Friday, March 31, 2006

Cool Toy Of The Week: Schleich Knights

This week's cool toy is the line of Knights and Dragons from German toymaker Schleich. These exquisitely detailed little figurines can now be found at Target, as well as independent toy stores, and they're the kind of special toy that kids will remember for a lifetime.

They're also a bit pricey. Most pieces cost around 15 dollars, though there are larger sets and accessories that can cost quite a bit more. However, they are well worth the price. They're sturdy enough for kids to play with on a regular basis without destroying them, but they're so well-sculpted and painted that they hold their appeal for adult collectors. This is the kind of toy that you give a kid as a gift for a special occasion. They're just the right size for Easter baskets, ranging from 3 to 6 inches tall. With just the right combination of sturdiness, beautiful colors and high detail, these could very well become family heirlooms for future generations.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Song Of The Week: "Gardens Of Hope"

I'm delving into the Radio Free Charleston archives for this one, sort of. Actually, this song was recorded a few months after RFC was strangled in its crib, but it's by Three Bodies, one of the most popular local bands that I played on my old radio show. Three Bodies consisted of Kris Cormandy on guitar, Brian Lucas on bass, and Brian Young on drums. All three were frequent guests on Radio Free Charleston, and good friends of mine. In June 1990, I was asked to lend my ears to the Bodies as they entered Pat Arnold's recording studio above Gorby's to cut four songs for a demo tape. Spencer Elliott was also on hand, as we co-produced the songs with the band.

My main contribution was on the day before, when the Bodies took over The Empty Glass to rehearse. It was a criminally hot June afternoon, and while I listened and offered suggestions, the guys repeatedly tore through the four songs they intended to record--for more than six hours. The songs were pretty much worked out by the end of the day. My only real suggestion that made it to tape was the song arrangement I'm going to post here next week. The song I'm posting today was Spencer's baby. He came up with the piano intro and arranged the song on the spot. It was the standout of the four tunes.

I did the illustration above for a flyer advertising a performance by the band. I recall drawing it using duotone Craftint while sitting on the porch of Spencer's bohemian hangout, across the street from Asbury United Methodist Church. I colorized it in the computer just a few minutes before writing this.

Three Bodies went their separate ways later in 1990. Spencer went on to form Mother Nang with Brian Young, before jetting off to become a world-class litigator. Lately, however, he and Brian have teamed up with Dan Jordan to form Whistlepunk, who you can check out here. It's great that the old local scene from the RFC days isn't totally dead.

So, here's our song of the week, "Gardens Of Hope." It's a particularly relevant plea for peace these days. Click the song title to listen, or right click and save, to download. Next week I'll post the song that I helped arrange.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Live Improv This Weekend

On Friday and Saturday night, West Virginia's premiere improv troupe, The No Pants Players, invades the Labelle Theater in South Charleston with a family-friendly evening of live, on-the-spot comedy. The fast-paced show shifts gears and covers a wide variety of topics in the classical improv manner.

The No Pants Players are all local performers who will be familiar from their work with The Kanawha Players, The Charleston Stage Company, and IWA East Coast.

This is going to be a bittersweet weekend, as the No Pants Players pay tribute to troupe member Maria Bukovinski, who recently passed away, just weeks after giving birth. In the best spirit of "the show must go on," the remaining members vow to celebrate Maria's life and love of performing by dedicating this weekend's performances to her memory.

It promises to be a fun evening, and it's happening at the Labelle, one of my favorite local venues. This would be a great low-priced family night out or a good place for a youth group to gather. What better way to break up the monotony of going to the movies or just hanging out, than an evening of live, local comedy?

IF YOU GO: There will be two performances of the show, appropriate for all ages, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Labelle Theater on D Street in South Charleston. Tickets $5. Call 744-9711 or visit

Monday Morning Art: TRAX

To your right you see TRAX, a digitally-assaulted photo from February 2006. I shot this a couple of blocks from my house. Click to enlarge.

Blogger's note: There was no Cool Toy Of The Week last week, because, at the last minute, I discovered that the toy in question will not actually be in stores for several more months. The Cool Toy Of The Week will return Friday.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Brokeback Mouse and more on South Park

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Brokeback Mouse

Cartoon Brew is one of our favorite sources for animation news on the web, and a couple of days ago, brewmaster Jerry Beck posted a short compilation of clips that confirmed what many people have suspected for years.

Joe Barbera's Birthday

Today is approximately the 95th birthday of animation legend Joe Barbera, co-creator of the above-mentioned cat-and-mouse, as well as the Hanna Barbera studio, home of the Flintstones, Jetsons, Scooby Doo and thousands of other cartoon characters. Barbera is one of the last surviving directors from the Golden Age of animation. Mark Evanier has a nice write up here.

South Park conspiracy Theories

Last week, we wrote about the controversy surrounding the battle between South Park and Scientology that saw Isaac Hayes (the voice of Chef) leave the show, and a controversial rerun episode pulled from the schedule. Since that time, there have been more developments, contradicting reports, and conspiracy theories out the wazoo. According to this report, Isaac Hayes suffered a debilitating stroke in January, and is unable to speak. The report further claims that Hayes' resignation letter was actually written and released without his input by Scientology PR people. Matt Parker and Trey Stone have been accused of asking Comedy Central to pull the repeat of the "Trapped In The Closet" episode as part of a stunt, so that they could say Tom Cruise did it, and get tons of free publicity for the new season of South Park. Finally, there are murmurings that this week's episode, where they killed Chef, but used old clips of Isaac Hayes voice, was a way that the duo were able to keep paying Hayes, who is reportedly in poor health, and has a new baby to take care of.

All we know for sure is that the "Return Of Chef" episode, where the lovable character joined the "Super Adventure Club," was brainwashed into becoming a pedophile, and was then killed off, was one of the funniest episodes of South Park in a long time. And it did killer ratings, too.

Next week, we preview ICE AGE 2: The Meltdown

Monday, March 20, 2006

V For Vapid

For the first time in years, I actually went to the theater to see a live-action movie this weekend. I went to see V For Vendetta, despite my misgivings about the way the original comic book's writer, Alan Moore, has been treated. Moore had his name taken off the movie after a series of bad experiences with Hollywood mangling his work while translating it to the big screen. He was right to do it here.

I've read a few reviews that actually claim that this movie is a faithful adaptation of the original comic book. Those reviews can only have been written by people who have never been within a hundred yards of an actual copy of this comic book. The wire service review that ran here in The Gazz was evidently written by someone who was completely unfamiliar with the comic. Obviously just relying on what Warner Brothers had put in the press kit, the reviewer attributed the "graphic novel" to artist, David Lloyd, with no mention of Moore at all.

The movie, "V For Vendetta," is a total bastardization of the original comic book. I know. I read the original back in the early '80s when it was serialized in an obscure British comic magazine called Warrior. I remember the three-year wait after Warrior ceased publication with the last third of "V For Vendetta" unfinished. In 1988, Alan Moore and his artist, David Lloyd, sold the rights to DC Comics, and finished their story. It was an astonishing work--challenging, compelling, deep. It personified the philosophical struggle between fascism and anarchy, and did so with a wicked comment on Thatcher's England.

The movie adaptation, written by the Wachowski brothers of "Matrix" fame, is typical Hollywood claptrap that rapes and pillages the original work for its settings and imagery, perverts the original theme into a hackneyed parable about the Bush Administration, and totally ignores the core portrayal of anarchy as a viable political alternative. The poetry of Moore's original work is replaced with insipid, hack sitcom-level dialogue. Instead of a struggle between fascism and anarchy, we get a "plucky underdog brings down the big bad guys" formulaic piece of tripe. Only about half the original work turns up in the movie, but they did manage to crowbar in lots of extra explosions, "Matrix-y" fight scenes, an idiotic and inappropriate love story, and loads of currently fashionable political subtexts that weren't in the comic.

This should forever end the use of the phrase "comic book-y" as an insult. This comic book had to be so dumbed-down to make it to the big screen that it's clear that movies are the medium for lowbrow, banal, melodrama, not comic books. Comic books like "V For Vendetta"are way too complex to be translated to film. The Wachowski brothers should never be allowed near another comic book again. Their scripts are too "movie-like" to be taken seriously. The movie is junk.

Of course, it topped the box office this weekend.

Monday Art: Post (Office) Op Art

This week's Monday Art is a digitally assaulted photograph titled, "The Wall." It was shot on Washington Street, behind the post office in downtown Charleston back in January. I altered it in the computer this past weekend. It's disorienting on purpose. (Click to enlarge)

Song Of The Week: "Radiation"

THE SONG: "Radiation" by The Epoxies. This song warns about the evil radiation emanating from your TV set -- you know, stuff like Fox News. Just released last May, this cut from The Epoxies' "Stop The Future" CD sounds like a blast of pure New Wave power pop from the early 80s. Imagine a cross between New Romantics and Blondie, with just a little So Cal punk thrown in. Best of all, you can click on the song title for a free listen. If you like what you hear, go buy the album from Fat Wreck Chords.

Cool Website Watch: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beatles!'

My cool website recommendation for this week is The Beatles Internet Album, a repository of myths, trivia, and links about the Fab Four. In other Beatles news, Mark Brown from the Rocky Mountain News has a great article about the frustrating lack of remastered Beatles CDs here. Finally, in barely-related Beatles news, the fate of the Capitol Records building, one of the most notable landmarks in Los Angeles, and a place the Beatles used for the occasional recording session, is up in the air, according to this report from the Associated Press.

Local TV News Update

WHCP, the plucky little TV station that bravely carries on, despite not having any technical proficiency, has signed on with the new network, The CW. This development thus ensures that area viewers will still get to see their favorite surviving UPN and WB programs -- albeit not with a decent broadcast signal.

Despite having plenty of advanced notice, WHCP did not change their schedule to move last Saturday's airing of "Friday Night Smackdown!" to another time. So, local viewers had to choose whether to watch "Smackdown!" or "Saturday Night Main Event", a heavily-promoted WWE special that aired locally on WSAZ.

In related news, there are reports that Mark Hunt and the other investors in the failed WHCP newscast are going to try again in establishing a new, Charleston-based newscast, this time with a real TV station. If they can get this project off the ground, it'll be interesting to see how good a newscast they can put on the air without the technical albatross that was the WHCP Portsmouth crew around their neck.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

An Evening of Art and Theater

Last Thursday night, I had the joy of experiencing two fun cultural events in one evening. Melanie appeared in Kanawha Players' March Briefs and Shorts presentation, "Scenes From An Irish Pub, Part Two" at Capitol Roasters. And before that I briefly popped in to see the "30 Artists Think Yellow" exhibit at the Taylor Books Annex Gallery.

The "30 Artists Think Yellow" exhibit is a great idea. I like thematic art shows that bring a variety of different artists together, but sometimes the themes can be a little contrived. In this case, the simple use of the color yellow, which is perfect for a springtime show, works perfectly to unify the disparate works, rather than act as a straight jacket to force the artists to conform. I hope my fellow Gazz blogger Amy Williams will be able to reinstall her yellow clothesline outside Taylor Books before the exhibit is over. (It's back up! Ed. note) If you get a chance, you should pop into the Taylor Books Annex Gallery and check out this great cross-section of local artists.

"Scenes From An Irish Pub, Part Two" was another fun entry in Kanawha Player's "Briefs and Shorts" program. We were treated to three short plays with an Irish theme, in observance of St. Patrick's Day, with some extra musical performances and lots of audience participation. Since I'm not a coffee drinker, this was my first time in Capitol Roasters on the corner of Quarrier and Summers street. It's a great little space, and I'm hoping that I get the chance to see more events there. The place was packed, and a grand time was had by all.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cool Toy Of The Week: Squishy Little Bat Pal

I'm a huge fan of The Aquabats. Everybody ought to be. They have a sound that is pure Rock N Roll fun--part DEVO, part Ska, part Cartoon Network--you get the idea.

Rather than just offer their fans the typical rock band crappy merchandise, the Aquabats have come up with some really cool items that are clever, imaginative, and not too expensive. One of these items is the SQUISHY LITTLE BAT PAL, a stress ball made in the shape of the Aquabats logo mascot.

This cool little guy stands about three and a half inches tall and will protect its owner from any and all forces of evil that can be defeated by a tiny hunk of squishy rubber. The package is as cool as the Bat Pal. It's covered with hysterical slogans and testimonials. Best of all, this little guy is on sale now for just $4.50, plus postage. While you're ordering the Bat Pal, you might as well pick up the Aquabats coloring books, too. You can poke around their site to see what else they have to offer here.

South Park vs. Scientology

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

It was the clash that was destined to happen. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the iconoclasts who create Comedy Central's South Park, finally turned their sights towards Scientology, the controversial and vengeful religion invented by hack sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. The only surprise was that it took them so long. And that wasn't really a surprise, since Isaac Hayes, the legendary soul musician who voiced the character "Chef" on the show, is a devout and vocal Scientologist. For the previous eight seasons, Parker and Stone skewered just about every religion on the planet--Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Bush Supporters--they all felt the stinging satirical bite of the South Park crew. Scientology was spared....until last November.

With the episode "Trapped In The Closet," South Park unleashed eight years of pent up Scientology jokes. From jabs at the "top secret" goofball mythology behind their beliefs, to the Church's obsession with recruiting celebrities, to the rumors about how they allow those celebrities to cover up certain unpopular orientations, this episode of South Park tore into Scientology with ham-handed fists a blazin'. The next day, newsgroups and message boards were filled with speculation about the reaction from the Church. Would Isaac Hayes quit the show in protest? Would Church of Scientology hit squads take out Parker and Stone? Would lawsuits be filed?

Nothing happened.

At least not until last week. Four months after the episode aired, details started to trickle out. A Rolling Stone article on Scientology said that Comedy Central had agreed not to air the episode at all in the UK, and would not repeat it in America. Then Isaac Hayes announced that he wanted out of his contract to provide the voice of Chef. The timing was a little too perfect. Contrary to what Rolling Stone had reported, the "Trapped In The Closet" episode was scheduled to run again on March 15. And the new season of South Park is scheduled to begin one week later.

Why did Isaac Hayes wait four months after the offending show aired, until right before the start of the new season, to announce that he was quitting? Wouldn't that just call more attention to the show? And why, after scheduling "Trapped In The Closet" and promoting that it would be aired again, contrary to the Rolling Stone article, did Comedy Central pull it at the last minute and replace it with another episode?

The Isaac Hayes situation is rumored to be a case where he didn't really want to quit the lucrative show, but was pressured to by officials at the Church of Scientology. It evidently took a few months for them to convince him that it was in his best interests to leave South Park. The fact that the news broke just in time to raise South Park's profile just in time for their new season appears to be a coincidence.

But the reason that Comedy Central pulled the repeat of "Trapped In The Closet" is more a case of corporate synergy gone horribly wrong. According to the Hollywood Interrupted Blog, Tom Cruise (shown right, as drawn by John K), the world's most famous Scientologist, and the butt of most of the jokes in the South Park episode, threatened to cancel all his publicity appearances for the upcoming Paramount film Mission Impossible 3 if Comedy Central aired "Trapped In The Closet" again. Comedy Central and Paramount are both subsidiaries of Viacom.

So what does this mean for fans of South Park? The show has several options for dealing with the exit of Isaac Hayes. They could simply not write the character, Chef, into any more episodes. He's only been in a few shows for the past several seasons. They could also kill the character off, or recast his voice. They even have the option of re-using the voice tracks from previous shows for short appearances.

Is this a one-time occurrence of censorship, or has the show hit a point, in it's tenth year, that Comedy Central feels they can finally tighten the reigns and make the show conform to their standards and practices? The new season will tell the story. We're guessing that at least one episode in the batch that starts next week will make light of this situation. However, it's the next season that begins in August, after the Mission Impossible movie has come and gone in theaters, where we'll really get to see how Parker and Stone will react to this whole mess.

We can't wait.

Update: Parker and Stone have refused to comment on Comedy Central pulling the "Trapped In A Closet" Episode last Wednesday, but they did release the following statement to Daily Variety:

"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!"

The Statement was signed, "Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Monday Morning Notes: Leprechauns, Marxists, Bettie Page

We kick off this week's Monday Morning Notes with a digitally assaulted photograph called "Shadowplay." Shot in wild, wonderful Dunbar. (Click the picture to enlarge. ) Now, on to the notes:

Briefs and Shorts-the Leprechaun edition: Thursday night, Kanawha Players presents the latest installment in their "Briefs And Shorts" series at Capitol Roasters, at the corner of Quarrier and Summers Streets in downtown Charleston. This edition of KP's series of short plays is entitled "Scenes From An Irish Pub Part Two." The ten-minute plays are "Cinder Reilly," "Green," and "Mrs. Harrigan's Big Mistake." In addition, there will be fiddle music, dancing, and stereotypical Irish behavior. Admission is only five bucks, and the show starts at 8 PM.

Calling Earl: Big news for fans of NBC's My Name Is Earl--a DVD collection of the first season will be in stores late this summer, before the start of season two. Aside from all the first-season shows, the set will include commentary, deleted scenes, highlights from the show's gag reel, and a 15 minute mini-episode that shows what would have happened if, instead of obtaining his life-changing epiphany from Carson Daly, Earl had continued to flip channels while in the hospital, and had obtained his new outlook on life from Stewie Griffin, the murderous evil genius baby from The Family Guy. "Must See TV" indeed!

Postal Irony: Have you ever had a piece of mail that was so badly mangled in transit that it arrived in your mailbox enclosed inside another envelope that bore the following apology?

I got one of these the other day. The funny thing is, the piece of mail that was nearly destroyed by the mail-sorting machines was none other than junk mail. But it wasn't just any old junk mail. The piece of junk mail mangled by the Post Office was an advertisement for.......the Post Office!

I guess that the mail sorting machines were so offended by the badly drawn "Cathy" comic strip, that they saw fit to rip it to shreds. Who knew postal equipment had taste? And what does it say about the Postal Service when they have to resort to paying to license a comic strip character to promote a service on which they hold a monopoly, and then they can't even deliver that piece of mail intact?

Song of the week: The Marxist Brothers, by Punk veterans NOFX. In stores tomorrow, this cut from NOFX's "Never Trust A Hippy" EP, is a clever comment on those folks who go through a Marxist phase, but never really understand what it means.

Paging Bettie: Bettie Page was the glamour queen of the 1940s and 1950s. Then she suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Her absence enhanced her mystique, and she became a pop culture icon, with tributes appearing in comic books, movies, rock songs, and even fine art. After searching for the missing pin-up queen for years, she was finally discovered a few years ago, with a remarkable tale of how she went from being the nation's top model to working as a missionary for Billy Graham, and hitting rock bottom before finding out that, over the last couple of decades, she had become more famous than ever. Her story is coming to the big screen in April as The Notorious Bettie Page hits theaters, with Gretchen Mol in the title role. You can read more about Ms. Page's incredible life at her website, here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cool Toy Of The Week: Cool Toys On TV

In a departure this week, instead of bringing you a cool toy, we're going to point you to a TV show about all kinds of cool toys. Cable channel VH1 presents I Love Toys a countdown of the top 100 toys as voted on by the sort of people who go to the VH1 website.

It's not a bad list. There are a few glaring omissions, and a few questionable picks. The number one toy is remarkably lame, but most of the rest are decent picks. I Love Toys is a fun rundown of cool toys, with just the right mix of nostalgia and hipster cynicism. The commentary ranges from strange to funny, which is perfectly appropriate for this topic.

VH1 has been running this five-episode series in a strange manner all week. On Monday, they showed the first episode, which presented the toys numbered 100 to 81. Tuesday, they re-ran that show, followed by the second episode. Wednesday, the pattern continued as they re-ran both previous episodes before they premiered episode three. So Friday, starting at 5:30 PM, you could watch the entire series, leading up to the premiere of the final show in the series, which told us the top 20 toys.

Of course, with this being VH1, you can be sure that they'll only show this series five or six hundred more times in the coming months. The entire series will be shown again on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, this weekend.

Online, you can check out the entire list of 100 toys, and if you have fully functional broadband, you can watch video clips of the toys that didn't make the list, as well as out-takes and additional smarmy comments. I Love Toys is a fun diversion, and might bring back a lot of memories.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fun with Video

Now that the Gazz Blogs are adding new video features, I thought I'd share some video of something my brother worked on......

Visit Frank's site and tell him how much you enjoyed his delightful little children's cartoon!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tuesday Morning Notes:Vagina Monologues, Rat Finks, Proud Uncle and more

Lots of stuff to note this week, but first, have some art:

"The Rails West, Out Of Dunbar"
Digitally Assaulted Photograph

February 2006

Click the picture to enlarge to full size.

A Night At The Vagina: Last night, The Samaritan Players, in conjunction with Kanawha Players, presented a performance of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" with all proceeds going to the Worldwide V-Day Fund to stop violence against women. Competition was fierce, with "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the Clay Center, and The Third House at the Cultural Center.

I always thought it would be cool to attend a performance of the Vagina Monologues dressed in full Confederate Colonel gear. Then, halfway through the show, I'd stand up, loudly proclaim, "I have been sitting here for this entire show, and I have yet to hear ONE WORD about the great state of Virginia!" And then I'd storm out. I also think it'd be funny to ride a horse into a Bridal shop.

Grace Under Investigation: Nancy Grace, the host of three hours of cable TV each day on Court TV and CNN Headline News , tells a remarkable story about how, after the murder of her fiancee, she became a prosecutor, and eventually a crusading television reporter on the legal beat. According to a report at the New York Observer, the most remarkable thing about her story is that it's not entirely true.

Background Tune of the week: "The Tide Is Turning" by Roger Waters, from his 1987 album, Radio KAOS. This song, inspired by Live Aid, could be a nice theme song for what seems to be the reawakening of common sense in America.

Just wondering: After the end of King Kong, how long did the street outside the Empire State Building smell like dead monkey?

Bonus cool toy: I've mentioned the Official G.I. Joe Collector's Club before, but something new has been added. If you join up, and are a member of the club in good standing by March 15, you will get a cool one-of-a-kind action figure, the "Foreign Adventurer"(seen at right) .This 12" tall figure is comprised of a reproduction of the Vintage GI Joe body, with the rare "Foreign" head that was only used on a few figures in 1966. For the first time ever, this head will have flocked, "fuzzy," hair and beard, like the Adventure Team GI Joes of the 1970s had. You can read more about the Foreign Adventurer, and some nifty extras you can order to go along with him here, and you can join the Official G.I. Joe Collector's Club for the annual fee of $36 by calling 817-448-9863. You have to join up by the 15th in order to get this cool figure.

WWE Programming Conflict: WWE returns to NBC in a big way on March 12, with a prime-time edition of Saturday Night's Main Event. The problem for local viewers is that WHCP shows the WWE's Friday Night Smackdown! on Saturday Nights at 8 p.m. That's the same time that NBC is showing their WWE special. On top of that, events will happen on that week's episode of Smackdown! that will set up matches on Saturday Night's Main Event. Maybe, even if it's just for one week, WHCP could move Smackdown! to a 10 p.m. Friday night timeslot, to avoid putting the shows on opposite each other. It's not like they have a newscast to worry about anymore.

Speaking of WHCP: The latest rumor, innuendo, and scuttlebutt in the Charleston broadcasting community is that WHCP's owner, Charles Harker, played the group of Charleston-based investors in the WB30 Newscast like a cheap violin. He needed their investment to upgrade his transmitter, so this story goes. WHCP's broadcast signal was so poor that they couldn't meet the minimum standards to be picked up as a local channel by Direct TV. According to the new local legend, part of the deal that brought the newscast to the airwaves also involved upgrading the WHCP transmitter on the news division's dime. The old transmitter was apparently powered by rubber bands and old Erector Set motors. Once the new transmitter was installed and the signal was strong enough to be picked up by Direct TV, the news division was essentially kicked to the curb. Promises were broken and everything possible was done to encourage the dissolution of the partnership. This is the story going around the other TV stations in town, but nobody directly involved will comment on it. At least not to me. For some reason they don't seem to like me much. What's odd is the way the Portsmouth crowd has taken to using Reader's Voice, Vent Lines, and goofy names in the comments of this blog to spin their side of the story. A word of advice guys: Mocking people for expecting the health insurance that they were promised in their contracts is not going to be a winning issue.

A Blog for You: Bubblegum Fink is THE blog for people obsessed with both Bubblegum music of the '60s and '70s, and Hot Rod icons like Rat Fink and Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. If you know who Ron Dante is, then this is the site for you! This frequently-updated page brings forth lots of blasts from the past of the late-period baby boomers and fans of slick pop music and gnarly Car-toons. You'll find old album covers by The Catanooga Cats and The Partridge Family, vintage artwork from the hot rod/surf rod/Juxtapoz crowd and links to places where you can find CD re-releases of the classic bubblegum music masterpieces. Poke through the archives for more 70's era coolness like covers of Dynamite Magazine, and Gold Key Star Trek comic books, and strange appearances by the likes of Frankenberry. It's a little taste of heaven for children of the 70s.

Shameless self-promotion: As I have mentioned in the past, aside from my duties here at PopCult, I also write articles that appear in Non Sport Update, a magazine devoted to non-sport trading cards. In the most recent issue, I wrote a piece on trading cards based on the TV show Veronica Mars. You can read it online, for the next week or so, here.

A Personal Note: Just in case this blog doesn't get updated as much as usual this week, it's because I'm helping out with my new nephew. William Franklin Margolis arrived March 4, 2006 at 5:30 a.m.. Baby, Mother, and Father, are all doing fine. Uncle is pretty happy, too.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Cool Toy Of The Week: Darkness Falls On Sevinpold

If you enjoy board games with elements of fantasy and sword and sorcery, but you don't want to invest half your life into learning the rules and playing them, then Darkness Falls On Sevinpold is the game for you.

This is a great board game that up to six people can play. It depicts a classic battle between good and evil, and a quest to reunite a scepter with the Castle Of The Living Throne. Set in the mystical land of Sevinpold, gameplayers explore 32 castles looking for treasures to help them complete their quest. The good guys are The Valiant. One player in each game represents The Darkness (not to be confused with the band, The Darkness), and commands up to 10 evil game pieces. The Good guys each control one Valiant piece, but they work as a team, so that if six people are playing, it's possible for five to win. This sort of team play is unique in the board game world.

You get all the trappings of a Dungeons and Dragons-like game, but you can play Darkness Falls On Sevinpold in 30 minutes. It's got enough variables to make repeated play fun, but you don't have to hold marathon gaming sessions in order to enjoy it. Plus, it's great for kids, who can grasp the rules fairly quickly. The Sevinpold website has a short tutorial on the rules that you can watch to get an idea of how the game plays.

You can order Darkness Falls On Sevinpold directly from their website, but it can also be found at and other online board game retailers. It'll set you back $30 plus shipping, but it could be a great addition to a family game night, and it might keep junior away from the X-Box.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Talking Down (There)

Monday night, for the fourth year in a row, Charleston will be treated to a benefit performance of Eve Ensler's play, "The Vagina Monologues" at the West Virginia State University Capitol Center Theater. It's part of the V-Day Worldwide Campaign, which will receive the proceeds from the performance. This performance is sponsored by the Samaritan Players, in conjunction with Kanawha Players.

V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler's award-winning play. In 2005, more than 2500 V-Day events took place in the U.S. and around the world. To date, V-Day has raised over $30 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it; crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns; reopened shelters; funded safe houses in Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq and over 5000 community-based anti-violence programs. The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina. You can read more about it here.

Local performers featured in this year's production include Aila Accad, Bethany Cline, Penny Fioravante, Debbie Haught, Janet Johnson, Shannon Kessler, Ariana Kincaid, Olubunmi Kusimo, Katie Pleska, Amy Prunest, Kate Rainey, Julie Wirts, Monica Young and others. My Animated Discussions partner, Melanie Larch, will also be performing. It's her fourth year in the show. In fact, the reason there is no Animated Discussions column today is because she's been tied up all week with Vagina practice. AD will be back next week.

If you go: The performance starts at 7:30 p.m., March 6 at the West Virginia State University Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers Street. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Monday Morning Notes: From Don Knotts to Karl Rove to the Sex Pistols

Lots of diverse little items to get to today, so we'll kick off with a digitally-assaulted photograph of the trees on the Lee Street Triangle, and then dive in. Click the photo to enlarge.

So long, guys: We lost two of my childhood heroes over the weekend. Mark Evanier has a nice remembrance of Don Knotts here. While Knotts was beloved for his portrayal of Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, I always think of his role as "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," when his name comes up. I must have watched that movie a hundred times when I was growing up. We also lost Darren McGavin. It's a toss-up whether he was more famous for his role in "A Christmas Story," or if he'll be remembered as Carl Kolchak, "The Night Stalker." Both men were great performers whose work will live on.

Uno down: So, the Pizzeria Uno out at the Trace Fork Plaza closed down. I ate there once. Evidently, most people did. The owners say that they'll be soon be opening a different franchise restaurant in that building. Guys....just in case you haven't settled on which restaurant to go with yet..Isn't it about freakin' time that Charleston finally got a Denny's?

The real spirit of Rock N Roll: Finally, somebody has pointed out how the slick showbiz aspects of the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame are the complete antithesis of what Rock music stands for. The Sex Pistols have turned down the invitation to be inducted into the hall. You can read their hastily-scrawled rebuke here. The Pistols even used the worst insult imaginable: they said that the place would be filled with "Music Industry People." This is a relief. The image of the Pistols performing "Anarchy In The UK" while Clive Davis and Herb Albert sit in the audience wearing tuxedos could have upset the balance of the universe.

Rove and the Republicans: Someone smuggled a camera into last week's clandestine meeting, where Karl Rove rallied state Republicans on how to best conquer and divide West Virginia. You can see what the meeting looked like here.

The Coolest New Blog: John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren And Stimpy, and a longtime pal of Animated Discussions, has started a blog, and he's using it to pitch and tease ideas for new cartoons. Over the last few days he's posted short animations of George Liquor, and he also has scripts and comics online. For God's sake, man, go check it out immediately!

Countdown: I've been meaning to write about how great a show that Countdown with Keith Olbermann is for some time. But now that Bill O'Reilly is trying to get Olbermann cancelled, I really have to recommend it to you. O'Reilly must really be scared to resort to such an act of desperation. Countdown is the only show on any of the 24-hour news channels that doesn't lean to the far right and run administration propaganda unchallenged. And it's funny, too. In addition to top-flight coverage of breaking news, Olbermann also includes humorous regular features like "Oddball," and "Worst Person In The World." Check it out. It's on MSNBC, which many people ignore because so many of their other hosts are Fox News and CNN cast-offs. Weeknights at 8PM are a little oasis of actual quality television journalism in the vast desert of cable news.

Minor Comics News: Brandweek reports that DC Comics is now handling ad sales for Matt Groening's Bongo Comics. This means that now, Bongo Comics, which include comic books based on The Simpsons and Futurama, will have exactly the same advertisements on exactly the same pages as all DC comic books. But the two companies are still separate. Weird, and a bit of a bummer. Bongo Comics used to be virtually ad-free. Now there's fewer pages of comics in each issue.