Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The death of Howard the Duck

I got on the HTD train late. My first issue was #25, released in June 1978. I was about to turn ten. In those days, my parents would let me hop on the 55C RTA bus (by myself) at the corner of Dwight and Osborn, which wound its way onto Lake and then Clifton and into Lakewood. I got off at Wagar and walked south to Detroit to a comic book store whose name I forget. The owner was a dick, he hoarded every copy of HTD he could and jacked up the price. They were in demand in Cleveland because theoretically they took place here. I paid, however, and worked my way back through the series.

I got to enjoy three, first-run Steve Gerber penned issues. Issue #27 ended on quite a cliffhanger, with Howard and friends in Skudge, PA (don't ask.) He watches helplessly as Paul is hit by a stray bullet and in another part of town Winda is beaten comatose by some low-life. I didn't notice the change in author, but the next issue is simply from another planet - the Planet of Crap. It makes no sense whatsoever, it is like a cross between a Playboy Magazine comic and a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Beverly, who had gone off with Dr. Bong several issues earlier is inexplicably present, and Howard is set on some mission without any prodding at all, which is entirely out of character. The artwork is hideous. It's just a lame, lame book. It's followed by another guest writer, trying to "get" the HTD style. What had been a brooding, quirky, hip book had instantaneously become a funny aminal comic.

There was finally an explanation, regarding Mr. Gerber and how he was leaving the comic, for reasons they said were "complicated." The fact is, the difficulties Gerber recounted in issue #16 had finally caught up to him, he was chronically behind deadline on not only the book, but the companion comic strip and every other project he had his hands in. They pulled him off the strip, he sued Marvel and so left the book itself.

The final two issues of HTD (amusingly, the editor reassures fans in the penultimate issue that the monthly color comic will never go away!) are thankfully drawn by Gene Colan, and in two issues preemptively ends the Doctor Bong saga in a sock-pow, and largely unsatisfying conclusion.

Interestingly, the final issue (#31) includes the only actual, literal reference to the city of Cleveland. In one panel, Bev holds up a copy of the "Cleveland Plain-Dealer." Other than that, the entire series could have taken place in Detroit and you wouldn't have had to change a thing.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Holding Our Tongue @ CPT

Live Blogging

5:04 pm
Winding down now. Can I just say Faye Sholiton bathes in awesomeness?

And can I say how much I love the fact that all of Ozen Yula's preconceptions about Cleveland came from Stranger Than Paradise?

4:49 pm
The big issue of censorship this afternoon, as put forth by Ms. Shamieh, is how large non-profit professional theaters get government and corporate funding by making multiculturalism in their mission statement, and then producing absolutely no work from marginalized voices.
"The community with the most to say have the least resources to say it."
4:20 pm (It's 4:20 time.)
We are in the midst of a dynamite panel discussion with Ari Roth (Theatre J), playwright Betty Shamieh and David Faux (Dramatist Guild.) I will get this stuff down ... but we're back now and Eric Coble is talking about feelings.

I will say this ... Image of the morning; white academic bemoaning the impotence of modern American theater, and Raymond Bobgan enthusiastically countering that this moment in American theater is the most exciting, embracing as it does the widest possible amount of multicultural work in our nation's history.

2:25 pm
Elaine Feagler is a beautiful human being. That was hilarious! And surprisingly moving. I think I was expecting something, I was not expecting to be moved, no, not at all. And I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever be moved almost to tears by words coming out of the mouth of Drew Narten.

I mean, come on.

Good God, there is a quorum of Playwrights' Unit people, right there, I should say hello.

1:30 pm
Amazing - even our lunch at Gypsy became a round table discussion on censorship, with representatives from the Play House, Ensemble Theatre and GLTF (that would be me) as well as various playwrights ... and Fred.

In moments they will begin a staged reading of one of Yula's works.

11:04 am
Ozen Yula described in greater detail the controversy generated by his play Lick But Don't Swallow which was to open in Istanbul following his arrival in Cleveland this past winter. When a secular paper announced its premiere, describing it in one sentence as a play about an angel that becomes a porn star, things got difficult.

The online paper (yes, they have those in Turkey) received hundreds of comments. People who had of course not seen this play, as it was not yet close to even opening yet but was merely in rehearsals, piled on, expressing their indignation, and proclaiming that "something must be done." In Turkey, when someone demands that something be done, especially on religious grounds, often something is done. Yula reminded us that in America when cranks leave messages on the Internet, no one does anything.

Except when they do, of course.

He also described the young men of his country, who are in large numbers unemployed, who spend time in coffee houses, jacked up on (presumably) Turkish coffee, who are often stirred into action when "something is happening." A large number of young men showed up at the theater, asking when this play would open. A little menacing.

Interestingly, later in the discussion, Michael Mauldin from CSU was lamenting the lack of interest in live theater, on a political or important level, in the United States. He recounted the time in 1989 when Do The Right Thing had NYC Mayor Dinkins pleading with the public not to act upon the images they saw in Spike Lee's film. Presumably he was speaking to certain young men, also unemployed in large numbers.

Idle hands, everywhere, are what we fear.

During an otherwise uncontroversial discussion on censorship, Tony Brown was asked whether the Rosenberg case had a "chilling effect" on his work as a critic. He did not answer this question, choosing instead to explain how Rosenberg's situation was unique, leaving one to draw their own conclusions.

9:13 am
Things getting underway. I am impressed with the sheer amount of artists attendant this early on a Saturday morning. Playwrights! Playwrights! Playwrights! Margaret says she needs to talk to me about blogging because I am the "blogger extraordinaire." She just said that to me. Just now.

If you are free, come down to Cleveland Public Theatre, there is a panel discussion with Ozen Yula until 11 am featuring Gary Garrison (Dramatists Guild), Dr. Michael Mauldin (CSU), Tony Brown (Plain Dealer) and Mr. Yula.

For all the kids out there - yes, Fred is here.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Poor night’s sleep last night. Start of a new school year, lot to fret about. In my dreams I was on an island which was embraced by a malevolent force from outer space, turning everyone in the vicinity into flesh-eating zombies.

I knew something was wrong when I passed this guy on a bridge, he had lifted another man up by his arms and was ripping the screaming man’s lips off with his teeth. Soon enough I realized I was also a member of the undead, though I do not recall actually wanting to eat anyone or their brains. But I knew. I was cognizant - none of the zombies were addled, they just liked to eat the flesh of living humans.

Then I located my wife. She had not been affected by this force, she was not one of us. She was a living human. Then a car drove by with guys in it, and I told her to hide. Zombies got out and began questioning me. They could tell I was a member of their unholy ranks (sorry, I am tired of writing the word “zombie”) but I could tell they did not trust me - they knew I was keeping a secret. And I knew that I must protect my beloved, no matter what the cost.

When I woke up this morning, I was terribly distressed. Not because my dream was about flesh-eating zombies, but because I had stolen the premise of the Twilight series.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jesse Owens Statue

All right. I did not know there was a statue of Jesse Owens in Cleveland, let alone one so close to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Granted, I have spent very little time in the vicinity of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Still, you'd think this would be something I knew.

It was created by William McVey in 1982.

More striking is the statue at Jesse Owens Memorial Park in Danville, Alabama. It would only be more impressive if he were snapping a swastika in two over his head.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Angst:84 (play)

Brian Douglas, Robert P. Nix
(Photo: Melissa Tilk)
ANGST:84 is a play by Toni K. Thayer, commissioned by Dobama Theatre for their Night Kitchen series for teens and twenty-somethings. It premiered October 27, 2000 at the former Dobama space on Coventry, and has been produced in New York City and Chicago.

Set in the fictional Cleveland suburb of Lakeville, Angst:84 depicts one day in the life of various students at Lakeville High School in Fall, 1984. The cool kids have a clearly defined hierarchy (don't follow the rules and be "erased") which reflects the oppressive, Orwellian dictates of the school administration itself. In the Dobama's Night Kitchen production, this was set to a non-stop soundtrack of period tunes including songs by the Thompson Twins, Psychedelic Furs and the Circle Jerks.

The only real Cleveland reference is that of an Exotic Birds concert. True, they didn't just play Cleveland. But no one outside of Cleveland would bother mentioning them in conversation.

The Plain Dealer called it "a fresh, imaginative debut." said "Angst:84 succeeds as both entertainment and political allegory." Issues addressed in the play include homophobia, teen pregnancy, peer pressure and the bizarre memory that once high schools had smoking areas for students.

Dobama's Night Kitchen company
New York International Fringe Festival (2001)

When this play debuted, Toni and I were expecting our first child. He died. The show came at an usual time, reflecting as it did a period when we were each teenagers and I was contemplating fatherhood, entirely unaware of anything that might mean.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dare Wright

Dare Wright
(December 3, 1914 – January 25, 2001)

... and speaking of children's books featuring black and white photographs of stuffed bears in real-world settings ...

Born in Canada in 1914, Dare Wright spent most of her formative years in Cleveland. Her parents were separated when she was a child. Her older brother Blaine lived with their alcoholic, theater critic father, while she lived with her mother, professional portrait painter Edith Stevenson Wright.

Settling in Cleveland in 1919, and after a few living arrangements based upon the kindness of strangers, the independent painter and her young daughter found their own apartment in Cleveland Heights in 1921. She was commissioned to paint lawyers, judges, politicians - and finally received the favor of the Hanna family. She painted a posthumous portrait of Marcus Bales Hanna, and later his son, Daniel Sr. owner of the Cleveland Leader, and later the News. They lavished her with connections and attention, granting her studio space in the Hanna Building.

I work in the Hanna Building. Crazy.

Dare went to Coventry Elementary School, and by fourth grade a boarder at Laurel School. Biographer Jean Nathan in her book The Secret Life of The Lonely Doll suggests that her life of impermanence coupled with her mother's focus on the superficial (because, you know, she was a painter) was a major factor in shaping Dare's deep-seated sorrow regarding connection with actual people, and her tendency to render inanimate objects with personality and as a repository for her fantasies of love and acceptance.

If Dare were raised by her successful, aloof, artist father and had an ne'er-do-well mother who drank a lot, it would still be called the mother's fault for Dare's becoming a glamorous, disaffected freak, because that is how we look at things.

Edith's success grew. She painted Calvin Coolidge's portrait in 1928 and it was hung in Public Hall, where he had received his party's nomination in 1924. In 1935 a cigarette caused a fire in Public Hall and the portrait was destroyed.

Graduating from Laurel in 1933 (top five in her class) Dare moved to New York and discovered the brother she had never known. Her journeys took her from there to Hollywood (where she failed to become an actress) back to Cleveland and to New York, eventually establishing herself as a stunning, stylish model for fashion magazines.

She became a photographer, and was equally accomplished in front of and behind the camera. In 1957 she created her legendary children's book, The Lonely Doll featuring Edie, a felt Lenci Doll from her own childhood, named after her mother. In the story this most lonely of dolls is visited by Mr. Bear and Little Bear (stand-ins, of course, for her absent father and brother) and after a tentative period of discovery and tests of trust, the trio is bonded forever and will never be apart again.

The Lonely Doll disappeared in obscurity - but remained a strong, psychic presence in the mind of many baby boomer aged children, and eventually returned to print in 1998. We have a copy. My daughter's middle name is Dare.

Dare Wright died in 2001.

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll
This American Life

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cleveland Is A Warm, Fuzzy Place (book)

Written by David Cockley, Cleveland Is A Warm, Fuzzy Place is a children's book first published in 1977 by Corinthian Press (Shaker Heights, Ohio.) It tells the story of a stuffed bear named who notices his girl is missing, and leaves the safety of their home to find her.

His adventures take him all over Greater Cleveland, an all-encompassing journey and yet left enough ground not covered to inspire a second book called Cleveland Is A Wild, Woolly Place.

I had this book as a kid, maybe a little long in the tooth for it (it was published when I was nine, for goodness sakes) but it did intrigue my imagination, especially the idea of taking a stuffed animal and taking photographs of it in unusual places.

(Some day I will tell the strange story of one-time Clevelander Dare Wright, from whom we got the idea for our daughter's middle name.)

My mother must have given this book away when I was a teenager, it has lived out its usefulness and someone else could use it. I recently bought both the first and second volumes from Loganberry Books in the hopes of sharing it with my kids. This was not a happy bedtime.

Anachronisms in Warm, Fuzzy Place alone include such one-time facts such as:
Cleveland is famous for making the steel that's used to make cars and boats and buildings.

Cleveland makes more machines, more car parts and more paint than any other city in the country.

Cleveland is one of the few cities with teams in all major sports, including the Cavaliers in basketball, the Barons in hockey, the Nets in tennis and the Cobras in soccer.

Cleveland Browns, the most consistently successful team in pro football history.

Benjamin was invited to visit the Cleveland schools, which are among the best in the country.

Randall Park Mall, the largest indoor shopping mall in the United States.
Everybody sigh.

My favorite part, though, is where he meets the mayor, who is only referred to as "The Mayor." However, in the first and second editions we see the 31 year-old Mayor's face:

In editions printed after 1979, he is only seen from behind walking away from Benjamin, holding the already-received certificate - as though the photographer just missed the shot.

Mr. Cockley has also written plays for children like The Homework Conspiracy and Kids' Countryand is an Instructor of Marketing at the University of Akron College of Business.

I feel somewhat betrayed to find Mr. Cockley has also written a book called Columbus is a Can-Do Kind of Place.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Howard the Duck
Seven-Eleven Marvel Comics Glass

Mine broke in 2006.
I miss it very much.

* * *

by The Pretenders
from their 1980 LP release
"The Pretenders"

I like the way you cross the street
'Cause you're precious.
Moving through the Cleveland heat,
How precious.
Taking rides and all the kicks:
You're so precious.
But you know I was shittin' bricks,
'cause I'm precious.

Made me wanna, made me wanna,
You made me make it.
You're so mean

East 55th and Euclid Avenue
Was real precious.
Hotel Sterling comin' into view
How precious.
Pity that you bruised my hip
'cause I'm precious.
You shouldn't let your manners slip.
You're too precious.

Made me wanna, made me wanna,
You made me make it.
You're so mean

We went around and round and
round and round and round the Shoreway
We was a duet duet duet duet
do it on the pavement
Oh maybe maybe
I'm gonna have a baby
We was a duet oh we do it all night

Made me wanna, made me wanna,
You made me make it.
You're so mean

I was feeling kind of ethereal.
'Cause I'm precious.
I got my eye on your Imperial.
You're so precious.
Now, Howard the Duck and Mister Stress both stayed
Trapped in a world that they never made.
But not me, baby - I'm too precious.
Fuck off!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dennis Kucinich

Dennis John Kucinich
(born October 8, 1946)

Someone tried to kill Dennis, y'all.

Before communicating with space aliens and marrying a supernaturally hot, young British woman, Dennis Kucinich (six-time U.S. Representative from Ohio's 10th Congressional District - he represents my Dad, which I think is hilarious) was once the boy Mayor of Cleveland.

In 1977 he was elected - at the age of 31 - to the office, and his tenure was distinguished, as Carter's was, for not giving away enough of the store to get everyone out of the terrible hole that was the late 1970s. In particular he was excoriated for not selling Cleveland's publicly owned electrical utility to its main, private competitor to get the city out of debt, a debt which had been routinely forgiven by its main bond-holder, Cleveland Trust. Making his stand for the little people public earned the wrath of Cleveland Trust, which suddenly demanded all debts repaid, plunging the city into default.

Cleveland was not the first major American city (following the Depression) to go into default - that honor belongs to New York City. But as we all know, NYC going into debt would have been a major embarrassment and they were bailed out by the federal government. Cleveland was already an embarrassment, and was so allowed to fall.

Rumor has it that "a hit man from Maryland" (did he have bushy hair?) was sent to kill Kucinich for reasons which are not made clear in Wikipedia, nor why, just because there were a (failed) attempt to recall him out of office that such a hit would be called off. But it was reported that way in the Free Times a few years ago, and we all know where that kind of investigative journalism got them.

The former Muni Light, now Cleveland Public Power, continues to provide electricity at reasonable rates to the people of Cleveland, and Kucinich, after a decade or so of soul-searching, was vindicated for his efforts and is now the political powerhouse we all know and love to watch on Jon Stewart.

Dennis Kucinich was the last Cleveland mayor to serve a two-year term, which was extended to a four-year term during the tenure of George Voinovich.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Howard the Duck (comic book)

Howard the Duck changed my life, but I never realized in what way nor how much until I began to re-read them this week. My entire childhood was colored by my exposure to this Marvel comic book, the way I spoke, the way I wrote. This was not necessarily a good thing, I do not recommend letting anyone under high school age read this comic book. I began when I was only nine.

Back up ... Howard the Duck is known to most as a terrible film produced by George Lucas from the mid-1980s. I won't bother going into that. The character debuted in 1973 in Marvel's pulp title Adventure Into Fear, a minor character originally written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Clevelander Val Mayerik. He resurfaced in a few issues of Man-Thing before landing in his own title in 1976.

Prior to Giant Size Man-Thing #4 (an annual) this duck, from a world Gerber never gave a name (though later writers formally named it Duckworld, which is irritating because we don't call Earth People Planet) where ducks are the dominant life-form is summoned with others to a nexus in the cosmos to fight some evil entity, whatever. Trying to get home, he is accidentally dropped on Earth, in the city of Cleveland.

Why did I become attached to this comic at such an early age? My brother was reading Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (we were strictly a Marvel home - always the underdogs, we Hansens) I was trying to find a storyline that I could own. A talking, sarcastic duck? In Cleveland? Sweet! The fact is, I didn't understand half of it, and therein lies the problem.

As conceived by Gerber, this book was pure satire, or parody. Depended on the issue. The villains were a mash-up of pathetic professional types empowered with bizarre and punny abilities. A lot of them are artists. The night watchman who can't get a book published is possessed by a turnip from space - the man, locked in his head wants an outlet for his imagination, the root vegetable from outer space (just writing that makes me smile) wants to know the pleasures of the flesh. Every issue, Howard encounters a character like that, and has to deal with it, often rising to heroism he did not know he had.

Because Howard is a curmudgeon, a cigar-chomping misanthrope who just wants to go home, and is stuck in 1970s Cleveland, the only city at that time worse off than New York City. But even Cleveland is not Cleveland. I cannot find any evidence that he ever lived here, or even spent any time here (Gerber died in 2008) - but original HTD artist Val Mayerik did, even once creating work for American Splendor. But an advertisement for a martial arts course in issue #3 prominently lists the address as the corner of "Oak" and "Elm." Either Gerber was crossing his fingers, hoping Cleveland, like most cities, has streets bearing these names that intersect ... or he didn't care. Cleveland, like everything in this comic, is a symbol for something else. Howard had to end up somewhere unsexy. Cleveland it is.

The main problem with my reading it at such a young age was that I did not understand what was being commented upon. An evil wizard accountant? Becoming a candidate for President for the All Night Party? I acquired a language for sarcasm and acidity without having anything to direct it at. Howard disdains hypocrisy, fads and fashion, rude people ... but his constant barrage of attitude against these mundane evils just struck this child as being disgruntled=funny. I missed his compassion, his acts of kindness - he's a good guy, he's just sick of everybody's shit.

The first issue of Howard the Duck debuted in 1976. So did the first issue of American Splendor. Discuss.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The March of Time

Time Inc. Created the newsreel The March of Time in 1935. An early foray at tele-journalism, several of the techniques pioneered by this successful featurette (they were continued through the early fifties) may be considered deceptive, or even unethical. Events were often re-created, performed by actors - or sometimes by the actual participants - on sets or soundstages far from the site of the actual stories, without any explanation that this was being done.

In addition, the stentorian, God-On-High voice of Westbrook Van Voorhis lent a heightened or exaggerated sense of importance to the proceedings. Orson Welles famously lampooned these films in Citizen Kane, providing entertaining exposition through a newsreel called News On The March.

The Cleveland Press drew a direct comparison to these newreels in their March 28, 1936 review of The Living Newspaper:
With simple staging and unique lighting, "The Living Newspaper dramatizes news events - local, national, and international - in an incisive and compact March of Time manner."
This comparison was also made in Variety.

A number of March of Time films will be broadcast this weekend on Turner Classic Movies (see today's New York Times for more details.)

The Cleveland Press
The New York Times

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Arthur Kennedy

Arthur Kennedy (February 17, 1914 – January 5, 1990) was born in Worcester, Massachusetts (full name: John Arthur Kennedy) and received a degree in theater from Carnegie Mellon, where they still give an annual award in his name. He was a notable film actor, probably known to most Americans for his performances in Westerns. He was also a remarkable stage actor, originating the role of Biff in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (for which he won a Tony Award) and that of John Proctor in the 1953 Broadway production of The Crucible.

Brooks Atkinson in the The New York Times praised that production, calling Kennedy’s performance “superb” and that he is “clear and resolute, full of fire, searching his own mind.” Atkinson goes on to report that “Although 'The Crucible' is a powerful drama, it stands second to Death of a Salesman as a work of art.”
“The literary style is cruder. The early motivation is muffled in the uproar of the opening scene, and the theme does not develop with the simple eloquence of 'Death of a Salesman'.

“Miller has tried to pack too much inside his drama, and that he has permitted himself to be concerned more with the technique of the witch hunt than with its humanity. By the standards of 'Death of a Salesman', there is too much excitement and not enough emotion in 'The Crucible'.
This is nonsense, of course. While the issues of Salesman may continue to resonate into the 21st century, its language and style become increasingly stilted and dated while Crucible becomes more poignant - or to look at it another way, I care about the characters in Crucible, and I dislike absolutely everyone in Salesman.

Cleveland Press theater critic Tony Mastroianni interviewed Kennedy in 1965 while he was playing a convict in the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith. During this interview Kennedy spoke about his time in Cleveland, working as a performer at the Old Globe Theater at the Great Lakes Exposition. One particular piece of information will be painfully trenchant to all my little Cleveland theater friends, and teach them that things today are as they have ever been.

To wit:
“No, we didn’t use any Clevelanders. It was an imported company.”
Big sigh.

The New York Times
The Cleveland Press