On a typical Monday I try to mention and highlight some of the articles that were published the previous week. Last week, though, nothing was published. Like a lot of people, and I suspect like a lot of freelancers in general and writers more specifically, I judge myself based on my writing. A productive day writing means that I had a good day. I am what I create. I am my job. There’s a way in which I believe that this is a poisonous and negative mindset. This is not the standard by which we should judge our lives. This is not a standard that leads to good mental health. Thinking like this won’t make anyone - and won’t make me - happy. But I still think this way. I need to stay on top of my e-mails. I need to check in on social media. I need to pitch and apply and obsess. Even if I’m not being productive, not really, I need to be working. I need to keep moving. And that mindset is exhausting. More than exhausting, it’s toxic. Because I am more than the widgets I produce. I keep thinking about how when I was younger I worked many jobs which have many derogatory terms, but I worked customer service. I always thought that I was more than that job. I never let that job define me in my own mind. Of course customers thought that anyone who worked such a job was a braindead useless moron they could scream at, but as anyone who has worked such jobs know, those people exist, but we never let them define us. But now I let my job define me. It is perhaps the only thing that defines me. It would be flippant and inaccurate to say that I have nothing besides work in my life right now, but it does not feel untrue to say that. An so I consider the fact that last week nothing was published, that I was away and not working for much of that time, and there is an existential worry about this. Because what am I if I haven’t done anything? More to the point, I’m not happy with my life. I’m not happy in my life. And if I am both unable to change and unproductive, then what is the point? What am I living for?
Every Friday I try to post something fictional that I write. Something new, something old. Something different from my constant routine of writing nonfiction.
This week, though, I just wish that I could imagine a world where my friends and family could walk into their churches and synagogues and mosques and pray peacefully without rabid white supremacist murderers trying to kill them. Because right now I just can’t imagine that world. I wish I could, but today I can’t escape this world. No matter how much I wish that we could...
Kwanza Osajyefo Q&A. Osajyefo has been doing incredible work in comics in recent years writing Black and other stories in the same universe. Now he’s launched a kickstarter for the direct sequel to Black, White. The second volume of a planned trilogy, we spoke recently about the new project, and his ambitions.
A Conversation with Cathy G. Johnson. I’ve long read and admired Johnson’s comics and we spoke recently about her new book, The Breakaways. Her first book for younger readers, it’s a great story of a middle school girls soccer team that manages to balance a large cast with different stories. We talked about the book, podcasting and teaching.
A few years back a wrote what I had hoped would be an update of the old Ruritanian romances about odd European kingdoms and power struggles. It would also be funny and over the top and involve cults and a famous actor marrying the prince of a small nation. The first chapter takes place towards the end of the book, and then we go back to the beginning to figure out how the heck we got here. I continue to like the opening chapter.
The guards had chased us to the third floor of the castle where none of the doors had locks because under normal circumstances, the only people allowed were supposed to be there. We rushed through rooms filled with priceless antiquities that I didn’t know existed outside of museums, sliding across the polished marble floors. As part of a hastily constructed Plan B that had occurred to me while running, I was looking out windows for ivy to climb down or an awning to jump onto. Mark wasn’t.
“Are you going to help me figure out a way out of here or are you hoping to be executed so you can say I told you so?” The room was covered with mirrors, with white walls and gold trim and I was forced to scan the room twice before I was finally sure where Mark was standing.
“Escaping isn’t part of the plan,” he said, not nearly as out of breath as he should have been. He was moving items on the elaborately arranged mantlepiece. All the items fit in with the white, gold and mirrored theme of the room and likely each cost more than every building I’d ever lived in, but this was excessively detail-oriented even for him.
“The plan went to hell and Larissa is,” I struggled to think of something clever, pondering whether it would be possible to jump part way, “somewhere.”
“Plan B doesn’t involve retreat, Rose,” he said standing on a chair as if he was Henry V and this was Agincourt. Hell, maybe we were near Agincourt. My geography always sucked.
“No one told me there was a plan B.”
Mark ripped a pair of dull swords off a wall display and jumped off the chair with a flourish that impressed even me, and startled the hell out of the soldier at our heels. The Imperial Guard, which is to say the military, which is to say the police, who would find themselves outnumbered and outgunned guarding a Canadian mall, had replaced their usual outfits for formal garb and ceremonial swords for the wedding.
This kept us from being shot and when Mark attacked, it became clear that the guards had not been trained to fend off an invasion at sword point. Mark parried and thrust with the soldier at our heels, who even an ignoramus like myself could tell was embarrassingly outmatched as a swordsman. The soldier’s only advantage was that the white cult robes we’d worn in subterfuge were hell to run or fight in, not that the tunics and tights they wore were much better.
Mark drove the soldier to the wall, forced the sword from his hand and knocked the poor bastard to the floor with a hard punch to the face before stealing his sword, barely flinching. I could tell by the way he held his arm that it hurt, and made me a little sorry for the way I berated him as limp-dicked pussy who could only fight on stage that time we were mugged at the poisonous, spiky tailed end of our relationship.
Not that I’d tell him that. He dumped me.
“That was plan B,” he said holding out one of the blunt swords.
I gave him a look. I’m many things and I’m not ashamed to run away, but I was pretty certain that running with a sword would end badly.
He rolled his eyes and dropped it to the floor. “Just remember,” Mark said, “this invasion was all your idea.”
Two more Imperial Guards, or whatever the hell the purple and gold clad poofs were called, did a double take as they rushed past the room. Their clothing appeared out of place the first time I saw it and continued to make them look like refugees from a bad movie. They held their swords as if their knowledge of them didn’t extend much past which end to grab hold of, which didn’t help.
I grabbed a nearby vase and pitched it at one of them, knocking him to the ground as it shattered on his melon. It made a satisfying sound, and he almost comically felt to the ground without making a noise, causing the rest of us to pause.
“That’s probably a priceless antique and the prince is going to dock his family’s salary for generations to pay for it,” Mark said.
I shoved him towards the remaining guard. Mark recovered quickly. A sword in each hand, he screamed something in a language I didn’t know, using the sharp-edged sword to parry with the soldier while using the dull one as a baton to attack the knees and kidneys.
As he rushed around the room like some mad whirling dervish, the white robe flew up and offered me a glimpse of something fairly insignificant I hadn’t seen in years.
“Are you going commando?” I shouted over the fray.
“It’s. A. Surprisingly. Breathable. Fabric,” he grunted before finishing off the guy with a headbutt. “For a synthetic fiber, that is.”
I kicked the one I beaned in the midsection. He hadn’t moved. It just made me feel better. I was back to being embarrassed I ever dated Mark.
“Well, Here’s Another Nice Mess You've Gotten Me Into”: A Laurel and Hardy Primer
You may not have ever seen one of the more than 100 films that they made together, but you almost certainly know their names and can picture them – one is thin and one is fat, wearing identical bowler hats. The influence of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy has been diminished by decades of their jokes being recycled and adapted – and especially by the fact that their best work remains their silent films – but the duo represent some of the great comedies in the history of film.
They played more or less the same two characters in almost every film – often named Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy – two friends who are forced to respond to absurd and over the top situations. They’re not trying to kill each like the Stooges, off in their own little world which just occasionally intersects with ours like the Marx Brothers, or at odds like Martin and Lewis were. Most comedy teams at the time consisted of a straight man and a funny man, but Laurel and Hardy had set personalities, but whether they were setting up the joke or the punchline varied depending on the situation.
One of the ways they were deeply influential in comedy was in pacing. Old silent films could be frantic, with visual gags piled up one after the other with little room to breathe or allow the audience to pause. Just as their films were realistic and were played straight, which made them funnier, the pacing added to the humor. After a fall, the characters would take their time getting up, other characters had a chance to react, and letting the situation play out in a realistic way makes the scene funnier than if Hardy simply fell into the cake and then everyone quickly moved onto the next gag. Letting the joke play out wasn’t just a way to improve the joke, it allowed the actors to build characters. In a film like Another Fine Mess, Laurel shells and eats a hardboiled egg, right before everything goes wrong and the way the pace goes from so laidback to so madcap is part of makes it so funny.
Stan and Ollie began working together in 1926 when both were in their thirties and they continued to work in film, television and on stage into the 1950’s. They began their careers separately on stage before they began working in silent films. Leo McCarey, who would go on to direct films like Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers, An Affair to Remember, and many others, was responsible for teaming them up and oversaw much of their silent film career.
They were a rarity among silent film stars, making the transition to the sound era, some of which was due to their uniqueness. They were physical comedians who weren’t necessarily slapstick comedians. They went from making shorts just a few minutes long to full length films. They were often confronted with absurd and comedic situations, but most of their films were completely realistic. Laurel and Hardy were actors who were willing to seem silly and stupid and be the butt of the joke. They never needed to look heroic or make sure that the audience felt sympathy first and foremost for them.
Since their deaths, their films have been shown on television for decades, the Beatles included them on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there are three different Laurel and Hardy museums in three different countries. There’s even an international Laurel and Hardy Society, Sons of the Desert, which is active today in more than a dozen countries. They went on to influence not just comedians, but were one of the inspirations for the characters in Samuel Beckett’s famous play Waiting for Godot.
The film Stan & Ollie explores the actors and their dynamic over the years, and it seemed a good opportunity for a primer of some of their greatest films.
The Battle of the Century (1927)
Laurel plays a boxer nicknamed “The Human Mop” and Hardy is his manager. Laurel dances around the ring with joy like, well, like he’s not a boxer in the middle of a match, and seems confused when he actually knocks his opponent to the mat. Then Laurel starts fighting with the ref. After the fight, there’s a banana peel gag, which leads into possibly the largest pie fight in the history of film. The pie fight works because it’s one pie hitting a character and then another character gets hit and tries to take their revenge but hits someone else and it escalates, taking its time to build up to a wild madcap melee. The two are still working out their characters, but there’s a sense of play and that escalating tension and the way that the comedy and the stakes are built in each scene.
From Soup to Nuts (1928)
From breaking the doorbell to spilling the soup to serving the salad “undressed,” the two waiters do a lot of damage to a fancy dinner party. They’re not the only crazy people or the only ones with comedic moments in the film, though. They have to contend with people at least as crazy as they are, including an angry chef fighting with Laurel, a host who nearly decks Hardy, a hostess whose tiara doesn’t fit and struggles with which utensil to use as she tries to eat a grape.
Wrong Again (1929)
While at the horse track, Laurel and Hardy read in the paper that The Blue Boy was stolen and a large reward is being offered. Seeing a horse with the same name – not knowing the article refers to the Thomas Gainsborough painting – they take the horse and deliver it to the mansion and then things start to go haywire quickly as the horse takes over the living room and the police show up with the painting.
Big Business (1929)
The duo play door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen. In California. In the summer. One man is so offended by their sales pitch and refusal to go away, he starts to destroy the tree. The duo retaliate, and the battle continues to spiral out of control until the house is destroyed. Well, it doesn’t quite end there, but I won’t spoil the very end. The film is 19 minutes long and it’s wild and over the top and shows how the duo go from an ordinary situation to a crazy one to something completely insane, the comedy and the attacks on each other escalating until they’re stopped. They’re helped by playing against James Finlayson, a great comedic character actor. Fun fact: producer Hal Roach bought the house where it’s filmed so that they could destroy it on film.
Beau Hunks (1931)
Ollie is distraught after being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Jean Harlow, seen only in a photograph), and so he and Stan join the French Foreign Legion. The film was remade by the duo as a full-length film in 1939 as Flying Deuces, but the short has a much funnier ending. Producer Hal Roach once said it was his favorite of all his movies.
The Music Box (1932)
The Laurel and Hardy Transport Company is hired to deliver a player piano in this Academy Award winning short. When they ask a mailman about the address, he tells them it’s at the top of a tall staircase carved into the hill. A woman with a baby carriage and then an older man demand the movers step aside so they can pass, a policeman interrupts their work, and once they finally push the piano to the top of the staircase, they have to find a way to get it into the house. The plot sounds familiar, but it’s been imitated because the two make a film that’s all physical comedy, but it’s not slapstick. They’re playing it straight, they have a job to do and need to get the piano up the stairs and into the house. Also in one inspired scene, after delivering the piano, they turn it on to have some music while they clean up all the devastation they’ve caused. Every time they cross a piece of wood, they dance in tune with the music before continuing to clean, each in their own style. It’s completely unnecessary, but inspired silliness.
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Laurel and Hardy are married friends who are members of Sons of the Desert, a fraternal organization like the Shriners. They agree to go to the club’s annual convention, but their wives won’t agree to it. So Hardy fakes being sick, gets a doctor to prescribe a cruise to Hawaii, except the cruise ship sinks while they’re in Chicago and they have to return and find a way to explain being alive to their wives, who go from distraught to homicidal.
The plot sounds familiar because, well, it’s been borrowed more times than anyone can count. The opening scenes with Stan and Ollie and their wives is essentially The Honeymooners. Down to the fact that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were in a fraternal organization and tried to pull the wool over the wives eyes more than once. And if it inspired The Honeymooners, that means it inspired The Flintstones, and that means it inspired The King of Queens. And how many dozens of other shows?
Babes in Toyland (1934)
Perhaps their best known film, it’s also the pair’s most atypical. It’s a film explicitly for children with the pair in a fantasy world where they’re toymakers who live in a shoe with Mother Peep and Bo Peep. The plot of the musical involves Old King Cole and Mother Goose and Santa Claus. While the plot and setting of the film are fantastic, the dynamic between the pair to how they get in trouble, the escalating craziness and many of the gags make it feel like a Laurel and Hardy film. Explicitly a children’s movie, it may have helped ensure their continued longevity by introducing a new generation to the duo, whose films were shown on TV for generations.
I’ve been reading Kel McDonald’s comics for years, but we’ve never spoken before. She’s currently running a kickstarter for her new book and she took time out to talk about this book and her approach to fantasy stories, which I love.
I talked with Liz years back when Fantagraphics published Sacred Heart, her incredibly punk tale of teenagers left alone in a small town after all the adults leave. Now she’s returned to that world, picking up some of the characters a decade later. That’s the lead feature in her new annual comic Egg Cream, the first issue of which was just released and we talked about the story and her work.
Over the years I’ve spoken with a lot of older cartoonists and late last year I sat down with 90 year old Joe Giella about his long career which started as a teenager, included a stint working for C.C. Beck, decades at DC Comics, drawing multiple comic strips, and working with almost everyone on just about every character and genre imaginable, from which he retired at the age of 88. There was a contented sigh when he talked about life with no deadlines, which I don’t think anyone could begrudge him
Last week Fiction Friday featured a radio script and today, the opening five pages of a comics script of an untitled project which was set in British controlled Egypt in 1884. In which we meet three of the protagonists of the book (well, sort of).
A splash page. There are many photographs and sketches of el-Armarna from this period. The important thing to remember is the sense of abandonment. The eerie atmosphere of a place where except for tomb robbers, people generally gave it a little distance. The hills are further from the Nile than much of the area, creating a fairly low and wide plain for the city and the villagers that sprung up since. Late afternoon, so there is both the oppressive brightness and long, deep shadows, which should convey a sense of dread. This is an unholy place, a well-preserved city that remains in such condition because it was given such a wide berth for so long. It should feel like such.
CAPTION: The ruined city of EL-AMARNA
CAPTION: Home of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten. It was here that one man abandoned the centuries old religion of his ancestors to instead worship a single god. Who loved his wife so much that the imagery of Nerfertiti is unique amongst the wives of all the Pharaohs. Who was so hated and feared that his very name was erased from the tombs and walls of the city after his death.
The page is divided into three panels. Think widescreen. The panels may be literally wide but we need to convey a sense of the hugeness of the story. These shouldn’t be crowded images, but should have a sense of the vastness of scale and the emptiness of the desert that is just over the hill from the populated strip of land around the Nile.
Three mummies. Yes, the classic image of the undead. Go with the old school horror look from those old 20s movies. Almost comic in the sense that they’re no longer terrifying, but they can barely be made out trudging their way towards the ruins in what passes for rage, or at least an almost instinctual reaction similar to that emotion.
It’s not just three. There’s many of them. We pull back from those three and convey the sheer number of them which are coming over the hill, while simultaneously showing them dwarfed by the landscape.
From a perspective just above the sandy floor, an image of a mummy’s foot about to trigger a lengthy trip wire placed just above the surface between two rocks.
The top two thirds of the page show that the trip wire wasn’t a simple explosive, but now with a wide screen shot of the hillside, a series of seven explosive caches are triggered and erupting.
A figure on horseback approaches the area where the explosions are taking place at full gallop. The perspective is from the side and rear so we can see the hillside in the distance, now partially obscured by the dust and sand raised in the ruckus.
Dressed head to tow in flowing robes. Her gender can’t be noted from the outfit. She’s armed to the teeth. You probably won’t want to make all this obvious in this particular panel but for reference she’s carrying a saif, two revolvers, one side by side action express rifle.
Shifting focus to now behind the mummies. We’re looking through the hole that’s been opened up in the chest of one through our unknown rider, who we see is holding a rifle. The mummie heart has been blown to bits. The heart was one of the organs left in the mummies since that was the center of the body. The brain was pulled out because the ancient Egyptians thought smarts came from the heart, so that’s where it would make sense to shoot them if that would even do anything.
From similar perspective as the second panel of the last page we see her stuff her rifle into the holster built into the saddle having no time to reload, and reach for the saif in the holster built into the opposite side of the saddle.
She jumps from the horse with a colt revolver in one hand and a saif in the other, mid-air about to slash at one creature nearby.
The top two thirds of the page. Two well dressed gentlemen are descending the stairs from their rooms on the third floor to the first floor of Shepheard’s Hotel for high tea on the terrace. This is one of the world’s most elegant hotels and this is Victorian opulence at its best. The men are the same age but they cut very different figures. The physically smaller of the two is Sir Jonathan Dent, CB Order of the Bath. Every bit the aristocrat and former military man he has the bearing of a man who is impeccably dressed and feels that wherever he is, he belongs there. He is also profoundly uneasy, which he rarely shows, but he would be a horrible poker player and here his expression does not match his bearing.
The other man, slightly taller and broader, is Abel Pirrip, who served with Dent in Africa and has joined him on this expedition. He is a bit more uncomfortable in formal wear and moving amongst the sorts of people he meets at a place like Shepheard’s. This is not the world he was born into.
DENT: I’m quite certain it didn’t happen in that manner.
PIRRIP: Oh no. I have it on good authority, sir.
DENT: The Howard Easton expedition, you say?
The bottom third of the page is cut into two panels.
Dent does have a tendency at times to be pompous, a skill he learned at a young age and occasionally find himself doing so with Pirrip though he makes an effort not to. He owes Pirrip too much from their years at war to treat the man like that. He thinks of Pirrip as an equal, Dent is just naturally something of a jackass. Pirrip is also one of the only people in the world who can call out Dent. And so while Dent knows the answer, he tries to be careful about how he speaks.
DENT: Everyone died in that expedition.
Pirrip is uneasy at this news.
PIRRIP: What do you mean everyone died?
A few random thoughts about The Winter Sister by Megan Collins (Atria Books, 2019).
I have a great affection for dysfunctional protagonists who are forced to return to their hometowns. Though maybe because I am one.
The fog that Sylvie is in rang very true to me. Also the ways that this fog can lift, be penetrated, in ways that are not directly tied to good things happening. It was a solid portrait of depression.
It’s set in a small Connecticut town, and while the dynamics of a very divided and heavily class and status conscious town rang true, in other ways the town as Sylvie lived and experienced it felt a little too small and not claustrophobic enough. Meaning that she keeps meeting people related to the murder case but in a small town wouldn’t a lot of people know her, know her mother, and wouldn’t she feel those eyes watching and judging her at all times? Or maybe I’m projecting…
There’s a former detective who sits down with Sylvie to talk about the case and the whole scene, while it was important as to the structure of the book, it was also frustrating. The whole “there’s too much red tape and not enough stock put into hunches and gut feelings” nonsense. No surprise that these cops were unable to solve a murder
I’m unsure about Annie. The portrait of the mother as this fragile and deeply damaged person feels a bit too one dimensional for the large and central role she plays in the book. Of course Sylvie is the central character and the book is about her, but the book conveyed too little sense of who the mother was. Maybe some of that is simply POV, but it felt unsatisfying.
In broad strokes, though, I found the mother-daughter dynamic worked. Maybe some of that is because we never really know our parents. Though of course it’s one thing for Sylvie to not understand her mother, it’s another thing for the reader not to.
In some regards, I had a similar response to the identity of the murderer. The book takes place in a small town and there is a limited cast of characters who could have been responsible. The killer wasn’t just going to be a random stranger we had never met before or something like that.
But in some ways that is the problem with writing small town murder cases. Most murders are committed by people they know. Most murders are committed because of a handful of reasons. And so there were only a few possibilities. Well, there was only one really, even if it wasn’t immediately clear.
The optimistically inclined ending works (is that a phrase? I’m using it) because I know what it feels like to come out of that fog of depression and exhaustion. And Collins doesn’t fall into the trap that things will improve, that everything is looking up, or even that the guilty party will ultimately be held accountable. The journey of the book is more emotional than it is about solving the crime. Which I like.
Overall, a good book. A good first book. And I want to see what Collins does next.
The Green Book. Ugh. A white director who admits to inappropriate behavior in the past, a screenwriter who is a conspiracy mongering Islamophobe, a producer who sends obnoxious e-mails to people who write negative articles about the film, a story that the family of the African-American protagonist says is inaccurate and disrespectful. And looking at the stage when it won, and the almost all white cast and crew ...
I love Alfonso Cuaron. I was not rooting for him to win, but I have no problem with him winning. Also, two Best Director wins for him in less than a decade, for two very different films, which is something.
Rami Malek. It feels like it was only a few years ago he came out of nowhere to star in Mr. Robot and here he is, delivering an incredible performance that made that film and winning an Oscar. (Also, over the years Malik has made two films with Spike Lee, can we see these two Oscar winners team up on some amazing kickass new movie?)
I don’t know how it is that Glenn Close still doesn’t have an Oscar. I just don’t get it.
Olivia Colman though is amazing. And she gave a great speech. I keep thinking about all the things I’ve seen her in. On TV she was amazing in very different roles in a series of shows including Broadchurch, Flowers, Green Wing, The Night Manager, and Rev. On a show like Twenty Twelve which was light and honestly wasn’t that great, she had such presence and really stood out. On film there was The Lobster and Murder on the Orient Express recently, but she was amazing in Tyrannosaur. She’s taking over the lead in The Crown this year, so she may add an Emmy award this year to her mantle.
Mahershala Ali is the only good thing about Green Book. But I still would have given the Oscar to either Richard E. Grant or Sam Elliott.
Regina King! If Beale Street Could talk should have received more awards, but this is a good one. She’s had an amazing decade. On TV she went from Southland (where she played one of the best female cops in the history of television...prove me wrong!) to American Crime where she played three characters in each of the show’s three seasons to The Leftovers to Seven Seconds. Of course she was also the voices of Huey and Riley in The Boondocks. She was on 227 way back when. There was Boyz n the Hood and Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. There was Friday and Down to Earth and Jerry Maguire.
I wanted Never Look Away to win Best Foreign Language film. I know that Roma won because it wasn’t going to win Best Picture, but I think Never Look Away is just a mindblowingly amazing work.
I also wanted Never Look Away to win Best Cinematography for Caleb Deschanel. (Yes, Zooey’s dad). He’s never won an Oscar. This is the man who shot The Black Stallion and Being There, The Right Stuff and The Natural, Fly Away Home and Ask the Dust, and so many others. One of the best cinematographers alive today.
Bao winning best animated short is so well deserved. There are feature length films that don’t have that level of artistry and emotion.
Ruth E. Carter definitely deserved to win for Black Panther. Long overdue!
Glad that BlacKkKlansman won for best adapted screenplay, which means that Spike Lee now has an Oscar. And he managed to be excited about winning, and also give a speech that was serious and solemn and heartfelt. His ability to do both, says a lot about why I continue to love Spike even if every film doesn’t always succeed.
The Green Book won for best original screenplay and I just the lack words to describe my feelings about this. I find it hateful for many reasons, including the fact that Paul Schrader was nominated for an Oscar for the very first time this year for writing First Reformed.
Schrader has won a lot of awards over the years but was never previously even nominated for an Oscar. This is the man who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, who adapted The Last Temptation of Christ and The Mosquito Coast. He made films like Blue Collar and Hardcore, Mishima and Affliction, American Gigolo and Cat People. And First Reformed isn’t simply an accident that this was his first nomination, but in a very long and acclaimed career, First Reformed is arguably his best work. And instead people chose...
It seems strange that I’ve never interviewed Moore over the years. He’s been a writer and editor working in comics for decades and had an impressive career and right now he’s working as a writer and an editor at Ahoy Comics and I talked with him about his current projects
The Ley Lines series has been one of the best projects in comics in recent years, a showcase for a wide range of artists. The new issue is from W.T. Frick and it’s a great issue, and a great introduction to her work.
February 18, 1949 was the debut of the radio drama Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. The Hartford, CT-based insurance investigator traveled all over the country and the globe looking into crimes large and small, and padding his expense account along the way. The show lasted until September 1962, which is considered the end of the golden age of radio. There were two attempts to turn into a TV show - including one written and directed by the late, great Blake Edwards - but it never transferred to other media the way a lot of popular radio shows did.
A little while back a friend proposed making a new version of the show and I wrote a few scripts. It hasn’t happened for a few reasons. Though I remain hopeful. But here’s one script of the new adventures of Johnny Dollar, for the 70th anniversary.
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The Wadsworth Theft Matter
Narrator: From Hartford, Connecticut, welcome to the new transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account. America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator
Johnny Dollar: Yours truly, Johnny Dollar
Sound effect: Phone ringing
Insurance Guy: Johnny, how are you? It’s Evan Wright from Hartford Consolidated.
Johnny Dollar: [groaning, not quite awake] I’m good, but jetlagged. How are you, Evan?
Insurance Guy: I know you just flew in a few hours ago, Johnny, but I have a job for you.
Johnny Dollar: It can’t wait a day? Or at least a few hours. I’m jetlagged and half asleep.
Insurance Guy: A few hours ago the Wadsworth Atheneum was robbed. [pause] You’re only two blocks away, Johnny. We need to get on top of this. And fast.
Johnny Dollar: Tell them I’ll be there within the hour.
Johnny Dollar (Voiceover): I made some espresso and got dressed. Expense Account Item One: twelve dollars for coffee from Blue State Coffee for the uniformed officers standing out in the cold in front of the museum. After passing out the cups and giving them my name, I was ushered inside through the Main Street entrance. The museum’s director was inside the atrium. She was frazzled and needed sleep more than I did. She was also glad to see me, which was not a good sign.
sound effect: double kiss on the cheeks
Museum director: When the company said they would send over an investigator I hoped it would be you.
Johnny Dollar: Nice to see you, too. How are you holding up?
Museum director: Better than Marguerite. Will is going ballistic. Emma fainted. We’re all a mess.
Johnny Dollar: What did the thieves make off with?
Museum director: Seven pieces. Here’s the list.
sound effect: paper being passed to him.
Johnny Dollar: Hmm. This is a strange collection of artwork.
Museum director: I know. I want you to get those pieces back. I just keep thinking of Marguerite. She was in Boston at the Gardner Museum before she came here.
JD (v.o.): Everyone in the art world knows the 1990 heist at the Isabel Gardner Museum in Boston. Thieves made off with paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas. It wasn’t just the biggest art theft in American history, but the biggest theft of any kind.
Museum director: Seven paintings were stolen at the Gardner as well.
Johnny Dollar: The thieves at the Gardner had better taste.
sound effect: snort.
Museum director: No comment.
Johnny Dollar: I’ll find them.
Museum director: I could say a lot of things about you, Johnny. And I have. But you’ve never lied to me. Don’t start now.
Johnny Dollar: I’ll find them.
JD (v.o.): She looked me in the eye and nodded. For the first time in years, she wished me well. At the far end of the hall in the next gallery, two detectives I knew well were talking with a uniform. I walked over to make good on my promise.
Espada: Well look who the cat dragged in.
Keaton: I thought you were in Europe.
Johnny Dollar: Flew in last night and I just got a phone call saying you guys can’t manage without me.
Espada: What’s this I hear about some guy bringing coffee for all the cops stuck out in the cold?
Johnny Dollar: Mommy Dollar taught me manners.
Keaton: So where’s our coffee?
Johnny Dollar: I brought you donuts too but the boys said you weren’t allowed near them.
Espada: He’s on that gluten free nonsense.
Keaton: Yeah, just rub it in. He goes to Europe, you get to eat real food. One of these people isn’t as happy as the others.
Espada: Well you may have just arrived but we’ve been here for hours. What do you say we get lunch and we’ll fill you in on what we’ve learned.
Keaton: You’re buying of course
Johnny Dollar: I expect nothing less from you freeloaders. And if you behave yourself, we won’t tell your wife what you ate.
Espada: We’ve got some time while the staff gathers. Let’s duck out and grab something.
JD (v.o.): Expense Account Item Two: twenty dollars for lunch with Detectives Espada and Keaton at the Lucky Taco food truck in Bushnell Park.
Johnny Dollar: Okay, walk me through this. How did these crooks manage to pull this off?
Espada: They grabbed all small paintings and drawings. Nothing large in size and nothing especially notable. It’s as if they were less concerned about grabbing the most expensive ones and had an eye on their escape.
Johnny Dollar: Do you think there was anything to them stealing seven pieces?
Espada: As opposed to six or eight, you mean? No idea.
Keaton: They broke in through the emergency exit that looks out onto City Hall.
sound effect of a door being pried open
Johnny Dollar: I hate that stegosaurus.
Espada: You’re not a fan?
Johnny Dollar: Not even remotely. But go on.
Espada: They seemed to know the layout of the museum just fine, though it’s hard to say how well they knew the artwork. They pretty much entered the museum and traveled in a fairly straight line, grabbing pieces off the wall as they went.
Keaton: Then they escaped out the emergency exit that looks out on Prospect.
sound effects: underneath the detectives’ explanation of how it was committed, sounds of the crooks prying open the door and grabbing artwork off the walls, the alarms going off and them running out of the museum through the emergency exit.
Johnny Dollar: And Prospect is empty after dark.
Keaton: Not last night. They hit just after the game at the Civic Center let out.
Espada: We’ve been looking at the traffic cams a few blocks away, but I don’t think it’s going to tell us anything. The alarm on the emergency exit didn’t go off when they left. We’re not sure if it’s been tampered with or it was just a lucky break. The techs are looking at it now.
Johnny Dollar: No one saw anything? Even with the traffic jammed up?
Keaton: It was moving just enough. It wasn’t an accident they picked that night.
Johnny Dollar: Then they’re close enough to the highway that they’re gone before anyone’s the wiser. It’s not a bad plan.
Espada: As long as the traffic cooperates it’s a great plan.
Keaton: You know art even better than we do. Anything stand out for you about these works? Other than the fact that they were small and in those galleries, we can’t spot anything connecting them.
Johnny Dollar: None are especially valuable. None especially well known. It suggests they were amateurs. They found a way in and a way out of the museum, and didn’t want anything specific.
Espada: Hopefully we’ll get something from the staff.
Johnny Dollar: Can I sit in on the interviews?
Keaton: Of course. As long as you sit there and stay quiet.
Espada: Unless you catch something we missed.
Keaton: Yeah we’re more than happy to take credit for your success.
JD (v.o.): Back at the museum, we stopped at the cafe. Expense Account Item Three: twenty-seven dollars for three double espressos and a sugar cookie decorated to look like the figure from Edward Munch’s Scream for our gluten-free detective. We took over the director’s office, a corner room with a view of downtown. No matter what Hollywood tells you, most museum thefts and art crimes are not committed by bored millionaires, but by employees. We met with the staff one at a time starting with those who were working last night.
JD (v.o.): The problem with police interviews is that people respond to pressure in different ways. Some people do not handle stress well. In my experience, art historians and curators are not the toughest, most hardened individuals. I’d worked property cases with Espada and Keaton before and they had their own approach to interviewing suspects.
Espada: (shouts) Did you steal those paintings?
Sound effect: hysterical sobbing
JD (v.o.): That curator didn’t actually steal it, but had let her boyfriend in to see the restoration room last week because he was a Frederic Church fan and now she felt guilty about it.
JD (v.o.): Most of the staff was just as helpful.
sound effect: a swiping sound as we move from one suspect to the next.
Curator #2: [Note: the words “drawings” and “watercolors” should be spoke with the kind of disgust and disdain reserved for only the most vile things imaginable] Believe me, I did not steal them. The very fact that the Atheneum is having an exhibition, no matter how small of drawings and watercolors just turns me stomach. Wasting wall space on such work instead of showcasing real art – that’s the real crime here!
sound effect: swipe
Sound effect: sobbing
Curator #3: How could you even ask a question like that. I could never have anything to do with stealing such work. Those drawings were my life. I would never have let anything happen to them. It’s bad enough I have to deal with the other curators who look down on such things, but now there are thieves. This theft is the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Sound effect: hysterical sobbing.
Sound effect: swipe
Docent: Last night I went out with a few girlfriends. We met for dinner at Ichiban and then had drinks at Tisane. I went home alone. What about you, Dollar? Where were you last night?
Johnny Dollar: I, uh, flew in from Europe with just enough time to arrive here without sleep.
Docent: I bet we can both make tonight a lot more fun.
Keaton: I think we’re done here.
Sound effect: swipe
Janitor: I-I wasn’t here last night.
Espada: Yes, we know.
Janitor: I couldn’t have stolen the paintings cause I wasn’t here last night.
Espada: Yes, but I’m asking about the day before and anything else you may have seen when you’re at work.
Janitor: But I wasn’t here last night.
Sound effect: deep sigh.
Sound effect: swipe
Keaton: No matter how many art cases I’ve worked I can never quite get used to all this
Espada: What do you mean?
Keaton: Half of them love the art like their own children and the other half think the world would be a better place if we tossed them in a bonfire.
Espada: You think they’re different from anyone else?
Keaton: I think they might pretend to act civilized now and again. But what do I know? I think Russ Heath was a great artist and Roy Lichtenstein was a talentless schmuck.
Johnny Dollar: It doesn’t change the fact that we don’t have anything solid.
Espada: I thought we had it when that one starting bawling her eyes out.
Keaton: No, it’s never the sobbers. They feel guilty about something but you need tougher stones to pull something like this off.
Johnny Dollar: What about that janitor?
Espada: But he wasn’t here last night.
sound effect: laughter
Keaton: He was off.
Espada: I don’t think he’s smart enough to pull off a heist. Let alone plan something like this.
Johnny Dollar: There was something about him.
Keaton: Maybe we should let them go. No reason to keep them stewing here while we try to figure it all out.
Espada: I’ll tell the uniforms everyone’s free to go but they have to check with us before leaving town.
Keaton: Just make sure you say in that bad cop tone you enjoy.
Johnny Dollar: Well if you’re letting everyone go, maybe I should duck out.
Espada: Oh really?
Keaton: You don’t want to hash out the case with us? Over dinner, maybe?
Espada: Your treat, of course.
Johnny Dollar: Of course.
Keaton: You are the man with an expense account.
Espada: You know that once the HPD gives us an expense account, you’ll be our first call. But until then...
Johnny Dollar: I think I’ll go now. No offense to you guys, but I’ll take a rain check on supper.
Keaton: We can’t compare to that docent.
Espada: Hell, if we weren’t in the room, I’m sure they could’ve gotten started already.
Johnny Dollar: Nice, guys. What makes you think I’m not going home to get some shut eye.
Keaton: Are you going home to get some shut eye?
Johnny Dollar: How about we touch base later tonight. Let me know if anything occurs to you.
Keaton: Only if you do the same.
Johnny Dollar: Cross my heart and hope to die.
JD (v.o.): I wasn’t going to get some shut eye, but neither was I going after that docent. Business before pleasure. The person I was keeping an eye on was the janitor.
sound effect: engine turning over
JD (v.o.): I tailed my suspect to a Cape Cod style house in the Elmwood neighborhood of West Hartford. He pulled into the driveway and left just a few minutes later. He took I-84 to an East Hartford exit, turning into a warehouse just off Prospect Street. I drove past and parked on a side street. He had parked in the lot behind the building and from a distance I could tell that he was nervous as he made his way from his car to the back entrance of the building. The building seemed to be divided into smaller work spaces. I kept my binoculars trained on the windows waiting for his head to appear in one of the rarely cleaned windows. There was at least one other man in there with him.
sound effect: phone ringing
Johnny Dollar: (loud whisper) This is Dollar.
Espada: I know. I’m the one who called you, remember. Where are you?
Johnny Dollar: I tailed our janitor.
Espada: Don’t tell me that.
Espada: He at home?
JD: He got on the highway and is now in a warehouse space in East Hartford meeting with at least one other man.
Espada: Give me the address.
JD (v.o.): By the time the pair showed up, nothing had changed.
Keaton: He still inside?
Johnny Dollar: Along with at least one other person. How are we going to play this?
Keaton: What’s this “we” kemosabee?
Espada: You carrying a gun now?
Johnny Dollar: I hate guns, you know that.
Espada: You don’t have a gun, so what do you plan to do?
Johnny Dollar: You don’t have a search warrant. And even if you did, this is East Hartford and you don’t have jurisdiction, so what do you plan to do?
Keaton: You got an idea, we’re listening.
Johnny Dollar: Hold my hat for me and call for backup. Real backup.
sound effect: three hard raps against a metal door.
sound effect: door creakily swings open
Museum Janitor: Hello?
Johnny Dollar: I was hoping we could talk.
sound effect: door creaking and then pushed open
JD (v.o.): He tried to close the door, but I put on a sturdy pair of boots this morning and pushed the door open. It was a typical warehouse space turned artist loft space, though this space wasn’t for creating art.
Andre: Who’s this guy?
JD (v.o.): Two other men were in the room and they were even less happy to see me.
Not Andre: Answer the man. Who are you?
Johnny Dollar: I’m Johnny Dollar. Who are you?
Andre: What kind of name is that?
Johnny Dollar: It’s mine. Like yours is better?
Not Andre: Don’t tell him our names, Andre
JD (v.o.): Everyone turned and stared at him for a long, cold second. No one pointed out just how stupid he’d been.
Museum Janitor: He was with the cops at the museum.
JD (v.o.): The word cops changed everything. They all took a step back, and Andre pulled a gun on me. I raised my arms.
Andre: Who are you?
Johnny Dollar: I told you, I’m Johnny Dollar. And right now I’m your best friend.
Not Andre: Our best friend?
Johnny Dollar: Because I’m not a cop. I’m an insurance investigator. That means my only goal is to get the paintings back
Andre: So you just walk in here and expect us to give you the paintings?
Johnny Dollar: Yes.
sound effect: laughter
Johnny Dollar: You give me the paintings and I walk out of here. You never hear from me again. Assuming that you quit your job at the museum immediately.
Andre: What makes you think I won’t shoot you?
Johnny Dollar: You won’t shoot me.
Andre: Why not?
Johnny Dollar: You’ve never fired a gun before. At least not this one. You’re holding it sideways cause it looks cool in the movies. But if you fire the gun holding it sideways like that, when the casing ejects, the brass will hit you in the eye.
sound effects: physical struggle
JD (v.o.): After I explained the gun’s workings, he took his eyes off me and looked at the gun, which was a mistake. Not just because I’m prettier. It took four solid blows to disarm Andre, leaving him with a broken arm and me with his gun. I stepped back and trained the gun on them.
sound effect: heavy breathing
Museum Janitor: Okay, man. You got the gun. Why don’t you just take the paintings and go.
Johnny Dollar: I gave you that option. You turned me down.
sound effect: takes off the safety
Johnny Dollar: FYI. This is how you hold a gun.
sound effect: three shots
Espada: Open up. Police.
JD (v.o.): Hearing the shots, which I’d fired into a stack of insulation piled in a corner gave Espada and Keaton probable cause to enter the room along with two East Hartford uniforms.
Espada: Gee, detective, here we are, two detectives just minding our business when we hear a gunshot. Giving us cause to enter the premises. And what do we have here, but individuals in possession of stolen merchandise.
Keaton: Yes it does. And one of them being a museum employee with whom we’d spoken just a couple hours back about the theft of this same stolen merchandise. What an unbelievable coincidence.
Espada: I guess we’re going to have to arrest them.
Not Andre: I thought you said you weren’t going to arrest us
Johnny Dollar: I’m not. They are. All the paintings seem to be here.
Espada: Dollar, you got a little something on your lapel.
JD (v.o.): Expense Account Item Four: $54 dollars for dry cleaning one Paul Smith charcoal suit and laundering one Thomas Pink white button down shirt due to my physical altercation with the suspects.
Keaton: Now we just need one of these guys to say, “and I woulda gotten away with it if weren’t for those cops and their danged insurance investigator.”
Andre: What are you talking about?
Espada: That’s the problem with thieves today, no culture.
Keaton: Hollywood gets it wrong once again.
JD (v.o.): The three men were booked at the station and the artwork was returned to the Wadsworth. My bosses at Hartford Consolidated and the Wadsworth were thrilled the case was wrapped up so quickly. I was thrilled that I could earn my ten percent for recovering the paintings in a matter of hours. Expense Account Item Five: Three hundred dollars even for dinner for two at the Firebox Restaurant, consisting of a dozen oysters, two entrees, one side dish, five Broad Street Manhattans, five Billings-Forge Cocktails and one creme brulee, plus tip, courtesy of Hartford Consolidated, as an apology for enlisting me just hours after getting back. Total claimed expenses: $413 dollars.
JD (v.o.): And with that, the Wadsworth Theft Matter was closed. Yours truly, Johnny Dollar.
Jerry Craft on New Kid. A conversation with the cartoonist about his new graphic novel
Polar: How an Indie Webcomic Made the Leap to a Netflix Original. A conversation with writer and artist Victor Santos about his webcomic turned film Polar.
A Conversation with Julie Sondra Decker. I spoke with the writer, best known for her nonfiction book The Invisible Orientation, about writing and drawing two very different weekly and monthly webcomics.
“I Was Terrified – And Therefore, I Accepted”: An Interview with José Hernández. I spoke with the Mexican cartoonist about his most recent work, Che, based on Jon Lee Anderson’s biography.