Artciles Published the Week of January 8th

How His Girl Friday, One of the Best Movies of All Time, Led to Today's TV Dramedies

For the comedy website Splitsider I wrote about one of my favorite movies - and one of the best movies of all time - His Girl Friday. I've long been of the opinion that Howard Hawks is one of the greatest filmmakers ever, that Cary Grant is hilarious, and that this is one of the best screwball comedies. I also talk about how the film's genius - the fact that it's dark and emotionally complex while also being laugh out loud funny, the ways that it combines dark subject matter with verbal wordplay. Also how it shows Russell's Hildy Johnson as a brilliant journalist.


Articles Published the Week of January 1st

Luke Healy on Arctic Expeditions and How To Survive in the North

It's not a how to book - though in our conversation, Healy does offer some advice on the topic - but the recent graphic novel How To Survive in the North is beautifully drawn and thoughtfully written. Healy looks at two Arctic expeditions from early in the 20th Century and a related contemporary story, and it will make you grateful that you never tried to explore the Arctic. We talked about his work, the book and related topics in what I think was a fun conversation.


R.I.P. Shirley Hazzard

I've read a few books by Shirley Hazzard, but in the end my opinion of her and her work comes down to two books: The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire.

The two novels were published more than twenty years apart - and maybe it should be noted that she published no fiction in those intervening year. Hazzard wrote only a handful of books in her life. Born in Australia, Hazzard lived in New Zealand, Asia, Europe, and spent much of her life in New York City where she worked for the United Nations for a few years and then lived there with her husband the late scholar Francis Steegmuller

Both of the novels that I mentioned, which are her two finest works, are narratives involving a handful of characters in globe-spanning adventures. Hazzard was a duel citizen and spent much of her adult life in the US and Italy, neither country where she was born or spent her youth, and I think that this quality can be seen in her fiction because there is a global perspective to it which many of her contemporaries - American or British or elsewhere - do not have. The title, The Transit of Venus, being the central metaphor of these people and their complicated lives over the decades moving through the world, is at the heart of much of her work. She wasn't an Australian abroad, but she was a thoughtful woman who was part of this globalist culture, steeped in the classics and the best of our intellectual traditions, and that was where she was from above all, more than any single nation.

Her books are very consciously intellectual books. When she was awarded the National Book Award for The Great Fire, she spoke passionately and eloquently in defense of high culture in a way that was striking and moving for its passion.It's something that no doubt turns off many readers. To be honest I have no idea how widely she is read today or by others, but those two books are magnificent. I have an itch to reread both of them.

It seems petty to say, but the only thing worse than the death of Shirley Hazzard is the fact that there will be no more Shirley Hazzard novels.


R.I.P. Carrie Fisher

Like everyone I knew Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. I was always more Star Trek than Star Wars but I owned the trilogy on VHS and watched them....many times. Of course Carrie wasn't Leia, and so the first time I really got to know her was in the Book "The Portable Curmudgeon Redux" compiled and edited by Jon Winokur.

I received the book as a book prize in middle school from my history teacher. Admittedly I'm not entirely sure that this is what people had in mind when they established book prizes (I also received a prize for math and the teacher gave me a poetry book, so whether or not that was what was intended, the faculty had their own ideas and wanted to give a personal gift that would be appreciated). Leaving aside whether I am in fact a curmudgeon, the book had a number of quotations and anecdotes from and about various people. It is incredibly funny.

It also featured interviews with various people including Larry Gelbart (the first i encountered that genius' name), Dave Barry, PJ O'Rourke and Carrie Fisher.

She was brash and sarcastic and mean and funny and maybe not quite Dorothy Parker but damn good.

I've always remembered that - and I still have the book, which I've kept ever since middle school which was many...many...many years ago.

I can only hope that people go back and read her writing because she was so smart and funny. She was also troubled, but hey, she was born and grew up in the public eye and who wouldn't be screwed up. She managed to do something really amazing though. And for all the bravery that came with appearing in the new Star Wars movie, often without makeup, showing her age - that's nothing compared to what she did when she took pen to paper.

I hope her novels get some attention and I'd love to see a nice collection of interviews she did assembled - I'm sure they'd be hilarious, and nice collection of her screenplays and stageplays, and a nice collection of her nonfiction. There's plenty of articles and essays that I don' think have been collected and they would find an audience, I think. She definitely deserves it.


R.I.P. George Michael

I'll be honest that until a few years ago, all I really knew about George Michael was the song "Faith." Don't get me wrong, it's a catchy song, a fabulous song, but that was about it. Also, that he had been arrested.

What changed was the TV show Eli Stone.

The short-lived series was created by Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim (who today are better known for Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and the nonstop superhero tv shows). It starred Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Hackers, Elementary) as a lawyer who begins having visions.

The show knew that a character suddenly seeing George Michael performing was funny and it played the scenes for laughs. But they also managed to do some great song and numbers. And they dealt with, what would happen if a lawyer starts ranting and raving and seeing visions, because that would be a problem.

George Michael appeared throughout the show's first season often in really interesting ways. In fact one of the best episodes, and one that really gave co-star Victor Garber a chance to be more than just the intense senior partner role, was where Michael guest starred as himself.

The case that episode was about a teenage girl who played Michael's song "I Want Your Sex" in school to protest an abstinence only education program and Michael wanted to defend the girl and took the stand to talk about the song, about losing friends to AIDS and the background of writing the song.

The series was created by someone who was clearly a fan of Michael and his music. Each episode was named after one of his songs, he appeared and sang his own songs and others throughout. And in the final episode of the first season, Michael performed what may be the second best rendition of Feelin' Good that I've ever heard. (And first is Nina Simone, and there is no shame in coming in second to Miss Simone). It was a great performance.

But the entire show made me look at a pop star who I had never really thought much about. In part because I'm too young to really know his work as I missed it the first time around when it was hugely popular. Pop culture is often fluid, it's often fun but disposable, but there is so much work that gets created which is meaningful, which is powerful, which deserves to endure. Because that's why so many of us find so much of pop culture, not bad, but uninteresting. Because we know that it can be good, something that we can listen to again and again for years and decades, and that it will continue to mean something, and mean something different at different times in our lives.

So I went back and I found that he was half of Wham! - again, a group that I was too young to notice the first time around. And I listened to all the songs like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Last Christmas, Faith, Careless Whisper, Freedom 90, I Want Your Sex. There's his duet with Elton John, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, which was a hit with all the proceeds going to various charities. There's Somebody To Love, the Freddy Mercury song that Michael recorded with the remaining members of Queen in 1993

Since his death, much has been discussed about Michael being gay and what that meant. People have talked about his generosity and his desire for the most part to be generous behind the scenes. He didn't make a show of donating money and time to so many projects. That speaks to what a good man he was. To listen to his work again, to listen to the songs he wrote, it's clear what a good artist he was. I hope that he knew what so many of us thought of him.

"Well I need someone to hold me
But I wait for something more
Yes I've gotta have faith"

Articles Published the Week of December 25th

Emerging Talent and Publisher Kevin Czap

Kevin Czap is a great up-and-coming cartoonist and the publisher behind Czap Books. Both Kevin and the imprint are coming off a great 2016 and next year Kevin is publishing a great lineup of young cartoonists. We had the chance to talk recently about their own work, what attracts and interests them in publishing others, and a quick preview of what will come out in 2017.

The Delightful Weirdness of The Great Muppet Caper

Splitsider asked a number of its writers to write about what makes us happy, what keeps us sane, what gives us some comfort in a series they called "The Best Medicine."People selected all sorts of work - Curb Your Enthusiasm, Happy Endings, and one of my favorite movies ever, Time Bandits. I wrote about The Great Muppet Caper. Which has pretty much always been one of my favorites.

The Beat's Best Comics of 2016

I was asked to contribute to the Beat's list of best comics of the year. A lot of people were already writing about ones I loved - March Volume 3, which is my pick for the best of the year, Dan Clowes' Patience, and others. I highlighted a few books:

Black Dog by Dave McKean
U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories by Sam Glanzman
Paracuellos: Volume 1 by Carlos Gimenez
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks by Igort
Paul Up North by Michel Rabagliati
One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg


I’ve been thinking about Kris Marshall lately

Not much reason for a random American to think about the British actor except that I’ve been watching Murder in Paradise, the British mystery series he’s been starring in for the past few seasons. He took over as the lead after the original star Ben Miller left the show at the beginning of the third season. To be honest, I still prefer Miller and his character. I think that he’s funnier than Marshall in general and I think that his character–who walked around the Caribbean island in a dark suit and without sunglasses, complaining about how hot and bright it was–was just more entertaining.

Having said that, the show’s sixth season airs next year and Marshall has been on the show for longer than Miller has. The truth is that Marshall has grown on me and though I still will find myself occasionally thinking that the show would be funnier and more entertaining if Miller had stayed, it’s a relaxing and enjoyable show in the cozy mystery tradition.

Also I hope that it’s helped tourism to Guadalupe, where the show is filmed, because it’s a beautiful place.

Now I know form a cursory internet search that Marshall has acted in a lot of things over the years but like most Americans I would guess, I know him for one role: Colin in Love Actually.

For those of you who have forgotten (or just blocked it out) is a twenty-something British jackass in the beginning of the film. Because he’s crude asshole who acts like god’s gift to women, he doesn’t get a lot of dates. In fact women tend to be repulsed by how he acts.

Now in another movie, he would hire someone or meet someone who would take him under their wing and Colin would learn to not be such a jackass and become a little suave, get a little style, change his behavior, learn not to be crude in the workplace, and he would eventually met a woman and blah blah blah. You know how it goes, you’ve seen that movie. Probably a few different times with a few different actors, let’s be honest.

But that’s not what happens in Love, Actually–which for the record I found a loathsome and unfunny movie long before Lindy West’s excellent takedown of the movie was published by Jezebel in 2013. (Though I will admit that I enjoy rereading the article in the same way that some people like re-watching the movie). You see, writer-director Richard Curtis doesn’t see Colin as a vile manchild with toxic ideas and behavior. No, Colin, you see, is one of the heroes of the movie.

According to Colin, the problem is English women. If he goes to America, women there will get him. They’ll find him charming because of his accent, you see. So he gets on a plane to Wisconsin. At a bar he meets her and her roommates who are so charmed by his accent that the three women it is implied have an orgy with him.

Then at the end of the movie he returns to England, with a hot chick for him and her sister in tow for his friend. Because men like Colin don’t need to grow up or smarten up, no, they just need to find stupid American girls and all is well.

I was reminded of this watching the fifth season of Death in Paradise as the divorced Humphrey Goodman, played by Marshall, is trying to date again and his awkward interactions with women. There is an honesty to those interactions, which may be funny and sometimes played for laughs, but there is an actual truth to those interactions which is completely missing from the adolescent sex fantasy that is Love Actually. And I’m not saying that I think that the plot in Death in Paradise is brilliant, but there is a reality to it.

Reality seems like such a small thing to ask for sometimes, but there we are.

Articles Published the Week of December 18th

Benjamin Frisch's Fun Family is more than a Family Circus parody

Frisch is a cartoonist and radio producer and his first full length book Fun Family is much more than parody, it's a dark look at family and illusion, about the distance between art and life, it's about how we get through the day. It looks very cute (and Frisch talks about how he changed his style to make the book) but it's not a cute book. It's thoughtful and haunting and I can't wait to see what Frisch does next.

Riad Sattouf on growing up between the lines of France in Syria in The Arab of the Future

Sattouf's graphic memoirs are extraordinary and fascinating books. His father was Syrian and his mother French and Sattouf grew up in Libya and Syria, with trips to France throughout. Throughout his career Sattouf has been interested in children, in their inner lives and how they see the world and these books show life in a small rural village and we spoke about this new volume.

Tom Gauld discusses nostalgia and science fiction in Mooncop

Gauld is perhaps best known for his short funny comics but in this book, his second full length graphic novel, he tells the story of the last policeman on the moon, which is both a dry funny story about loneliness, and a look at nostalgia and our relationship with the past (and the past's idea of the future).

Glen Weldon examines Batman and Fandom in The Caped Crusade

I love NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour (I mean, really, who doesn't?) and that's how I first got to know Glen Weldon, who has written a book about Batman that also traces the rise of fandom and how the two went hand in hand. He makes a number of controversial statements - Joel Schumacher's films weren't THAT bad, Frederic Wertham had a few good points - and I argue, is nicer to Bob Kane that a lot of writers are. (And nicer than I would be). It also diagnoses very thoughtfully how fandom can be toxic and problematic. He also does a very thoughtful reading of the Batman comics of the past 10-15 years. A really fabulous book.

Dave McKean: Black Dog

To my mind, Dave McKean is one of the world's great artists and he can do just about anything. His new book - a beautiful oversize volume - is a series of dreams about the British painter Paul Nash and it is a fascinating and thoughtful and incredible book that I keep coming back to and looking at this book again and again because it's some of McKean's best compositions and as complex and thoughtful as anything as McKean has ever made.


I guest produced an episode of The Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR

As I sometimes do, I produced an hour long show for the NPR affiliate here in Hartford, CT, WNPR. Which to my mind is one of the best and most interesting local stations around. (And no, I'm not just saying that). We spent an hour talking about the boy scouts with a historian, with the leader of the scout-like (scout-esque?) group Navigators USA, and two local scoutmasters from different troops who started talking and making plans to work together during the breaks.


Articles Published the Week of December 11th

For Mutts' Patrick McDonnell, it's always the Year of Yesh!

Patrick McDonnell is one of the best cartoonists and he's also one of my favorites. His strip Mutts is brilliant and his children's books are really amazing. I interviewed him a few years ago, and we spoke again recently to talk about his strip, the two new collections that are out, his children's book, writing a Mutts movie, the upcoming musical based on one of his books. One of the nicest, most talented people you'll meet. And reading his new collection, the 21st annual collection of the strip, it's obvious why.


New Cottonelle Advertisement?

Cottonelle has been running ads challenging people to "go commando" because of their great toilet paper.

Now as someone who has gone commando and honestly is not a huge fan of it - I mean I understand for the purposes of the commercial why that's a great approach to take and great evidence of it working well, but I'll be perfectly blunt, not a fan. Let's be honest, pants are designed to be worn with underwear or boxer shorts and are much more comfortable that way – at least for those of us with hair down there and with external genitals.

Two words: zipper fly.

So while I find the commercials both amusing and clever, I'd like to suggest a slightly different approach for their next round of commercials promoting a clean bum.

(I am, by the way, all for entertaining British personalities asking about people's "bums")

Scene 1:

Our intrepid interviewer appears naked except for a smile. Naked but pixelated, that is. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is television, after all. Not HBO.

"I'm here at the Beautiful Bare Buns Naturist Park to talk with people who really care about a clean bum."

A young woman, pixelated below the neck. "The first time I came here I was worried that people who stare at me. Then I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stop staring at other people. The truth is that everyone is really nice and after a while you almost forget that everyone is naked."

"Why almost?" our host asks

"I'm still a little's my bum."

"You need some Clean Confidence," our host tells her. "Try Cottonelle's flushable cleansing cloths."

She leaves and then returns.

"Oh my god. It's totally different. With the texture you can really feel it working."

"Are you worried people will be staring at your bum?" our host asks.

"Not anymore. I feel extra clean."

Scene 2:

A couple with their two children are sitting lake front on the beach, all pixelated.

"Have you tried Cottonelle cleansing cloths?"

Both adults try them and then send their kids to the bathroom with them.

"I love the the clean ripple texture," mom says.

"It definitely leaves you feeling extra clean," dad says.

"And believe me, it's bad enough when your kids have dirty bums normally. But it's especially embarrassing here!" mom says

"I don't think we'll be able to use anything else again," dad says.

Scene 3:

"Do you mind?" she asks the yoga instructor, who steps to the side so that our intrepid host can address the nude yoga class, which is meeting in a meadow in the early morning. "Have you tried Cottonelle? Do you have clean confidence? Because if I'm doing this class, I'm definitely going to want clean confidence. Does anyone want to try?" She holds out a box with flushable cleansing cloths.

About half of the men and women in the room walk over and take a package before briefly exiting the room, including the instructor. She turns to the people who are still in the room.

"Show of hands. Who used Cottonelle today?"

Everyone's hands shoots up.

"I already use them," one man says.

"I may not be wearing clothes but I always keep a package of those in my bag," one woman says.

"I never go anywhere without Cottonelle," one man says.

"I wouldn't be in the front row if I didn't feel extra clean," one woman sayes laughing.

People filter back into the room including the instructor. Our intrepid heroine asks the instructor, "do you feel extra clean?"

"I do now!" she says.

Our host takes her place among the other class members and the instructor tells them, "Okay I want you to stretch and show your clean confidence, everyone."

CleanRipple Texture for an Extra Clean Bum.
No Matter What You're Wearing
(Or Not Wearing!)


Articles Published the Week of November 27th

Aimee de Jongh Prepares The Return of the Honey Buzzard

The Dutch cartoonist and Animator Aimee de Jongh makes her North America debut with the translation of her first full-length graphic novel The Return of the Honey Buzzard. The book is beautifully drawn, thoughtfully written and really just a stunning book in every way. In the two years since it was released in Holland, de Jongh (who also has a daily comic strip) has animated an hour long project and made another graphic novel. Also this book was turned into a movie for Dutch TV.

An Interview with Kerascoet

I've been amazed by Kerascoet for years. The married couple are the artists behind Miss Don't Touch Me and Beauty and Beautiful Darkness and the just-released picture book Paul and Antoinette. They're also drawing the upcoming picture book written by Malala Yousafzai. We had the chance to sit down while they were in New York recently and we spoke about their many projects