Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Zap Comix no. 1 and the Problem with Robert Crumb

I have always been a comic book fan. Well almost always. At least ever since picking up a copy of X-Men #98 at a grocery store with my mom  back in 1976, when i was but a nine year old lad who's only comic book knowledge prior had been Disney & Looney Tunes funny books. Since that fateful day, i have been, what one might call, a comic book kinda guy. 

Since then, my tastes have gone hither and fro all across the sequential art spectrum. From superhero comics (a subset of being what one might call a comic book guy, i have mostly been what one might also call, a Marvel kinda guy) to the indie comics of Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware to the genre comics of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman to the highfalutin artsy graphic novels of Art Spiegelman and Will Eisner to those counter-cultural underground comix...and yes, when one is speaking of the underground variety, that is comix with an X...that all began with Zap Comix no. 1 back in 1968, at the height of the whole counter-culture shebang that was that era, and it's controversial creator, Robert Crumb.

Arguably, one can say that Zap Comix no. 1 was to underground comix what Action Comics no. 1 was to the superhero genre. Yes, there were comic books that one could lump in with the underground movement made before Zap's 1968 debut, just as there were superhero comics before Action Comics #1 came out, but these are the vanguards of their respective genre and/or movement, and therefore comparable.  And if that is so, then the first appearance of Mr. Natural in Zap #1, a character who would become an iconic symbol of the Anti-war movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's, adorning pins and patches and comix book pages, can be akin to Superman's debut in Action #1 waaay back in 1938. Granted, it is on a much smaller scale, as is probably the case with anything saddled with the moniker of underground (a big budget Hollywood Mr. Natural is probably not coming to a theatre near you anytime soon) but it is still a solid connection. 

And, going a bit further, if Zap #1 is a subculture Action #1, and Mr. Natural is a snarky nouveau Superman,  then it would only lead to the obvious conclusion that Mr. Natural's creator, Robert Crumb is the underground equivalent of Superman's creative team of Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel. But, as Shuster & Siegel were cheated out of their creation, their royalties, and their legendary status, as has sadly been the status quo in the comics industry (just read what Jack Kirby has said of Stan Lee) and are pretty much unknown these days (it is sad and strange how so few people can name the creators of one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history) Crumb, though far from a household name himself, still has a legendary status among cartoonists all over the globe, and is considered an inspiration to almost every damn one of them. But, when considering Robert Crumb as the human being he seems to be, perhaps he too should be lost to the myriad annals of history.

Let me preface my immanent bashing of a cultural icon by saying this: Robert Crumb is a talented artist. Of this i have no doubts. His thick lined drawing style was the perfect way to display the counter-culture ideals of the time period. When Crumb first unleashed his unique style on the comic book world in the mid 1960's (the X-rated Fritz the Cat being the most prominent) and then helped to create what became the underground comix movement with Zap, it was a style that changed the world of cartooning and comic booking, and has influenced so many contemporary and future cartoonists, your not-so-humble narrator included. 

The thing was, and still is, Robert Crumb is kind of a monster. If one were to open the aforementioned Zap #1, one would quickly find, by page 3 even, thick lined drawings of African American characters as thick lipped minstrel show rejects and foul-mouthed hoodlums. Meanwhile, the N-word is used several times, including in a last page mock ad selling canned n****r hearts. Yeah, that's right. Even waaay back in the unkempt days of 1938, Superman wasn't selling canned n****r hearts to his readers.

Now one could say this was just satire...but no, it was not, or at least not good satire...or even coherent satire. This was just plain and simple ignorance. The thing is that Crumb was called out on his racist portrayals back in the day, but this was a diffrrent time, a different age, an age where such things would not necessarily ruin a person's career. So, Crumb went on to influence several generations of comic book wannabes. Granted, Crumb would do a lot of great comix throughout his career. Throughout the years, most people have known Crumb through Fritz the Cat or Mr. Natural (who wouldn't love Mr. Natural) or his famed Keep on Truckin' slogan, all of which may be offensive to the more puritanical masses out there, but none of which was inherently racist.

Then came the 1994 documentary that showed Crumb as the quirky cartoonist, and an almost cult hero. The comic book godfather to the hipsters of today. Crumb's more racy...er, racist material downplayed in favour of his more so-called friendly work. But eventually more and more stories have come out about not just his racism, but his misogyny as well. Tales of unrepentant sexual assaults would come from his lips. Even while he was badmouthing Trump during the 2016 elections (he's a racist asshole, but a left leaning one) he still managed to seemingly praise the wouldbe president's sexual proclivities. 

So now we have a cultural icon, and one of the most influential cartoonists this side of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, who is racist and sexist and a probable sexual predator (many of his more sexualized comix portray sexual assault btw)...and let's face it, a monster. Sure, one can always seperate the art from the artist (Birth of a Nation was a cinematic masterpiece, but still blatantly racist as hell) but it is a hard thing to do when that artist puts so much of themselves into their art. 

To be fair to Zap Comix, the series, which ran sporadically for the next four decades, would have many other talented artists come aboard, like Spain Rodriguez and S. Clay Wilson, artists with less neanderthalesque ideas. It influenced many cartoonists and comic book creators, everyone from Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead to the Love and Rockets comic book series from the Hernandez Brothers. It should not be held accountable for Crumb's own disgusting mindset.

As a cartoonist myself (along with my writings and canvas coverings & sculptings, i can also call my self a comic book creator these days) Crumb has influenced my own pen & ink art. So much so that i have contemplated calling my upcoming comix series "Crummy Comix"...something i might still do as my own form of ironic satire. The point is that Crumb, despite his repulsive ideas, has been a big influence on my own cartooning. Granted, my favourite comic book  creator is Daniel Clowes (he's who i really have an affinity for and with) but there is no denying the influence of Crumb...at least on the style of my drawing, if not my content. With all that in mind, i recently purchased a copy of Zap Comix no. 1 on e-bay...and at a surprisingly affordable price. I am glad i now own this rare piece of underground comix history, i just wish it hadn't been created by such a piece of garbage.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

My Final Oscar Predictions

So here we go kids! Time for my annual attempt at predicting the Academy Awards. My goal this time around, as it is every other time, is to finally break that 20 barrier. For those who do not know, there are 24 categories in which to predict. My record, which I have accomplished on multiple occasions, is 19. Here's to hopin' for that 20th correct prediction. But enough rambling. Let's get on with the show.

Best Picture
Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could Win: The Shape of Water
Surprise Win: Get Out (which I am rooting for)
Should Win: Call Me By Your Name, though Phantom Thread and Get Out are close runners up

For the first time in years, there is no true frontrunner here. This is actually a three or even a four way race. Will it be The Shape or Water, even with the plagiarism accusations? Will it be Three Billboards, even without a Best Director nod? Could Get Out pull off what Moonlight did last year? Could Dunkirk, the proposed frontrunner when it was first released, pull off an upset? Hell, even Lady Bird could shock us. But, as you have already read above, I am going with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, even if it failed to get a director nod, which Ben Affleck's Argo victory a few years back proved could happen. If THe Shape of Water does pull it off though, it will do it without a SAG nomination, something no Oscar winner has missed out on since Braveheart waaay back in 1995, the first year of the SAG Awards. So either way, it will be an oddity. But I am still kinda rooting for a Get Out victory.

Best Director
Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
Could Win: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread

Even if The Shape of Water doesn't pull off a win in Best Picture (and that is still kinda up in the air in my mind), del Toro will still most likely take home the director award, although a surprise win for Gerwig could happen....maybe.

Best Actress
Will Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards
Could Win: Ronan or Hawkins, but very doubtful
Should Win: McDormand or Hawkins

Let's face facts...Frances McDormand is winning her second Oscar! 'nuff said!

Best Actor
Will Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
Could Win: Timothy Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name
Should Win: Timothy Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Oldman is yet another shoo-in. A veteran actor who has never won, playing a real life icon? Yeah, this is finally Oldman's time to shine on the Oscar stage. But, just in case there is an upset, Timothy Chalamet could become the youngest Best Actor winner in Oscar history. Quite unlikely though.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Allison Janney in I, Tonya
Could Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
Should Win: Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Although Janney has taken precursor after precursor, and has that flashy over-the-top role that Oscar tends to fall in love with, if there is a surprise in any of the acting categories, it could be Laurie Metcalf pulling out a victory here. Perhaps as a way to reward Lady Bird in some way. I'm still sticking with Janney though.

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards
Could Win: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project
Should Win: Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water

Although Dafoe looked like a shoo-in early on in this awards season, Rockwell has come on way too strong to think anyone but he will win. And it would be nice to see such an underrated actor win an Oscar. Still though, Jenkins stole every scene in The Shape of Water.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Get Out
Could Win: Lady Bird
Should Win: Get Out

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Call Me By Your Name
Could Win: Mudbound
Should Win: Call Me By Your Name

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: A Fantastic Woman
Could Win: The Square
Should Win: The Square

Best Animated Feature
Will Win: Coco
Could Win: Coco
Should Win: Loving Vincent

Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: Faces Places
Could Win: Icarus
Should Win: Faces Places

Best Cinematography
Will Win: Blade Runner 2049
Could Win: The Shape of Water or Dunkirk
Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Best Production Design
Will Win: The Shape of Water
Could Win: Dunkirk
Should Win: The Shape of Water

Best Film Editing
Will Win: Dunkirk
Could Win: Baby Driver
Should Win: Dunkirk...or Baby Driver

Best Costume Design
Will Win: Phantom Thread
Could Win: The Shape of Water
Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Will Win: Darkest Hour
Could Win: Darkest Hour
Should Win: Darkest Hour

Best Original Score
Will Win: The Shape of Water
Could Win: Phantom Thread
Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Original Song
Will Win: Remember Me from Coco
Could Win: This is Me from The Greatest Showman
Should Win: The Mystery of Love from Call Me By Your Name

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: (out on a limb) Baby Driver
Could Win: Dunkirk

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Dunkirk
Could Win: Baby Driver

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Best Animated Short
Will Win: Dear Basketball
Could Win: Garden Party or Lou

Best Live Action Short
Will Win: DeKalb Elementary
Could Win: DeKalb Elementary (It's a film about a school shooting)

Best Documentary Short
Will Win: Edith + Eddie
Could Win: Heroin(e)

There ya have it. Three Oscars for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, including Best Picture...maybe. I'll be back on Monday, with a round up of the show, and to let ya'll know just how well I did in my predictions. At least 20, baby! That's it gang. See ya 'round the web. Now the Oscars, if ending the way I am predicting, will have to answer to this guy....

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Favourite Films of 2017

Hey Gang O' Mine, here we finally are at my annual best of cinema list...or, at least my favourite films of the past year. I know, I am a touch later than my normal first week of the new year posting of said list, but alas, I have been busy as of late, and...oh, who cares...let's just get on with the damn list. Anyhoo, awaaaay we go....

1. Mother! - The most divisive film of the year, is also, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best damn film since 2011's Masterful Tree of Life! A film I would qualify as a masterpiece...and that is a word I never use lightly. Darren Aronofsky has woven together a biblical allegory like no one has ever seen. Even more batshitcrazy than the auteur's Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream (though the latter is still one of the most gorgeously disturbing films this critic has ever seen), Mother! is an enigma of a film that many moviegoers, and many of today's critics, will just not get. Too bad for them!

2. Call Me By Your Name - Directed by Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino, and based on a novel by Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name, with it's deliberate pace and naturally lit scenes, hearkens back to the arthouse cinema of the 1950's and 1960's. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer give two of the finest performances of the year, which only adds to the sensational magic with which this love story engulfs its audience.

3. Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis! Together again! How could this combination not lead to such a beautiful work of art as Phantom Thread? A story of obsession and how far someone might go just to feel alive, this film manages to be simultaneously sinister and heartfelt. Mesmerizing in full. But alas, this also seems to be the swan song of the great DDL.

4. Get Out - Taking the sad reality of what it is like to be a person of color in racist modern day America, and placing it smack dab in the center of a classic slasher film frame, Jordan Peele has created a unique blend of comedy, horror, and social commentary, using the tricks and tropes of each genre, and flipping them all on their respective heads.

5. The Shape of Water - A succulent film full of gorgeous cinematography and luscious production design, and with brilliant turns from Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Shannon, Guillermo del Toro has fashioned an homage to classic cinema and a love story for the ages. 

6. A Ghost Story - This low key (and one might say low brow in certain aspects) supernatural love story is the second film bringing together director David Lowrey and leads Casey Affleck & Rooney Mara, and is a tragic tale that takes the idea of losing a loved one, and twists it around to a whole nother realm of existence. 

7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Yet another brilliantly disturbing film from auteur of the absurd, Yorgos Lanthimos. Following last year's The Lobster (the best film of 2016), The Killing of a Sacred Deer, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, and based on the Euripides play, Iphigenia in Aulis, is absurdist tragedy in the vein of Bunuel.

8. Personal Shopper - I never thought I would say this, but Kristen Stewart gives one of the best performances of the year. Yeah, that's right! Channeling Jodie Foster in many ways, Stewart takes Olivier Assayas' psychological thriller to a strange new level of organic psychosexual terror.

9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Playing like a rural take on a Tarantino theme, this film of revenge and small town politics (as well as racial and gender relations in America), highlighted by a stunning central performance by Frances McDormand, is as refreshing as it is frustrating. 

10. The Beguiled - Sofia Coppola has taken the very masculine 1971 Don Siegel-Clint Eastwood film and recreated it from the female point of view so missing in the former film. And she does it with her usual quiet grace and beguiling arthouse manner.

Special Mention: Twin Peaks: The Return - Yeah yeah, I know, this was a TV show, but it was so much more than that! With this return to his 1990 TV series, David Lynch has put together the most disturbingly brilliant work of his career, with the possible exception of Muholland Dr.. So yeah, I'm putting it on my best films list. Take that!

Runners-Up (in no particular order): Lady Bird; Logan; Okja; Wonder Woman; I, Tonya; Blade Runner 2049.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.