The Mohs Opera Sedan by Mike Baron

THE MOHS OSTENTATIENNE OPERA SEDAN

One day Roger and I were out biking through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin when we came upon a long, low industrial building yclept Mohs Motors. We pulled over to check it out. Bruce Mohs, who was then in his sixties, came out to meet us and offered to show us around. Inside the long low building sat his masterpiece, the Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan, an immense, grotesque automobile built on an International Harvester chassis. The only entry was through the massive, top-hinged rear door.

The Ostentatienne was powered by an International Harvester truck engine. Entry into the car was from the rear; solid steel side rails (designed to protect passengers during a crash) prevented doors along the vehicles sides. The Ostentatienne could be ordered customized to suit its buyer’s wishes; Ming styled oriental rugs, refrigerators and sealed beam taillights were some of the options available. Production was reported to be three to four vehicles per year, only one was ever built.”

The vehicle weighed over five thousand pounds. Mohs had other inventions including the world’s longest motor-scooter, capable of seating There was also the Safarikar, finished in naugahyde. Mohs tried to sell us his book, The Amazing Mr. Mohs, but we were too stupid to bite. How I wish I’d bought that book.

mike odd car Mike motorcycle

Dogs by Mike Baron

DOGS

Years ago, the reclusive Canadian ninja/lumberjack/artist Neil Hansen, who drew Badger, Whisper, Punisher, and his own Epic series Untamed, came to visit in Madison. I had to leave for a convention. I told Neil he could stay at my house and use my motorcycle, but he had to draw something. I gave him a script that came to me in a nightmare, about a man and his dog. When I returned, Neil had penciled, inked, and lettered it. I showed it to people over the years, but there was no place for it in civilized society.

The last time Neil drew, he provided covers for my IDW Badgers. I have seldom encountered a greater talent, yet Neil has not taken pencil to paper in years. I asked him recently if he would, and he told me that he had tried, but the fire had left him. I’m certain that if I assigned Badger to run Neil’s life, he would be drawing in no time.

Less years ago, I was kickin’ it with peripatetic pulp prophet Paul Pope, who drew the cover of the new Badger #1. Paul said he had carte blanche to do an eight page strange sports story for DC, and invited me to write something. I have always been fascinated with disc dogs, which is a strange sport indeed. I wrote “Fluke,” but by then Paul had vanished.

Cesar Madarro sent a friend request and a story request. I gave him “Fluke” and he hit it out of the park. Cesar told me he had also illustrated a Fabian Nicieza story called “Mad Dog,” and sent me that as well.

My partner Steve Rude and I sought to syndicate Nexus and I thought of my old pal Jay Kennedy, EIC at King Features Syndicate, forgetting that Jay had drowned in Costa Rica in 2007. I sought Jay Kennedy on Facebook, and a Jay Kennedy enthusiastically responded. This Jay Kennedy lived in Massachusetts and was also an artist. He was puzzled by my syndication request but we figured it out. When I told him about Dogs he asked me to write him a short script.

Now I had a whole comic worth of dog stories. All I needed was a cover. I turned to Badger artist and old friend, Mike Norton, whose Battlepug now has three volumes out from Dark Horse. Mike has also drawn for Marvel and draws the popular Revival book for Image, with writer Tim Seeley. Mike Jones did the colors. Finally, our Baby Badger logo was drawn by Badger artist extraordinaire Val Mayerik, who illustrates the current run.

If Dogs proves popular, I plan another book about skinks.

Comic Cons by Mike Baron

The convention season is upon us, my friends. And with it, certain exhibits will use boom boxes to advertise their wares. Nobody likes them. Nobody. Not even the people who are playing them. They only serve to make conversation more difficult and to cause headaches due to that incessant, infernal throbbing, the same sound you hear when some self-obsessed asshole pulls up to you at a streetlight blasting Beasty Boys or Li’l Wayne from the giant speakers in his trunk.

My friends, don’t let this happen to you! I’m calling on each and every one of you to go up to the blasters and ask them, politely, to turn it off. I am asking con organizers to not permit this noise pollution.

Another irritation, about which we can do nothing, are the illegible public address systems the organizers use for—for what? Most of the time the distortion is so great I can’t understand a word they’re saying. It’s so loud you can’t hold a conversation while the announcer is blasting. Conventions need jumbotrons to broadcast their messages.

WATCH FOR THESE HAZARDS: Double-wide baby trams. Groups of cosplayers gathering in front of your table preventing access. The Joker. The little boy eating a jelly doughnut who likes to flip through your comics. Cosplayers with five-feet-wide costumes. Corn dogs. Funnel cakes.

The Art of the Insult by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT 

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!” I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into name-calling.

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle”  But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Dirty Cop Movies by Mike Baron

DIRTY COPS

While there are dirty cops in many movies, the dirty cop movie is a genre unto itself. James Ellroy is something of a dirty cop factory, having written L.A. Confidential and the screenplay to Dark Blue, starring Kurt Russell and Ving Rhames, and Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson. In both Confidential and Dark Blue, dirty cops are laws unto themselves, using their authority to punish the wicked regardless of the law, and to enrich themselves. In Ellroy’s world, the dirty cop is the norm. Even his good cops take corruption as a given. As always, it’s a matter of degree.

Both Bad Lieutenants, the former starring Harvey Kietel, and the latter Nicolas Cage, are withering trips through hell that end in cracked redemption.

Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day is among the finest dirty cop movies, featuring a swaggering Denzel Washington that is beyond corrupt. Fuqua and Washington teamed again on the excellent The Equalizer, which could not exist without dirty cops.

Among the lesser known dirty cop movies is Boaz Yakin’s Safe, Jason Statham’s best film, which features Statham as a cashiered, corrupt cop on his last legs who finds meaning in saving the life a Chinese girl savant whom Chinese gangsters use as a numbers cruncher. Safe is also notable for James Hong’s sleaziest performance. The climax involves Statham teaming up with his dirty cop buddies to take down both the Chinese and Russian mobs.

James Mangold’s Cop Land posits a Jersey town consisting almost exclusively of corrupt cops whose efforts to hide their crimes brings local sheriff Sly Stallone in conflict with lifetime corrupt cop player Harvey Keitel.

These are just off the top of my head. You may have others.

Fight Scenes by Mike Baron

FIGHT SCENES

Fight scenes are important. They are the raison d’etre of the martial arts film. Prior to the kung fu invasion, the John Wayne-style slugfest was a Western staple. A John Wayne fight involves the leisurely cocking of Wayne’s humongous fist followed by an enormous round house punch that sends the recipient ass-over-teakettle, knocking down chairs and smashing tables.

Real fight scenes are messy, incoherent affairs that usually end with the protagonists rolling on the ground. John Huston understood this. The barroom brawl in Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the most realistic fight scenes ever filmed. When Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt confront crooked jobber Barton MacLane, MacLane lulls them into a false sense of security before sucker-clobbering Holt with a liquor bottle. It’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with the protagonists rolling on the floor.

Audiences crave action, not necessarily verisimilitude. Thus, when the kung fu invasion began with Five Fingers of Death, the American audience was gobsmacked by the elegant fight choreography. It may not have been realistic but it was certainly entertaining. When Bruce Lee hit a few years later, the audience instinctively sensed that this was the real deal and a thousand dojos bloomed. Bruce Lee’s fighting technique looked brutally realistic and elegant. Of course Bruce tailored his fights for the camera and would not have used such showy techniques in real life, but people have used them, to good effect.

Steven Seagal has also developed a unique cinematic style based on aikido. A Seagal fight looks brutal, elegant, and realistic. Before Seagal became a star, he served as fight choreographer on John Frankenheimer’s overlooked masterpiece, The Challenge, starring Scott Glenn and Toshiro Mifune. The Challenge has finally been issued on DVD.

There have always been martial arts films, including a long tradition of Japanese samurai movies going back to the twenties. James Cagney was a black belt in judo which he showcases in Blood on the Sun, perhaps the first American martial arts film. But film being film, fights appeared that are impossible in real life. Look at the Matrix. Kung fu films split between the realistic fighting of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, and fanciful “wire fu,” in which the actors hang from wires to give the illusion of flight. Nothing wrong with it. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an excellent example.

Jackie Chan developed his own style using found objects and slapstick humor. His fights are the result of hours of preparation and endless rehearsal. Don’t try this at home, folks! Of course you can always pick up a chair and brain your opponent.

Robert Clouse, who directed Enter the Dragon, got the job largely because of his work on Darker Than Amber, based on John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novel. When  Terry (William Smith) attacks Travis (Rod Taylor,) the fight is spontaneous. Clouse told the actors to make it brutal, and he filmed it. It is among the most realistic fights on film.

The audience does not want to see extreme close-ups of a hand hitting a jaw. Not in movies, not in comics. The audience wants to see the action unfold in a dynamic and realistic manner. The story-teller must hold his camera steady and let the figures move

The Films of William Peter Blatty by Mike Baron

THE FILMS OF WILLIAM PETER BLATTY

Blatty wrote The Exorcist, which remains the greatest horror film of all time. The Exorcist lays its chilly finger on our spines by successfully conjuring belief in supernatural evil. All good supernatural horror films do this, including The Haunting, The Orphanage, and Sinister. There are hundreds of failures such as The Gate or Drag Me To Hell.

The Exorcist was such a hit, Warner Brothers sought to cash in with the vomitous Exorcist II, about which less said the better. Blatty insisted on writing and directing Exorcist III, based on his novel Legion. Exorcist III  finds DC Detective Kinderman (George C. Scott replacing Lee J. Cobb) investigating a series of grisly murders that bear the hallmark of the Gemini Killer, who died fifteen years ago (when The Exorcist took place.)

This is a genuinely creepy film with a few hair-raising minutes, that successfully recreates the atmosphere of the original. Blatty knows how to raise a hackle, and his team of players is superb. Brad Dourif executes a monologue in his padded cell that is both funny and terrifying. Dourif should have got an Oscar nod. Jason Miller returns as the tormented Father Karras, but you have to see the film to understand.

Years later, Warner’s went rooting about in their midden heap and produced two sequels, Renny Harlin’s ridiculous Exorcist: The Beginning, and Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Eh! Who needs them?

The Ninth Configuration is based on Blatty’s “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane,” and concerns a group of disturbed veterans sequestered in a Gothic castle deep in the Oregon woods. “In an experimental government center for troubled Vietnam veterans, the inmates run the asylum. One works on an adaptation of Shakespeare…for dogs. Another fancies himself a caped superhero. Still others masquerade as frogmen, nurses, nuns, pirates, doctors. Yet the psychiatrist in charge eyes all with a stoic reserve. Maybe too stoic: there’s a mystery here. And its final resolution is like a thunderclap”

One of the reasons I like it is because it most closely resembles a Badger movie (about which more anon.) Blatty’s stock group, including Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Scott Wilson, Moses Gunn and Robert Loggia, are mesmerizing. Stacey Keach plays the new CO who threatens to explode. My friends, although I hesitate to shove my secret love into the spotlight, there it is.

Existential Thrillers by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

An existential thriller is a story in which the protagonist is doomed from the git-go, but struggles to survive with ingenuity and an indomitable spirit. The two greatest examples are Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, and William Friedkin’s remake, Sorcerer.

The Wages of Fear is a 1953 French-Italian drama film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Yves Montand, and based on the 1950 French novel “The Salary of Fear” by Georges Arnaud. When a Mexican oil well owned by an American company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck, to drive two trucks over mountain dirt roads, loaded with niotroglycerine needed to extinguish the flames.

Sorcerer is the same story, bookended by Roy Scheider’s criminal mastermind stealing mob money, which sends him into exile in an unnamed South American hellhole where he rots for years, until the oil company makes its desperate offer. Wanted: four brave men to pilot two dilapidated trucks across hundreds of miles of impassable terrain, carrying loads of nitroglycerin. After The Exorcist, Friedkin could do anything. He chose to do this. It is mesmerizing, but because of the subject matter it was not a hit.

Sam Peckinpah directed two of the greatest existential thrillers, The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Wild Bunch needs no introduction, but alas, many young film goers have never heard of it. A gang of aging outlaws, led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, hold one last heist in hopes of retiring to Mexico. The heist goes wrong and they flee, an army of Pinkertons on their trail. The Pinkertons L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin at their most scrofulous. “Gutter trash!” in the words of Robert Ryan, who leads them. The Wild Bunch itself includes Lyle and Tector Gorch, played by Warren Oates and Ben Johnson.

The gang ends up hijacking a load of weapons for a Mexican warlord, but the warlord, played by Emilio Fernandez, cruelly executes one of the Bunch’s own. The Bunch has already collected their money and realized their dream. But in an explosion of nihilistic rage, they choose to go down shooting, killing half the warlord’s army. The Wild Bunch redefined cinematic violence with its slo-mo shoot-outs and the incredible body count. It is one of the greatest Westerns ever made.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is sui generis, a thriller unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Warren Oates is Benny, a down-at-his-heels lounge pianist scraping by in some Mexican hell-hole, when he gets words that El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez again,) will pay one million dollars for the head of Alfredo Garcia, who impregnated his teen-age daughter. The scum of the earth, including Gig Young and Robert Wenner, crawl out of their holes to claim the prize.

Benny sets out with girlfriend Elita (Isele Vega.) A couple of low-lifes bushwhack them. The biker (Kris Kristofferson!) rapes Elita while the other covers Benny. Benny brains the guy with a cast-iron skillet and shoots the biker. Benny delivers Garcia’s head to El Jefe, gets his money, and is free to go. But once again, overcome with grief and an existential madness, he chooses to go down blazing, taking half El Jefe’s army with him.

Among modern existential thrillers, there are none better than The Grey, starring Liam Neeson as an oil-company roughneck whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, leaving six men alive. Their struggle to survive a pack of hungry wolves is as grim and absorbing as The Revenant.

In Runaway Train, conceived by Akira Kurosawa, two cons escape from a maximum-security Alaskan prison and inadvertently stow away on a train with no conductor. Jon Voight, coming off Midnight Cowboy, went in the opposite direction. His Oscar Manheim is a terrifying lifer who has been welded in his cell for three years. He takes along irritating sycophant Buck (Eric Roberts,) dispensing hard-won con wisdom. Director Andre Konchalovsky ratchets tension to the max, and the final scene will chill you to the bone.

Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey deviates from the template in that his nameless white hunter lives, but not after one of the most harrowing and brutal chases in cinema history. You will not believe Wilde’s depiction of Africans in the opening sequence. He would never be able to get away with this today.

Digital Smigital by Mike Baron

DIGITAL SMIGITAL

It took me years to get a CD player. I had an enormous collection of vinyl culled from twenty years writing about music. I finally got the CD player because so many musicians weren’t issuing vinyl anymore. The first CD I got was a three-disc Duke Ellington collection, The Webster/Blanton Band. And then the horse was out of the barn and I got everything in CD, selling my vinyl collection for the ridiculous price of twenty-five cents a disc. The CDs were a poor excuse for albums because the reduced size had a huge effect on the art. I love album art. Look at the many books of just album art.

A lot of bands urge me to listen to their new tunes on download. Many bands are forgoing physical product altogether in favor of digital. This works for a lot of people, but not for me, and not for a lot of people I know. We’re collectors. We like to have an artifact we can hold in our hands, read the personnel and album notes, if any. Album notes provide astonishing information and if you don’t believe me, read the album notes for Tower of Power’s Dinosaur Tracks.

Most of these bands perform live. A lot of people would like to buy their albums, but are surprised when there are no albums. Directing your fans to a download, free or not, is not the same as selling records and CDs right at the venue, when they’re all keyed up. At the very least, bands must have CDs to sell at performances. Here in Fort Collins we have Bohemian Nights in August, hundreds of local bands performing for free. I pick up a lot of CDs at these things. Not only is it a good way to support the band, it’s a good way to remember what you heard.

Sure you can have an iPod with several thousand songs on it. But are they arranged like an album? There’s a reason for the song sequencing in albums like Sgt. Pepper, Jellyfish: Spilt Milk, Marco Joachim’s Hidden Symphonyies. The music industry has changed, and albums aren’t as important as they used to be, but my friends and I still listen to albums. Like the Who’s Tommy. You’re supposed to start at the beginning and follow the sequence.

Vinyl is back. Analog grooves simply produce a warmer sound than CDs, which are digitally mastered and digitally translated. Everything old is new again.

When that giant Chinese electro-magnetic pulse hits, a lot of you are gonna be SOL.

Self Inflicted Wounds by Mike Baron

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

I have known and worked with many amazing artists, but there are a handful with whom I’ve never worked. I have wanted to work with them, and I have offered work to them. Although they say they want to succeed, I wonder if that’s true. When I moved to Colorado I met Jerry. Jerry lived in the Boulder area and had published two copies of his own comic, Obelisks. Jerry’s work was highly stylized in the manner of Mike Ploog, and fantastic. For the next several years I presented Jerry with proposal after proposal which we would co-create and co-own and while he continuously professed his desire to get back into comics, he never drew anything.

An artist friend of mine lives in small town Wisconsin. He has always been a fantastic artist with an ability to blend Drew Friedman-accurate portraits with bizarre graphics. Self-taught, his sketch technique resembles that of Ivan Albright and he has done several stunning album covers for local blues artists. Sherman has often expressed interest in collaborating with me but has never followed up on a single proposal. He doesn’t return phone calls or e-mail. He works hard at his art, but doesn’t push it beyond his web and Facebook pages. This guy has huge crossover potential. He’s just not interested enough to work at it.

I have talked about Neil Spyder/Bannen Hanson here before. Neil made a conscious decision to stop drawing and concentrate on his writing. It’s not the same as saying you want to be an artist but you can’t get breaks. The breaks are out there. Some people make their own breaks. But if you don’t push your art and produce, nothing’s going to happen.

The single best way to attract industry attention is to produce your own comic. Editors will read them.