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Always Missed . . .

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Charles Hardin Holley

Born September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas.

Died February 3, 1959, outside Clear Lake, Iowa.

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

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The festival was over, the boys were all plannin’ for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin’ in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin’ wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin’ in the doorway lookin’ like the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

He moved across the mirrored room, “Set it up for everyone,” he said
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doin’ before he turned their heads
Then he walked up to a stranger and he asked him with a grin
“Could you kindly tell me, friend, what time the show begins?”
Then he moved into the corner, face down like the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Backstage the girls were playin’ five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens; she was hopin’ for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were fillin’ up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowin’, you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy and so fine
With his bodyguards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his bodyguards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town
She slipped in through the side door lookin’ like a queen without a crown
She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear
“Sorry, darlin’, that I’m late,” but he didn’t seem to hear
He was starin’ into space over at the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

“I know I’ve seen that face before,” Big Jim was thinkin’ to himself
“Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody’s shelf”
But then the crowd began to stamp their feet and the houselights did dim
And in the darkness of the room there was only Jim and him
Starin’ at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Lily was a princess, she was fair-skinned and precious as a child
She did whatever she had to do, she had that certain flash every time she smiled
She’d come away from a broken home, had lots of strange affairs
With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere
But she’d never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

The hangin’ judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drillin’ in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king
No, nothin’ ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention, tired of playin’ the role of Big Jim’s wife
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide
Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died
She was gazin’ to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Lily took her dress off; buried it away
“Has your luck run out?” she laughed at him,
“Well, I guess you must 
have known it would someday
Be careful not to touch the wall; there’s a brand-new coat of paint
I’m glad to see you’re still alive; you’re lookin’ like a saint.”
Down the hallway footsteps were comin’ for the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

The backstage manager was pacing all around by his chair
“There’s something funny going on,” he said, “I can just feel it in the air”
He went to get the hangin’ judge, but the hangin’ judge was drunk
As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

No one knew the circumstance but they say that it happened pretty quick
The door to the dressing room burst open and a Colt revolver clicked
And Big Jim was standin’ there; you couldn’t say surprised
Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes
She was with Big Jim but she was leanin’ to the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall
And cleaned out the bank safe; it’s said that they got off with quite a haul
In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more member who had business back in town
They couldn’t go no further; not without the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

The next day was hangin’ day, the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn’t even blink
The hangin’ judge was sober; he hadn’t had a drink
The only person on the scene missin’ was the Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

The cabaret was empty now, a sign said, “Closed for Repair”
Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her father, who she very rarely saw
Thinkin’ ’bout Rosemary and thinkin’ about the law
But most of all she was thinkin’ about the Jack of Hearts

—Bob Dylan

Copyright ©1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music

No Words; Lots of Laughs!

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Patty is up in Hanover babysitting Sophie while Neenie, Greg and Maddie are in Philadelphia. Instead of playing guitar tonight with the Usual Suspects, I’m sitting at home with Murphy (high winds make him nervous and I don’t want to leave him by himself). As Murph and I try to ignore the winds, I’m laughing my head off at videos of an unusual pantomime comedian. His name is George Carl and there are several great videos of him on YouTube:

I recommend that you go full screen on the video. This particular one is from a 1986 Tonight Show.

Thanks to Mark Evanier, TV-show and comic-book writer (everything from Scooby-Doo and Welcome Back, Kotter to the Blackhawk comic books), historian and all-around genius at large, for pointing us in Mr. Carl’s direction! I owe you a stack of Gold Key Dick Van Dyke Show comics for that, Mark!

Jim’s Nature Corner: Know Your Moths, Part 2

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My son, Aaron, creates skillful digital imagery, as a previous post spotlighted. Below is the first photography I’ve seen from him. It’s a photo he took of the outside of our basement door with a Luna moth (actias luna) perched on the window:

AA's Moth

It’s a pleasing photo; I like the soft colors and the different textures. The weathered doorknob and the bare wood where the knob has rubbed the old door over the years add interest and contrast. It also provides a sense of scale; everyone knows how large a doorknob is.

As in my earlier post about moths, I have to provide a little bit of background info: Lunas are silkworm moths, and one of the largest moths of North America; some can have a wingspan of four inches. They only live for a week. Seems a pity. The round markings on their wings are said to resemble eyes for scaring off predators.

Nice photo, Aaron!

Thurber’s Cartoons

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Thurber Seal BarkI’ve been accused of having a dry sense of humor, so maybe that’s why the cartoons and writings of James Thurber appeal to me so. The title of my blog, of course, is a reference to one of Thurber’s best books.

Thurber Court

When I was in college, someone in the Dean’s office had the bright idea to make me the dorm resident adviser, or RA. Since I had skipped the first two years of college and Florida Atlantic didn’t (at that time) have freshmen or sophomore students, I was at least two years younger than anyone else around the place. Crazed with the possibilities of my assignment, I bought a can of black paint and a 1/2-inch brush and painted a ten-foot high copy of the “What Have You Done With Dr. Millmoss?” cartoon on a starkly bare buff-colored concrete-block dorm wall.

Thurber Big Animal

Some folks liked it but when I left the university, they charged me $150 to have the wall repainted by the college maintenance crew. Philistines!!!

Thurber, a writer and editor for the New Yorker magazine when it was at its best in the 1930s through the 1950s, couldn’t draw worth a hoot in the conventional sense. Yet he loved to create doodles of floppy-eared dogs, timid men and dominant women and some of the editors insisted these be in the magazine. The cartoon below is unusual for Thurber, as it shows a dominant man. The expression on the woman’s face, however, indicates the man may have met his match.

Thurber Tiny Mind

The New Yorker’s founder, Harold W. Ross, hired Thurber initially as the managing editor to make sure the magazine got out on time. He was puzzled by Thurber’s cartoons, but realized they had a quality that others could appreciate perhaps more than he could. Note the stance on the man in the cartoon below. Probably by accident, Thurber conveys that the man has had a bit too much to drink.

Thurber Rabbit

Plagued by bad eyesight, Thurber was a crotchety person at times and that sometimes comes across in his cartoons. He also felt that men and women were often at war, and wrote and drew an entire book of cartoons based on that subject. Other of his cartoons, as in the one below, document befuddlement between folks regardless of gender.

Thurber Perkins

Many times his cartoons came about because he didn’t have the skill to draw what he initially intended. The classic first wife/present wife cartoon came about because he couldn’t draw the perspective of a stairway. The seal cartoon at the top of this post didn’t start out to show a seal behind the headboard of a bed but it ended up that way.

Thurber First Wife

At other times, he would be assigned to draw a cartoon that wouldn’t work if a better artist drew it. The famous “Touché!” cartoon was submitted by a cartoonist who drew in a realistic style. The editors gave the cartoon to Thurber to draw, as no one would think his cartoon people had blood.

Thurber Touche

Thurber’s obvious limitations irritated some readers and even other cartoonists. A cartoonist once wrote a letter to Harold Ross asking, “Why do you reject drawings of mine, and print stuff by that fifth-rate artist Thurber?”

“Third-rate,” Ross replied.

Thurber Secret

Here are ten of my favorite Thurber cartoons. I urge you to get a Thurber book; all are excellent. Perhaps the best book for someone new to his work is A Thurber Carnival, a collection of his brilliant short stories and cartoons.

Thurber Wine

Gutenberg Cranked It Out!

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Here’s an interesting video on the press and printing process likely used by Johannes Gutenberg back in 1450 or so. His bringing together all the technology of his day to create a process for printing changed the world.

Prior to Gutenberg, a book had to be written by hand; a Bible would take a couple of years to create in that fashion. Obviously, such a book was pricey. After Gutenberg, books created by printing became more and more common and the prices went down accordingly. Even then, a Gutenberg Bible would cost about two years of salary for a clerk of that day; not cheap!!!

There were about 185 Bibles printed over a two-year period by Gutenberg and his staff; less than 50 exist today. Most were printed on handmade cotton paper, but a few were printed on sheepskin vellum.

Here’s the New York Public Library’s Gutenberg Bible, known as the Lenox Bible. It’s printed on paper and I saw it many years ago. Note that some portions of the Bible are hand colored or illuminated; this wasn’t done by Gutenberg’s shop; they designed their printed pages so that room was left for the customer to have their Bible enhanced to whatever level they could afford:

The Library of Congress has a Gutenberg Bible on display in their original building in Washington, DC, and it’s worth a visit. Their copy is printed on vellum, and the pages of it I saw were as clean and fresh as if they were printed just a few years ago:

That Library of Congress building, by the way, is a treat for the eye; it has some of the loveliest stained glass I’ve ever seen.

Go take a look!!!

I Can’t Wait!!!

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Christmas isn’t that far away, my friends, and this cover from a December, 1937 issue of The Modern Boy promises us great things are coming our way!

The Modern Boy was a weekly magazine that had exciting stories and pictures aimed at ten-year-olds in England. This cover showed a Dad and his son deciding on which toy they preferred.

All joking aside, this is a fairly accurate forecasting of us ordering stuff via the internet. The microphone sticking out of the set is a trifle alarming but remember that when this cover illustration was created, television in the home was at least ten or twelve years away. The artist based his TV set of the future on the large radios of the day and scored pretty near the mark. I like what appears to be a rotary telephone dial on the set; I guess that’s how you connect with the toy store.

Of course, two-way television communication was further off but it’s still a cool guess by folks 75 years ago at what our world would be like today.

Here’s another cover from an old publication; this one’s a dust-jacket cover from the 1912 book, Tom Swift and his Photo Telephone. Tom clearly anticipates iChat.

The form factor isn’t as accurate on this vision of the future, but it must have been a mind-blower to kids 100 years ago. Here’s some dialog where Tom and his dad discuss Tom’s amazing idea:

All right, Dad. Go ahead, laugh.'”

“‘Well, Tom, I’m not exactly laughing at you … it’s more at the idea than anything else. The idea of talking over a wire and, at the same time, having light waves, as well as electrical waves passing over the same conductors!'”

“‘All right, Dad. Go ahead and laugh. I don’t mind,’ said Tom, good-naturedly. “‘Folks laughed at Bell, when he said he could send a human voice over a copper string …”

One senses Tom’s frustration at his dad’s attitude, but we all know who came out looking foolish at the end of the book, don’t we?

There was another series of Tom Swift books when I was a kid; these were the adventures of Tom Swift, Jr, and he also had nifty ideas like space stations and solar batteries and a host of different metal alloys which were considered far-out at the time.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

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Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

Great Spirit Comic Books!

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I first encountered Will (or Bill, as the old comics guys called him) Eisner’s Spirit comics when I got a copy of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. This stunning book, which I got for Christmas in 1966, was a chance for a 1960s kid to see for the first time what comic books had been like in the 1940s. Living in the Florida Keys, where we had moved earlier in the year, I had few chances to find old comic books for sale.

Oddly enough, while snorkeling one day, I discovered a stash of old comics that someone had evidently thrown overboard long ago in and around the marina outside our home in Marathon Shores. These comics were coverless and half-buried in the sand and silt about 15 feet deep on the salt-water side of the island where we then lived, but I’d dive for them and leave them to dry on the dock outside our house. Once dried, they were perfectly readable, if rather crinkly, and I was able over the summer to get 20 or 30 old DC comics in this fashion.

So I was primed to learn more, and Feiffer’s superb book was right up my alley. I then sent a letter to the Miami Herald asking where old comic books could be found, and they printed my letter and listed some shops in Miami that sold them. Armed with that info, I bugged my dad until he finally agreed to fly me the 107 miles to Miami!

One odd thing my dad did was keep $50 cars at a few airports he flew in and out of a lot. He’d never pay more than $50 for the cars, so they weren’t too spiffy, but they saved him the trouble of renting cars. We drove in whatever clunker Dad had stowed in Miami to several of the stores that the Herald had listed, and I was finally able to get a copy of a 1940s Spirit comic book. The Spirit feature had originally been part of a 16-page Sunday newspaper comic supplement from about 1940 to 1952, and Quality Comics had printed a magazine in the mid- to late-1940s showcasing the character. Eisner, being nobody’s fool, was smart enough to keep the copyrights and that was unheard of in comics at that time.

Will Eisner was a solid pro not only at writing and drawing comics, but in print production. He, by the time we’re discussing here, had moved on from newsstand comics to producing preventive maintenance monthlies for the U.S. Army. One of my uncles had given me some of those, as they had a ton of great Eisner artwork in them, and they were unsurpassed in explaining technical issues in a simple and understandable way. I still have a stack of these P.M. magazines somewhere in the basement, much to Patty’s dismay.

Eisner’s Spirit stories, and there are about 250 of them, I guess, were way above the norm for a comic book. They weren’t aimed at nine-year-olds, for one thing, and Eisner had a tight group of amazingly talented assistants who helped write and draw the stuff. Jules Feiffer had been one of these ghosts for Eisner.

Nowadays, Eisner’s Spirits are easily found in both comic-book form and in hardback, and much of the work is also available in digital form, if you know where to look. In the late 1960s, it was very different and Spirit comic books were few and hard to find.

There had been a couple of 64-page color reprints by Harvey Comics in 1966 and ’67 and those were comic books to be treasured; beautifully printed and colored. My next Spirit encounter was in what were called Spirit Bags in the early 1970s. These were 6″ x 9″ black-and-white reprints of the 8-page Spirit stories and had a typed commentary by Eisner on the last page. Still have all those, too.

Over the years I snagged a ton of other Spirit reprints, both in hard copies and in digital form. I recently learned that Fiction House, a second-tier comic-book publisher, had issued five Spirit comics in the early 1950s. I had never heard of them before, but Fiction House really did a nice job on these reprints of the newspaper Spirits. The coloring is amazing, especially when you consider that they only had 64 colors and tints to work with in those old days.

I now have these in digital form and they are a treat. If you have an interest in Eisner’s work, I encourage you to download them; here’s a site:
http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?cid=932

These are in the public domain. You’ll need a PC, Mac or iOS reader for the files; they’re easy to find. I particularly enjoy the Comic Zeal iPad app; it makes organizing the hundreds of comics on my iPad a snap.

Thank me later!!! Enjoy!!!

Side Note:

A couple of years later, when we started a student newspaper at Naples High, I made damned sure that the newspaper was called The Spirit, and I worked for days on a masthead for it; my crude homage to Will Eisner. Of course, Eisner, who was so gifted that he came up with a different and stunning masthead for each and every Spirit story, was in a much different league than I was and I cringe to look at my crude Spirit newspaper masthead now!

So it goes!

Hands

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From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been good with a pencil. Posting about Aaron’s much greater talent reminded me of when my mom hired a drawing tutor for me when I was 12 or so. I can’t remember the woman’s name, probably because I resented her so at the time, but she was, I realize now, brilliant.

I had been fooling around for years with my drawing, mainly copying what was in the funny papers. I was good at mimicking other people’s styles, which served me well when I spent some time doing edits and corrections at Marvel Comics a few years later. But this tutor seemed so abrupt and so cold.

She handed me a thick spiral-bound pad of toothy paper and an Eberhard Faber #2 pencil and said, “Before we meet again, draw me 150 hands. Use this pad and number them as you go. Now get busy. I want to feel the bones beneath the skin.” I couldn’t believe it, but I got busy.

The following week, I handed her the pad and she looked over my work. She nodded and said, “By about #80 here, you’ve begun to draw a decent hand. Now do 150 more by next week.”

I was outraged, but I did it. The tutor never talked much but what she said was correct and guided me. After the hands, I got to draw tree bark, and the surface texture of bricks and then I did hundreds of drawings of wadded up paper of different types; some were blank paper wadded up and some had photos or type on them. I drew them all, struggling with the shading and texture. I was glad when I was done drawing the paper wads and moved on to folded cloth. By then, I was able to see the textures with a practiced eye and instead of being frustrated I felt challenged to master the tools; the pencil and the paper and especially my eyes.

The tutor’s rule was that if you want to draw, you have to be able to see. Terse but true.

Perspective was a bear, but she was able to explain it to me and once I got it, I loved it. I still love to draw perspectives; it’s somehow soothing.

I wish I could remember more about that woman. She taught me how to draw. The attached image isn’t my work; it’s something from the Web. But it is correct in what it shows us. Now get a pencil and get busy!!!

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