Archive for the ‘Getting Racial Up In This Piece’ category

That’s why he’s the King

January 18, 2010

Truer words were never uttered…

“The time is always right to do what is right.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thanks for everything, Dr. King.

Not unique

October 29, 2009

I would have written about this before now, except that I didn’t know about it until today, when a member of an online forum that I frequent brought it to my attention.

A couple of weeks ago, I surrendered a distinction that I’ve held all by my lonesome for the past 21 years.

Since June 1988 — actually since March of that year, but the feat wasn’t official until June, when the programs aired — I have been the only African-American five-game champion in the history of Jeopardy! (If you’re arriving late to the party, you can read about my career as a game show trivia wizard by following the link. And yes, you nitpicker, technically I’m “biracial” — but if it’s good enough for the President of these United States, it’s absolutely good enough for me.)

As of two weeks ago Friday, a gentleman from Plano, Texas named Terry Linwood muscled his way into my formerly one-man fraternity.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m as thrilled as all get-out for Terry, who’s a fantastic Jeopardy! player. (I saw a couple of Terry’s games, but not his game five — which he won — or his game six — which he lost — and thus I wasn’t aware of his accomplishment.)

Still, I’m sure you’ll excuse me for feeling just a tiny bit less… remarkable today.

Had you asked me 21 years ago whether I thought my dubious accomplishment would stand the test of more than two decades’ time, I’d have imagined you daft. I mean, who’d have thought Jeopardy! would even be on the air after 26 seasons? And, given the number of contestants who grace the Sony Pictures Studios stage every year, you’d have supposed that a couple of dozen people, maybe, would have smashed in the door to my solitary club by now.

It’s a funny old world, sometimes.

Now I know how Snoopy felt in this classic Peanuts strip:


Congratulations to Terry Linwood on becoming Jeopardy!‘s latest five-time champ. I’ll be pulling for him in next year’s Tournament of Champions.

If he does well, I’ll even teach him the secret handshake.

Comic Art Friday: Long tails, and ears for hats

September 11, 2009

When last we convened for Comic Art Friday, we took our first look at a spectacular new addition to my Common Elements gallery — this super-sized six-character commission by Florida artist Gene Gonzales entitled “Catfight of the Bands.”

Catfight of the Bands, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

Today, let’s take a closer examination of the first of those two battling trios. (Never fear — we’ll catch up with the other three famous felines next Friday.)

From the preponderance of superhero art that appears here on Comic Art Friday, one might presume that comics in that genre were the only funnybooks I read during my formative years. Au contraire, mon frere. While superhero comics were — and still are — my core reads, as a kid I devoured every kind of comic book that I could find on the newsstands of the military bases where I grew up. I read sword and sorcery comics (I still read the current iterations of Conan and Red Sonja), horror comics (a particular pleasure in the early ’70s was the DC anthology Weird War Tales, which featured stories of the supernatural set on battlefields throughout history), Western comics (everything from Kid Colt, Outlaw to Bat Lash), military comics (you couldn’t call yourself a genuine service brat without reading Sad Sack), and juvenile comics (yes, friends, I read Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich, too).

And, I read Archie Comics. Heck, I loved Archie Comics. I’m man enough to admit that I read Betty and Veronica religiously back in the day.

My favorite Archie magazine? Josie and the Pussycats.

Josie and the Pussycats, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

Actually, I was reading the adventures of Josie and her friends before there was a Josie and the Pussycats. The perky redheaded teenager made her comics debut in 1963, as the star of the series She’s Josie. (Josie’s creator, longtime Archie artist Dan DeCarlo, named the character after his wife.) She’s Josie soon became just plain Josie, and centered on typical Archie-style teenage humor involving Josie and her high school pals, several of whom still costarred in the book when Josie decided to start her own rock band in 1969. (Not coincidentally, the Archie gang had exploded onto Saturday morning TV as a prefab pop group around the same time.)

When Josie (whose surname flip-flopped for years between Jones and James before settling on McCoy early in this current decade), her best friend Melody (also a Jones for many years, her last name became Valentine in the live-action Josie and the Pussycats movie a few years ago, and the comics followed suit), and their newest comrade Valerie (née Smith, later consistently Brown) donned their now-familiar leopard-spotted leotards and kitty-ear tiaras, the title of their comic took on the name of their newly formed act.

Thus legends are born.

Before long, Josie and the Pussycats had their own animated TV series. The show was eponymously titled for the first two years of its run (1970-72), then took a sci-fi turn and morphed into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space for another two seasons. Josie and the gang’s TV adventures borrowed heavily from the successful formula of Hanna-Barbera’s already popular Scooby-Doo, mostly involving the girls and their retinue solving comedic mysteries.

As did the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats — actually real-life session musicians using the band’s fictional identity — recorded several bubblegum pop singles in the early ’70s. Three then-unknown singers were “cast” as the singing voices of the Pussycats. The real-world “Melody” was a blonde named Cherie Moor (real name: Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor), who came to greater fame later in the decade under her new stage name, Cheryl Ladd.

Ironically, most of the lead vocals on the Pussycats’ songs — including the familiar theme to the animated series — were performed by the singer cast as “Valerie,” Patrice Holloway, rather than by Cathy Dougher, who was “Josie.” Holloway almost didn’t the part, as Hanna-Barbera at first wanted to retool the Pussycats as an all-Caucasian trio. Music producer Danny Janssen, who assembled the real-life Pussycats and wrote several of their songs, refused to replace Holloway with a white performer. After several weeks of infighting, Hanna-Barbera agreed to restore Valerie to her original African-American heritage in the TV show, enabling Janssen to keep Holloway in the band. Valerie thus became the first black female character to appear regularly in an American animated TV show.

Three decades after their television debut, Josie and the Pussycats hit the live-action cinema. Rachael Leigh Cook portrayed Josie, Rosario Dawson played Valerie, and Tara Reid was typecast as the dizzy Melody. If you haven’t seen the movie… don’t. It’s 99 precious minutes of your life that you’ll never recoup. Trust me on this.

Josie and the Pussycats, blue pencil rough sketch by Gene Gonzales

Although I first hit on the idea to feature Josie and the girls opposite Catwoman and the two Black Cats a few years ago, it wasn’t until I saw Gene Gonzales’s rough sketch of the Pussycats on stage that I knew I’d found an artist with the appropriate sensibility to bring the concept to life. Thanks for allowing me to show off your inspiration, Gene!

Next week, we’ll wrap up our caterwauling by throwing the spotlight on the other half of this musical catfight.

Until then… that’s your Comic Art Friday.

National Sorry Day

May 26, 2009

In Australia, today is National Sorry Day.

This incredibly thoughtful observance is the opportunity for Aussies of European extraction to say to their Aboriginal neighbors, “Hey, mates, we’re sorry that we stole your continent… and hacked down a boatload of your eucalyptus trees… and raped your local culture… and built that ridiculous-looking opera house… and foisted Paul Hogan on you.”

I’m thinking that we could use a National Sorry Day right here in the U.S. of A.

Oh, sure, we could start with apologies to the indigenous people of North America for 400 years of murder, disease, reservations, alcoholism, and abject poverty, and to the folk of African heritage for that whole slavery / Jim Crow / back-of-the-bus debacle.

But why stop there? I have a whole list of suggestions for America to be sorry about on National Sorry Day.

To wit…

We’re sorry for boy bands.

We’re sorry for professional wrestling and NASCAR (which, if you think about it, are kind of the same thing).

We’re sorry that The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. got canceled.

We’re sorry for Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Ann Coulter. Dr. Laura, too.

We’re sorry for fake fingernails, and weirdly colored nail polish.

We’re sorry for PETA, except for the fact that their existence means more meat for the rest of us.

We’re sorry for Jerry Springer and David Hasselhoff.

We’re sorry for “grim and gritty” comic books.

We’re sorry for Chicken McNuggets.

We’re sorry for cell phones whose owners are too self-absorbed and inconsiderate to turn their ringers off in theaters and restaurants.

We’re sorry for mullets. (The haircut. Not the fish.)

We’re sorry for people who saddle their children with ludicrous names.

We’re sorry for breast implants for anyone who isn’t a mastectomy patient, and cosmetic surgery for anyone who isn’t a burn victim, or born with a disfiguring birthmark or cleft palate. (Basically, we’re sorry for Joan Rivers, Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Pamela Anderson, Bruce Jenner, and everyone who’s mutilated themselves in their likeness.)

We’re sorry for Scientology, although if you bought into pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo invented by a money-grubbing hack science fiction writer, you have no one to blame but yourself.

We’re sorry for Michael Bolton.

We’re sorry for paisley and polyester.

We’re sorry for the Oakland Raiders, the Golden State Warriors, and the postseason San Jose Sharks.

We’re sorry for all those American Pie movies.

We’re sorry for anabolic steroids.

We’re sorry for the Olsen twins.

We’re sorry for instant coffee.

And we’re really, really sorry for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But we’re trying to undo all that stuff.

A Memorial Day thought

May 25, 2009

As we pause in the midst of our frenzied technological whirlwind to honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to this country, we offer these words — all the more powerful today, given the current holder of the nation’s highest office, than they were when first spoken.

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.

— President Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Day Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, May 30, 1963

And, oh yeah…

Captain America and the Red Skull, pencils by Kevin Maguire, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Take that, Red Skull.