Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, May 21, 2011
      ( 5/21/2011 07:52:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“ALMOST TIME FOR MY PRE-LUNCH SNACK.” The first in a new series of all-aged graphic novel adaptations of the current French-produced Cartoon Network series, Garfield & Co: Fish to Fry (Papercutz) features three comic retellings of cartoons utilizing screen captures from the original computer generated animated art. The results proved decidedly mixed for this reader, though young viewers who primarily know the fat cat from his current cartoon series may not feel the same sense of cognitive dissonance as those who came to the character via his funkier pen-and-ink incarnation.

Still, transferring screen captures onto a page and adding word balloons doesn’t address all the storytelling needs that basic comic book art can. Animation expresses much of its characters’ emotions through movement and sound, after all; comics artists have to pull in other visual tools to suggest these missing elements (more dynamic panel composition, for instance). Placing screen captures on the page, no matter how interestingly you cut the panels, can’t help but flatten the players.

Art aside, the three six- to nine-page adaptations in Fish are amusing and make for good early reading materials, though most older readers will most likely find ‘em pretty disposable. The title piece, arguably the weakest, puts our feline Falstaff in a dream sequence after owner Jon’s girlfriend brings her pet fish over to the house: a dubious decision at best, which makes you wonder if the lady vet even likes her fish. The strongest entry (originally credited to long Garfield cartoon scribe Mark Evanier, though it's unclear if he had a hand in the comic book version) concerns Garfield’s rivalry with the arrogantly cute kitten Nermal, who holds our hero’s teddy bear hostage so the cat’ll be nice to Nermal for a day. Of all the stories, “Nice to Nermal” works best because it’s most attuned to the foibles of its cast.

As a comic character, Garfield is primarily known by the sum of his deadly sins -- gluttony, sloth, envy -- which may be a key to the kitty’s enduring success over the years (that and the aggressive marketing of creator Jim Davis and his cohorts). Papercutz’s new series may not place Gar and company in their best format, but I suspect that plenty of fans will want to take a peek anyway.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Sunday, May 15, 2011
      ( 5/15/2011 07:59:00 AM ) Bill S.  

JUST A WANDERING ON THE FACE OF THIS EARTH: Heading into Tucson, the night of their May 11 concert, I couldn’t help remembering the episode of The Simpsons where the Moody Blues made a guest appearance. In it, cartoon versions of the then-four band members chastised Homer and Ned Flanders for misbehaving in Las Vegas. This night, my wife and I were going to see the group at the AVA Amphitheater, a venue attached to one of Arizona’s myriad casinos.

If, like me, you find the idea of the Veteran Cosmic Rockers being affiliated with something as crassly material as a casino rather incongruous, well, you’ve gotta go where the audience is, right? And AVA Amphitheater had the crowd -- Boomers like this writer and younger classic rock fans, primarily – so it’s obviously working out for the band. Too, the outdoor Amphitheater is admittedly a beautiful venue, and the night we got to see the boys was cool and Spring-y. Lots of smoke rising from the crowd, but, then, you expected that, right?

The current Moodies are a seven-piece unit: three original members (Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Graeme Edge) plus a quartet of supporting players, most of which have been touring for the past four years (relative newcomer Alan Hewitt, once co-producer for Earth Wind & Fire, more recently came on as primary keyboardist). The group produces a sufficiently solid wall-o’-sound, though in some instances the system at AVA appeared to have some difficulty with the mid-range, overemphasizing the songs’ more helium-voiced moments.

As for the Cosmic Codgers themselves, vocalist/guitarist Justin Hayward remains in fine voice, though bassist John Lodge struggled through his vocal showcases, most noticeably with the BeeGees-y falsetto in “Isn’t Life Strange?” Retired flautist and engaging tenor Ray Thomas is still sorely missed, particularly on a performance like “Nights in White Satin” -- where nine-year replacement Norda Mullen just sounded off -- though grizzled drummer Edge, hoisted by a second percussionist, brought the right note of geezerly goofiness to the proceedings, especially during his spoken recitation of the moon landing tribute track “Higher and Higher.”

The band performed most of its big crowd-pleasers at AVA, though there were a few notable omissions (no “Legend of A Mind,” for instance). “Nights” was the inevitable finale, while the harder rockin’ “Ride My See-Saw” made for the single encore. For the fanatics, several lesser known tracks added some sweeter moments. To these ears, “Driftwood” (from Octave) and “Meanwhile” (Long-Distance Voyager) provided the prime showcases for Hayward’s soothing, more romantic vocalisms. But once the group goes through “I’m Just A Singer in a Rock ‘N’ Roll Band,” with its ritual vocal hand-offs at the end, you still can’t help missing the rest of the Moodies.

When you consider how long these guys have been performing as the Moodies (both Hayward and Lodge have been with the group since 1967), the sense of absence for us longtime followers is a part of the show, really -- not inappropriate for a band that has long made a certain amount of wistful melancholy a part of its package.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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