Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Is "Trebek Makes a Funny Ad-Lib?"

The publicist for the TV game show Jeopardy! has sent out a press release to TV writers telling them to alert their readers that something special happens on the show tomorrow night...

This Friday, March 16th, 2007...and for the first time in 23 years, "Jeopardy!" history will be made. It was such a remarkable event we consulted a Game Theory expert and he said it may never happen again! I wish I could give you more information about this special show, unfortunately, I can only encourage you and your valuable readers to watch Friday's program. Alex Trebek and our producers remain mum and I, myself, have been sworn to secrecy.

Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe someone got every single question and set some new one day record.

• Posted at 11:28 PM · LINK

People I'm Glad I'm Not Today

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. When even Republican Senators are calling for your resignation, that's a good sign that the Bush administration is going to cut you loose.

• Posted at 4:26 PM · LINK

The Awful Truthiness

Rahm Emanuel is the Democratic caucus chair. He has a couple of nuggets of advice to new Congresspeople in his party but here's the main one: Avoid Stephen Colbert.

• Posted at 12:48 PM · LINK


The lovely Diana Schutz sent me this lovely photo she took of the lovely Arnold Drake and it made me want to write a little more about my friend who passed away Monday morning, just eleven days after his 82nd birthday. I've been fortunate to meet most of the major figures who created comic books I loved as a kid and who were still alive when I got into the business. As I must have written somewhere else on this website at least once, only a very few of them turned out not to be great people to be around. Some, of course, were special joys.

Arnold was one of my favorite comic book writers before I knew who he was...even before I knew that the guy who wrote those Tommy Tomorrow stories I thought were so great was the same guy who'd written all those Challengers of the Unknown comics I liked so much. There were no credits then and when I later did learn who'd written what, I could see the connection. Arnold's writing was a little wittier, a little sharper than most of the others then scripting books by the tonweight for DC. He seemed to presuppose a little more intelligence on the part of the readers. He didn't explain everything four times the way some of the other writers did. He expected us to "get it."

I corresponded with Arnold in the seventies and met him in person in the early eighties. This is kind of a cliché but that doesn't mean it isn't accurate. He was a writer who made you feel like a writer. He was very serious about his work and always discussed it with people as if their opinions and respect mattered to him. He was full of wonderful anecdotes about the business and unlike some others I've interviewed, I found that Arnold's accounts usually checked out. I especially loved the story he often told about Bob Kane and the clown paintings. Do you know that story? Here — here's Arnold telling it on a panel a few years ago...

Bob had gotten to the point where he never drew anything. Never drew anything on the Batman comics, anyway. [Sheldon] Moldoff was ghosting them all and when he didn't, someone else did. The only thing I think Bob ever drew was when we'd be out somewhere, in a restaurant or someplace, and a pretty girl would come over to him and say, "Are you really the man who draws Batman?" Then he could whip out a little sketch for her, a big sketch if she was wearing something low-cut and would bend over to watch him draw.

One day I'm over at his house to discuss this newspaper strip idea we had and he's talking about who we might get to draw it. I was going to write it and we were going to get someone else to draw it. I'm not sure what he was going to do on it except sign his name. I said to him, "Bob, isn't it disappointing to you that you don't draw any more? You were once such a great artist." He wasn't but you had to talk to Bob that way.

He said, "Oh, no. Let me show you something." He took me into a little room in his house. It was his studio. I didn't even know he still had a studio. It was all set up with easels and things and there were paintings, paintings of clowns. You know the kind. Like the ones Red Skelton used to do. Just these insipid portraits of clowns, all signed very large, "Bob Kane." He was so proud of them. He said, "These are the paintings that are going to make me in the world of art. Batman was a big deal in one world and these paintings will soon be in every gallery in the world." He thought the Louvre was going to take down the Mona Lisa to put up his clown paintings. I didn't have the heart to tell him.

So a few months later, I'm up at DC and I ran into Eddie Herron. Eddie was another writer up there and we got to talking and Bob's name came up. Eddie said, "Did you hear? Bob's getting sued by one of his ghost artists."

I said, "How is that possible? Shelly Moldoff's suing Bob? But they had a clear deal. Shelly knew he wasn't going to get credit or anything..."

Eddie said, "No, not Shelly." Bob was being sued by the person who'd painted the clowns for him...

Love that story. But then I just loved Arnold. I loved the guy's feisty, honest manner. He was very proud of his work but also very critical. We once talked for a half hour on the phone about the work he did for Marvel after he got booted out of DC for having the nerve to demand health insurance. Arnold was not happy with the writing he'd done during that period and very disappointed with himself for booting that opportunity. He said that after he was ousted at DC, he was so angry that he lost his bearings as a writer and forgot certain basics. He was not writing to do good Marvel stories, he said. He was writing to show DC they couldn't destroy his career, which was the wrong attitude. The difference can be quite significant as it relates to what gets on the page. While it's sometimes easy to see when others have their priorities askew, it's difficult to perceive when you do. I was impressed that Arnold had that ability.

One of my last memories of Arnold is of a moment two years ago when we were all in San Francisco for the Wondercon. For some reason, a batch of us decided to go to Chinatown on Saturday night. That would ordinarily be a fun thing but this evening was one of intermittent downpours and parades. It was around the Chinese New Year and traffic was being diverted via odd routes. You literally could not get a cab at our hotel or anywhere near it. We had to walk about four blocks to find one and we only got the one we got because I spotted it discharging a passenger and I sprinted over and practically vaulted onto the hood.

We went to Chinatown. We ate a lovely meal. When it came time to leave, it was raining as hard as I've ever seen in my life and there wasn't a cab anywhere. It was like they'd all disappeared from the surface of the planet. My friend Carolyn walked one way to look for one and my friend Sergio went the other. I stood there on the sidewalk, trying to hold an umbrella over Arnold for what seemed like the longest time. Eventually, Carolyn flagged down a limo driver and made a deal with him to take us back to the Argent Hotel. But before that, there was a moment when the situation seemed hopeless.

I was standing there in the driving rain. I don't like rain anyway and I really didn't like the idea that poor Arnold Drake was in the midst of it with only my flimsy umbrella keeping some (not all) of the rain off him. We were stranded and it didn't look like we'd ever get a cab and even though none of this was my fault, I felt like it was; like I should have planned things better so an eighty year old man wasn't standing there in the cold and wet with no way to get home. A sudden wave of sadness came over me...

...and Arnold — brilliant, perceptive judge of character that he was — sensed it. I don't think I said anything to give away how I felt but still, he turned to me and said, "Don't get upset, Mark. I live in New York. I worked for DC Comics. This is nothing." And I realized that he wasn't the slightest bit upset or worried or even troubled by our predicament. He knew we'd get back to the hotel eventually and a minute or so later, Carolyn showed up with the limo and that began to look remotely possible. (Finding Sergio was now the big problem...)

Everything worked out fine, of course. But when I think of Arnold in the future, I think I'm going to remember him on that corner. He was, of course, not happy to be there but he acted truly unbothered by it all. Didn't complain, didn't express any fear. He knew, as I didn't at that particular moment, that there was no point to any of that. It was just something we had to get through and he didn't make it any worse by dwelling on the negative or whining or being weak. In fact, he made things better by setting a good example for me.

He always did, at least in my encounters with the man. We didn't get to speak during his final hospitalization because he was asleep for most of it. But many months earlier when he was in for something else that could have been fatal, we talked almost every day and he was the same way — positive without being delusional, realistic without being glum. It struck me as the perfect mindset for dealing with any problem.

Anyone who read Arnold's comics could tell you that he was a superb role model as a writer. I just wanted to add that he was an even better one as a human being. Those two things don't always go together so it's important to notice when they do. They did with Arnold Drake.

• Posted at 12:42 PM · LINK

Today's Video Link

Let's go back to the one of Cartoon Voice panels I hosted at last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. Last week, we linked to a video of the fine actor Gregg Berger telling a story about working with Mel Blanc in a Jetsons session. Shortly before he told that tale, another fine actor, Michael Bell, told about working with Mel in a recording session for Speed Buggy. Here's what Michael had to say...

And now, in case you didn't click on it the other day, here's Gregg Berger with the follow-up anecdote.

• Posted at 1:05 AM · LINK

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