Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Let My People Go

Swiped this from Elayne Riggs.

Atlanta Falcon Ovie Mughelli: The "Greenest" Dude in the NFL

You've just gotta like a pro ball player like Ovie Muhhelli who takes serious time out to educate himself, the kids who follow him, and even his own teammates. Have a look.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dick Giordano Passes

I've received a number of calls and email today regarding the passing of comics legend Dick Giordano this morning. Dick was a mentor to many, including some of my mentors. While I didn't know him personally, I join our many friends in marking his passing.

Among the notes I received from friends were these three from Bob Layton, Mike Gold and George Perez:

It is my sorrowful duty to announce that legendary artist/editor/entrepreneur Dick Giordano passed away today. Few could ever hope to match what he accomplished in his chosen profession, or to excel while maintaining great humor, compassion for his peers and an unwavering love for the art form. His unique vision changed the comic industry forever and all of those who work in the business continue to share in the benefits of his sizable contributions. I have been honored to call him a business partner, mentor and dear friend throughout the majority of my lifetime. We will not see his like again.
--Bob Layton

His own gifts as an editor and artist were nothing short of breathtaking. Dick always defended creative freedom and aesthetic opportunity, sometimes putting him heads-on with management powers, often representing not his own work but that of the editors in his charge, most certainly including myself, for which I will be forever grateful. He knew the good stuff when he saw it, he knew how to improve it, he knew how to incubate it... A very warn, opinionated, feisty man with a disarming sense of humor and a knowledge of illustration history second to none, Dick suffered through many health difficulties, including asthma, hearing loss, and ultimately leukemia. Dick was my friend and my mentor as well; I had the privilege of serving under him for seven years at DC Comics... I'll miss him a lot; in this, I will not be alone.--Mike Gold

Words can't adequately express my deep sorrow in learning that my friend, former boss and inspiration Dick Giordano passed away this morning. Dick had been in failing health for some time, so it came as no real surprise, but the sense of loss is still immeasurable. My heart goes out to Dick's family and friends and to ...all in the comics industry, pro and fan alike, whom he has touched. --George Perez

Friday, March 26, 2010

Coming Attractions

Spoke at length tonight with the inimitable Norman Spinrad about his new book and significant writing career. To think that our friendship began over a flung wonton...

And with Richard Manitoba (aka Handsome Dick) about Aardwolf Publishing's coming party at MANITOBA'S where I plan to read a new story. More on these subjects in weeks to come.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jim Babjak: The Clark Kent of Lead Guitar

I imagine Jim Babjak sitting in a bank's office somewhere in the ruins of New Jersey pushing paper from one side of his desk to the other. Okay, there’s more to banking than that, but that’s what it looks like. Babjak’s day is punctuated by phone calls and staff meetings and occasional glances at his wrist watch. Finally, at five o’clock, he takes his suit jacket off a hook, flings it over his shoulder, locks his office door and calmly bids good evening to his co-workers. Then he’s out the door looking for a phone booth to change in. But that’s getting harder these days. Phone booths are fewer and farther between.

At night, Babjak is a super hero. Even better, he’s the lead guitarist of The Smithrereens, the band he cofounded three decades ago with fellow Jersey boys Dennis Diken (drums), Mike Mesaros (bass) and Pat DiNizio (guitar and lead vocals). Need I invoke the band's string of mid-80’s hits? Need I say “Blood and Roses” and “Behind a Wall of Sleep” and “Only A Memory” and “A Girl Like You”? Need I remind you that his music can be heard in films like “Bull Durham,” “Backdraft,” “Encino Man,” “Time Cop,” “Boys Don't Cry,” “Cruel Intentions 2,” “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle,” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.” That’s so cool we forgive him for those radio commercials for Dairy Queen and Nissan.

Cliff: People who attended the recent “The Music of the Who” at Carnegie Hall saw a lot of interesting interpretations of Pete Townshend music, but it was The Smithereens who came closest to that Live at Leeds Sound. Of course The Who are about as close as some people get to religion. It's easy to hear their influence on many bands, but frankly, while the Beatles impact on The Smithereens was obvious from the get-go, I never understood the relationship between The Who and the 'Reens until I actually heard you play Who music. Any thoughts on this?

Jim: We used to play "The Seeker" during our first national tour in 1986, so many of our original fans remember that. Our version of it also appeared on MTV's “Live at the Ritz” and was a live EP released on CD back in 1987. Before we had a record deal, we were playing three sets a night in the bars, “I Can't Explain” was a staple in our live show. We would also throw in “Substitute” on rare occasions.

Dennis Diken, our drummer, and I started playing together when we were 14 years old. We would practice playing songs like “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks, “Summertime Blues” by The Who, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, “Shapes Of Things” by The Yardbirds", “I'll feel a Whole lot Better” by The Byrds, “No Matter What” by Badfinger, “Ticket To Ride” by The Beatles, “Dirty Water” by The Standells… These songs give you an idea of how we started out. Then around 1973 we got a little more ambitious and started playing songs off of The Who's “Tommy” album and whatever little snippets I could play off of “Live at Leeds”. Dennis and I went to many concerts during our teen years and besides seeing the Kinks about 30 times and tons of other bands, we saw the Who perform a few times while Keith Moon was still alive. After seeing them live, there's no doubt that Townshend made a huge impact on me during my learning years. It's still very much in our blood and will probably be there forever. So by the time we met Pat in 1979, I already had this aggressive style of guitar playing, which was also fueled by the punk movement of the late 70's.

Cliff: Which of the acts at Carnegie Hall the other night were you most impressed with?

Jim: I didn't get to see much of it because the wings were just too crowded and I didn't want to get in the way. It was a good scene up in the dressing rooms just talking to all the other artists, some of which are old friends. I was very impressed by Bob Mould and had a very nice time chatting with Mose Allison who shared our dressing room. There was a great sense of camaraderie among everyone there.

Cliff: You've done your Beatles and Who tributes now...are there any other tributes that Smithereens' fans can expect?

Jim: It was all fun and the fans have mentioned in their emails about us doing a Kinks tribute, but it's time to work on a new original album. Who knows? Anything can happen… I can't rule out another tribute. But there are no plans for one at this time.

Cliff: Pat and I have spoken many times about his influences. Who are yours?

Jim: There are so many that it's way too long to list. Let's just say that the music of the 50's, 60's and early 70's all mixed up is my foundation.

Cliff: What do you listen to these days?

Jim: When I'm not listening to talk radio or CDs from my collection, I'll tune in to rock radio and it's very rare that I'm impressed by something new. Then again, it could be my mood. I was watching TV one night and saw a concert by Snoop Dogg and liked it! My son got me the Chicken Foot and Wolfmother CDs for Christmas… Of course, I bought myself The Kinks box, Neil Young box and both mono and stereo Beatles box sets. I'm becoming an Amazon sucker! They send me emails about new releases that I might like. I just bought the Rhino handmade “Birds, Bees and Monkees” box set and pre-ordered the “Tami” show DVD… I did go out of my way to order The Duke Spirit's album “Neptune” after hearing the song “The Step and The Walk” on the radio. I Googled the band to find the song and while I was looking I read some reviews by people that said Liela Moss' vocals sounded like Grace Slick, but I don't hear that and I think she has her own thing going. She has a great voice. If I had to compare her to anyone, she sounds more like Mariska Veres from The Shocking Blue. She has a similar sexiness in her voice.

Cliff: When I saw you in Morristown recently we spoke about the fact that you have a "straight" job by day and sort of turn into a rock star at night. How does it feel to be the Clark Kent of lead guitarists?

Jim: I'm still working on it. It's not easy at all. I don't like to mix the two worlds, so I keep a very low profile... It's funny, I've known Willie Nile since the 80's and he also has a day gig. Backstage at Carnegie Hall I asked him if he's going in to work in the morning and he said yes. I said, “Me too” and we both laughed. Here we are at Carnegie hall and then the next day we're sitting at a desk. They're both realities.

Cliff: Is playing out once a month, which is what you seem to average, the right mix of family, business and rock & roll?

Jim: Sometimes it's a very hard balance. I take it as it comes. We played seven shows in January and that was pretty great. Usually we have more concerts in the summer and it gets very busy. It all works out. Sometimes I take my family with me. Last year we played in Spain for a week and I took my wife. We had a great time… I get to see so much of the world. I feel very lucky. I just roll with the punches that life brings me. I look at everything as life experience and try to make it great, even my commute to work in the morning.

© 2010 Clifford Meth

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Meth

The new book is in. If you haven't ordered it yet, visit Aardwolf Publishing.

The book's unveiling (unleashing? uncaging?) will occur "officially" at Manitoba's Bar in NY City. You don't want to miss this party. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meth and Comics Bulletin Hug It Out

Read all about it in "Welcome to Hollywood, Part Deux" here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Everyone's Hero: IDT's Hindenburg

Artist Michael Netzer has posted a behind-the-scenes rememberance of the making of IDT's film "Everyone's Hero."

"Being affiliated with this film was a sad way for Christopher Reeve to depart from this world. I remember his unending efforts to try to transform the debacle into a worthy film, but it was out of his hands. He passed away during the early stages of pre-production and had virtually little input into the final work. That my own name is also attached to it is likewise no small discomfort. It is a sad legacy about big money gone blind."
I read Michael's piece and shook my head remembering how long it took to get the stink of this thing off my clothes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meth on Saperstein: Writers & Artists Weigh In

Regarding the story...it's sudden removal...and it's speedy return to print at another forum:

"Came to the Saperstein column. Read it, LOVED it." --Harlan Ellison

"Good on ya, friend." -- Josh Olson (writer, "A History of Violence")

"Bravo, Cliff! (from someone who's been there)." -- Batton Lash

"Well done Clifford! It's not possible to suppress such a good story nor to run away from it. You're a big inspiration!" -- Michael Netzer

"This is what I told Harlan when last we spoke a week back and it certainly applies re: your column's abrupt excision: People in comics always err on the side of cowardice." --Robert Morales

"Cliff's article is terrific. I've been calling him my ALPHA DAWG OF THE WEEK." --Tony Isabella
"Some of you will learn from this column, others will just laugh. But Clifford’s essays like “Welcome to Hollywood” are too important to be ignored." -- Jim Reeber

See what all the fuss is about

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Comics Bulletin Pulls Meth Column

After receiving numerous emails that my column was down, I just contacted Jason Sacks, the editor at ComicsBulletin who initially accepted and posted my column "Welcome to Hollywood." Jason is a friend of many years--our association reaches back decades into the early days of comics fandom. I hold no animus for this guy now or ever.

The call to pull the column came from the site's owner Jason Brice who did so from fear of legal reprisals.

A larger comics website has offered to run my column without edits. More on this as things develop.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Tale of Symmetry

My recent account of how producer Richard Saperstein refused to pay me for contracted work on Snaked and how I handled it have brought in e-kudos all day long from friends and strangers:

"Clifford Meth is my Alpha Dawg of the Week," writes long-time comics writer Tony Isabella at his website.

Jason Brice at ComicBulletin.com refers to it as, "The amazing tale of how Cliff Meth and The Futurians got snaked."

Comics journalist Daniel Best gives the story a compelling and appropriate introduction at his blog.

Glenn Haumann at ComicMix summarizes it as "how to deal with producer Richard Saperstein."

Isn't it high time you read what all the hullabaloo is about? Click here.

(note added 3/13/2010: links to the original column were removed)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Andy Shernoff Breaks His Silence

If pressed, I guess I'd answer that the biggest difference between Andy Shernoff and other performers of the punk era is that the cat could really write. As much as his band the Dictators were about performance and attitude, Shernoff proved again and again that he was about crafting excellent rock ballads. Oddly enough, this didn't occur to me until the 'Tators delivered their kickass reunion LP of 2001, DFFD--easily their finest offering from a song-writing vantage point. Dozens of other bands were already hip to the Shernoff magic and have recorded his stuff, among them The Ramones, The Del-Lords, and Dion.

Peppi Marchello recently made me aware that Andy was performing again. Then a little digging unearthed "When Giants Walked The Earth: A Musical Memoir by Andy Shernoff" coming to New Jersey at Maxell's in Hoboken (March 27, 7:30 PM). I'll be there, I told Peppi, but why hadn't I heard about this? So I contacted Andy.

Cliff: Maxwell's lists "When Giants Walked The Earth: A Musical Memoir by Andy Shernoff" but that's all there is, brother...nothing about the show or the other musicians at the site, or anywhere else on the web.

Andy: That's because I have been keeping it low key as I work in the act. Maxwell's will be my first announced show. There are no other musicians--just me and my guitar. I sing my tunes and weave a narrative about growing up in New York, making music in pre-punk days, touring England in 1977 and my experiences working with some crazy but talented people... just call me the insensitive singer-songwriter or Ray Davies with a White Castle slant.

Cliff: Will we hear new material?

Andy: No brand new songs but I will be performing songs you may not have heard because they were recorded by other people.

Cliff: Are you recording anything new?

Andy: Absolutely, I am in the process of recording a few new tunes for my next round of shows, one is an unreleased collaboration with Joey Ramone.

Cliff: I plan to be at Maxwell's and hope to introduce my son to you. I was imagining that in the car. "Avi--say hello to Andy, one of my favorite songwriters, the man who wrote 'Minnesota Strip'." What songs do you find people asking you about?

Andy: Actually "Pussy and Money" is one of the songs from which people often quote lines back to me. "Who Will Save Rock and Roll" and "Master Race Rock" are also remembered for the lyrics but "Stay With Me" seems to be the most popular as it has been the most covered by other bands.

Cliff: "Who Will Save Rock and Roll" is one of my favorites by anyone ever. Was that just a rhetorical question, or do you have an answer?

Andy: It's rhetorical because rock and roll has peaked as an art form in my humble opinion. One reason is that rock and roll is only three chords and a 4/4 backbeat and there are only so many permutations that can be made with those variables. Another problem is that most recordings today are done one part at a time into a computer, which allows every element to be re-tuned and manipulated, removing the unique character that can be achieved by a group of musicians playing in a room together. The result is so many groups sound the same these days... Besides when you start to hear more rock and roll in car commercials than on the radio, you can be assured it's in death throes.

Cliff: Will the Dictators play together again?

Andy: Never say never... but certainly not in the near future.

Cliff: What did you learn from the punk days? Any regrets?

Andy: I don't look back, so no regrets... What did I learn? Persevere and be yourself!

Pay attention when I'm talking to ya! The Maxwell's gig is just a few weeks away. This is a rare and unique opportunity to see Andy Shernoff playing and discussing his songs. And for only $10. Can't beat that with a bat.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stan Lee: A Serious Interview

I've said this before: At the end of the day it won't matter who spins the history of the comics nor how they spin it. One fact will remain indisputable: Stan Lee changed comics, which changed most of us.

The first time I met Stan was in 1986 in Manhattan. He was in town for The Toy Show and I took the opportunity to interview him over lunch for Home Viewer, one of several new magazines that had sprung up around the burgeoning video industry of the mid-80s. Shortly after my article appeared, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter in my mailbox from Stan. He wanted to thank me for the interview. Thank me!

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of Stan's company many times on the phone and in person. He's written generous introductions to a number of books that I've edited, as well as my forthcoming collection of essays and arguments Comic Book Babylon. I thought it would be fun to revisit that first conversation of ours from 24 years ago. Here’s a piece of it:

Meth: From a creative perspective, your legacy consists largely of expanding a superhero mythology that a new generation has come to inherit. Do you think that's an important contribution?

Lee: Yes. Everybody needs heroes. Everybody should have somebody to look up to, somebody to aspire to be like. In my case, I read legends, Robin Hood, The Odyssey, Sherlock Holmes. I saw Errol Flynn movies and I wanted to be Errol Flynn. Every time I left the theater, I had a crooked little smile on my face and I swashbuckled down the street. Until I was ten years old, I wished that I had a sword by my side. I would rather have been Errol Flynn or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan or Edgar Rice Burroughs or H.G. Wells than anybody else. All of these people were my heroes. I assume everybody is like that. We all have people we admire, actors we admire, fictional characters we admire, and if we didn't, what would we ever have to aim for? What goals would we have?

Meth: But Marvel’s heroes--Stan Lee’s heroes--are very unlike those character’s you grew up admiring. Your heroes have problems. Was that part of the formula, or just a sales angle?

Lee: Not at all! I'd been writing the old stories for years because I was the ultimate company man. I did what my publisher wanted because I felt that's the way it should be--you work for somebody you do what he says. For twenty years, I was grinding out the types of stories he wanted and I won't apologize for them. They were good for what they were. These were westerns: Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid, the Texas Kid, the Ringo Kid, Apache Kid--we loved the named "kid". We did war stories: Battle Grady, Combat Kelly, real mass producers. I wrote virtually all of them.

And I always wanted to quit, because while I was making a living, I felt I wasn't getting anywhere. I told my wife, “Honey, I want to try writing other stuff. I'm going to give this up.” She said, “Stan, you've been frustrated for years because you never really wrote the kind of stories you wanted. Before you leave, why don't you just take some books and write them your way? What's the big deal? You want to leave anyway so what'll they do, fire you?”

So I started with the Fantastic Four. We didn't have any superheroes then. We were doing monster stories. My publisher said to me, “You know, I been looking at sales figures and D.C. Comics’ Justice League of America is selling very well. We should do a few superheroes and put them together.” I said, “Fine.” But I wasn't going to do it the former way.

Meth: Which was?

Lee: Bland. They all fight together, love each other. Typical group. I figured I would make one a monster, another the hero’s fiancĂ©, the third her kid brother who’s a little bit of an itch. I tried to do it the way I thought superheroes would be in real life. I even tried to be different by not giving them costumes, but that was a mistake. I got a lot of mail after the first issue: “Love your book! It's wonderful! Best thing I ever read! Congratulations! But if you don't give them costumes, I'll never buy another issue.” So I don’t have to be hit over the head. We put costumes on them. Everything else worked. I never thought it would sell well. I figure I'm getting it out of my system and then I'm going to quit. Well, it was the best selling book we had in years. So we brought out The Avengers, Spider-Man, and The Hulk.

Meth: How is your relationship with Jack Kirby these days?

Lee: I don't think we’re as friendly now. He isn't as friendly toward me as I wish he were. I'm not really 100% sure that I know what the reason is. Maybe he feels he is not as well known or he feels that I've achieved a little more something than he has. I don't know. He has never told me. Jack is certainly one of the most talented if not the most talented guy that the comic book industry has ever produced. He is the most imaginative, most creative guy I have ever known in this business. His mind is an endless source of stories, concepts, and ideas. He was a fantastic artist with one of the most powerful, dramatic styles you could ever find. I've always said that. I've always felt that about him and I still do.

Meth: Who are your favorite Marvel characters?

Lee: Maybe Spider-Man and the Silver Surfer. I got more philosophy into the Silver Surfer than anything I ever wrote. He was always giving his opinions about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I liked him because he was so offbeat. I think those 17 issues of Silver Surfer that I wrote and that John Buscema drew are the best 17 comics that have ever been done. They’re classics.

Meth: You’ve been in Hollywood for a long time now. Ever get the urge to return to writing comic books?

Lee: I must be honest and admit that I miss comics. I miss the excitement. Mainly, I miss the people; I loved the people I worked with. I also miss the fact that in the comic book business, you can get an idea for a book, get together with an artist, do it, and three or four months later the book is on sale. In the movie business, you can spend years before a project reaches the screen, if it ever does. However, I'm not the least bit tired of Hollywood. I'll never retire. I love what I do. I love the movie and TV business, and I've never had more fun. The only thing that would make my professional life even better would be if Marvel Comics was in the same building and I was working on the comics and the movies and the television and the animation at the same time. That would be heaven.

(part II coming soon... subscribe to this blog and you won't miss it... the subscription is free)

The Amazing Stan Lee

BOOM! finally made their teased-out Stan Lee announcement yesterday morning. And despite calls from 1000+ reporters, my 87-years-young friend stopped by to answer a few questions. Briefly.

Cliff: Were the characters and back stories for the new POW-BOOM joint venture actually created by you?

Stan: Yep!

Cliff: Do you still think it's important for a hero's alter ego to have an Achilles heel?

Stan: Yep... Usually.

Cliff: At what stage are you at with the projects that you're doing with Walt Disney Studios?

Stan: All different stages. Script. Development. Production.

Cliff: When I was with IDT Entertainment, you shared a letter with us that you received from Paul McCartney pitching you a character. How often do you get pitches from fellow celebs?

Stan: Occassionally. An average of three or four a year.

Cliff: Now that you're hitting middle age, do you have any intention of slowing down?

Stan: Not if I can help it! Excelsior!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stan Lee Breaks His Silence

BOOM made their big Stan Lee announcement this morning...and Stan just popped me an email to answer a few questions. I'll post his answers at ComicMix.com tomorrow morning.