From the Journal

Dear God, Angels, Spirits, or Whoever’s Out There,

My brother, father, mother, and grandmother are all suffering right now. My sister-in-law and close friends are having personal crises too. We need your help. I feel that a massive shift is happening, something that will change us all, and I am frightened and nervous.

I just have to trust that things will be okay, possibly even better than they were before things went wrong. I just have to trust in you. I know you’ve answered prayers of mine, and prayers of my Dad’s, and I’m grateful for that.

I hate to say it, but we need your help more than ever right now. We are all in scary places, waiting on answers or results that are slow in coming. Please help us to find ways to douse that fear hanging over our family. We miss the peace and stability we once enjoyed.

Of course, I understand that we’re are only now confronting the conclusions of events set in motion long ago: I with my depression, Mom with her retirement, Dad with his bad back. Getting through them will be challenging, but somehow, I know it’ll be worth it in the end. It just has to be.

With Hope,

Daniel

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Top Cartoons: South Park – Super Fun Time

http://southpark.cc.com/full-episodes/s12e07-super-fun-time

(Sorry, this is Hulu, so you’ll have to put up with some commercials.)

South Park, with its irrationally crunched production schedule, can’t help but be hit and miss. This is a pretty damn good episode, though, and it doesn’t even have to lean on its usual crutches of excessive profanity and sex. It’s pretty gory, but who cares about that these days?

This one’s about commitment to “the rules.” The kids go to the South Park Pioneer Village for a field trip, and discover the workers there are so devoted to teaching about life in 1864, that they won’t break character, even when armed robbers take them hostage and start executing them. The situation is completely over-the-top, and even though it turns violent very quickly, it’s surprisingly hilarious.

The foul, selfish Cartman and sweet, innocent Butters aren’t there to see this, though. Forced to hold hands as partners, Cartman drags Butters out of the village so he can play at an arcade. Butters hates the idea of sneaking away from the class, and he clearly doesn’t enjoy the arcade at all, but he refuses to release his grip, because “teacher said not to let go.”

Butters, who’s been my favorite South Park character since his first appearance, shines like a burnished trophy here. Being a clean, mild-mannered kid, he’s often taken advantage of, but when the terrifying prospect of “getting in trouble” hangs over his head, he resists with all his might. In this episode, Butters has the cutest panic attack you’ve ever seen, and he even hits a couple of people in an apoplectic fit. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have said that their favorite scenes to write are the ones involving Cartman and Butters, and it’s easy to see why.

In the end, Stan turns the tide of the situation with some clever, Bugs Bunny-like stunts that made me actually want to applaud. It’s a very funny mixture of cartoon silliness and extreme violence, with a touch of uncompromised sweetness dashed in. I don’t think I can say that about any other cartoons out there, and that makes Super Fun Time a Top Cartoon to me.

Top Cartoons: The Perils of Penelope Pitstop

 

Anyone who knows me knows three things:

1.) I love cartoons with sexy women.

2.) I love old plays and movies with frantic piano music and dastardly villains that the audience is invited to boo at.

3.) I do a FABULOUS Paul Lynde impression.

So it stands to reason that I would love the 70s cartoon The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. However, I don’t like it for its content. The animation is typical of Hanna-Barbera’s corner-cutting chintz — characters “shoot” out of sight instead of visibly running, explosions are represented using the same stock clouds of smoke over and over, and dramatic crashes are implied off-screen with camera shakes — and the stories are too long and repetitive. This is a babysitter show to be sure. Still, I’m a sucker for its premise. I know it’s nothing original. It’s a parody of the serial cliffhangers The Perils of Pauline, and it’s a mishmash of silent film cliches, but it’s a looney, cartoony twist on the concept, and seeing it come together just makes me smile. Its makers may not have had a lot of money, but they sure had a lot of fun.

Penelope Pitstop originally appeared in the cartoon Wacky Races, as part of an ensemble of crazy characters, any one of whom could have had his or her own series. Penelope is a stereotypical southern belle: naive, sweet, trusting, and speaking with an exaggerated accent. Every other minute she’s tangled in some overblown trap, calling “hay-ulp.” Janet Waldo nails the “little ol’ me” role, and I’m sure that many little boys growing up in the 70s dreamed of being her hero.

Her protectors, The Anthill Mob, also featured in Wacky Races, but there they had malevolent personalities and a different vehicle. Here they behave less like sneaky criminals and more like a twisted version of the Seven Dwarfs. The mobsters are voiced by Paul Winchell, Don Messick, and Mel Blanc, and I’m impressed that they were able to keep the voices of all those similar-looking characters sorted out in their heads. They always come driving to Penelope’s rescue, but they often screw things up, so it falls on the ostensibly helpless racing gal to save the day.

The real heart of Perils, though, is that no-goodnik The Hooded Claw, voiced to the hilt by the immortal Paul Lynde. Strangely, he is uncredited on the show. I wonder if he was embarrassed about starring in a cartoon. That doesn’t seem plausible to me, though; not for the man who donned a golden wig and makeup on Hollywood Squares.

The Hooded Claw, who neither wears a hood nor has a claw, is a delightfully evil guy. As the alter ego of Penelope’s legal guardian (I don’t know exactly how old she must be), the Claw wants to kill Penelope so her family fortune will pass to him. Instead of simply shooting her in the head, though, he comes up with the most ridiculous plans anyone can think of. They usually involve tying Penelope in place somewhere while something explosive, heavy, or sharp hangs over her. She’s always allowed plenty of time for someone to save her, even if that someone is herself. Of course, Claw is always foiled, shaking his fists and yelling “Blast, blast, blast,” but he’s never discouraged, and every episode ends with him smiling as he prepares a new plot.

I watch these nutty, low-budget cartoons and tilt my head in awe and admiration. What wild writing sessions must have gone down to bring these characters together? At some point, somebody said, “Hey, let’s give the chick from the racing cartoon her own backstory, and then stuff her in an old-school damsel-in-distress scenario! We’ll make Paul Lynde the bad guy, and her saviors will drive a talking car!”

Then somebody else said, “I love it!”

Today’s cartoons are pretty weird, and some of them are quite clever, but Perils is on a different level than all of them. It’s made by people that watched movies while movies were still young, and who have a deep and abiding love for that big, boisterous, and yet painfully awkward stage of the great medium. Only South Park comes this close to re-capturing that spirit, a spirit that I hope never moves on to the next world.

Professional Headshots

Hello,

Today I thought I’d share some of the portraits I’ve been drawing of my growing league of cartoon stars.

IMG_0118

No-Luck Nora: She might be lazy (and she pays the price for it), but Nora’s really just an unlucky sweetheart who’s thankfully tough enough to squeak through the most ticklish of situations.

teevaportrait

Teeva: A creation of Sir Bombers at DeviantArt, Teeva is the princess of the planet Podaria, whose inhabitants worship feet. She can be as mischievous as she is mysterious, though, so who knows where she’s going to turn up next?

portraitbeckers

Beckers: Pysch student by day, club hopper by night, Beckers drags her squad of clueless cronies from hotspot to hotspot in search of the perfect party. Unfortunately, things never go quite according to plan, and poor Beckers winds up at the center of attention for all the wrong reasons.

portraitpenelope

Penelope Pitstop: The star of Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races, Penelope is in perpetual peril thanks to that villain of villains, the Hooded Claw. Though she has a group of guardian angels, she usually has to save the day herself. You’ll be hearing more about my plans for Miss Pitstop soon.

Back to Xbox One

 

I was playing Diablo III the other day when I stopped to ask myself, “What the hell am I doing? I’m thirty-four years old, for crying out loud, and I’m still obsessed with finding gold and gaining levels? When am I going to grow up and get away from these damn video games?”

When I was a kid, we had these places called “arcades,” where people gathered to check out and compete at the latest and greatest video games. Home consoles weren’t anywhere near as powerful as the arcade hardware at the time, so you had to go to the arcade to see the newest, most advanced stuff. Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were the big games of the day, and they continuously drew crowds and crowds of kids. Occasionally, though, I saw some grown man in a business suit hanging around at the games, and it confused the hell out of me. “Doesn’t that guy have a job?” I’d ask myself.

Now I question whether I’ve turned into that guy…the old man in the arcade.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that video games are like any other form of entertainment: some are for kids, some are for grown-ups, and a whole hell of a lot of them are for adolescent boys. I take some comfort in the fact that I have no interest in the games that most kids like to play. I’m not into Call of Duty or Battlefield or Titanfall, or any of those “run around, shoot people and die” kind of things. Games for me are a solitary pursuit, a way to go off on an adventure and get lost in my imagination. So there’s that.

I remember reading that the nation of Japan passed a law requiring Dragon Quest games to come out only on Sundays. They did this because people of all ages loved the games so much, they would skip school and work to go out and buy them. If a culture as hardworking and polite as the Japanese can get into a video game, how harmful can it really be?

I also agree with Lewis Black in his video above. Sometimes you gotta get away from reality, and video games are often excellent showcases for creative art design and animation, especially games by Blizzard. And anyone who knew me in high school knows I love calculator watches! Hey, how do you think I made it through Advanced Algebra with a solid A, huh?

So maybe video games aren’t so bad after all. Like books and movies, video games let you have some exciting adventures, and do things you’d never get to do in real life. There’s nothing wrong with a little recreation, as long as you don’t kid yourself into taking it too seriously.

You hearing me, Twi-hards?