Thursday, February 25, 2010

Japanese Kid Vid Volume 1: Ganbare!! Robocon

When it comes to manic children's TV programming, it's hard to top the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese approach entertaining kids with a hell bent for leather attitude that takes no prisoners in the war to delight and overstimulate their youth. God knows if I'd watched this stuff when I was a boy you would have had to pry me off the ceiling with a rake, such would've been my cranked up state. I'm not to old to still get a kick out of this stuff, so I figured I'd share YouTube discoveries from time to time.

Here's a partial clip I found of the first episode of "Ganbare!! Robocon" (Translation "Do Your Best!! Robokon") The show featured Robocon, a student robot trying to help humans as part of his studies. It ran from 1974 to 1977 and was rebooted in 1998 as "Burn!! Robocon", the title of which suggests that Robocon wasn't very helpful at all and the humans seek revenge.

This is in Cantonese, not Japanese, but I don't speak either so I'll just have to guess what's going on. A Japanese lady opens the door all happy thinking it's the Domino's delivery guy with those pasta bread bowls she ordered. What's this? Ack! A robot! He'll probably ask if she's heard the good news about the Robot Lord and if she'd be interested in a subscription to to the Robot Watchtower. Undeterred when she closes the door Robocon rips apart their home only to be chased off by a cockroach, the natural enemy of germophobic automatons.

Robocn then retires to a picnic bench where he receives a transmission from a silver robot with a mouth like Carly Simon asking what the dilly-oh is. Robocon paces around like Hamlet for a bit, some pink plastic hearts in silver frosting glow off and on and he recites the English alphabet up to "G". More pacing and arm flailing and then Robocon drops to the ground and pops his hood. He's almost out of gas and going through withdrawals! Staggering around like Courtney Love with the shakes, he brazenly goes behind a refueling car and moves the nozzle into himself. This causes his eyes to go all Mr SexyFace until two somewhat homely kids stare at him from the back seat and make his eyes lose all control. ("Auggh! Those teeth!")

Moustache-san the gas pump guy catches wind of the scam and starts chewing him out. Robocon pops his hood and everyone marvels at his precision German engineering. The family takes off, apparently forgetting that the gas went into Robocon and not their car. As the family makes an ill advised attempt to push a mid sized car up a hill, Robocon comes over to help...or brutally murder them Terminator style if the scowl at the end of the clip is any indicator.

So that's all for now. Look for more mind-fudgery in the future!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Strange things happen to people who don't obey Muppets...

For a soft spoken guy who played with puppets, Jim Henson sure had a dark side. For all that cutesy stuff with Elmo and Rainbow Connections and whatnot, a lot of muppetry has revolved around characters getting, shot, blown up or eaten. This was especially true in the early days of scrounging for commercial gigs. Back before they were busy covering Queen songs the muppets were the kings of the hard sell...the VERY hard sell, as in "Things will get very hard for you if you don't use our product!"

Consider the classic ads for the regional coffee brand Wilkins. In each spot, a Kermit/fetus creature (Also named Wilkins.) quizzes a gruff voiced gumdrop thing named "Wontkins" about his coffee preferences. Wontkin's failure to make a Wilkins approved response results in any number of terrible retributions worthy of the Old Testament.

Dangling from a window? Considering calling for help? If you didn't think to bring a loaf of Claussens Bread you're screwed.

Now you'd imagine that the worst thing that would happen if you dialed a long distance number in Virginia without dialing 1 first is that your call wouldn't go through properly. You would of course be making a fatal mistake underestimating the harsh justice meted out by Muppet Law.

Here the potential consumers come off relatively unscathed (But terrified), likely because A) They're actual human beings and therefore it would be a lot more gruesome to see them slaughtered and B) They immediately give in to the demands of the noodle pimping dragon. (The supermarket, on the other hand, takes a beating.)

So do what the Muppets tell you! And the same goes for me, as I'm often told that I look like a Muppet...

Gimmie an Uncle Charlie

No, no, no...not the old guy from "My Three Sons", I'm using the nickname for Utica Club Beer. ("Uncle Charlie Lewis" if it's Utica Club Light. See what they're doing there?) Originally introduced in 1988, it was the first beer officially sold after Prohibition. Somewhat scarce these days outside of northern New York state, Utica Club is currently brewed by the F.X. Matt Brewery, which is better known for it's Saranac line of craft beers.

I used to drink Utica Club sometimes in college back in the mid 80's. I recall it as an unremarkable but serviceably inexpensive brew. I remember one of my punk rock pals calling me "Utica Club" because that happened to be my go-to budget beer when he met me. (College guys are all about the nicknames.) At any rate, Utica Club is less memorable for it's suds then for it's pitchmen Schultz and Dooley

Schultz & Dooley were first introduced in 1958 to Northeastern TV audiences as "Spokesmugs" for the brewery. Referencing two beer loving ethnicities, Schultz was German and Dooley was Irish. Both were voiced with mucho gusto by comedian Jonathan Winters. Physically the mugs were brought to life (In wood, not stein ceramics.) by accomplished puppeteer Bill Baird, creator of the "Baird's Marionettes" which made many show biz rounds back in the day. (Most likely you've seen his handiwork in the "The Lonely Goatherd" puppet sequence of "The Sound of Music".)

The concept of the talking beer steins was created by the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising company. After failed pitches to other breweries, the then parent company for Utica Club WEBCO took a chance on the idea to try to increase lackluster sales. Their gambit paid off, with production rising 50% in just a couple of years. The characters were so popular they even raised the ratings of the syndicated shows they advertised on!

Unfortunately all things must come to an end. By the mid sixties market research showed that the characters were popular, but they'd ceased to be effective at actually selling the beer and were replaced by a new campaign set in a psychedelic rock club. (Not real popular with Utica Club's older blue collar base.) After a brief lackluster comeback without Winters' vocal stylings, ol' Schutlz and Dooley were consigned to marketing history.

Well, almost. The pair's functional designs lent themselves to the production of actual steins starting in 1959. Since then, they've been in pretty much constant production from one source or another. They're currently available online and through other venues. (We bought ours at the Vermont Brewer's Fest.) Not only are Schultz and Dooley available, but so are every other character who appeared in the commercials, as well as new ones who didn't.

So here's a couple of the classic spots. Feel free to enjoy a frosty one while watching.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Here he comes to save the day (Saturday morning to be exact...)

There are moments in your life, not too many, where you are presented with something that is so at odds with the world as you've come to know it that it shakes up your fundamental sense of what is. I can flatly say that my first exposure to "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures" was just such a thing. It stands out as a vivid memory from a weekend that I only half remember, and appropriately for the name of this blog there was a keg involved.

It was Super Bowl weekend 1988. At the time I was attending Ball State University, an institution who's main academic claim to fame at the time was reaching #18 on the Playboy list of top party schools.(Not undeserved!) Some of my friends were from a neighboring town to the school and one of them happened to have his folks away for the weekend. This of course meant ROAD TRIP and PARTY. (Sorry to let the cat out of the bag, but really it's time to tell your folks Dude...) We piled into one guy's girlfriend's minivan, got a full keg of some kind of beer (Given our financial resources and quantity-over-quality mindset, I'm inclined to say it was Busch.) and headed out to the highway as Judas Priest would say. It was a fun, if somewhat punishing time (I played the drums at one point...apparently.) and the weekend ended with us returning on Sunday rather beat. I wound up crashing at some point during the second quarter of the game thinking the Denver Broncos had it all locked up.

Saturday morning though, there was still some life left in me. We were all sitting around eating cereal, drinking beer (Balanced breakfasts are important kids!) and channel surfing. This being the 80's and Saturday morning, our expectations weren't that high. It was under this circumstance that we stumbled upon ""Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures".

What can I say? This was a time when Saturday morning cartoons tended to be like this or this, bland clunky edgeless affairs with all the charm of a prefab housing development. Instead, here was a positively manic surreal cartoon with jaunty, vaguely 60's-ish character designs. (If the style seemed familiar, I was probably half remembering the video for the Rolling Stone's cover of "Harlem Shuffle , which also involved Ralph Bakshi, John Kricfalusi and much of the same art staff.) The episode in question (Which we came into midway.) was "The League of Super Rodents" which revolved around arch villain "The Cow" (Brilliantly voice acted by Michael Pataki, who would later lend his talents to Ren and Stimpy spinoff character George Liquor.) challenging the League to a series of one on one fights. The action gets crazier and crazier as we go from a hamster trying to defeat The Cow with his "Scamper powers", to "Mole Mom" who fires little pink mole babies from her chest to all out warfare with a rodent version of "Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos". Meanwhile Mighty Mouse is sitting out the fight, being actively vamped by the slinky "Madame Marsupial". Here's a trailer for the show in question:

This was pretty intense stuff for the time. About the closest precedent was Pee Wee's Playhouse, which probably helped pave the way. Thing is, the Pee Wee Herman character came from from a more adult background and the show was a softened, kid friendly version of the act. By contrast, I'd always remembered Mighty Mouse as a sort of square affair. Sure, there were some imaginative bits of cartoon surrealism here and there, but they mostly amounted to "Cats abuse the mice until their bland hero shows up and socks 'em." In the new cartoons, Mighty actually had some personality and edge to him and the whole proceedings had a whiff of danger to them. This was what was swimming through my hungover consciousness as I exclaimed "Holy s**t! What's going on with Mighty Mouse"?

So I was hooked. Unfortunately, the show only lasted a couple of seasons. Controversy arose over the episode "The Littlest Tramp" which had a scene where Mighty Mouse inhales a crushed flower, leading to media watchdog and all around friend to free expression Rev. Donald Wildmon to claim that cocaine was being snorted. So the show go yanked, but thankfully not before leaving a lasting mark. It wasn't just so much that "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures" was edgy, but it was also an attempt to return to what made animated cartoons work. John Kricfalusi had cut his teeth working for just about every animation house in television, and was frustrated with a system that tended to marginalize the creative input of the artists in favor of bland, script driven kid-dismaying crap. He'd already had a taste of creative control during his stint on the 80's Jetsons revival, but obviously he wanted more. (I strongly recommend checking out his blog, which not only details his experiences in the animation industry, but is also a treasure trove of thoughts and advice about cartooning.) "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures" represented a substantial move forward. It's hard to imagine not only "Ren & Stimpy" but "Dexter's Lab", "The Powerpuff Girls", "Spongebob Squarepants" and most of the other cartoons with personality that followed without it.

So after decades of unavailability the complete series is available on DVD. As trailblazers go, it still holds up surprisingly well. It is a bit uneven, although this is defined as much by it's highs as it's lows. Following an episode as wild and fully realized as "Night on Bald Pate", "Mouse From Another House" feels like a clunky throwback...even though it was still better than the vast majority of contemporary cartoons. Also, due to the increased costs of keeping more of the production in house, the show had to round out it's schedule with filler episodes featuring either classic Terrytoons edited into music videos, or rehashes of previous episodes. Still, in spite of overwhelming odds, the balance of wheat to chafe is quite high. (And the audio commentaries are great. The story of "Mighty's Benefit Plan" and why the episode features a dog that had been run over by a car is hilarious.)

Definitely recommended...even if you haven't been draining a keg all weekend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Paperback Babylon vol. 2

Just to prove even the blogosphere isn't immune to sequel-itis, here's a follow up to an earlier post sharing a taste of my Wife's grandmother's cache of sordid paperbacks.

Once again we've got Brett Halliday's hard boiled shamus MIKE SHAYNE. (Many sources refer to him as "Michael" Shayne, but that doesn't really sound two-fisty enough.) While not so famous these days, Mike Shayne had a pretty good run back in the day. Not only did the novels come out for almost half a century, but he was also adapted into radio, TV, comic books and a slew of movies. (The recent Robert Downey Jr./Val Kilmer film "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" was partially based on the accurately titled Shayne mystery "Bodies Are Where You Find Them". For several movies Shayne was portrayed by Hugh "Beaver's Dad" Beaumont!) It should be noted that Halliday had turned over the series to ghost writers by the time all three of the books here appeared, which makes some of the back cover praise for the last one here seem a little off.

Also, once again we have covers by the king of the paperback paint slingers Robert McGinnis. Man could that guy paint the dames! McGinnis' covers are the main draw for me to these books, and luckily he was extremely prolific. Unfortunately the book of his paperback covers I plugged last time has gone out of print and has apparently become an expensive collector's item, which sucks for you but is good for me should I ever become financially desperate enough to sell my copy.

So here's three more cover images and back cover blurbs. (With a little snarky commentary by me.)



A newspaper want ad, asking for a red-blooded American male who was willing to do anything, repeat, anything.

(Okay, does that sound like a Craigslist hookup or what?)


Michael Shayne, alias Mike Wayne, the big gambler from New Jersey; and Jane Smith, obviously using an assumed name, and obviously very young, very pretty and very scared.

(Note to the Jane Smiths of the world: WE ARE TOTALLY ON TO YOUR BULLSHIT.)


Fifty grand



(The back cover also notes "RICHARD DENNING stars as MICHAEL SHAYNE in the weekly NBC TV series". Denning notably played Lucille Ball's husband on the radio show "My Favorite Husband" which was kind of like "I Love Lucy" except Denning never sang "Cuban Pete".)


at the Pink Flamingo hotel was drinking away his conscience, aware only of his $200,000 in stolen cash ... and the uninhibited young thing who hung around to help him spend it... until his time ran out and the syndicate dropped in.

(It's not in the Keys, but I did find motel in Florida with cabins and the same name. Looks cute enough, and I imagine staying there is even more fun if you imagine the guy in the cabin next to you is on the lam and getting drunk with an uninhibited young gold digger.)

MIKE SHAYNE joins forces with a strange ally-the baron of a Chicago vice syndicate-to solve one of his most startling and shocking cases.


"Salute! True to the proud tradition of the bona fide detective story" -REX STOUT

"Here's a toast-with brandy of course-to Michael Shayne and another quarter century of crime fighting" -BRUNO FISCHER

"Fifty books...congratulations to Brett Halliday" _GEORGE HARMON COXE

(Okay, I'm calling it...George Harmon Coxe, creator of Jack "Flashgun" Casey, just phoned that one in. This is all like "Oh hey, fifty books. Looks like I lost that bet.")

"Brett Halliday never forgets the fair-play game of wits between author and reader. His last pages produce legitimate surprises that deserve a toast in nothing less than Martel Cordon Bleu" _ANTHONY BOUCHER

(Now by contrast, Anthony Boucher, founding editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, totally brought his "A" game! He even upped the stakes over Bruno Fischer by toasting not just with brandy, but one of France's oldest and fanciest cognacs! Too bad he left out an "L"in it's name. An editor should've caught that...oops.)

"One of the truly impressive peaks in the whole range of mystery-suspense fiction" -WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

"Entertaining, fresh, intriguing" _BILL S. BALLINGER

And so we finish with Bill S. Ballinger, one time producer of "The Dinah Shore Show" and mystery writer, who is either describing this book or a bottle of beaujolais nouveau. Be good and stay well faithful readers, because as one later Mike Shayne short story title points out ""Three Strikes-You're Dead!"