A while back a friend asked me if I had ever heard of “looners.” I hadn’t. He went on to explain that ‘looner’ is short for ‘ballooner’ and was code for people who had a sexual interest in balloons. I still don’t know much about ‘looner’ culture other than the fact that whether or not it is acceptable to pop the balloon(s) during or after the ‘deed’ is a very controversial issue within the ‘looner’ community (yes, there are anti-popping and pro-popping factions) and typing ‘looner’ into google image search will turn up tons of images of naked people with balloons (It seems the looners buy lots of porn — a slightly more publicly acceptable sample of ‘looner’ porn can be seen at right).

I’m not against ‘loonism’ (if that is a word). It is certainly kind of bizarre and I doubt I would be able to prevent myself from laughing if I caught someone ‘looning,’ but, honestly, it seems harmless enough (unless you happen to be a balloon I guess).

One of my first questions about ‘looners’ was, “What did these people do before balloons were invented?” My friend rolled his eyes heavenward and said that such strange questions were ‘typical’ of me… but I really do wonder if the fetish for a particular object can predate the object. I’m not sure when rubber or latex balloons were first invented… but if you were a ‘looner’ who had the misfortune of being born in a time before the inflatable objects of your desire were available, would you wander the world, unhappy without knowing why? Or would you transfer your feelings of affection to some other object? The ancient Chinese apparently had silk bags which were sent aloft by flaming material suspended underneath— would the early ‘looner’ have desired a floating, fiery bag of silk instead of a squeaky latex balloon? I read that the ancient Romans used to inflate the bladder of a slaughtered animal and kick it around for fun — were there Roman ‘looners’ who took the sheep bladders home for more private amusements?

I don’t know if there is an answer to these kinds of questions… I just feel compelled to ask them. Any ‘looners’ who happen to read this, please respond.

Memorial Day Musings

Today is Memorial Day, when we in the US are supposed to spend some time thinking about the sacrifices that soldiers have made in the wars over the years (and also attend car races, drink beer and have bar-b-ques).

My grandfather on my mother’s side was not an American soldier; he was in the German Cavalry in World War 1 and an officer in WW2, but he is usually the one I think of when I muse over military history.

(If it matters, he is not one of the three men in the picture at right — in fact that is a picture of cavalry from WW2… I just think standing up to shoot from the saddle is a neat trick — those must be some well trained horses).

Following Germany’s surrender at the end of WW1, my grandfather ended up as a P.O.W. in France (where he nearly starved to death; he and all of his fellow prisoners traded all of their personal belongings for bread). Following WW2, my grandfather ended up in American hands, and, since he was an officer, he was transported to the US for debriefing and captivity following surrender. Interestingly, despite having been a member of the defeated opposition, my grandfather came away from the experience with a positive view of the Americans. He said that the Americans had treated everyone very fairly and great efforts were made by the men who ran the P.O.W. camps to insure that the prisoners were well fed and well treated (the same could not be said for many of the soldiers, particularly the Soviets, who ended up as prisoners in German camps).

Though there is evidence of some atrocities were committed against German prisoners in WW2, the US was relatively magnanimous in victory (on the other hand, I have a great uncle who spent several years as a captive of the Soviets following WW2 and he tells a very different story). And the Germany that my grandfather returned to after his captivity was different, politically and culturally, than the one he left (and probably much for the better since the US has counted on Germany as a military partner rather than an opponent ever since). I think creating an ally out of a defeated enemy in Europe helped secure a relative peace for following generations. The US offered defeated Germany a measure of safety from the Soviets (well, West Germany, anyway).

Maybe ‘Memorial Day’ shouldn’t just be about the past, however. I look at the news from places like Afghanistan and Iraq and wonder how the US will succeed in converting these people from enemies to friends. We don’t seem to be having much success at that and our efforts seem much more piecemeal. Unfortunately, this means that these wars just continue, despite ‘surges’ and declarations of troop withdrawals and banners that read, “Mission Accomplished.” I don’t get the sense that there is a large number of Iraqis or Afghans who see America as an ally or see American intervention as a ‘net positive.’ I got the sense from relatives who had fought for Germany in WW2 that they regarded Hitler’s rule as a national failure, and although erasing that was unrealistic, they at least wanted to try to make up for it and be a very different nation in the future. I think America created that process of turning former enemies into allies not only by helping to rebuild and delivering needed food and supplies, but also by presenting a coherent vision of peace in Europe and a new Germany as a part of that peace rather than just giving the Germans the role of a defeated enemy. The Marshall plan may not have been perfect, but it was a plan and if there is a plan for Iraq and Afghanistan (and now Pakistan and Syria and other points on the map), then I don’t know what it is.

I just don’t see how the US efforts in the ‘epicenter of current troubles’ is going to result in creating a stable democracy in any of these places. If there is a plan, I don’t see it or understand it. I don’t have suggestions, but don’t feel that either the Bush Whitehouse nor the Obama Whitehouse has presented a coherent explanation of what we hope to accomplish and when. Too many half measures and bad compromises and a war in Iraq that we should probably not have started in the first place add up to a chaos where the weak get abused by the strong and the resentments pile up— all of this make me wonder how many more graves are we going to need to dig before the next Memorial Day rolls around?

Dead Alive (1992)

If I had seen Peter Jackson’s film, “Dead Alive,” in 1992 and been told that Jackson would go on to direct 3 “Lord of the Rings” movies that would weigh in at a hefty 9 or so hours and make a gazillion dollars plus spawn a New Zealand tourist industry where people went to see the sets and locations where the film was made, I would have never believed you.

“Dead Alive” is a hilarious zombie movie, having more in common with Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Tom & Jerry cartoons and Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” than the psuedo-profundity of Romero’s Zombie films. To give you an idea of the aesthetic: In one scene a zombie baby gets slapped in the face with a frying pan and the pan malforms into the shape of the baby’s face — bonnnnnnng!!! It makes me wonder if between making “Dead Alive” and “LOTR,” Jackson had a brain transplant.

I don’t know what to call this film, but “slapstick horror comedy” comes close. The film starts with an explorer meeting a messy end while capturing a ‘Sumatran Rat Monkey.’ The rat monkey is shipped off to a zoo in New Zealand (where we later learn that the Sumatran Rat Monkeys are the result of tree monkeys being raped by plague infected rats). Lionel, a timid momma’s boy, slips out of the house to go on a date at the zoo with a Spanish girl named “Paquita” who works in the local grocery. Paquita’s elderly grandmother has done a card reading and convinced Paquita that Lionel is destined to be her one true love, so, despite an unpromising beginning to their relationship, she pursues Lionel with enthusiasm. Lionel’s mother, however, does not approve and follows them to spy on the couple and attempt to break up the relationship. Is it important that I tell you that this takes place in the 1950s New Zealand? So Lionel wears a sweater vest. Poodle skirts, petticoats, pompadours and rhinestone studded glasses abound.

While attempting to spy on the couple, Lionel’s mother is bitten on the arm by the Sumatran Rat Monkey (which looks like a naked muppet rat with a skin condition… see pic at left) and she demands that Lionel take her home to care for her. Lionel blows off Paquita and rushes home to care for his mother but her wound becomes infected and begins spurting pus that looks like melted raspberry sorbet.

His mother dies only to rise again as a zombie and kills the nurse as she is attempting to explain to the hapless Lionel that he is now an orphan. Now Lionel has 2 zombies to take care of… which he attempts to hide in the basement of his home and ‘keep down’ with tranquilizers… but they keep escaping and making more zombies. A dead clergyman zombie impregnates the nurse zombie and she gives birth to a baby zombie that looks like an evil Howdy Doody doll. Things continue on in this vein until Lionel is reunited Paquita and they are forced to battle the zombies together.

One needs to understand that half of the film, ‘Dead Alive,’ consists of slapstick battles with zombies involving lawn mowers, food processors, meat cleavers and other household items employed as weapons against an ever-growing horde of zombies. Thousands of gallons of blood (that looks like tomato paste) are spilled and body parts fly all over the place. Zombie entrails crawl across the floor or snake up Lionel’s pant leg like boa constrictors. In the final battle with “Mother” (she has now grown to gigantic size), Lionel is actually sucked back into her womb at one point. I suppose some people would find it very disgusting but it is not even remotely realistic. If gore were a regular part of the Muppet Show, it might look something like this.

I enjoyed the movie but need to warn viewers that it is a lowbrow splatter comedy where the film maker goes well beyond the frontiers of ‘good taste.’ In one scene, Lionel takes the baby zombie to the park in a baby carriage where he ends up kicking it like a football, ramming it’s head into a steel pole, etc., as horrified onlookers gasp. I’m not sure everyone would find playful ‘child abuse’ to be in good taste.

R.I.P.: Leonora Carrington: Surrealist dead at 94

I just found out this morning that Leonora Carrington, a woman who led an interesting life and ‘palled around with Surrealists,’ died recently at 94 years of age.

She was so much more than Max Ernst’s girlfriend (although that is the thing she is chiefly remembered for). I know her for her paintings, which include monsters and strange animal/human hybrids, often engaged in what look like strange ceremonies with light and shadow (as well as a sense of menace) straight out of Goya. I remember finding a magazine full of reproductions of her paintings when I was in college and being entranced by them.

One of the interesting things about Carrington is that she came from a wealthy Catholic family in England who desperately wanted their daughter to grow up to be ‘normal’ and ‘a good girl,’ but, the more they tried, the more she sought to find her own path. They sent her away to a ‘convent school’ (do those still exist? From what I know, I’m guessing it was the female version of “military school” where the school promises the exasperated parents that they will ‘discipline’ the kid) and the nuns finally kicked her out after she broke every rule.

She was also a writer and a sculptor, but I don’t know much about her accomplishments in those activities.

Gil Scott-Heron: Dead at 62

I read today that the poet, musician, philosopher, agitator, voice of public conscience and writer, Gil Scott-Heron, died last night in Harlem at age 62.

He first came to my attention via sound clips of ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ that showed up in the scratch and dub music I was starting to listen to back in the early to mid 1980s (the age of Reagan). I later discovered that there was a whole poem rather thasn just the sound snippets I had been treated to.

When I first heard snippeds of his gravelly voice interwoved with other tracks by the DJ, I’m sure that “62” would have seemed an incredibly advanced age to my (then) young self. But 62 seems so young today.

Blogger is screwed

Blogger will not let me comment on my own blog. What is up with that? As you can see (from this post), it will let me start a new post… but will not let me comment. Is anyone else having the same issue?

Art in the OSR: "What is good?"

Today I was looking at a post on James’ “Grognardia” blog about the art for a Spanish RPG called “La Marca de Este” or something like that. It’s that pic on the right, there. The artist is Antonio Jose Mazanedo.

James says he likes the landscape as well as the realistic narrative touches — the details like the armor, a woman who seems more than just ‘eye candy,’ and the fact that the adventurers are not posing for the camera and have brought along a pack horse and a guard dog. To judge by the comments left on James’ blog, a lot of his readers like the picture too.

And I have to agree with him. Mazanedo has a level of skill in portraying light and atmosphere that would, with the proper subject matter, allow his paintings to hang side by side with such greats as Albert Bierstadt. I wish I had a fraction of that skill.

But I just don’t. I can’t paint like that… believe me, I have tried. And I can see that Mazanedo’s picture shows us everything; I can practically hear the water splashing as the horse hooves clop through the stream.

But the picture is also represents a kind of a philosophical/artistic wall for me. Despite the detail and the perfection, I don’t find myself going much beyond the surface of a picture that gets looked at by me. Mazanedo’s picture isn’t static feeling and lifeless (which is a sense I get from much of Elmore’s work), but I guess I find myself wanting something else — something that shows the artist’s hand a bit more.

It feels weak to simply say, “not my cuppa tea,” nor do I feel entitled to challenge what others may like or want in the art for their fantasy stuff. But I guess I’m just hoping for something other than ‘the illusion of reality’ as a potential visual aesthetic in the art of the imagination. The above picture is very good… and better than anything that I could ever do. But I guess I feel like as long as we are taking liberties with the subject matter (i.e.: dragons and hobbits and whatever), why not take some liberties with presentation as well?

On the other hand, the picture at left (by an artist named Skinner) brings a seriously weird and different vibe. There is no pretense that those ‘mountains’ in the background are supposed to look like the Grand Tetons… and even if that guy in the foreground didn’t have trees growing out of his head, green skin and five eyes, he would still be strange looking. Skinner’s imagery is a visual stew of comic books, psychedelic silk screens, native art and god knows what else… but it looks different enough that I don’t just feel like I’m looking through a window at “wonderland;” I’m looking through this particular artist’s window. That’s part of what I love about some of the artists like Trampier and Otus who did fantasy art back in the day — looking at a good example of their work often felt to melike I was seeing more than the objects in the frame portrayed in as convincing a manner as possible… I was seeing that artist’s particular visual take on it.

My own work is troubling for me sometimes. It often looks and feels ‘too derivative’ of stuff that has come before (on some days I feel like my work looks like it came from the studio of a downmarket Otus or talentless Trampier rip-off). I want to draw something different but it comes out looking the same old way. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to shake old habits and push my own envelope (but first I have to find my own envelope). I want to be able to toss one of my pictures into a pile and have people be able to pick out the one I did just by looking at the other stuff I have done.

Meanwhile, I have mosaics to do, a book to finish, some other illustrations to do, etc.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The real Father of D&D?

Poor Gary Gygax probably went to his grave regretting ever having stuck proprietary words like “Hobbit” and “Ent” into early editions of Dungeons & Dragons. The legal headaches from The Tolkien Estate were probably bad enough, but he probably had to endure more than one clueless bore reciting Theoden’s family history or Chapter 5 of The Simarillion at him from memory during all those conventions. And Gygax often said he didn’t even LIKE Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”

So I was surprised and somewhat delighted to learn from one of the blogs I read, “Vinatge Wargaming,” that Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis apparently played wargames for a period of time in 1939.

The references are somewhat oblique, but the two authors/academics were joined in at least one of these games by an army officer named Peter Young. From Vintage Wargaming:

For different reasons all three men sought an escape from their personal experiences of war. It seems that they evolved a complicated fantasy medieval world, where they fought at irregular intervals a mixture of a role playing and wargame campaign, punctuated and inspired by alcoholic intake at the Eagle and Child. Each man ruled an independent kingdom with castles, peasants and armies. Their name for this game was “Donjons and Flagons”, and it was fought using the patriotically incorrect (for the time) Elastolin composition Ritterfiguren (knights) bought by Lewis and Tolkien from Boswells in Broad Street. The embarrassing source of these figures from Germany may have been one of the reasons for the very sketchy detail that has existed to date about this game.

Donjons and Flagons?” Seriously? My jaw hit the floor. Then I noticed the date of the post: April 01, 2010. I was totally suckered. Well played, Vintage Wargamer… well played…

Triffids invade my Garden!

We have a bad case of ‘Japanese Knotweed’ invading our side yard/compost heap area and Annie is certain that the knotweed will send roots down into the basement walls and attack the foundation.

Knotweed looks like bamboo (especially after it dries) and I first noticed it last year (before I knew what it was or how persistent it is). Since the neighbors put in an ugly-ass plastic stockade fence, I didn’t mind this mysterious bamboo-like plant that grew tall over the summer and helped obscure the plastic fence. Later we discovered it is considered and invasive species. At first I used a machete to cut it all down. Within days, new plants sprang up, 1′ tall or higher. It was almost as if you could watch that shit growing. Although I hate herbicides (and Annie hates poisons even more), I bought some of that evil ‘Round Up’ and sprayed that on the surface root clusters after having whacked it all down with the machete a second time. Round-Up barely slowed the knotweed down. Now I’ve gotten out a series of tarps and ground cover cloths, whacked down the standing plants with a machete for the fourth or fifth time and covered them up, hoping to light-starve them to death. Already I see that the sprouts are pushing up the tarp and the knotweed colony is sending out shoots to areas not covered by the tarp. Dammit!

This knotweed stuff is adaptable and fast growing. Annie found out you can eat the young stems (steamed), but it just doesn’t taste like anything… chopped knotweed stems in spaghetti sauce or similar dishes just add bulk, not flavor (at least no flavor that I can detect). It is supposed to be a good source of reservatrol. I’ll keep it in mind as a ‘bulk fodder’ to keep us alive after the economic collapse occurs.

Zombie (aka Zombie Island, Zombi 2) movie Review

Spoilers:Okay, this 1979 movie by Italian director Lucio Fulci is variously known as ‘Zombie” or “Zombie 2” or “Zombie Island” or other names… and I don’t know if the different titles are different edits or what … but it is a mid-budget late 70s zombie flick that is very entertaining (despite some bad dubbing and sound problems, at least in the version that I saw).

It has plenty of gore, blood that looks like red poster paint, actresses who go topless, an underwater fight between a zombie and a shark (sheer genius! Bravo, Lucio!) and lots of worms and maggots crawling out of zombie eye sockets.

The movie starts with an unmanned yacht drifting into NYC harbor. The Trade Center Towers figure prominently into these shots… and I’ve noticed that older pictures of NYC with the WTC still standing always give me pause. Two of NYC’s finest board the vessel where one of them is killed by a fat disgusting rotting guy that was hiding below decks (this is a zombie, but I guess the cops don’t know it). The other cop unloads his revolver into the zombie (striking it in the chest) and it falls overboard.

The police interview a blond woman with big eyes named Anne (Tia Farrow) because the yacht belongs to her father. She says she hadn’t heard from dad since he took off for the islands on his yacht with friends. She hooks up with a newspaper reporter named Peter (played by a balding Ian McCulloch) and they find a note aboard the yacht from her father in which he says that he is on the island of Matool after having contracted a strange disease. Peter and Anne board an airplane to fly down to the islands.

Meanwhile, in the coroner’s office, an officious doctor berates his long suffering assistant over the state of the instruments and the corpse of the police officer killed aboard the yacht lies on the table. The corpse begins to twitch menacingly.

Anne and Peter arrive in the islands and convince another couple (Hairy Brian and Sexy Susan) who have a boat to help them find the island of Matool.

Meanwhile, on Matool, things are going from bad to worse. The island is afflicted by a plague of zombification — natives keep showing up at the hospital, dying, and then turning into zombies at which point the doctor shoots them in the head with his revolver. If all that were not bad enough, the doctor’s wife is a lush and a mean drunk. The doctor leaves for his work at the hospital and his wife throws a wine glass at him as he goes, calling him a “BASTARD!”

In the best tradition of the zombie flick, the bitchy woman has a gory demise. Zombies break into the house and she hides in the bedroom, piling furniture in front of the door. One of the zombies smashes an arm through the wood of the door and drags her by the hair till her eyeball gets impaled on a sharp splinter of wood filmed in ‘ouch-o-vision.’

Our four friends in the boat finally make it to Matool. On the way, Sexy Susan goes scuba-diving and is menaced by a shark. In trying to hide from the shark, she discovers a zombie wandering around on the sea floor. Luckily for her, the zombie and the shark begin to fight each other and Susan is able to scramble aboard the boat. The shark slams intot he boat in frustration and damages the propellor. Uh oh. They fire off some flares and the island of Matool sends someone out to tow them in.

The doctor delivers his condolences to Anne on the death of her father and asks them to go to his house and check on his wife. The gang borrows the doctor’s land rover and drives up to the house where they discover zombies eating the missus. In their frenzy to get back to the hospital, they run off the road and destroy the jeep so they have to hoof it back to the hospital through zombie infested woods. At this point they discover that you can only ‘kill’ a zombie by destroying it’s head and Sexy Susan ends up becoming zombie meat. There are some nice scenes of zombies rising from the ground in an old graveyard.

Brian, Peter and Anne finally make it to the hospital (an old chuch) with lots of zombies shuffling after them. The few remaining humans make their stand here, chucking Molotov cocktails and shooting zombies in the head.

There is more… and Peter and Anne do eventually escape the island on Brian’s crippled boat with a zombified Brian locked up below, but a radio message from the mainland says that zombies have invaded NYC. Remember that zombified cop in the morgue? The final scene shows zombies swarming across the pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Amusingly, despite the fact of a zombie outbreak, the Manhattan/Brooklyn traffic continues unabated.

The zombie fighting the shark and the doctor’s wife’s eyeball getting impaled on the splinter of wood are highlights of the film. Many of the zombies, however, have an unconvincing ‘paper-mache’ look to them, although the wriggling worms and maggots added to their costumes help the ick factor. Unintentionally humorous moments include one of the characters suddenly bending over and picking up a conquistador’s helmet that is just lying on the ground and saying the equivalent of, “Gee, whiz, would you take a look at this ancient Spanish helmet?” The shockingly well preserved corpses of conquistadors (400+ years in the ground and they are still wearing shirts, pants and shoes) then rise up and eat his girlfriend.