz with much more distinction than Sellers. Both had troubled and argumentative marriages that ended in divorce. Both were in the business of making people laugh but were surprisingly complex and moody men in their private lives. And both were gawky and unattractive as youths, but became rather dapper and distinguished (and, thus, more attractive to women) in middle-age. The two books are not much alike, though. Schulz and Peanuts is a much heavier, yet more fulfilling read and offers plenty of food for thought on the nature of art and the relationship between an artist and his work. Mr. Strangelove is more of a page-turner, a well-written book with lots of splashy incidents about the life of an eccentric and well-known man. I recommend them both.

But I think I'm done with biographies for a while. One of the supporting characters in Mr. Strangelove is the American writer Terry Southern (who coauthored the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove), and I think it is high time I explored Southern's novels.

Before I go, I really must share with you this clip. Half of it was filmed during the making of Strangelove and half... well, wasn't. Either way, it includes a dazzling display of Peter Sellers' talent for regional accents. Enjoy.



Wayne can has Dolly Parton?


The Dolly Llama
Hello, all.

I promise that I'll get off this "I Can Has Cheezburger" kick soon, but for now I'm still occasionally submitting lolz to the site. Here's one that made the homepage. It's the Dolly Llama, get it? I'm actually a big admirer of Dolly's music, and this picture also kind of reminds me of the centaurs from Fantasia.

Vote here if you care to.

Either way, enjoy this:



And this:



At long last... ZOMBY!!! sells out

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Zed Word's Confusing Cinema Challenge



Today, Aaron of the estimable Zed Word Zombie Blog has been using the #confusingcinema hashtag on Twitter to post his proposed titles for baffling movies. He also offered this challenge:
If anyone can come up with plot synopses for my #confusingcinema movie titles, I'd be impressed

Well, as they say on the internets these days, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! Let's get started. Here are some of Aaron's suggested titles with my plot synopses.

My Mom Was a Teenage Were-Car - It's 1957. High school cheerleader Betsy Lou Hoover undergoes TWO drastic physical changes when she makes an ill-advised decision to "park" with her quarterback boyfriend, Ron, behind the local nuclear power plant. First, she becomes pregnant. But also, and more incredibly, her DNA is altered and begins to take on the physical characteristics of Ron's beloved '57 Chevy. So now she has TWO terrible secrets to deal with. And will she give birth to a man or a machine? Think Cronenberg's The Fly (plus Cronenberg's Crash) meets Peggy Sue Got Married.

The Land of Percy Jones's Sweet Bad-Ass Ballad for the War of the Space Toad - A funky blaxploitation take on the typical sprawling sci-fi/fantasy epic. Basically, there's a race of peaceful, gentle aliens, the Salamandrites, whose most prized possession is a magical glowing icon called the Space Toad, which functions a lot like the Sampo in The Day the Earth Froze. It provides them food, energy, etc. The "war" begins when an evil warlike race called the Amphibulons swoop in and steal the Space Toad. It's up to a swaggering Salamandrite named Percy Jones (played by Samuel L. Jackson) to rise up against the oppressors and "take back what's mine." Think Avatar meets Shaft.

Look Whose Chainsaw Bakes Cauliflower - Heartwarming family comedy. Bumbling father and self-styled home handyman Ernie buys a chainsaw to assist him in his various do-it-yourself projects around the house. But it's no ordinary chainsaw! This one comes to life and turns out to have a personality of its own. You'd think a chainsaw would have a badass/tough guy personality, but this one's more of an easygoing hippie vegan type. Anyway, the saw gets into various hijinks and teaches the family to love again... until the government finds out about it and tries to take it away so it can be dissected and studied. Think E.T. meets Home Depot.


More to come...?

At last... ZOMBY!!! gets a taste of his own medicine

Thursday, January 27, 2011

At long last... ZOMBY!!! goes grocery shopping (and encounters societal prejudice along the way)



AUTHOR'S NOTE: One of the small pleasures I derive from doing Zomby!!! is adding those shapeless dark-gray blobs to the hero's light-gray body. For whatever reason, they remind me of RICKIE TICKIE STICKIES, those hippie flower decals from the late 1960s. (You still occasionally see them stuck to people's bathtubs because they're virtually impossible to remove.)



Tuesday, January 25, 2011

At long last... ZOMBY!!! aims for the all-important foreign market

If ZOMBY!!! is ever to become the universally-beloved cash cow that it should be, the strip will have to transcend the boundaries of culture and language. To that end, I present this prototype for a "British language" version.



And for the culturally-deprived among you, here is a translation into American (or normal) English:



Monday, January 24, 2011

Take THAT, beloved television personality Larry King!



I very nearly made this a Hugh Hefner joke, but then I remembered I did one of those already.

Feel free to substitute the name of any ridiculously old celebrity. Thanks.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

At long last...ZOMBY!!! seeks acceptance



I'm experimenting with doing Zomby!!! in comic strip form today. It's a little hard to read at this size (unless you click on it).

Maybe vertical instead of horizontal?





Hmmm.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday ZOMBY!!!!s are never funny



I don't know what it is, but the Sunday ones are like comedy Kryptonite. They just repel laughter. Which reminds me of a story: when I was a kid, I had these little toy Scotty dogs with magnets glued to the bottom. The idea was that the magnets would either repel or attract each other depending which direction they were facing, so you could make the dogs "kiss" or "chase" each other. It was a neat toy.

HOLY CRAP, YOU CAN STILL GET THESE.



P.S. - Here's a "tweaked" version of the cartoon, meaning I was seriously tweaked when I came up with it.



Dream on, Twitter, but Justin Bieber's not a zombie



As you can see from the screen grab above, "RIP JUSTIN BIEBER" somehow became a Trending Topic on Twitter. But it's not true. J-Bieb is alive, well, and singing his heart out somewhere. I figure I had to break the news to you since judging by my stats, an inordinate number of people find this blog by searching for "dead Bieber" on Google.

To those people: first off, HI! Secondly, I know you're disappointed, but just listen to this and relax.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Interview with a vampire... not THE vampire, mind you.

Here's a modest little comic I did one day on the train. I take a little notebook along with me during my commute, and when I'm really bored sometimes I draw in it. The picture quality's not outstanding, but that's as good as it's going to get. I drew on the back of it, and some of the ink seeped through so you can kind of make out a comic I did on the other side.

NOTE: Click on the image to see at full size.



At long last... ZOMBY!!! sits alone on a park bench



AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, for this cartoon I did use the dreaded Comic Sans font. What can I say? I have no patience for font snobbery. I just don't see what it gets you in the long run. After all, as the Internet repeatedly tells us, HATERS GONNA HATE.



Friday, January 14, 2011

Helping Kristen Stewart be more eloquent




So have you heard? Kristen Stewart can't go to the mall.

I know, right? That is totes depressing, K-Stew.

Here's what the damsel in distress had to say on the matter:
There’s no way to eloquently put this. I just can’t go to the mall. It bothers me that I can’t be outside very often.

Now, I can't solve Kristen's privacy problems, but I do dispute her claim that there is no way to "eloquently" phrase her dilemma. How about this?
Oh, cruel fate! It would seem that my nascent renown carries with it the heftiest of penalties. Verily, I have attained eminence as a thespian, but at what cost? My notoriety has isolated me to the point that even a casual sojourn to the local shopping plaza has become impractical. I dare not partake of the joys afforded to humanity by Mrs. Fields or even Nine West. Were I to do so, I would all but assuredly be overwhelmed by admirers and well-wishers. If this is to be my fate, then I shall cloister myself away, as much as it pains me. Why must you torment me in this fashion, capricious Fortuna?

So that's something to try in the next interview, Kristen.

P.S. - If you're wondering what makes Kristen Stewart an appropriate subject for this blog, then you obviously didn't examine that photograph at the beginning of the article.

At long last... ZOMBY!!! finds human remains in his bed

Thursday, January 13, 2011

At long last... ZOMBY!!! stares moronically at his television



Zomby!!! seems to watch a lot of TV while standing up in the middle of his unfurnished living room. I mean, isn't it weird that he has his TV facing the wall and not, say, a chair of some sort? In other cartoons, we've clearly established that he has at least one TV-watching chair. Maybe he's some kind of crazy shut-in with TVs all over his house, and the one we're seeing is just the one he keeps in the hall so he can watch television on his way to the kitchen or the bathroom.
"And Mr. Green, he's so serene
He's got a TV in every room."


- THE MONKEES, "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

I guess Zomby!!! is Mr. Gangrene.



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Don't fear zombies... fear honey badgers!



At long last... ZOMBY!!! disappoints an old hermit



AUTHOR'S NOTE: A seeker of truth scales a mountain in order to consult the wisdom of an old bearded guru who sits cross-legged at the peak. For many years, this was a standard scenario for both comedy sketches and gag cartoons, but nowadays I think Ziggy and maybe The New Yorker are the only ones keeping it alive. Did you know there was even supposed to be a "mountaintop guru" scene in the first Willy Wonka movie? Here's the anecdote which has appeared on many Wonka and movie trivia sites:

During the world-wide rush to get the golden tickets, a mountain climber goes to the top of a mountain to see a guru. He asks, "What is the meaning of life?" "You got Wonka bar?" asks the guru. The climber hands him a Wonka bar. The guru unwraps the bar, and finds nothing. The guru says, "Life is a disappointment." Nobody laughed at it during a screening, so the director Mel Stuart showed it to a psychologist. The psychologist said "Nobody laughed, because for many people, life IS a disappointment." So the scene was cut.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

At long last... ZOMBY!!! eats in a Chinese restaurant




OBSERVATIONS FROM THE DAILY COMMUTE: Today at the Des Plaines train station, some joker had traced a picture of a giant penis into the snow on the platform, everything from tip to testicles. From the ground level, it probably didn't look like anything, but from my vantage point in the upper level of the train, it was unmistakable. Anyway, people got off the train and started tromping all over the poor thing, and by the time our train left the station, the snow penis was no more. I think this anecdote makes a profound point about the ephemeral nature of life. We are all drawings of penises traced in the snow on train platforms before we are trampled out of existence by oblivious commuters.

Here's what happens when you do a Google image search for "snow penis," by the way.



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Schulz and Peanuts: a book review



"Cartooning will destroy you. It will break your heart." - CHARLES M. SCHULZ

Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts is, essentially, the Beatles of comic strips. If you're into newspaper comics (or cartoons in general), you probably enjoy Peanuts, while if you're into classic 1960s rock (or popular music in general), you more than likely enjoy the Beatles. Schulz did not invent the comic strip, as the Beatles did not invent rock & roll, but they both redefined their respective media and broadened people's expectations of what could be done within them. In so doing, Peanuts attained unprecedented commercial success (as did the Beatles) and influenced generations of other writers and artists (as did the Beatles). And both have remained popular over the decades, appealing both to the widest-possible mainstream audience and over-analytical connoisseurs alike.

(Side note: If Peanuts is the Beatles of comic strips, does that make Garfield the Rolling Stones of comic strips? Hmmmm.)

David Michaelis' massive biography of the late Mr. Schulz, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, is a fascinating book which provides valuable insight both into the strip and the man who created it. The title has the billing right: this is a book about Schulz first and Peanuts second. Michaelis assumes, probably correctly, that anyone willing to tackle a 672-page book about Charles Schulz is already very familiar with Peanuts and its various characters, relationships, recurring storylines, and running jokes. If you can't tell Charlie Brown from Linus or Snoopy from Spike, Schulz and Peanuts is not the book for you. Maybe some other writer will have to write the definitive book about the internal history of Peanuts. Michaelis' book is much more about the strip's external life, i.e. the real-life inspirations behind the strip (Schulz's own life and his relationships with others) and its growth as a pop culture and merchandising phenomenon.

When Schulz and Peanuts came out back in 2007, the standard line from critics and reporters -- who were looking to quickly pigeonhole Michaelis' book -- was that it exposed the hidden dark side of Charles M. Schulz. To that, I would say Schulz's dark side was "hiding" in plain sight for 50 years, as his strip frequently dealt with frustration, disappointment, fear, depression, and cruelty. Even the sentimental and reassuring TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas features moments of angst, despair, and emotional brutality. In short, Schulz put his dark side on display for the entire world to see. Michaelis presents Schulz as neither a hero nor a villain, but as a surprisingly complex human being. The life of Charles Schulz is neither a comedy nor a tragedy. It's not quite a Horatio Alger story, an allegory, an epic saga, or a cautionary example either. The cartoonist's life, therefore, did not follow any of the standard templates for a biography. I think critics painted this book as a "dark" expose because that makes for a better story. Michaelis does explore some of Schulz's various character flaws, such as his emotional withdrawal from his first wife Joyce, but I never for a moment felt that Michaelis was trying to make Schulz into an "unforgivable" monster. Instead, the author remains sensitive and sympathetic throughout the entire book -- sympathetic both to Schulz and to the people around him.

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography is probably of interest mainly to comics junkies in general and Peanuts fans in particular, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the creative process or in exploring the relationship between Art and Life. And if you just like funny cartoons, Michaelis generously includes many, many examples of Peanuts strips from all the different eras of Schulz's career. If anything, this book made me eager to explore those strips again.


At long last... ZOMBY!!! confronts his maker

Givin' the public more of what it wants -- Zombie Bieber, Part 2!

Hello, all.

Since I started paying attention to the actual stats for my blog, I've learned that one of my most popular posts of all time was "Givin' the public what it wants -- zombie Justin Bieber." The people have spoken, and their message is clear.

GIVE US MORE PICTURES OF JUSTIN BIEBER AS A ZOMBIE!

Very well then. Enjoy.

(NOTE: Again, none of these images were created by me.)

Zombie Justin Bieber

Zombie Justin Bieber

Zombie Justin Bieber

I really hope these will be sufficient.