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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Netflix Yes; LOVEFiLM nO

It was a no-brainer to put Netflix in my 2005 list, "10 Things I Love About The Film Industry".

Netflix really has been revolutionary. By making virtually any DVD available on demand to anyone in the entire USA, it has smashed the local brick & mortar video store irrevocably, and it has altered the way people watch TV and movies as much as TIVO and digital video recorders have changed viewers' relationship with the broadcast industry.

In the U.K. the most popular DVD-by-mail service is a company called LOVEFiLM.

LOVEFiLM is not Netflix.

The main thing that makes Netflix great is its genuine "on-demand" aspect. If I want to watch "Down By Law" (1986), "Gladiator" (2000), the entire series of "Freaks and Geeks" (1999), and "Andrei Rublev" (1969) - in that order - I will be sent "Down By Law", "Gladiator", the entire series of "Freaks and Geeks", and "Andrei Rublev" - in that order. Rarely, and usually only in the case of extremely popular titles just after release, Netflix will be unable to provide a requested title. This is usually accompanied by ample warning from the company, and a reliable promise that the title will be sent as soon as it is available.

The other key to Netflix's success - and it is a thing of beauty - is the Rental Queue. The Netflix Rental Queue allows you to fine-tune the order in which you want your movies to arrive. If you want to see Andrei Rublev first, and then "Down By Law", then split up the discs which comprise "Freaks and Geeks", maybe with 3 before "Gladiator" and 3 after, well, then no one's going to stop you. In fact, to us morbidly incurably cinemonks, the populating and ordering and massaging of the queue is an end in itself. It's a real pleasure to add movie after movie and then try to prioritize them, plan your viewing, create for yourself a 1st rate cinema education for the next year and a half. And of course there's the maxing out of the queue and having to decide which individual title you will have to remove from the list in order to add another title that you want to watch.

And Netflix also has a good engine that encourages you to rate movies and then gives you solid recommendations based on those ratings.

If I were to make another list, a "List Of Reasons To Return To The USA", Netflix access would go on it.

But, as I indicated, here in Britain, there is no Netflix. There is LOVEFiLM.

LOVEFiLM is very much like Netflix - up to the bright red envelopes in which the DVD's are mailed and the white-on-red, black-bordered logo.

In the same way that minority ethnic groups can make jokes about themselves that no one else can, I being officially - and actually - British have to say that it's a sad and wretched thing to see, over and over, Britain taking on ideas introduced from the outside and with the enthusiasm of an over-praised child, apply those ideas slap-dash to its own local situation while missing the core of what made the idea good in the first place.

Exhibit A: Mexican Food. What is Mexican food? Well, it's - generally speaking - simple, meat and vegetables with spices often wrapped in a flour or corn tortilla, etc. I have eaten British-made Mexican food - I kid you not - which has been tuna and peas with chili powder wrapped in a pita. With cheddar cheese sauce.

Exhibit B: Sweet Potatoes. At University of Kent, a Thanksgiving dinner was arranged for the American students. Sweet, no? No. Traditionally, sweet potatoes are served at Thanksgiving. The American students were served sweet ... potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes ... sweetened with sugar. There was weeping.

Exhibit C: British rap music and hip-hop. All I have to say is that if you don't have genuine actual gangsters actually shooting each other with military-issue automatic weapons on a daily basis in your city streets, please, please, please avoid attempting rap music of any kind. It's embarrassing for all of us.

And so, LOVEFiLM:

LOVEFiLM bills itself as "Europe's NO. 1 Online DVD Rental Service", but it offers relatively few continental titles, so I don't know how seriously to take that assertion.

First off, LOVEFiLM is not a good name. I know some marketing person somewhere really worked hard on it and I appreciate that. But just step back and listen to the word: "Luvfilm". The fricative "V" and "F" disappear into each other - and they are not helped by that disintegrating "ILM" sound at the end. "Lovfilm" sounds like the last thing a drunk might say before passing out cold on top of his girlfriend. Could we just have one hard consonant, please? Or an "S"? "LOVESFiLM" maybe?

And with the name "LOVEFiLM" you've already alienated half of your user base. Because no self-respecting macho-man-with-an-inferiority-complex is going to want to say to his colleagues on a Monday morning: "Hey guys, I joined LOVE-FiLM!" He would be shunned. Even I, who get weepy when Judy Garland sings "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", am loathe to say "LOVEFiLM" in mixed company.

But that's nitpicking. LOVEFiLM has a similar engine as Netflix for rating movies, and then getting recommendations back. But it's vague. And the accuracy of the recommendations doesn't seem to improve much after a certain amount of rating. Whereas it is a pleasure to rate movies on Netflix and watch your recommendations gaining more and more focus, it's depressing to rate film after film on LOVEFiLM and get back repeatedly "If you loved 'The Seventh Seal', you'll love 'Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves'".

The LOVEFiLM rental queue - called, ironically, a "list" by LOVEFiLM, not a "queue" - is really not much of a queue at all. Whereas Netflix allows you to fine-tune your queued movies via an interface that allows you to assign an ordinal number to each, LOVEFiLM offers you the opportunity to put movies in one of three categories: "HIGH", "MED", "LOW" priorities. And that's it.

The obvious - and typically British - problem this introduces is that it entirely removes the "on demand" aspect that makes DVD-by-mail appealing. The very point of having a rental queue is to be able to watch the movies I want to see exactly when I want to see them.

If I want to see "Down By Law", "Gladiator", the entire series of "Freaks and Geeks", and "Andrei Rublev" - in that order (well, I'm not going to be able to get "Freaks and Geeks" because that is a particularly American tv series that executives somewhere have decided will not translate to the other side of the Atlantic and they are very wrong about that but you may insert your own imagined tv series) - the only way I'm going to have any chance of watching them in the order will be to put the one I want to see next in my HIGH priority list and put all the rest on the MED or LOW priority list. Because if they all go into the HIGH priority bin, they will be sent to me in an unpredictable order selected by some oily fingered worker at the LOVEFiLM distribution plant.

And that, if I'm lucky.

In a recent LOVEFiLM experience, my household received not a single one of the films in our HIGH priority list. We were told, after sending an email query, that none of the half dozen films tagged HIGH were available at present. And so, we were sent randomly selected titles from our very long MED priority list - one of these titles was a dull reality tv show about families building their new houses. That MED priority section can be a real quagmire of impulse clicks. We did watch the show. But our weekend was ruined. A queue that allowed you to put a title like that at the bottom of a long list would easily prevent such tragedies.

There is too the LOW priority section. But, let's face it, the idea that you would select a bunch of movies so that you could put them in a list marked "Low Priority" - well, it's kind of idiotic.

In LOVEFiLM's defense, they do have a system to warn users that there might be a wait for a film. A gray, half-full hour-glass icon indicates: "It is likely there will be a short wait for this title." A red, full hour-glass icon indicates: "It is likely there will be a long wait for this title." However, I have yet to see the icon next to any of the HIGH priority movies we have requested that we have been refused.

The impression one gets, as a user of the service, is that LOVEFiLM wants to make it as easy on themselves as possible, but still get you to give them money. Apparently, it's working because we continue to give them money.

I want to make clear that LOVEFiLM is not lousy. The service is perfectly adequate. But given the technology, expertise, and creative fire so readily available in this wide wired world of the 21st century, "adequate" is now synonymous with "insulting".

If you want to become a multi-millionaire in Britain, you can - as I've said before - open a good, authentic Mexican restaurant. Or you can offer us the DVD-by-mail service that we deserve.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Low Web

Taking a walk round the hood with the baby yestereve:

olar web


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC)

People all the time are saying to me: "Always you are writing about the arts and the creative lives of people and sometimes you write semi-amusing haiku about cats or dinosaurs. Often we notice that you write an awful lot of things that are untrue and we fear for your moral and spiritual health. But what we want to know is why you don't write more about tropical fish."

Indeed, why don't I write more about tropical fish?

From this month's issue of "Practical Fishkeeping" magazine, the widest circulating publication for aquarium enthusiasts in Britain:

Heathrow Animal Reception Centre:
The UK's Ambassador To The World Ornamental Fish Trade


Neal Romanek

Unless your aquarium stock are restricted to animals bred and raised in the United Kingdom, the odds are near certain that they spent a few hours of their lives inside a warehouse on Beacon Road, just outside the southern boundary of Heathrow Airport at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC).

forklift driver removing aquarium stock from large truckThe Animal Reception Centre is the principle entry point for all live animals entering the United Kingdom by air. The Centre's mandate is to enforce the statutory requirements of UK and EU legislation with regard to importation of animals via air transport. This legislation incorporates Rabies Control – hence the Centre's previous designation as the Animal Quarantine Station - and the welfare of animals during transport.

The only other entry facilities in the EU of comparable scale to HARC are centres at the airports of Amsterdam and Frankfurt. The Amsterdam and Frankfurt centres tend to specialize in larger animals – horses and substantial mammals. Despite the fact that most of the invertebrates and fish in our aquaria pass through this surprisingly humble cluster of buildings, few are aware of HARC's importance to British fishkeeping, both as hobby and trade.

The City Of London's website observes that the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre receives all types of animals "from cats and dogs, to baby elephants, to reptiles and spiders." What they do not say is that in sheer numbers, volume, weight – just about any way you measure it – the bulk of livestock passing through their doors, and probably outweighing all the rest combined, is made up of fish and aquatic invertebrates.

It is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of the operation at the Centre until you observe it first-hand, as we did, escorted by HARC manager, Robert Quest. Lorry after lorry, chock-a-block with fully-loaded pallets, stands by to unload the shipments ferried over from the Heathrow terminals, each hauling a total volume of water and livestock that might fill a petrol truck. Mr. Quest explained that, on average, 35,000,000 fish pass through the Animal Reception Centre each year – sometimes fewer (in the slowest year on recent record, over 28,000,000 were admitted), sometimes many more.
Most flights carrying fish and aquatic invertebrates usually land on Mondays and Tuesdays. This is part of a shipping cycle that allows them to be transported throughout the UK and received by dealers during the week, to be ready for sale by the weekend.

The trucks begin arriving by nine in the morning. HARC forklift operators work at a steady pace emptying the trucks, shuttling their cargo into the "Fish Border Inspection Post", a long, green-painted warehouse across from HARC's main administrative building. In cold weather, ceiling-mounted heaters keep the temperature in the warehouse within an acceptable range until the shipments are cleared by the Centre's staff and ready to be picked up by domestic shippers.

Most fish cargo arrives on flights from Asia, the majority via Singapore. "Any flight that passes through Singapore on a Tuesday is going to have a belly hold full of fish," Quest said, "and the only thing that limits the number is the number of flights coming in." A single plane might contain up to 300 boxes of polystyrene fish containers. The next time you're on a long-haul trip from Asia and get hassled for being over the baggage weight limit, just tell yourself: "I'm doing it for the fish."

One might suspect that endless crates of fish and plants would make ideal carriers for smuggling, but only rarely have there been such problems. In the 1990's, the Centre did find a transit consignment of fish containing a roll of microfilm. In that case, customs officials were phoned, and the consignment was carried off and never seen again. Today items are x-rayed multiple times during the transit process, so smuggled materials are caught early on, and since fish in water do not x-ray well, any inorganic material inside a container is easily spotted.

The biggest smuggling concern is the attempted importing of banned species – particularly corals. The Centre works in tandem CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science. CEFAS, an aquatic scientific research and consultancy centre, is an executive agency of DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. CEFAS's stated purview is:

assessment and advice for managing and conserving fisheries, and for the conservation of marine and freshwater ecosystems environmental monitoring and assessment of nutrients, radionuclides, chemicals and other contaminants in the environment advice on aquaculture, disease control and hygiene of fish and shellfish incidents and emergency response service research and project management in support of the services above

After shipments are offloaded at HARC, there are three separate inspection phases before the loads are cleared to be carried away. There is a documentation check to make sure the appropriate paperwork, identification, and clearances are is attached. Secondly, an identity check ensures that the documentation agrees with and accurately describes the shipment received. Bans of animals that may pose a disease risk – as, for example, in the case of some ornamental carp or koi – might be specific only to animals with origin in a specific prefecture or province, rather than from an entire country. Thus scrupulous attention to paperwork is therefore essential to properly enforcing the regulations.

The final phase of inspection is the physical check, conducted by the CEFAS animal health team. CEFAS inspectors open, and visually and physically inspect, 10% of the containers coming in. The condition of animals is assessed. Water samples are taken and tested for diseases and parasites.

The inspections are performed inside an enclosed room at one end of the Fish Border Inspection Post warehouse. The room features stainless steel countertops and deep stainless steel sinks and several heavy steel shelving units for storing heavy, water-filled containers. On one end of the room are rows of large, tapped tanks – like some massive cold drinks arrangement for a tremendous barbeque. These containers store both fresh and salt water. The facilities do not allow for the long-term housing of species, but the water stores – with the help of pure oxygen available – are sufficient to top up water and oxygen lost in the inspection, or to rescue animals that have fallen victim to shoddy packing or handling. As in a darkroom, an overhead red light is used for initial inspection of the fish, to avoid shock that a sudden flood of white light would cause. Once the fish pass this inspection procedure, clearance is faxed to HM Revenue & Customs in Salford who then declare the shipment ready to be transported.

Despite the exhaustive checking, a shipment rarely spends more than four hours – more often closer to two - at the Centre before it is on a lorry and off to its destination.

Fish are banned entry into the UK for two reasons. Either the animals are endangered and the UK, or EU, is signatory to the legislation recognizing the animal's status. Or the animal poses a health risk for the indigenous ecosystem – either to naturally occurring animals and plants or to commercially bred species.

If there are banned animals in the shipment, the consignment is removed, and the banned animals – which have included freshwater crayfish, corals, and most recently seahorses – are destroyed

Of the fifty or so prosecutions a year by the Centre, Quest says that only a very few ever involve fish shipments. Most of the legal action the Centre had to employ has been against cases involving larger vertebrates – cats shipped in too-small carriers for example. In the case of the aquarium stock shipments, most prosecutions are due to improper handling and packing. "Fish disasters are usually because of massive delay somewhere, bad stowage – we had one consignment that got put on the hot water pipes in the aircraft, so the bottom layer was too hot to say the least –and then handling. And that's handling not so much on the aircraft but between the aircraft and here." In such cases it is the airline that gets prosecuted, since they are liable for the safety of the shipment.

Its easy to forget that HARC is an organization driven by legislation and not charity or science. This is nowhere more apparent than the definitions of coldwater fish vs. tropical fish, which have recently been adopted.

All ornamental fish imported are classified as either "cold-water ornamental fish" or "tropical ornamental fish".

Previously, those separations of type have been determined by a species' ability to survive certain temperature ranges. A "tropical fish" was defined as one which could not naturally survive in British waters. No more – at least not according to the law.

As of 1 April 2007, cold-water ornamental fish are "ornamental fish of species susceptible to one or more of the following diseases: Epizootic Haematopoietic Necrosis (EHN), Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), Viral Haemorraghic Septicaemia (VHS), Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis (IHN), Spring Viraemia of Carp (SVC), Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD), Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN), Koi Herpes Virus (KHV), and infection with Gyrodactylus Salaris".

So if that is a "cold water fish", then what is a "tropical fish"?

A tropical fish is "any ornamental fish other than cold-water ornamental fish".

So theoretically, a Tanzanian cichlid that inexplicably acquired one of these diseases would be classified as, according to EU regulations, a cold-water fish.

Even experienced importers and distributors would do well to review the regulations on a regular basis. The languages of the law and of science may not overlap as much as common sense might dictate. David Mullin, a principle policymaker for DEFRA, explains that the change in definition is made necessary by the fact that the law must now be applicable to all of the EU. An animal's viability within a given environment is no longer a practical rule of thumb to use across the wide variety of climates and conditions in EU countries. The purpose of the law is to preserve the health and welfare of native stocks – and the principle threat is disease. Hence, the disease-centric nature of the wording.

It is easy to become paranoid about the "foreign threat" of disease and infection. Sensible observation of the laws and good communication can prevent problems from arising.

Viral Haemorraghic Septicaemia (VHS) was just discovered this spring in coldwater fish of the US Great Lakes. Though there is no danger of VHS passing to humans, there are fears that the disease could decimate the native stock. It is thought that the disease might have been introduced into Great Lakes area via contaminated ballast water, or by bait fish, or by foreign stocks introduced to the waters.

If Robert Quest's assessment is anything to go by, then there is a good chance that a similar disaster in the EU would not be the fault of the fish industry. Quest has seen dogfish and dogs, octopus and ocelots come through the Heathrow and he insists: "The fish industry is the most organized going without a shadow of a doubt. I think the volume is part of it. It's a big trade. It's got its own trade organizations and has had so for years, and it leaves the reptile and bird trade for dead in that respect. The fish industry has always seemed to be looking after itself. And it's well-packed."


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Comp Self-Portrait 3

self-portrait composited from photographs in Photoshop


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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Comp Self-Portrait 2

Neal Romanek self-portrait


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Friday, August 10, 2007

Comp Self-Portrait 1


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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sucker Punch & Triumph Over Vicious Yangtze Dolphin

I got punched in the head this morning.

No, really. I did.

I had to go to the doctor early in the AM to get a routine blood test done - cholesterol.

On my walk home, as I listened to Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" on my wife's iPod, as other Londoners londoned along the sidewalks londoning off to their London jobs, I encountered a cluster of Youths. One of the female Youths was verbally and physically attacking a male Youth who was doing his chivalrous best not to punch her teeth out. The other Youths loitered nearby making the odd comment or two about nothing in particular.

What with my being a Los Angeleno and all, I did not fear these Youths. After all, they probably were only carrying knives and they had clearly been awake all night downing this and that and whatnot and were probably ready to turn in, and it was 9 in the morning with all those Londoners around londoning to work, and I have been carjacked at gunpoint, you know, so ...

... forward I pressed, slaloming through the Youths.

Someone's fist, thrown from somewhere to my left and behind, struck the side of my head with all the speed and catastrophic impact of an inebriate's fist hitting you in the side of the head.

My glasses went flying into the street. I flashed back to being beaten up in 7th grade. And one of the female Youths (a different one from the first who was still assailing her boyfriend) laughed and observed that I had had my spectacles knocked off.

I retrieved the spectacles, looking back at who might have the culprit been who done struck me.

My bleary-eyed assailant sat round-shouldered on a front garden wall divining the pavement -unmoving now, silent.


With one of those sudden, lightning remissions? Only to be followed by an equally rapid relapse?

I laughed good-naturedly, as is my want when being beaten up (see 7th grade, et al.), and continued on my way home where I immediately called the police - who are, I am promised, going to swing by sometime soon to take my statement.

In the meantime, we have eradicated our first dolphin. So that's at least some good news:

Scientists from North America, Europe and Asia have declared the Yangtze River dolphin or baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) extinct after an extensive survey of the middle-lower Yangtze River failed to locate any either by sight or acoustically.

The baiji, long been recognised as one of the rarest and most critically threatened mammal species, now has the dubious honour of being the first cetacean species driven to extinction by human activity.

This freshwater river dolphin is the sole living representative of the family Lipotidae (a group that diverged from other cetaceans about 20 million years ago) and is restricted to the middle-lower Yangtze River drainage and the neighbouring Qiantang River in eastern China.

The scientists carried out an intensive survey using both sight and acoustic methods in the main Yangtze River channel between Yichang and Shanghai (an in-channel distance of 1669 km) for a period of six weeks in November–December 2006, and failed to locate a single baiji.

According to the scientists: “The lack of any baiji sightings or acoustic recordings in the Yangtze during this survey forces us to conclude that the species is now likely to be extinct.

“While it is conceivable that a couple of surviving individuals were missed by the survey teams, our inability to detect any baiji in the main channel of the river despite this intensive search effort indicates that the prospect of finding and translocating them to an ex situ reserve has all but vanished.

“The continued deterioration of the Yangtze ecosystem means that the species has no hope of even short-term survival as a viable population in the river, if it has not already disappeared.”

The main threat that led to the decline and extinction of the baiji is primarily massive uncontrolled and unselective fishing, which led to many baiji being killed as by-catch.

The authors state that “Although relatively few data are available on baiji mortality, at least half of all known baiji deaths in the 1970s and 1980s were caused by rolling hooks and other fishing gear, and electro-fishing accounted for 40% of baiji deaths recorded during the 1990s...”

The baiji is not the only species endemic to the Yangtze River that has gone extinct or is in very grave danger of doing so.

The Chinese paddlefish, Psephurus gladius, not reported since 2003, may have befallen the same fate, and the Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides asiaeorientalis) has experienced a rapid decline.

The authors conclude with a chilling warning: “The baiji’s probable extinction serves as a potent reminder to conservationists that even large charismatic and nominally protected animals are still in grave danger of being lost; species cannot be expected to save themselves, and intervention may need to be swift and decisive.”

For more information, see the paper: Turvey, ST, RL Pitman, BL Taylor, J Barlow, T Akamatsu, LA Barrett, X-J Zhao, RR Reeves, BS Stewart, K-X Wang, Z Wei, X-F Zhang, LT Pusser, M Richlen, JR Brandon and D Wang (2007) "First human-caused extinction of a cetacean species?" Biology Letters doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0292

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Russet Murder

feeding crows


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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Milton Caniff: Remembering The Rembrandt Of The Comics

by Neal Romanek & Glenn Romanek

Last week, San Diego Comic-Con International 2007 celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic strip artist Milton Caniff. It's interesting to note that of the most talked about presentations of the entire 4 day convention was the panel on the new "Indiana Jones IV" movie. I wonder how many attendees knew that without a man named Milton Caniff, Indiana Jones would never have existed.

Milton Caniff, creator of "Terry & the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon" was already winding down his career when I first heard of him. Yet Milton Caniff's work has been an inspiration for artists, writers, filmmakers for half a century. My own knowledge of the artist came via my dad who grew up with newspaper comic strips. My dad was inspired by Caniff's work to study art at Ohio University. It's not far off to say that Milton Caniff is a kind of great-grandfather – to me and, whether they know it or not, to many, many other action-adventure authors & artists working today.

Filmmakers, illustrators, comic authors are part of a long heritage of pictorial storytelling, and knowing where you've come from is at least as important as knowing where you're going.

So, to write an observance of the 100th birthday of Milton Caniff, I asked my dad about his hero:

Milton Caniff? My favorite. And the best. Rembrandt of the Comic Strips.

Some might argue the greatest newspaper comic strips were "The Yellow Kid", "Little Nemo", "Krazy Kat". But there should be no doubt about who was the greatest artist - Milton Caniff, hands down. Hal Foster’s name crowds Caniff’s at the top. But Foster himself told Caniff, “I’d be the best comic strip artist in America if you'd quit stepping on my fingers.” And Foster had a week to draw his beautiful page and write his great story. Caniff had to grind out a full page Sunday strip and six dailies day after day, week after week, year after year for over forty years.

You know that I lived with a lot of relatives -- “extended family” they call it -- in a coal mining company house in Depression Era West Virginia. Cheap but dirty. Sunday morning became a cat and dog fight about who, after a big pancake and sausage breakfast, would read The Funnies first.

I don’t recall seeing a comic page until I was five, but I seem to remember "Thimble Theater". I suppose I was looking over a shoulder of a relative who was reading the Sunday “Funnies“. I was fascinated by them. I didn’t know who drew anything.

In ‘37, Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant" came out, and I was hooked and was never let go. I read all of The Funnies: "Buck Rogers", "Dan Dunn", "Wash Tubbs", "Captain and the Kids", "Bringing Up Father", "Thimble Theater", "Toonerville Trolley", "The Gump’s", "Tillie the Toiler", "Little Orphan Annie", even "Ella Cinders".  And "Flash Gordon" and "Tarzan" - I couldn’t get enough of those two. I couldn’t read the balloons, but I got the picture; fascinated, carried away in a beautiful dream.

I was twelve when I found Milton Caniff' and his Far East adventure “Terry and the Pirates”.

We had moved to Akron, Ohio, like many other West Virginians who migrated to find jobs in the "Rubber Capital of the World" after the US entered World War II. Along with "Dick Tracy" and "Abby and Slats", I discovered "Terry and the Pirates" in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Talk about hooked! I could hardly wait for the next day’s episode. Always exciting, always suspenseful and satisfying. And excellent writing, superb draftsmanship, never surpassed. Milton Caniff was a brush and ink man: Yes, Rembrandt of the Comic Strips. Dark and light; nearly 3-D. Have you looked at Rembrandt’s lightning-brushed wash drawings?

Caniff said that the strip's suspense helped sell newspapers; and he was amply rewarded. I read, when he started "Steve Canyon", he was making 100,000 bucks or so a year, a pretty good pile sixty years ago - can it be 60 years!

Both Terry and Canyon always came across as people you could meet and know, and with whom you could easily imagine traipsing around the world and outwitting the bad guys – not to mention having Burma and Sumer Smith as girl friends. And Dragon Lady. And Copper Calhoon. And Madam Lynx.

You know, no comic strip artist has ever matched the sexiness of Caniff’s female characters. Compare the big boobs and butts of 90% of artists out there to Caniff’s realistic sirens. They’re not paper dolls. They live and breathe. And in sheer variety and number of characters alone, Caniff gets the nod over other comic authors.

I’m still in love with Burma, Copper Calhoun, and a couple of others; and maintain an unwise lust for Cheetah. True, "Prince Valiant's" Aleta of the Misty Isles was beautiful - Botticelli beautiful - and Dale in "Flash Gordon" was a dish well served on Mongo or elsewhere, but the intangible touch of self-revealed intimacy of Caniff's women is matchless. A few inches in front of your nose, up close and personal, is better than up on a pedestal - or a spaceship.

Even during WWII, Caniff rarely stooped to overt propaganda, and never made the bad guys cartoonish caricatures. In "Terry", the Invaders – essentially the Japanese who invaded China prior to World War II -- and later the Japanese enemy during the War, were drawn realistically. “Die! You dirty sons of Nippon!” was for the propaganda movies and comic books.

Early in his career, when Caniff worked for the Columbus Dispatch, he told an editor that he wanted to be an actor. The guy told him, “Stick to your ink pots, kid. Actors don’t eat regular.” Caniff didn’t become an actor, but he became a marvelous director!

I have a strong suspicion George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have looked closely at Caniff's work. Indiana Jones is a descendent of Pat Ryan, and "Empire Of The Sun" conjures an unsavory flipside of "Terry and the Pirates". But Indiana Jones’s breathless escapes are pure comic books. Caniff's stories become full-bodied adventures in romance and realism.

When "Steve Canyon" began in 1947 – the same year the US Air Force was founded - I started to save all of its strips. I discovered that the best Sunday strip was on the front comic page of the New York Mirror. I don’t why, but the color was more intense than any other I knew about, and seemingly was a crisper print.

Both Terry and Steve Canyon were both in the Air Force at one time or another. Steve was a pilot in World War II. When he became a civilian, he started a small operation air service – "Horizons Unlimited". After a considerable number of adventures, he again became an officer in the United States Air Force.

There was a continuing patriotism in Caniff's work. He had volunteered to join the Army, but because of his physical disabilities, was not accepted. He was a “bleeder”, you know. I read years ago that he said "A knock on my leg could knock me off." Caniff did a lot of art work for the US government -- in particular, the Air Force -- gratis. I have no doubt his work helped influence many to join it. And he would write and draw special strips for events such as Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, etc.

You know that I was in SAC in the Air Force for 20 years, was on B-52 alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and flew a considerable number of 24- hour missions with nuclear weapons on board. I can’t pinpoint the particular episodes or times, but a realistic ambience of the Cold War permeated "Steve Canyon". Milton Caniff had a feel for life. All aspects of it.

Toward the end of Caniff's life, in appreciation for Steve Canyon's many contributions to the Air Force and his country, the US government officially gave the Canyon character his own personal Service Number. Quite a tribute to Caniff.

Like a slow death, the last few years of Steve Canyon lost its energy and beauty. The size of the panels was reduced. The drawing and inking was tentative, and Steve would dream of being in the American Revolution or some other incongruous historical experience. I think Caniff let others do most of the work, and perhaps guided the story and penciled some of the action, but I don’t know.

Also, he was approaching eighty years of age

All lovers of comics should be forever grateful the kid stuck to his ink pots.



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Friday, August 03, 2007

Intercepting Crow


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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cyclopedia Of Worlds SLIDE

the cyclopedia of worlds


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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Happy Re-Birthday, Fox

23 years ago today - August 1, 1984 - the naturally preserved body of a man was found in a peat bog at Lindow Moss, Wilmslow, Cheshire, UK. He has been dubbed "Lindow Man" and his mummified body can be viewed today in the British Museum.
The anonymous man was killed in an elaborate, ritualistic way - three blows to the head, slash to the throat, garrotte to the neck. He was bearded, in his 20's, and wore a fox fur arm band.

The book, "The Life And Death Of A Druid Prince" by Dr. Anne Ross and Don Robins suggests the man might have been a druid, ritually sacrificed in an appeal to the Celtic gods after the bloody, but unsuccessful revolt of Queen Boudicca against the Roman occupation of Britain.

This morning, our fox lounged out in the back garden enjoying the summer sun.

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