Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sesame Street Magazine

It's just recently come to my attention that the AV Club is doing several articles devoted to Sesame Street, ranging from the psychedelic Pinball animation to the first (failed) attempt at a feature-length film, Follow That Bird.  It may seem intuitive making education entertaining now, but at the time Sesame Street debuted, it was considered revolutionary.  In fact, there were early critics who decried their way of teaching, saying that it wasn't how they were taught.  "I never had any fun growing up in school, so why should children enjoy learning?  They've got to learn the value of hard work."

Originally, Sesame Street was aimed at educating young black children, which is why the setting takes place in an urbanized Ghetto.  However, the resulting popularity of the show expanded beyond their intended audience.  The vast variety of distinctive characters with personalities created a merchandising bonanza, all funds of which was fueled back into the public sector keeping PBS afloat.

Sesame Street was one of the few shows that had Close Captioning available, that made it easier for me to understand what was being said.  As I've mentioned before, it's incredibly difficult to lipread a Muppet.  However, I had to be told secondhand that the majority of the text that made it onscreen was drastically reduced and simplified, so I missed out on most of the subtle jokes and commentary that went in the dialogue.  On the one hand, it's understandable to keep the amount of text at a reasonable level so not to intimidate younger readers off.  On the other hand, it's still disappointing knowing that I only got a fraction of the material that basically reduced the entirety of a clever sketch into cliff notes.

At times, I regret tossing away the majority of my Sesame Street memorabilia, confident I'd outgrown the subject material and could safely retain the lessons in my head.  I was particularly proud of the margins in the Follow That Bird colouring book, which were the only source of letting me understand the story of what the heck was going on.  For some reason, one of the silent pages staring both Super Grover and Bert & Ernie in the air had Super Grover yelling "MOMMIEEEEE!", even though that scene never happened in the movie.  One particular passage I distinctly remember adding was "Big Bird walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked until he was very very very very very very very very tired."

In the midst of this promotional merchandising and book material was the Sesame Street Magazine for very young children, which had varied artists such as Tom Leigh, Normand Chartier, Mike Smollin and Joe Mathieu who were responsible for some classic children's books in the same lines.  Several of these books were based on sketches that appeared on the show, such as The Great Cookie ThiefThe Many Faces of Ernie and The Bert & Ernie Book.

One thing that the Muppet Wiki neglects in their Magazine covers is that there were some wraparound covers that continued around on the back.  As a result, we only see half of the intended image.

On the other side of this cover was Oscar the Grouch painting the name for his rather messy-looking boat, GrouchShip.

This rather poignant cover is made doubly so by having the extra-long scarf wrapped around the necks of three to five other diminutive muppets, increasing in size before extending to Big Bird and Snuffy.

For this cover that took place in late March, we see a brief reversal - Bert looking happy for a change in front of Grover holding a suppressed smile while Ernie looks on with jealousy.

It's only on the back that the emotions are reversed, with Bert looking on disapproval, and Grover and Ernie looking on with amusement at Bert's present consisting of a Rubber Duckie tied to a balloon saying "April Fool".  Only Grover is consistently cheerful on both accounts.

As for the actual content of the magazine itself, my memory is rather sketchy.  All I have to go along with are the bits and pieces I've found here and there.  One of these samples comes in the form of a cut and paste puzzle where you would have to put the correct tool needed for the job...

...which would result in a complete picture on the reverse side.

Obviously, this was back when Grover was the poster child for cuteness before Elmo snatched away that position from him.  Below is one of Joe Mathieu's pictures that I vividly remembered, back before I realized it was a Norman Rockwell tribute.

Other cutouts were closer along the lines of full-pagers that were intended to be folded into quarters, resulting in a miniature book with cutout flaps.

If you open the door (instead of turning the page, you'll see this lovable furry face staring back into your soul:

Continuing onto the middle section, you'll come across the easy teaching part, with the answers clearly available in connect-the-dots form - so easy that you don't even have to bother writing down the numbers in the first place, let alone double-check the references.  It never even occurred to me to find the odd monster out on the wall there.

At the time, I was unable to possess enough imagination to accurately portray a monster, so I just took off from Herry monster's mirror instead, and tried drawing a self-portrait, which went as well as expected for someone whose preferable communication tool was crayon.

There was another cutout page book staring Mumford the Magician and his Amazing 3 Birds act that for some reason I can't seem to find.  It's popped up sporadically in my previous forays into my nostalgic archives, but hasn't made itself available now, so I'll describe it as best as I can.

Mumford naturally made a big presentation out of being able to make birds appear, but when viewed under the flap of his hat, four birds were there.  He figured that he looked under the wrong place, because having more than the expected number of animals appearing is grounds for failure, so he checked inside a magic box, expecting the correct outcome, but instead:

"My, my my, Five birds.  What's going on here?"
Seeing no success in any of his attempts (including looking under a cage, which resulted in six birds), Mumford decided to go back to the basics.
"I'm going to look in my magic book to see what I am doing wrong..." and under the flap for the magic book were three birds.

The only way you could preserve the interior of these cutouts was was by photocopying them, and having colour copiers would be considered expensive even back then.  The text to Big Bird's Birthday Book (postmarked April 3 and illustrated by Ellen Appleby) was so faded that it's difficult to make out.  To save yourself the irrelevant eyestrain, here's the reproduced text as best as I can figure:

"Big Bird's Birthday is this month.  To help celebrate his birthday, you can make a little book to keep beside your ___ ___ cut out these ___ ___ page 1 on top of page 3 and 5.  Staple these pages together.  Then read A Birthday surprise for Big Bird."
If you're wondering why there aren't more complete versions of the children's magazine, these samples should show you why.  Any parent who'd get this for their children wouldn't balk at having these bi-monthly timewasters occupying their offspring's attention away from distracting electronics would hardly be put off by any intentional vandalism these temporary books would go through.  Not to mention that many of the pages wouldn't make much sense until they were cut up and reorganized into something comprehensible.  I even had a page about Trick-or-Treating that was glued to a Television costume I wore for years.  Sadly, there are no high-def photographic closeups of the image in question, leaving the haunting memory a perpetual mystery.  For any obsessives who demand perfection from their collections, is it at all surprising that so many of these found their way to the trash heap?  If what you've got is incomplete, what's the point of having them around, if only to remind you of what a mistaken wasted opportunity you made?

The only collections of Sesame Street material were compiled in books like the Bedtime Storybook and The 15-volume Sesame Street Treasury, which while overly large, don't seem to contain the same material that was once in the magazines.  You'd think the wealth of available material printed back then would be up for grabs for reprinting, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.  Much of it was elementary-level knowledge, but people have fond memories of things tickling the back of their heads, not to mention children who'd be pleased with discovering old material once again.

Do you suppose these magazine order forms are still good?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Black Battalion

It's now the 100th anniversary of the First World War, also known as The Great War, or The War to End all Wars, and what better way to commemorate the memory of those who fought in that prelude than reading Charley's War?  Titan Books finished the Pat Mills run with the 10th volume The End last year, and are offering an omnibus collection of the first three books to allow seeing the Somme in all its gory glory.  As with every time around this time of year, you can see a brief once-a-year low-res download of the first arc, which is gone now.

Two years ago, I paid tribute to an ancient relic of the war - the horse.  This year, I might as well showcase another overlooked contributor to the war:

It seems important to bring up Black people at a time when white people all up over arms about an alternate take of Cinderella as portrayed by Black actors, even though Cinderella's name comes from being coated with cinder ashes.  Not to mention outraged comic fans outright threatening Black Cosplayers daring to dress as regularly white characters.  The most extreme example being the fatal shooting of a Cosplayer dressed as the main character from Samurai Champloo.  Then there's the Hollywood sin of whitewashing characters who were originally from other countries and darker skins, and having them portrayed by actors with heavy makeup instead of branching out and actually finding budding unknowns looking for a big break.

The closest Charley's War gets to portraying other races is during the battle of Verdun with the unfair treatment of the Sengalese Africans, who were basically little more than cannon fodder.

The army rebel, Blue, attempted to override his superior's commands by getting word to the commander, but the only words that got through were some high-sensitive information of great importance, which consisted of "Make sure your buttons are sewn on properly."

Disgusted, Blue and his friends defy orders in order to help support the Africans from being slaughtered.

Of course, Blue winds up stealing the show, which isn't too surprising, since he was loosely modeled off Jack Nicholson.  The hijacking of the Black man's plight by the enlightened White man is nothing new.  In order to appease to the masses, they've had to swipe away charismatic Black's chance in the spotlight in favor of safe and comfortable White spokesmen, since executives believe that audiences can't possibly identify with ethnic characters that look differently from us.  Such short-sightedness has led to instances such as Winston Zeddmore being a late addition to Ghostbusters instead of being there at the beginning.

I greatly identified with children in books and movies who looked like me.  Why is it so hard to convince others that having more racial variety in main characters  would be greatly beneficial to under-utilized audiences that are grossly overlooked?  It's not a difficult conclusion to reach to.  Apparently, we can suspend disbelief when it comes to flying wizards and Russian Unicorns, but having a well-rounded Black protagonist is considered too unrealistic.



This is just to give a minor note to a little known contributor to Canada's Great War - The No. 2 Construction Battalion.  Better known as the Black Battalion, they were made up entirely of Black people, (but had white supervisors) who were implemented at a time when their efforts were looked down as little more than interferers in a "White Man's war".  Ironically enough, Blacks wanted to join the army to help their country, but were turned down simply because they weren't white.

Their efforts were not so much involved in actual combat as it was for laying down the foundation for advancing troops, such as laying down barbed wire and constructing bridges.  Actions which brought them in direct line of fire from the enemy, and without any weapons, save their shovels.  They not only had to worry about disease and enemy fire, but also (un)friendly fire from less than receptive soldiers who grudgingly didn't want to admit their helpfulness.  The only reason we even know about the 2nd Batallion is because of the written diary entries of Captain William White, the army chaplain, who recorded the events for posterity.  Founded in 1916, the second Battalion was disbanded in either 1918 or 1920, leaving it as a minor footnote in history.

The actions of the Battalion were so underscored that when brought up to attention by High-ranking Canadian Military Officers, they said they'd never heard of them before.  And these weren't rank amateurs - they'd been in the military all their lives.  There's a bio-historical movie Honour Before Glory, based on these events that aired on the CBC in 2001 that's making a comeback.  Sadly, the lack of available resources means I can't give a concise summary of events, let alone recommend it for viewable watching.  Some historical representation of Canadian history is either overly schmaltzy or downright depressing, leaving little chance of repeat viewings.

The irony of espousing the need for diversity while being unable to accurately portray the plight of undervalued members of society is not lost on me.

A page from The Breath of Wendigo gives this little factoid:
It is estimated that over 12,000 North American Natives fought in the Allied Forces during the First World War.  However, the US Government had yet to grant them full Citizenship.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jumping the Claim for Leadership

In Animal Crackers, next to Lyle Lion, the most frequently put upon animal in terms of leadership is the Gnu, who's constantly challenged and questioned over the right to lead his herd.

These usurpers generally take the form of hulking brutes more than capable of reducing Gnu to a whimpering pulp.  Their heads apparently being tough enough to shatter granite walls to dust.

Yet somehow, despite these competitors being more than twice his weight and cavorting about, toying with elephants for fun, these surefire curbstomp deathmatches never come to fruition.  This is easily reasoned by newspaper comics being unmotivational and unconventional fields for displaying acts of animal violence that wouldn't pass family values in a general blood-soaked "If it bleeds, it leads" newspaper, and being constrained by episodic strips, but its more fun to think up alternate explanations.

For the most part, this unpleasant part of the job can be simply sidestepped by making the prospect appear as undesirable as possible.  These headstrong opponents are no match for a headstrong match of wits at avoiding having to fight at all possible.

When Gnu's not overwhelming his potential opponents with bureaucratic logic, he's delegating the combat role to others who'd be more capable of chasing them off if they can't see reason.

If that wasn't enough, Gnu is constantly haranguing over his improbable personal life's mission of facing his most vaulted hurdle - being able to jump over an impassable cliff of intimidating length.  This is his personal White whale, and no amount of persuading or cajoling otherwise can convince him from backing away from this hubris, even though he never amounts to getting up a running start in the first place.

This feat would be much more impressive if it weren't already accomplished by the younger generation oblivious to seeing the potential danger of what's perceived as a simple obstacle, and see no such challenge in it.  Obviously, the younger generation has no respect for the trials their elders went through, even if they never started those goals in the first place.  There's a fine line between placing your hopes and dreams onto your offspring and actually doing them yourself.

Of course, the real question is why anybody would bother to attempt a hostile takeover over a herd that follows such a wishy-washy (if somehow effective) leader.  It's probably a pride thing or something.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bad Eatings in November

Nov. 5 - Election Day - Fifth Rule of Politics: When politicians get ideas, they usually get them wrong.

Nov. 8 - Etorre's Observation: The other line moves faster.

Nov. 11 - Veteran's Day - Bob's Budgetary Dilemma: It always costs more than you originally budgeted for.

Nov. 13 - The Snafu Equation: The bit of information most needed is least available.

Nov. 19 - Ford Discontinues the Edsel 1959 - Knagg's Law: The more grandiose the plan, the greater the chance of failure.

Nov. 21 - Law of Sports: The more money the free-agent signs for, the less effective he is the following season.

Nov. 28 - Thanksgiving - Mrs. Weiler's Law: Anything is edible if it is chopped finely enough.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Disturbing Comics: Dolores

There are stories that go out of their way to shock you, either by using horrifying imagery inspired by the latest sensationalistic movies, or news ripped from the headlines, usually by means of hitting their moralistic themes on your head until you get the point.  Then there are stories that start out relatively mundane, and the actual horrifying implications don't register until it's far too late, leaving you with a feeling of dread, even as you marvel at the workmanship.  Not unlike the legendary Garfield Halloween cartoon (the book title of which I still fondly remember as Garfield in Disguise)  This latter method is much more difficult to pull off, which may be why very few people bother to try emulating it.

Georges Leterrier is a man who obsessess with making his model crafts be scale models of the original with exacting detail.  In fact, he's so much of a perfectionist that by the time he's finally finished designing and compiling a top-secret military plane, the manufacturers have gone under new management multiple times, and they have to refuse taking the model off Georges hands, since his design is now obsolete.  While carrying the rather bulky miniature plane via public transportation (bumping into irate passengers), a boy expresses interest in his design, which was created with materials identical to the original.  George goes into detail, saying that getting parts for the engine was the hard part.  Having no further use for the fancy paperweight, he freely offers his extra-large toy to the boy free of charge.

On the way home, he's surprised to see a chauffeured limo there to pick him up.  Earlier, he saved an actress caught in a downpour with a broken car, who was shown to his model specs by his invalid live-in brother.  On the trip there, Georges admits to being farily ignorant about the movie business, since it's been years he last saw a movie, and is completely unaware of just how much of a household name Dolores Moore is.

When he finally arrives at the villa, Dolores has an unusual request.  She was rather impressed with his attention to detail for the model plane, and would like to have something similar for the house she's living in.
Georges is apprehensive and stunned, saying that a project of such an undertaking would take years to complete.  Dolores reasurres him that time and money is not a factor, since she'll be leaving for months, being involved in filmmaking in America.  As for living, he'll have permission to stay as long as is needed in order to complete the project.  Just go over the details with the staff, and there'll be plenty of room anyways.

Upon leaving, he chances upon a movie theater, and decides to indulge himself a little to familiarize himself with who he's going to be working for now.

When Georges comes home, he gently tells his brother about his new job, who doesn't take the news very well.  For the record, this occurs on September 28th, 1957.  There's nothing terribly significant about that date, but it should give some idea of the time period this story takes place.

After getting a room accommodated for him, Georges gets started by taking measurements of everything in the house, from the dimensions of the floors and walls to the furniture, including the staff itself.  A lovely assistant, Simone, is somewhat taken with his obsession, and is dismayed when her affections aren't reciprocated, since Georges is so infatuated with Dolores.  Georges is grudgingly chauferred around to his old haunts where he can order the necessary crafting material he'll need to get parts small and sturdy enough to accomplish the job.

The staff don't take too kindly to the old man's intrusion of materials spread around, but since their master's not around to hear their complaints, there's nothing they can do.

After a long stretch of absence, Dolores finally comes back to Paris with a Papparazi entourage, and declares that she's relieved to be home again, and is tired of travelling.  She wants to live a less hectic life instead of running around all the time, and doesn't want to leave ever again.  When she runs into Georges, she briefly introduces him to her male co-star and then continues on with her grandstanding.

Georges is despondant at being so casually brushed off, but vows to continue working on the project, forsaking all else.  He barely responds to news of his brother's living conditions, and only pays a cursory visit to the hospital after his suicide attempt.  The house is all he has to live for now.  While being unexpectedly interrupted, Georges drops his exacto knife on the model, causing small but insignificant damage.

Somewhat relieved at her movie becoming a bomb, Georges illogically reasons that this means that Dolores might come back.  Later that night, while getting some more supplies for the model house, Georges almost trips and stumbles on a loose piece of concrete.

Georges curiously notices that there's a similar crack on the stairs.  Not just any particular step, but the exact same spot where his exacto knife fell.

While Georges was labouring over his new model, his brother wound up having a hard time living by himself, and died soon after.  While attending his brother's funeral, dodging accusations that his brother died from lack of loving care, Georges runs into the same boy he gave his model plane to.  He's surprised to hear that the boy was able to make his plane fly just by adding gas to the tank.  Especially since it wasn't meant to be a working model.

Back at the villa, Georges attempts to repair the broken step in the model, but winds up creating an accident involving glue getting over the walls.  Having already had a bad day, Georges doesn't bother to clean up the mess, and goes to bed.  The next day, Georges summons the staff to point out an elaborate prank involving a blotch appearing on the walls that's somehow exactly reminiscent of his little accident.  The staff grudgingly oblige, saying that the composition of the stain is quite sticky and hard to remove, but are satisfied once it's finally gone.  Of course, Georges is no dummy, and is no stranger to cause and effect, and wants to be absolutely certain.

These hands!  Capable of such magnificent feats!  So what does he do once he discovers this newfound use of his talent?

Why, indulge on petty revenge on the staff who'd been increasingly frustrated with his demands.  The chauffeur is plagued with a blueish tint on his face that won't go away.

And that's just for starters.  Georges goes to the trouble of getting rid of a lovely assistant Simone who was dismayed at rejected her advances in favor of the unobtainable ideal of a film star.

Georges goes so far as to create a doll of Dolores who he pays lavish attention to.  He strips the doll naked and puts it in the miniature bathtub with water and scented oils, and mere minutes later, Dolores shows up in a bathrobe.  She still rejects Georges advances, but the fact she showed up like that at all doesn't bode very well for controlling her own actions.

Georges has now taken power of attorney and the part of Dolores' manager and refuses any calls aimed towards her, saying she wishes to be left alone, and wants nothing to do with movies anymore.  Especially since she feels personally threatened by a rising talent named Marilyn Monroe.  Georges reasurres her, saying that she'll always be beautiful in his eyes, but it hardly sounds reassuring to her, coming from him.

Georges is confronted by a policeman who'd heard strange testimony from a hysterical witness, and decided to do some following up, even though the chances of finding a lead is rather unlikely.  If there is a glaring weakness to George's powers, it's that he can't directly influence events that are outside of the house's dimensions.

Of course, if outside elements happen to be within the confines of the house, then he stands more of a chance.

Presumably, he cleaned up the bloodstains in the model later, otherwise they would be impossible to remove entirely.  Inspection of the glue stain on the wall showed that it took some time for any changes in the house itself to become reality, so chances are he could afford to take his time.

Unknowing about this recent descent into murder, Dolores is so upset with her new life that she doesn't even notice the spot of upturned earth on her front lawn.  When she comes in, she sees Georges dancing with the doll version of herself.

Delores is dismayed at all the changes that's taken place.  She's willingly followed Georges demands in order to accommodate his needs for completing the model house, which she sorely regrets now.  The last straw is all these movie posters with his face transplanted in place of the male leads.  Dolores isn't terribly amused by all this, and goes about tearing the posters apart with a pair of scissors.  Georges tells her it's useless, and sure enough, the posters are back to normal, much to her amazement.

Dolores finds it increasingly difficult to think clearly, especially since Georges has gone to the trouble of modifying her past so that he's more of a presence than the other actors she's been with.

Shortly after helping put the final piece together, Dolores notices that there's something strange about the outside now.  There's no clear vanishing point of the horizon.

A closer inspection soon reveals the awful truth:

Georges just calmly walks up to Dolores, singing the theme song from one of her movies and helps carry her back to the house where the two of them will live from now on.

To recap:  after systematically removing her closest servants and friends, including indulging in casual murder
as well as denying her right to pursue her career, Georges is now in a position where he has full power over her every action, and can control her waking thoughts.  If that isn't truly frightening, then I don't know what is.  It's like the bad ending to Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.  It's also a chilling take on the old adage that if you work long and hard enough on your dream, you'll be rewarded for your efforts.  The skeevy cover doesn't help matters much either.