Monday, December 27, 2010

Karate-do, Gichin Funakoshi, and a Few Words about Avodah Zarah

“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or in defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” Those are the words of Gichin Funakoshi, the great grandmaster of karate-do and recognized founder of pre-MMA, modern martial arts.

As a life-long karateka, I feel a particular closeness with Funakoshi Sensei not just because I trained directly under Richard Lenchus (who trained under Kawanabe Sensei in Atsugi, who himself trained under Funakoshi Sensei)--I feel this closeness because Funakoshi Sensei was authentic, a man who mastered himself, someone worth emulating.

Funakoshi Sensei was born in the Yamakawa district of Shuri, Okinawa on November 10, 1868. He began training in Isshinryu at the age of 11 under Master Yasutsune Azato, who also taught him the Confucian classics. Later, he trained with Master Azato's friend and contemporary Master Yasutsune Itosu. Funakoshi dedicated his life to the development and promotion of karate training throughout Japan.

To fully appreciate Funakoshi Sensei’s Shotokan Karate, it is essential to realize that, above all else, Funakoshi was a Chun-tzu. Becoming such, in Confucian terms, is not an accident of birth but rather the result of the development of ethical values (midos, in rabbinic Hebrew). Chun-tzu can be translated variously as gentleman, superior man, and man at his best. Funakoshi was all of this, and his devotion to Confucian teachings was part and parcel of his karate-do.

Confucius said, “He who in this world can practice five things may indeed be considered man-at-his-best.” These five disciplines are Humility, Magnanimity, Sincerity, Diligence, and Graciousness. If you are humble, you will not be laughed at; if you are magnanimous, you will attract many to your side; if you are sincere, people will trust you; if you are gracious, you will get along well with your subordinates (The Sayings of Confucius, New American Library, 1955, p. 110). It is this type of man, Confucius teaches, who can transform society into the peaceful state it was meant to be.

Diligence, which remains undetailed in the above list, fairly well speaks for itself. But by way of a base illustration: When I was younger, I found the spinning back-roundhouse kick awkward. Or perhaps I was awkward. In any event, I was frustrated by the technique and eventually turned to one of my instructors to ask for a few pointers. "Here's the secret," he said, calling me over to whisper into my ear. "Do it a million times."

Years later, when I taught martial arts at the Lubavitcher cheder (a Chassidic children's dayschool) in Morristown, NJ, I had a number of young students, among them the children of two prominent rabbis from the community. But another "rabbi" objected, claiming that karate was a form of idol worship (avodah zarah was the term used). He fought diligently to have my free class removed from the building. What a shocking non-surprise to later find this very man confronted by the NJ State authorities for physically abusing his own pupils. Ignorance and low morals oftentimes go hand-in-hand.

There is nothing in classical martial arts antithetical to classical Torah teachings. Indeed, Professor Chaim Sober's Tora Dojo--a vital part of Yeshiva University's history as far many of us are concerned--makes it clear that the physical and philosophical aspects of classical martial arts are not only in harmony with Torah, they are a healthy supplement, much like the mussar teachings of the 18th century.

Confucianism, as its founder taught, is not a religion – it is an ethical code. Three key principles are emphasized: the principles of Li, Jen and Chun-tzu. Li has several meanings and is often translated as propriety, reverence, courtesy, ritual, or the ideal standard of conduct. It's what Confucius believed to be the highest standard of religious, moral, and social conduct.

Where Li provides the structure for social interaction. Jen makes it a moral system. Jen, the fundamental virtue of Confucian teachings, is the concept of goodness and benevolence and is expressed through recognition of value and concern for others, regardless of rank or class or wealth or poverty. Confucius summarizes the principle of Jen as: “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23) In Pirke Avos, Hillel is translated as having said it this way: "What is hateful to you do not do unto others." Regardless of whether Hillel or Confucius said it first (and neither one of them, history shows, would have sued for copyright infringement), the statements are essentially the same.

Avodah zarah, it seems, is often in the evil eye of the beholder.

The third primary Confucian concept, Chun-tzu, represents the notion of gentlemanliness, of living by the highest ethical standards. The gentleman displays five virtues: self-respect, generosity, sincerity, persistence, and benevolence. His relationships are characterized as follows: as a son, he is loyal; as a father, he is kind and just; as an official, he is faithful; as a husband, he is righteous and just; and as a friend, he is faithful and tactful.

Funakoshi Sensei wrote, “True karate-do places weight upon the spiritual rather than physical daily life, one’s mind and body should be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that, in critical times, one should be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.”

Oh, that all of our "religious" leaders would have such high standards.

Mike Henderson Debuts at Marvel

Can't say I didn't warn you. Artist Mike Henderson is now filling art chores at Marvel after turning in a gorgeous set of illustrations on Aardwolf Publishing's last Hank Magitz book. Jim Reeber, Gene Colan and I were all wowed by Mike and now it's Marvel readers' turn.

You can download Marvel's exclusive Digicomics here (scroll down to see Mike's work on Marvel Digital Holiday Special #2). We expect big things from Mike.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tough Jew: Neil Ellman

I had the profound pleasure of watching Y.U. Head Coach Neil Ellman guest coach the KYHS wrestling team tonight. The great ones always make it look easy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Josh Koscheck: The Ultimate Jerk

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Karate-do without courtesy is not karate-do.

Thank you, Georges St-Pierre, for closing this fool's mouth last night. To say nothing of his eye.

Grandmaster Joe Onopa - Remembered

Joe Onopa, Black Belt 10th Degree, Kwon Bop Do (Tae Kwon Do) has passed away. The Grandmaster was the great, great grandson of the Native American Apache Chief Geronimo and a pioneer martial artist. I was honored to receive some small instruction from Master Onopa when he visited my sensei Richard Lenchus in Vermont many years ago, and to have him sit on the committee that judged me for my first blackbelt test (which I failed).

Master Onopa was a warm and powerful man, a revered instructor and fighter, a special friend to those who knew him--in all ways, a testament to the true spirit of karate-do. There is a detailed tribute to him here and a video tribute here. Joe Onopa was 69 when he passed. Oos great hanshi. Domo arigato.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Richard Lenchus

Happy Birthday Grand Master Richard Lenchus, founder of Legend Shotokan Karate, maker of men, kicker of asses, the Jewish pride of Coney Island.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Little Help for Paty Cockrum, Please

Paty Cockrum's shattered leg has kept her hospitalized since Sunday. She will be released tomorrow but forced to spend several weeks in rehab. This ain't cheap. Her health insurance covers the lion's share of these costs, but her out-of-pocket is high.

If you're still a collector of back issues, now is the PERFECT time to buy some comics from the Dave Cockrum Estate. These were Dave's personal comics and file copies. Prices are already fair but click here, pick a handful and make me an offer I can't refuse. After all, it's the giving season. As every season should be.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Paty Cockrum is Down But Not Out

Paty Cockrum—the artist, widow of Dave Cockrum, and my dear friend of several decades—took a serious fall yesterday outside of her home in South Carolina that resulted in a shattered femur and an emergency operation that lasted several hours into the evening. I received the phone call regarding the incident from our mutual friend Richard O’Hara while I was visiting Gene Colan and, oddly enough, Gene and I were sitting back admiring original illustrations of Dave’s and Paty’s. The timing of that call was movie stuff.

Paty will be released from the hospital day after tomorrow and spend several weeks in a therapy center, learning to walk again. We spoke this afternoon and, as always, she was in the highest spirits. “I was taking the dogs out when one of them tugged and I must have been on an icy patch,” she reports. “So I went down and my leg was behind me and it broke. Then I dragged myself twenty feet or so back into the house and dialed 9-1-1. ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!’ I told them.”

Always the joker, that Paty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Future of Dave Cockrum's Futurians

A number of you have written and even more have hit this blog via keyword searches (yes--we can see you; Google cuts both ways).

The wheels on the FUTURIANS move slowly. There's 20 unpublished, tightly pencilled pages of The Futurians by Dave Cockrum sitting on my desk and inquiries and interest from a number of major comics' publishers to roll-up existing (previously published Futurians' stories) into one BIG book. And there's still the half-interest of occasional Hollywood vecks. Paty Cockrum owns all of the originals and rights to everything so it's not complicated legally, just a question of what we want to do, and with who. Or is it whom?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gene Colan Introduces New Film Book; Offers Original Art For Sale

Now & Then, The Movies Get It Right by Neal Stannard (Bear Manor Media) is a new book that carries an introduction by Gene Colan (and Gene really liked the book). Click here for details.

And just in time for the holidays, the remainder of Gene Colan's original art pages are being sold at greatly reduced (below market) prices. And it's always nicer to buy art directly from the artist. Click here to have a look.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Good Rats Re-Take Long Island

What makes an old guy leap from his seat, topple his warm beer, and elbow four middle-aged women out of the way to catch a rubber rat thrown from a garbage pail? Bad manners, you say. Well, okay—besides that.

Tonight’s scene at Mirelles’ in Westbury, Long Island, could easily have taken place 35 years ago at the legendary My Father’s Place in Roslyn, or the Showplace in Dover, New Jersey, or any number of metropolitan nightspots festooning the punk-trodden East Coast.

The original Good Rats were in the house for several hours of music and mischief that brought back every tasty nuance that the 300-odd baby boomers who were packed into the room (at $50 a head!) remembered and loved and longed for. Long Island’s favorite rock-and-roll sons brought the legion to their feet with each Rats' hit—from “Taking It to Detroit” to “Injun Joe” to "Don't Hate the Ones Who Bring You Rock 'n Roll"—all delivered with the same precision that distinguished the world's greatest unknown Rock and Roll band years ago to music aficionados as far more than the super garage-rock combo they were more widely known for. And the stage antics we adored and sometimes feared made it seem like these guys were never really gone.

Despite recent wrestlings with pneumonia, John "The Cat" Gatto's and Mickey Marchello's dueling guitar leads were never more impressive, while Peppi Marchello's hospital vacation (I mean, what else would you call it? the Rat Maestro never takes a night off unless there's a tube shoved down his throat) made it hard for the celebrated songwriter to get the flesh in his voice and hit some of his notorious high notes.

There's a new Rats album in the works, too—a collection of never-released tunes, many from "the old days." And rumor has it there will be one more reunion gig in Manhatten or New Jersey sometime next year, but that might be the ballgame folks. So pay attention when I tell you that this is one of the greatest shows on earth, ranking alongside The Pogues and AC/DC as legendary must-see live acts. That they never achieved blanketed, international coverage while far lesser bands topped the charts only goes to prove the McDonalds mentality of the record-buying masses. The best writers are rarely best sellers, either.
But the Good Rats, known only to a million or so fortunate enough to have graduated high school in New Jersey or Long Island between ’74 and ‘80, yes those rascally Rats remain the greatest unsung jukebox heroes to ever strike three or more chords on a Fender. And it’s a shame, my friends—a damn shame if you miss them.

Final photos: The Ratettes rise for another riggling of the rumps for "Yellow Flower"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin: Role Models for this Generation of Ring Warriors

On Saturday evening, Chuck Liddell broke Rich Franklin's arm. And about five minutes later, Rich knocked Chuck out, effectively ending his UFC career.

One week later, someone caught this perfect moment on film: Chuck Liddell singing Rich Franklin's cast.

"Karate-do without courtery is not karate-do." --Gichin Funakoshi

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Peppi Marchello On the Mend

I've been quiet about it because illness is illness and nobody's business, but it seems the rat's out of the bag. Peppi has been hospitalized and close to the edge for weeks now. I spoke regularly with his wife Kathy and received frequent progress reports about everything from his blood levels to the color of his stools (and if that's not love, what is?) But, after too long, Peppi is home again and we spoke yesterday morning. Then, this evening, he sent this message to his fans:
Dear fans: Thanks for the well wishes and concern you have expressed to me and my family during this critical time in my life. Due to all the blood thinners I have to take since my open heart and valve replacement surgery in 2002, and my stent installation in 2009, I experienced massive blood loss during my 2 recent endoscopies to remove a bleeding polyp in my stomach. I had to receive 13 units of blood and frozen plasma. The doctor told me some of the blood was donated by Dee Snider and since then, I have been wearing a halter top and lipstick. But seriously, I came close to singing my final performance of 'Songwriter' but thanks to God, my family's prayers and yours, I'll be coming back to the greatest job and fans anyone can have. God willing, I hope we can continue to enjoy each other's company at gigs like the reunions, Ratstock and all the other shows throughout the year. I am going to release a CD of songs I have written and recorded that never made it onto a CD or album, although I'm sure many of you will recognize them from live performances over the years. Again, thanks for all your support and I hope to see you soon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cain Valasquez TKOs Brock Lesnar

For my money, tonight's fight wasn’t about finally having the first Heavyweight Mexican Champion, despite how it was promoted. It was about Cain Valasquez, a serious wrestler and better MMA fighter finally showing that the UFC’s bad-attitude bully Brock Lesnar was beatable. And the brutal asswhooping he gave him.

I stood in a room crammed with dozens of hooting Jersey billies and their drunken female know-nothings who bayed like dogs at the wide-screens the minute big, bad Brock strutted in to the tune of “Enter Sandman.” And it occurred to me once again that no one who knows and follows MMA could cheer for this roid-raged WWF goon; that this legion of lemmings in bars across the fruited plains are just bandwagon followers who have never wrestled, never boxed, never trained in any martial art, and never known anyone who did; idiots who yell “woo-hoo!” and chant “U-S-A!” at inappropriate times. Nothing made me feel better than watching them shut up as their thyroid freak Viking-wannbe got his head kicked in. Staggering around like a broken marionette, Lesnar didn’t even make it out of the first round. A TKO at 4:12.

Wrestlers and karateka salute Cain Valasquez, the new undisputed heavyweight champion of mixed martial arts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More from NY ComicCon

Photo of editor Jim Salicrup and Mrs. Meth's son Clifford courtesy of blogger Bryan Reesman.

We Get Letters

I just wanted to say thank you for all you've done and continue to do for Dave Cockrum and his wife Paty. As you can guess from my name, I was/am a big fan, and when he passed, I read about how tough his last years were, and how you were there to help, and still are to this day. It made me want to thank you personally, but I've never had the chance, until now, when I noticed you were a mutual friend of my old pal Tom Orz. Just please know, at least one fangirl in this world thinks you're pretty damn awesome, and appreciates you and what you do; truly, you are the embodiment of the word "friend". Please, continue to ROCK.

Your pal,
Storm Bourbon-Glossen

Thanks for the nice note, kiddo. I don't know Tom Orz but I'm sure he's a swell guy. I only love Dave & Paty, and helping them was the greatest pleasure. Better than sex. Better than vengence. Better than publishing. -CM

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New York ComicCon, Here to Stay

NY ComicCon. Small enough to allow you to see old friends (if you isolate yourself to Artists Alley, which I did) yet large enough to put San Diego on notice. I spent entire the day with Gene Colan, who we snuck in unannounced--and just as well--and was delighted to take time with Walter Simonson, Paul Levitz, Glenn Haumann, Rich Johnston and David Lloyd (all pictured) along with Herb Trimpe, Ramona Fredon, Gary Fields, Todd Nauck, John Workman and Jim Salicrup... Walter's convention stories were hands down the best, but you'll have to hear them from him.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shakeup At Aardwolf: Where's Amy?

Aardwolf Publishing's gal Friday Amy has apparently taken it on the lam. Aardwolf's president Jim R. (my favorite editor, at least until this incident) came back from a three-week vacation to find that nothing had been accomplished around his office in months. That is if you don't count the spider webs. His contracted authors, myself among them, are very unhappy about this.

Amy: If you're reading this, it's rather unfair that readers haven't gotten their books. Further, Jim is out of toner, paper, toilet supplies, and has no clue what his PayPal account is. He tells me he's sorry he called you a stupid cow.

Talking to G-d

Where I'd rather daven (#1 being the highest, #10 the lowest):

1. The Kotel
2. Hevron, in the kever where our Avos are buried
3. Next to the Rebbe, z"tl, when he was alive, in that little room upstairs at 770
4. Anywhere else in Eretz Yirosel
5. With Rabbi Kahane, z"tl
6. In a quiet shul, where everyone is respectful (which seems to only exist in my mind)
7. Alone in my house
8. In a clean toilet
9. In a dirty toilet
10. The Chabad of Northwest NJ

Monday, September 27, 2010

Make Mine Stan Lee

I've known this generous man for three decades, but it's always a thrill to get a note from Stan or hear him on the phone... And in a few weeks, I get to see his smiling face in person.


The greatest of New Years to you and yours!

I'll be looking forward to seeing you and Gene [Colan] in N.Y. I think it's great that you've been so helpful to him all this time. But then, great people do great things--that's why they're great!



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Rabbi & A Priest Walk Into a Bar (or How Kars4Kids Literacy Program Made Me Give Up Cigars for Lent)

As reported in The South Orange Patch

On Monday, Sept. 13, the Kars4Kids Literacy Program presented Seton Hall University with a full Talmudic library during a ceremony held in the Dean's Office of Walsh Library. Presiding over the event was Fr. Lawrence Frizzell, who began by addressing the university community in prayer.

The Talmud is a central text of Judaism, written as a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish customs, ethics, history, law and philosophy. "These texts will be a great benefit for our students in the Jewish-Christian Studies Masters program," Frizzell said. "Those students will use the Talmuds more frequently than others. But, the texts will be available for all students and the university community to use as well."

The donation was part of a recent Kars4Kids mandate, aiming to provide educational resourcesto children and students in need. Kars4Kids is a national organization providing for the spiritual, emotional and practical needs of children. The national, 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization was established in 2000.

Upon donating the sacred texts to the university, Kars4Kids spokesman Clifford Meth recounted his early exposure to Judeo-Christian studies and was glad that he could give other students a chance to appreciate what he has. "Today's student studies towards vocational goals," Meth said. "But it wasn't long ago that we educated ourselves for the sake of learning. These texts offer that opportunity to Seton Hall students."

On hand to accept the donation to the Walsh Library was university Archivist Alan Delozier. According to Delozier, the 73-voulme Talmudic library will be catalogued into theuniversity's library in hopes of having the sacred texts available for students soon.

"The Talmud is the essential reference work for scholars and beginning students alike who are interested in Biblical history," Meth said. "We are delighted to present this full library to Seton Hall, where the study of the Bible is so clearly emphasized."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gene Colan: The best of times, the worst of times

Did Gene Colan live happily ever after? He's certainly had a rough year—even rougher than the rest of America. But he’s had no illusions. Gene understands that it's hard work and perseverance alone that define a man’s destiny.

Gene, who turned 84 last week, spent the first half of 2010 in a hospital bed recovering from a broken shoulder and many thought he’d never draw again. But that’s like betting against the Yankees. Down the in 9th, two outs, nobody on, and Gene has proven once again that if anyone has the right to wear the spandex of Captain Comeback.

Gene spent today with fellow artist Rudy Nebres (pictured above) at ComicArt Con in Secaucus greeting fans, talking comics, answering questions, and reminiscing about Adrienne, his wife of 48 years, who passed away in June of congestive heart failure. His message was the same one he imparted ten years ago when the doctors informed him that he'd remain blind in one eye, and years before that when Jim Shooter chased him away from Marvel for a short spell: You take the chin music, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. And he has. His current commission work is as sharp today as anything he’s ever created, and his last book, Captain America #601, took this year’s Eisner Award for best single issue.

Pay attention. There's a lesson in this for all of us.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

post removed by an older, wiser author

Randy Coulture Drops James Toney Like a Bad Habit

James Toney’s first MMA fight (against living legend, 47-year-old Randy Coulture) didn’t make it out of the first round. It didn’t even make it out of the fourth minute. What was this dummy thinking?

Yes, James Toney is an accomplished boxer who has been KO’ing people since the late 1980s. But the UFC isn't a boxing match with 16-oz. gloves laced on 90-IQ gorillas. The morons who said Toney had a "puncher’s chance" and were brain-dead enough to put their money on this stiff obviously never wrestled.

Watching Randy mug this goon reminded me of my Morris Hills High School Fraternity Brothers visiting Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ, for my birthday. A fight broke out between our party (a few college freshmen and about a dozen high school guys) and another party of perhaps 20 college-age upper classmen, most of them starting players for FDU’s Divison-Three football team. The FDU defensive line was bigger, older, stronger and seriously outnumbered my teenage pals. And we beat the bejesus out of them (didn't we Johno?)

The moral of the story: Don’t fight wrestlers.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Couple of Buildings, Once Upon a Time

With regard to the proposed mosque at Ground Zero (let’s call it the “We’re Erecting a Mosque as an Act of Gloating as We’ve Always Done Historically on Every Battlefield Where We’ve Ever Claimed Victory” Mosque), Norm Breyfogle (artist of Batman and other comics) naively laments on his FaceBook, “What's on my mind? Freedom of religion. Isn't Islam a religion? Isn't the First Amendment still in effect? I mean, it hasn't been rescinded or anything, has it?”

Among the many comments from many folks, mine: “Cannibalism is a religion, too. So was Manson's family, Jim Jones's cult, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh... You are using semantics (the First Amendment or otherwise) to defend the wrong people. This is not a freedom of religion issue.”

To which the comicbook writer Elliot S. Maggin adds, “Stop. Explain please. In what Universe and under what circumstances is this anything other than a freedom of religion issue?”

To which I clarify: “The people financing this edifice to sacrificial infidels are mocking us after backing other acts of human terrorism. And it's good, well-meaning folks like you, Elliot, and Norm, and a host of other idealists who make them realize what a soft and easy target America has become. As I said earlier, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is a religion, too. By strict, fifth-grade interpretation of the First, you'd have to legitimize them as well. But that's not how things work.”

To which Maggin appends (and you can feel his fists clenching): “How things work is a lame and logic-free rationale for casual and convenient divergence from fundamental principles. Interpretation of the First Amendment in this case - and in most cases - is simply a matter of reading and understanding it. And to ascribe the equation of the downtown community center’s financing with the people who once upon a time sent a gang of killers to drop a couple of buildings on the people who currently own this onetime coat shop and our other neighbors to fifth-grade level logic would be grossly generous. This attitude is on its face the worst and most un-American type of ideological prejudice.”

To which I sighed. Because the enemies of America read this and laugh. Because there were even certain Jews who voted for Hitler (and would do so again) as fear makes certain types of high-verbal, otherwise intelligent people (who are all-too-often Jewish) tragically unintelligent when it comes to their own survival. And I replied, “Your belief that the attacks of Sept. 11 were once upon a time and merely a couple of buildings tells me everything I need to know. I'm sure you're as well-intentioned as the Jews on Kristallnacht who said, 'So they broke a few windows. It's nothing we can't fix…' As much as I'd hope you're right about your belief that there are moderates among these people who just want to pray their own way, it's historically clear that you are terribly, dangerously mistaken. Our very decent Constitution is just one of the weapons they are turning on us now. Welcome to The United States of Atlantis before they sink it."

And I sighed eternally.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cultural Intifada

Look! Up in the sky! It’s freedom of religion!

But Meg Ryan just cancelled her appearance at this week’s Jerusalem Film Festival. And Elvis Costello changed his mind about performing in Jerusalem. And Carlos Santana was bullied out of appearing at his sold-out performance in Israel.

Elton John, on the other had, said this in mid-June to an enthusiastic Israeli crowd: “Shalom! We are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby. Musicians spread love and peace and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry pick our conscience.”

Jethro Tull also refused to be intimidated out of playing three concerts in Israel in early August. Said Ian Anderson, “[I have] long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Scott Kempner Breaks His Silence

Pals of Mrs. Meth’s boy Clifford know I'll swan dive into hemorrhagic shock if forced to go too long without the good stuff, and it’s been too long, my droogs, since fellas with guitar guts, soul ripping, honest, have burned across these bankrupt airwaves. There's nothing coming through that we haven’t already heard half a million times until everything holy has become muzak to broken ears... So your love-starved author contacted Scott "Top 10" Kempner, then drove to the edge of town, climbed out of his rusting Jap garbage hauler, slammed the door, and strode through the woods until he reached the banks of the Rockaway River. And there he fell to his knees and looked to the sky. Who will save rock and roll?

Meth: When did you first realize that The Dictators had passed into a serious part of rock-and-roll history?

Kempner: Well, this is not an open-shut, widely accepted or widely held concept to begin with, our being part of rock’n’roll history. I think it is close to 50/50 as to how often the band is given any kind of recognition in, for example, the printed word: books, magazines, etc., things that serve as accepted proof of one’s relevance. Timing-wise, we were really born on the cusp—that’s one reason why. We in no way had any kind of D.I.Y. work ethic or sound; we bordered on metal, we had Ross, and we started on the tail end of the Dolls, and a year or two before the Ramones are all other reasons why. That last point is what I mean about being born on the cusp. But, there’s a difference of opinion out there. A confusion, maybe, as to who we actually are, or were. Plus, what would come to be defined as the “Punk” sound, that downstroke eighth-note thing that The Ramones used in every song they recorded for their entire career, more or less, was not something we participated in. Ironically, it would become something we did rely on decades later around the recording of DFFD.

All of this sets up the answer to your actual question, which is I am completely unsure as to exactly how much we have passed into rock’n’roll history. I mean, we’re not ever mentioned in the same breath as The Ramones, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, or even The Dead Boys. Which, to me, totally makes sense. It’s always some other classification outside of those bands that we’re put into, when we’re mentioned at all that is. Which also makes sense to me.

On the other hand, I do meet people all the time who are thrilled to meet Top 10 of The Dictators, and who really get it, and as a rule, the fans we have love us. And, sometimes it’s more about how big you are in the hearts of your fans than just how big you are. And, we have ferocious fans. It does make me smile just thinkin’ about ‘em. So, where do we stand in The Big Book? I just don’t really know.

Meth: I was called a punk fiction writer in print by no less than Andy Shernoff. But to be honest, I have no idea what that means anymore. To me, James Dean was punk. Brando. Joey Ramone. Sid Vicious... But Green Day? Jesus Murphy! If that’s punk, then flush me now.

Kempner: Punk is a word that has survived on the strength of sheer flexibility, the ability to mutate, and to finally find a home in a financially lucrative host. It has always denoted some form of outlaw status. A punk was misunderstood, a victim, embodied a slow smoldering rage at one’s own ineffectiveness, the little engine that can’t. As far as I know the word has its origins in prisons. The one who becomes sex slave to others was a punk. A humble beginning, for sure. It retained some of the victim vibe of its prison origin in its travels until it gets transferred to an actual outlaw and/or, perhaps, criminal. But, definitely an outsider. Brando becomes a punk icon by assuming outsider-ness, vulnerability, rage, unpredictability and anti-heroism. The latter is retained forevermore in the punk ethos. It’s all about anti-hero, by virtue of all this iconography that has preceded it.

In Rock’n’Roll, punk reaches its more contemporary meaning when the tag begins to be worn proudly, as a statement that contains all the previous meanings and mutations, except the original one, the prison one. First as a description of all the post-Beatles one hit wonders and the thousands of band that began making a racket in mom and dad’s garage. Then, it gets codified as an umbrella tag for the mid-70’s CBGB scene we were a part of. Finally, Green Day institutionalized it by making millions off of it. What’s the connection? Along the way, that Ramones sound becomes institutionalized as “the Punk” guitar style. And that, right there, that little head of a pin, the Johnny Ramone guitar style that Green Day adapted and built on, that is why they are now Punk!

I would say that Shernoff being the astute fellow I know him to be was referring to your individuality, your uncompromising style and attitude, all of which would be pure outsiderness. That would be what Andy was talking about. He’s talking about a more aesthetically “pure” use of the term punk. I would say we would all use the term punk to describe Richard Meltzer, the Dictators’ godfather. I would also put my personal opinions about the word punk closer to Andy’s than I would to the explanation and chronology of the word I’ve offered, especially when it comes to you. It’s a compliment.

Meth: I don’t remember what I expected from DFFD—I guess a sort of retro-fit BLOOD BROTHERS (my favorite of the 'Tators original LPs). But I was ossified, pal. It wasn’t only the best Dictators album by light years, it became an instant classic in the Meth household. One of my favorite 25 albums ever. Did you guys realize how giant it was at the time?

Kempner: That record took a very long time to make, and we went through about another half dozen songs, or more, in all kinds of styles that were rejected along the way. I do think it has the best stuff we ever recorded, although I’m not crazy about the whole thing. It was also a difficult time for me personally in the band. It wasn’t long after the record finally came out that I left the band. Maybe six months after it came out. I guess it had been coming for awhile, and a disagreement over a tour of Australia in the Summer of ’02 brought my 30 years in the band crashing to a close. I was sure at the time that I would never play with them again, and I didn’t play another show with the band for two years.

My return to the fold only happened because Little Steven was having his Underground Garage Festival, wanted the Dictators, and didn’t think it was The Dictators without me. He went to battle for me unbeknownst to me, at first. But, his opinion is an opinion I happened to share, which is of course exactly where we stand at the moment, and this time it isn’t me on the outside. If Steven hadn’t gotten involved at that level I don’t know for sure if I ever would have played with them again. I’m very grateful he did what he did, believe me. I hope the other guys feel the same way.

But, as for DFFD, I put WHO WILL SAVE ROCK’N’ROLL?, I AM RIGHT, AVENUE A, IT’S ALL RIGHT, SAVAGE BEAT, CHANNEL SURFIN’ and JIM GORDON BLUES up there as the best things we ever committed to record. The record also sounds way better than anything we had ever recorded, mostly because we were way better than we were when we were recording in the 70’s. And, if it stands as the last studio document of the band, which at this time seems to be the likely case, I think it does a good job of that of representing where the band was at in the 21st century.

Meth: It kills me that there’s nothing new coming out of the ‘tators. I’m pals with Richard and Andy so I sort of get it. Any thoughts on this?

Kempner: Well, for one thing, the Dictators record at an agonizingly slow pace. That’s part of the problem. We’ve always had major personality differences within the band, as well. Not that this is an unusual thing for a band. I don’t know if any band is totally free of the artistic differences, personality clashes, and such, but another thing that Steven says that I totally agree with is that seeing as to how hard it is to make a band work, and to stick it out together, yet, how fantastic a thing a great band is, and how rare it is, Steven’s take is: you do anything and everything you gotta do, go through whatever you gotta go through, to keep that band together. He’s right about that.

So, ultimately it breaks my heart a bit that we have been torn asunder by these same clichés that have plagued rock’n’roll bands since the beginning of bands. But, that’s because those clichés are real, and painful, and very hard to overcome. So, it is very hard to accept the likelihood that the band will never play together again, but that does seem to be the case. I thank God I have the Del-Lords back in my life. And, at this point, I don’t really think about the Dictators much. I’ve come to some sort of acceptance that this is the way it is, and having the Del-Lords back, which is something into which I have a much greater creative input, being the songwriter and all.

Just want to add a bit about the word "Punk" question. The final resting place for punk, the final irony of the word's gestation and mutation, is that its connection to the outlaw/outsider vibe is now inverted and perverted, as Green Day has taken the word full circle, from outsider status to now describing a band who is as big an insider as anyone in the music biz.

Well they suck. I wouldn’t give them a chance to bore me. But that’s why God gave us memories and recording studios--that we might have roses in winter and Dictators' music after breakfast.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hank Magitz and Adam Austin

Hank Magitz and Adam Austin appeared today at TimeWarp Comics and Games in Cedar Grove, NJ. Two people actually showed up specifically to see Magitz. They said he owed them money.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gene & I Are Signing (and we're not even blind)

Gene Colan and I (really Gene) will be signing books this Sunday at Time Warp Comics & Games, 555A Pompton Ave., Cedar Grove, NJ, from 12 to 3 pm. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by. I'm the one with the hat.

We Get Letters...

...and some of them are rather nice.

Cliff, on behalf of the creative community, let me be the zillionth to thank you for the great care and Ellison-level protectiveness you've shown to the giants. Kudos. --Mark Waid

Tom Palmer (Quietly) Breaks His Silence

One of the great unsung heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics, Tom Palmer has humbly contented himself with taking almost a backstage role in co-creating some of the finest comics we’ve seen. And it dawns on me that the inker’s job in comics is not unlike the bassist in rock and roll; when it’s done right, it’s almost silent; when wrong, it’s glaring.

I speak with Tom on odd occasions. The first time, decades ago, he was delivering a freelance assignment to Tom Phon, the art director at Electronic Design magazine in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where I was starting my career as a staff editor and writer. I just happened to come across his name on some art credits.

“There was a Tom Palmer who worked in comics,” I said to Phon.
“Same guy,” he said.
When I got up off the floor, I asked for an introduction. Several months later, the Toms and I lunched.

Tom Palmer's name has continued to come up in conversation—with Gene Colan, with Neal Adams, and with my friend the late John Buscema—so often, in fact, that I probably feel like I’ve spoken to Tom more than I really have. I have a lovely Avengers pages he gifted me with that hangs in my family room. That’s been the source of many conversations, too.

Today, I asked Gene and Neal about Tom again, for the benefit of a panel discussion that my new friend Mark Waid is hosting at San Diego ComicCon. Gene was particularly gushing:

Tom Palmer was really the only inker who made something of my work. From the moment that I saw his inks I saw what great painting skills and art skills he had. He really made me look good and I just loved his stuff.

As we worked together, we became friends and we still are. He was always very easy to talk to. He has a simple way of reaching you that’s hard to explain. Whenever he calls or I call him, we get lost in conversation about life and about art. I’ve learned so much from him.

My favorite inker? Tom was the only one. Al Williamson was really great, too, but Tom is special. He is a complete artist.
Anticipating my forthcoming ComicBook Babylon (Aardwolf Publishing, 2011), it occurred to me that Tom is only barely mentioned in there. Another crime I don't need to be prosectuted for. So I asked Tom for a sit down sometime over the next few weeks. And in my emailed note, I foolishly assumed he was retired and basking in the New Jersey too-hot sun ever-after.

I'm still doing a few books for Marvel and just starting on the new Kick Ass series with John Romita Jr. and Mark Millar, which involves a more finished halftone art and is time consuming; only finished the first four pages of issue #1 and miles to go! I have three painting commissions waiting and luckily the clients are patient and willing to wait until I get to them. Don't know if I've ever heard of an artist retiring and kicking back; think you only start to get good after age 50 and hit your stride around 90. I don't play golf either.
Stay tuned. Following SD ComicCon, Tom will have more to say here about something or another.

We Get Letters: The Invincible Gene Colan errors

Dear Cliff,

I have just recieved my [Invincible Gene Colan] book. But I felt I had [to] e-mail regarding its production faults! I had 31 years in the printing industry as litho/gavure printer/supervisor in both/production manager. It would be unthinkable to produce a book or any print for that matter with that amount of overprinting, which I believe was two lots of text on the same black plate... It begs the question why did anyone not spot it. Everyone looks at the job (print); if they don't then they are not doing their job. It is such an obvious error the readers should have picked it up! But what dissappoints me most is that a decision was obviously made to ship to the customers and with an error sheet supplied. To my mind it was a no-brainer, reprint, no question. Aardwolf [Publishing] have supplied a sub-standard product and expected the customer to accept it as it stands. I am a devoted collector of Gene Colan art (8 pieces) and he deserves every penny, the man is a genius. Lets [sic] not forget we paid up front for this up-front in December, 2009! Contents amazing, production lousy. Cliff can you pass this message on , please and I very much look forward to eveyone's reply.

Kind regards,
Steve Chivers

Dear Steven,

After more than a year working on this book as its editor--and after approving perfectly clean proofs--no one was more disappointed than I. Not even Gene. He has 65 years of extraordinary work behind him. This was my first book for Marvel and it looks like a bird shit in it. Seven times.

But you are sorely mistaken. You write "Aardwolf have supplied a sub-standard product and expected the customer to accept it as it stands." Aardwolf simply took a book that Marvel printed and Diamond distributed and did nothing more than add Gene Colan's remarqued and signed bookplates.

Aardwolf ordered hundreds of books, in advance, like everyone else. Neither Aardwolf nor myself had any control over what was printed. The proofs that *I* saw were clean.

Someone in China didn't do their job. Or perhaps Korea. I was fairly sick when I saw the printing mistakes, but what could I do?

That said, Aardwolf Publishing stands behind everything it does. If you aren't happy, please return the book. Aardwolf will promptly refund your money and shipping expenses.

Clifford Meth

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Capt. America #601 Original Art for Sale... Bids coming in strong

I've been collecting original comic art for 35 years (back when you could get a primo John or Sal Buscema page for $10, and a John Byrne sketch for $5). Among my favorite pieces are the historical ones I've managed to gather, including one of John Romita's early design sketches of Mary Jane Watson (a gift from John to Paty Cockrum, and from Paty to me) and a Bill Everett Sub-Mariner page from issue #61 (Everett's last). I had a page from Giant-Size X-Men #1, once, but foolishly let it go.

I don't plan to spend my entire 4th of July doing this, but I've had a fair number of blind bids on Gene Colan's original art for Captain America #601 that's now available. This is a great chance to own some comics history and great art. Click here to see eveything.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bru-Hed on Meth

I ran into my neighbor Joe Kubert today at the local supermarket. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, asked about each other's families. He also wanted to know why I was wearing a t-shirt with Jay Leno on it.

Images Added for Captain America #601 Art

Visit this link to see what's for sale. It's not just great art, folks -- it's comics history.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gene Colan's Capt. America Original Art for Sale

These pages are being offered for the first time. It's Gene Colan's last significant work and it's up for an Eisner Award. Own a piece of comics history while helping this beloved artist. You can see the pages here.

A Misunderstanding...Now Understood

The artist James Romberger is like the rest of us: He has no time to absorb the deluge of pop culture news. Thus, a complete misunderstanding occurred between us regarding Helen Thomas. He writes this morning:
Okay, I see that Thomas said something really stupid. I don't think Israel is right about everything they do but saying Jews should go back to Germany is fucked up. I couldn't find what she had done that you were hating her for until now. I had thought she was one of the good guys because Bush hated her so much.

Meanwhile you didn't make any of this clear in your post, you just went on calling her ugly... So I jumped the gun. I do think you could be more specific in your postings so us people who avoid reading the miserable news can figure out what you are talking about, and maybe set your sights a bit higher.


James Romberger

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

So How Was Your Day, Dear?

James Romberger writes that he no longer reads my blog because I’m not so swell to Helen Thomas; Don McGregor said (in other words) that he’s now reading me because he thinks what I write about Helen Thomas is the bee's knees; some yutz named Rick Olney, who a few people aren't so crazy about, sent me a thinly veiled threat because someone else wrote something about him (?); Gene Colan told me he loves me; and Harlan Ellison hugged me and tucked me into bed.