Saturday, October 17, 2009

Comic Book Legend George Tuska Passes On

Comic book legend George Tuska, an artist whose career spanned nearly 70 years, passed on October 15 at the age of 93. He had worked on everything from the newspaper strip Scorchy Smith to comic book The Invincible Iron Man to Superman.

George Tuska was born on April 26, 1916 in Hartford, Connecticut. Tuska first developed an interest in art when he looked through his brother's pulp magazines. When he was eight years old and in hospital for appendicitis, an elderly patient taught him how to draw cowboys and Native Americans, and Uncle Sam. He practised drawing ever since that time. Tuska's father died when he was fourteen.

George Tuska moved to New York City when he was seventeen, where he lived with his cousin Annie. His first job was designing women's costume jewellery. When he was eighteen he enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York City. His primary influences were comic book artist Lou Fine, comic strip artists Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, and illustrators Dean Cornwell, Harold Von Schmidt, and Thomas Lovell. His first work in the comic book industry was for Will Eisner and Jerry Iger's studio. Through Will Eisner and Jerry Iger's studio, Tuska contributed work to such Fox Comics comic strips as "Cosmic Carson" and "Zanzibar the Magician. His first published work in comic books appeared in Mystery Men Comics #1, August 1939. The same year, 1939, Tuska  went to work for the Associated Press newspaper strip Scorchy Smith.

Eisner and Iger later provided material for Quality Comics. After Will Eisner and Jerry Iger dissolved their partnership, George Tuska would also work for Harry A Chesler's studio. It was while with the Chesler studio that Tuska contributed work to Captain Marvel Adventures for Fawcett.After leaving the Chesler studio, Tuska worked for Eisner again, contributing to "Uncle Sam," "Kid Dixon," and even The Spirit strip syndicated by Quality to newspapers. During World War II, Tuska served in the United States Army.

Following World War II George Tuska worked on the Lev Gleason title Crime Does Not Pay. He also worked freelance on such titles as The Black Terror and the Doc Savage comic book. He also returned to work on the newspaper strip Scorchy Smith and worked on the newspaper strip Buck Rogers He returned to comic books in the Sixties, where he went to work for Marvel Comics. His first story for Marvel was for "Tales of the Watcher" in Tales of Suspense #58, November 1964. It would be at Marvel that he would begin a nine year run on "Iron Man," his first issue being The Invincible Iron Man #5, September 1968. He is possibly the artist most identified with the hero. While at Marvel, he would also work on "The X-Men," "Sub-Mariner," "Ghost Rider," "Luke Page, Power Man," and other titles.

Tuska later worked for DC Comics, where he illustrated "Superman," "Superboy," and "Challengers of the Unknown."

In many respects I think George Tuska was underrated. There are those who have characterised his work at Marvel as flavourless and ordinary. While that may well be true of some of his work he did at Marvel, especially the many fill in issues he did there, it is hardly true of his entire oeuvre. In many respects  his portrayal of superheroes was much more realistic than the Jack Kirby model so popular at Marvel. His illustrations of heroes had musculature that was more anatomically correct, and he portrayed their displays of strength more realistically as well. Punches were delivered with the whole body, not simply the arms. Indeed, in many respects Tuska's art showed influence from the pulp magazine covers of old, with superheroes readying themselves for the violence which they often faced. He was also much more creative in his layouts than many artists. He was not content to imitate Kirby as many artists at Marvel were, but designed layouts that were energetic and unrestrained, yet free of any gratuitous imagery. George Tuska's versatility and ability to create art relatively swiftly may have resulted in some subpar work, but it hardly characterised the best of his work. Particularly in his long run on The Invincible Iron Man, George Tuska excelled as an artist.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dickie Peterson of the Rock Band Blue Cheer Passes On

Dickie Peterson, the bassist and lead singer of Blue Cheer, passed on October 12 at the age of 61. He had a long struggle with prostate and liver cancer.

Dickie Peterson was born Richard Peterson on September 12, 1946 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He started playing the bass at the age of 13 primarily due to his brother Jerre, who had performed with an early, six man version of Blue Cheer. It was in the mid-Sixties that Jerre and Dickie Peterson moved to San Francisco, where they started playing with the band Group B. Peterson was kicked out of Group B as his hard rock style conflicted with the rest of the members' ideas about the band. When his friends Eric Albronda and Jerry Russell founded Blue Cheer, Dickie Peterson joined as bassist and vocalist while Jerre Peterson joined as guitarist.  It was decided early in the band's history to reduce the size of Blue Cheer so had to achieve a harder sound. Blue Cheer went from being a six piece band to a power trio.

Blue Cheer released their first album,  Vincebus Eruptum, in 1968. It produced the band's only hit single, a near heavy metal remake of "Summertime Blues." Blue Cheer released five more albums before breaking up in 1972. The band would reform in 1978 and, with different line ups, as continued to this day. In every single line up Dickie Peterson was a member. Following their 1978 reunion, Blue Cheer would release four more albums.

Dickie Peterson released two solo albums in the Nineties, Child of Darkness and Tramp. He also played with Hank Davisonand other musicians over the years.

Arguably, Dickie Peterson was one of the more influential bassists in rock music. The hard rock music he created in the Sixties was a direct forerunner of heavy metal and much of his later work could be considered heavy metal. Like Jimi Hendrix before him, Peterson then did a great deal towards the evolution of the genre. Heavy metal has then lost one of its pioneers, and at a relatively young age as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Best Blog Award

I don't know that I am particularly worthy, but I was just awarded the above. Now the custom is that when one is awarded a Best Blog Award, he or she is to bestow it on others. I am then giving this award to the following blogs. I recommend that you check them out!

All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! 
Jonas is an expert on early talkies and knows a terribly lot about the Silent Era as well!

Cinema Splendour 
Sarah is one of a new generation of classic film buffs and brings a fresh perspective on the old films.

Classic Hollywood Nerd 
Nicole is also part of the new generation of film buffs and offers a fresh perspective on the old films. She is also probably the biggest Jeffrey Lynn fan in the world!

Classic Maiden 
Like myself, Sebina writes about the whole of pop culture. In fact, Classic Maiden is a lot like A Shroud of Thoughts in the breadth of what it covers and the length of its articles!

Kate also has an excellent film blog,  Silents and Talkies, but I elected to bestow the award on this blog. Here Kate features the continuing, single panel cartoon adventures of her flappers. Kate is a great artist and her art is also very entertaining!

Inner Toob
Inner Toob explores the alternate reality of television. Toby's knowledge of television is fairly extensive, so one can expect some fairly obscure shows mentioned here!

Major Conflict
If you're interested in politics, this is one of the best blogs out there.

Noir Girl
Casey is another one of the new generation of classic film buffs. She is also a very talented artist.

Now Listen Here
Holte has a wonderfully skewed sense of humour and offers a great perspective on politics and international affairs.

Out of the Past
Raquelle is very knowledgeable about classic film and a fantastic writer. While I know she is not a big fan of blog awards, I am giving her this one anyway as I think she deserves it!

Pluck You Too
Pluck You Too is a movie blog, but it is also about beer and hot dogs. Tommy pretty much covers the whole of moviedom, from the old classics to newer films.

Popped Culture
Jeremy has a great sense of humour, and offers up some of the best stuff on pop culture from around the web.

Various Ecstasies
Snave has a wicked sense of humour, making this one of the best blogs with regards to politics. And he posts some pretty good pictures too!

Here I want to apologise to anyone I've left out! I do read a good number of blogs and it is hard to remember all of them when handing out an award. Suffice it to say that if I have ever commented on your blog, then you have received this award!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

He & She

It is a sad fact of American television that the quality of a show does not guarantee its survival. Many good shows have gone ignored by viewers, only to be cancelled after a single season or, worse yet, only a few episodes. Even critical acclaim does not insure a show's survival, as audiences often ignore a series despite the most sterling reviews. Such was the case with the 1967 sitcom He & She. It debuted on CBS on September 6, 1967, yet it was gone by the fall of 1968.

He &  She was the creation of Leonard Stern, who had previously created I'm Dickens, He's Fenster and produced Get Smart at the height of that series' success. It starred film star Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin, then married in real life, as Paula and Dick Hollister. Paula was a caseworker for the Travellers Aid Society. Dick was a cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Jetman. Dick's life was complicated by the fact that Jetman had been adapted as a TV series staring Oscar North (played by Jack Cassidy). North was in constant conflict with Dick over the portrayal of Jetman, which would have probably been fine if North had been a good actor--sadly, he was the TV actor equivalent of The Mary Tyler Moore Show anchorman Ted Baxter. The Hollisters' neighbour and best friend was fireman Harry Zarakartos (played by Kenneth Mars), who would drop by their apartment via a board between the firehouse and the apartment building. The apartment building's handyman Andrew Hummel was played by folk singer Hamilton Camp.

Leonard Stern clearly wished for He & She  to be a quality show. As its story editors he hired Chris  Hayward and Allan Burns. Hayward and Burns were veteran writers who had worked on various Jay Ward cartoons (Hayward had created Dudley Do-Right, while Burns had created Cap'n Crunch) . They had served as story editors on Get Smart and, as odd as it might sound, created My  Mother, the Car. Many of the series' episodes were written by Hayward and Burns, as well as such writers as Arne Sultan (who wrote the screenplay for the film Boy's Night Out and several episodes of Get Smart), Arnold Margolin (who had written for The Andy Griffith Show and That Girl, among others), and Jim Parker (another veteran from The Andy Griffith Show and That Girl).

Having been created by and produced by Leonard Stern, with writers such as Chris Hayward and Allan Burns, He & She would be a very different sort of sitcom from any other airing in 1967. Contrary to popular belief, sophisticated humour was not unknown on television in the mid-Sixties. While both shows had fantastic premises, Bewitched and Get Smart  had a high degree of sophistication. And it must be remembered that in 1967 The Dick Van Dyke Show had only been off network airwaves for one year. In many respects, however, He & She was a very different show. Not only was it a sophisticated, witty comedy, but it was set in a realistic, urban setting. In fact, in many respects it was a forerunner of Seventies comedies such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which Hayward and Burns would go onto create) and The Bob Newhart Show. It even resembles The Bob Newhart Show to a large degree, centring on two intelligent people who are surrounded by screwball characters. The difference between He & She and other Sixties sitcoms becomes even more pronounced when one considers that Paula Hollister actually had a career, a rarity for married women on TV shows during the era!

When He & She debuted, it must have seemed as if it would be a sure fire success. The series had a good time slot, following two top rated shows (The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres). It received great notices from critics across the nation. It won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy for Chris Hayward and Allan Burns for the episode "The Coming Out Party," and was nominated for Emmys for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series for Richard Benjamin, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series for Paula Prentiss, Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy for Jack Cassidy, and Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy for the episode "The Old Man and the She" by Leonard Stern and Arnie Sultan. Sadly, it would not be enough. While The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres continued to receive top ratings, viewers tuned out He & She in droves. It was cancelled before it could even win its single Emmy award.

He & She would maintain a cult following. This was enough for CBS to rerun episodes of the show in the summer of 1970. It would later be rerun on the USA Network in the Eighties and still later on TV Land. Sadly, He & She has never officially been released on DVD.

In light of everything it had going for it, it seems unusual that He & She failed in the ratings. The reason is that perhaps it was a bit ahead of its time. In 1967 American television was in the tailend of cycles towards fantasy sitcoms (Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, et. al.) and rural sitcoms (The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, et. al.). Those shows which  were set in realistic, urban settings often tended to be less sophisticated in their humour (Family Affair, That Girl, et. al.). He & She was then perhaps too unusual. It was sophisticated in a way that some of the fantastic and rural sitcoms were, but set in a realistic, urban setting. Quite simply, viewers at the time may not have known what to make of it.

Regardless, He & She has not been forgotten. Although it ran only one season, it is remembered by television historians and TV buffs alike. Indeed, it is not many single season shows that get rerun on both the USA Network and TVLand. While it has not yet been officially released on DVD, it would seem likely that eventually it will be. In the end, it seems that He & She will be better remembered than many higher rated shows with longer runs.