My New Book: “Noah and Logan Learn to Clean”

I actually like blank covers on books a little bit, too. It adds to the mystery of what's inside.

Read all about it! My new book is here.

Hi, everyone.  I know it’s been a while since my last blog post, but I’ve had a busy schedule lately.  I hope to get back to doing regular posts soon.  Before I do that, however, there is something important that has happened in my life that I would like to share with all of you.  My first children’s book, “Noah and Logan Learn to Clean,” is now available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle!

In my book, Noah and Logan, two characters based on my young cousins, work together to clean their playroom and put their favorite toys away.  My mother handled the illustrations (I think she did a great job; let me know how you feel about them in the comments).

Even though I’ve been working on my children’s book series for a few years now, seeing the first book out in the world is still quite a surreal experience for me.  I am very happy to see that it has taken flight, and I am working on other stories to follow in its footsteps.  I hope the Noah and Logan series will be of help to other children with autism.  Each book will feature one of the social and life skills I struggled with as a child, and I hope my books will help readers have an easier time with these skills than I did.

There are more Noah and Logan books coming, and I will introduce you to them here on Kellogg Thoughts as each one is published.  Let me know what you think of the series, and Learn to Clean, in the comments.

Free Comic Book Day 2014: Uncle Scrooge Review: Lucky Ducky

Waitaminit, a Don drawing "Don?" I think I just had an "Inception" moment...

Don Rosa, the creator of this issue, drawing Uncle Scrooge at MegaCon 2012. You can see some of his other Disney drawings on the wall behind him. Ain’t he just ducky?

Starting with this post, I plan on taking a comprehensive look at some of what, I think, are the more outstanding issues in my collection of free comics from this year’s Free Comic Book Day.  This is something I have wanted to write about since I started this blog, and I can’t wait to show you what each new issue has to offer. 

One of my favorite issues thus far has been the Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic from Disney and Fantagraphics Books.  This crazy cartoonish comic features two spectacular stories by Don Rosa, a veteran Disney comics writer and artist.  He has been the premier chronicler of the Duckberg denizens’ adventures for over two decades.  Rosa also presents an essay in this issue in which he recounts how he got started in the comics world and explains some of the interesting details regarding the two featured stories. 

(One small correction before we move on: In my previous Free Comic Book Day post, I stated that this issue featured work from Carl Barks, the legendary creator of Scrooge McDuck.  Actually, it’s just Don Rosa for this issue; the last few years have featured Barks’ work exclusively for the Free Comic Book Day issues, so I guess I just had him on the brain.  Still, Rosa is commonly viewed by Disney comics fanatics as the heir apparent to Barks’ lofty throne and, in my opinion, he has done just as much if not more to make the ducks’ escapades some of the funniest, most exciting comics ever published, so we’re still in good hands here, folks.  I do, however, apologize for my slip up.)

The FCBD 2014 US&DD (Yes indeedy!) issue contains two fun Don Rosa tales from the 1990s, a time when Disney comics were not as widely circulated here in America as they were in other parts of the world (Italy, mostly), so for many readers, me included, this is the first time these stories have been widely available.  I can safely say that both of them have been well worth the wait.  The first story, “A Matter of Some Gravity,” involves Scrooge, Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie attempting to prevent the evil Magica De Spell from stealing Scrooge’s lucky Number One Dime.  Magica casts a spell on Scrooge and Donald which inverts their personal senses of gravity.  They are forced to walk along walls and across ceilings, as well as desperately grab at any foothold they can find, as they chase Magica down.

This story is very entertaining to me, mostly from a visual standpoint.  Don Rosa employs a clever arrangement for the comic panels: the top half of each page presents events from a “normal” point of view, while the bottom half shows things from Scrooge and Donald’s “gravitationally challenged” (Don’s own words, couldn’t have said any better myself) perspective.  These clashing perspectives were fun for me to keep track of, and I enjoyed seeing how the ducks tackled seemingly simple tasks like negotiating a steep hill and riding a bus, made nearly impossible to complete when one’s perspective has been inverted.  I’ve encountered this same kind of fun in ’60s Superman comics in which science and conventional laws of physics seemed to run amok, and I think Rosa captures much of that whimsical spirit here as well.  I also feel that this story is a fantastic introduction to the Disney duck comics and a great imagination-sparker.

The next story in this issue is a Donald Duck yarn entitled “The Sign of the Triple Distelfink.”  While it was not as entertaining for me as “Gravity,” I think it still provides some fascinating food for thought.  The main character is not the Don himself, but rather his less famous, but no less iconic, comics-based cousin, Gladstone Gander.  According to Rosa’s essay, he wrote this tale for Gladstone’s 50th anniversary, and again, I think it serves as a wonderful intro to this great character.  The gander’s claim to fame is that he has outrageously good luck: he wins sweepstakes, gets out of tough scrapes through wildly improbable coincidences, and generally goes through life with little trouble, a trait that gets on Donald’s nerves.  However, in this story, Gladstone is faced with a day of outrageously bad luck.  It’s his birthday, you see, and every year on this special day, his normally good luck is reversed. 

Donald, Scrooge and various other members of the extended duck family throw a birthday party for Gladstone, but he doesn’t want to attend because he fears his bad luck might cause undue harm to his loved ones.  He spends the majority of the story trying to avoid the party by taking a train, boat, plane, and other methods of travel to escape, but his bad luck interferes every time.  The accidents that pile up and the other characters’ reactions to Gladstone’s bad luck are what made this story stand out to me.  The “bad luck” bits did get a bit predictable, but I thought the way things were resolved in the end was quite clever.  And don’t worry, Gladstone is back to having good luck by the end; no cooked goose tonight!

The Free Comic Book Day issue of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck is one of my favorite issues from this year.  I think it contains a healthy dose of fun and some clever stories from a sound craftsman in Don Rosa.  Even better, there’s a promo in the front of the issue which states there is a new collection of some of Rosa’s other Disney work coming in July!  I can’t wait!

There’s more fun from FCBD 2014 on the way here at Kellog Thoughts!  I do not plan on covering every single issue I collected from this year’s festivities, but I do want to feature the comics which I think are simply outstanding, so stay tuned!  Leave your thoughts on this issue, Donald, Scrooge, Disney, and comics in the comments, and happy reading!

Free Comic Book Day 2014 Preview: Introducing Our Special Guest Panels

Talk about a fall from grace...

The price for these comics has dropped down to nothing at all!

On May 3, 2014, Free Comic Book Day 2014 will be upon us.  This is one of my favorite days of the year, the time when scores of comic book stores across the country give free specially published issues to any and all interested parties.  The comics created just for this day will serve as titilating tidbits of the wider world of comics just waiting out there for curious onlookers and cheap (in this case, free!) thrills for those already indoctrinated into the world of four-color funny papers.  As is my custom every year, I plan to visit a few of my favorite local comic book stores to see what they have to offer.  I’ve looked at the online list of this year’s comics and have chosen a few stand outs in my mind that I will be looking out for.  The 2014 field looks very promising to me, to say the least.  Here’s a few of my top picks.

Archie Digest #1

Archie is one of the very first comic book characters I ever encountered and grew to love reading about.  The adventures he, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the residents of Riverdale have remained near and dear to me, and I am very interested in seeing what this over 180-page compilation of tales has in store for us all.  This little book will pack a lot of content and, even better, offer wholesome all-ages humor with a character who has delighted readers for nearly a century.  Definitely a good combination in my book!

DC Comics: The New 52: Future’s End

Why does this issue need two colons in its title?  I’m not sure either, but after reading the premise for this unusual offering from one of the oldest comic book publishers, I feel inclined to give it a look.  A few years ago, DC pulled the plug on its expansive comic book universe and started over from scratch.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC superhero community embarked on more grand adventures, ready to tell new stories set much earlier in their careers.  They’ve been publishing new stories for a while now, but of course, a new menace will arise in this issue to threaten them all.  A slew of evil cyborgs will be unleashed in the DC Universe’s future, and it’s up to Terry McGinnis, the new Batman of this far-off time (and star of the Batman Beyond TV show and comics, both which I think are equally awesome), to stop them.  This issue is actually the starting point for a year-long weekly series in which the robots escape from the future and travel to DC’s present to mess with the lives of our favorite heroes.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Okay, kids, time for a pop quiz.  This consistently successful TV franchise based on popular Japanese superhero and monster shows has just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary year.  What do you do to mark such a special occasion?  Apparently, the answer is to put out a new comic story featuring the first, and arguably the best, incarnation of this powerhouse property.  That’s right, the original Rangers are back in all their action-packed, acrobatic, multicolored spandex glory and ready to stop the radically rougish plans of those king and queen meanies Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for the umpteenth time.  I’ve seen the preview art for this story, and I think it looks fantastic; true to the original show with faithful representations of these beloved characters.  As my Power Rangers-loving cousin (I probably ought to get an extra copy for him, too) would say, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Kaboom! Summer Blast

This is one of several anthology-type titles available for perusal on Free Comic Book Day, and the selection of stories and characters in it appeals greatly to my sensibilites.  A few Cartoon Network shows are represented in this collection: if you’re a fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, or Steven Universe, then I think you’ll certainly love their being featured here.  Peanuts and Garfield are also on hand; Kaboom publishes comic book series based on both of these great newspaper comic strips, but I have yet to check them out for myself so this will be a good sampler for me.  An original character, Herobear, and a few other mystery stories round out the issue.  An ecclectic collection to be sure, but one, I feel, is worth seeking.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

The Disney comics put out for FCBD every year are a frequent selection for me.  They typically contain reprints of classic comics from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s by the great Carl Barks, the “good duck artist.”  He created Scrooge McDuck and is someone I feel made Disney comic books so much fun for many generations of readers.  This year’s comic is no exception, featuring as its main tale an account of when Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie encounter the devious Magica De Spell and are struck with a gravity-altering spell.  I can’t wait to see how this one ends.  In addition, this issue has two unique covers; both variations on a gag involving Scrooge and his family walking across the cover to confront Magica.  I love looking at gimmicky covers like these.  Iwonder where the artist got the idea to draw something so amazing.

Buck Rogers

For the second year in a row, the greatest spaceman in comics, I believe (besides Flash Gordon), returns to FCBD with more crazy retr0-futuristic escapades.  I loved last year’s showcase of classic comic strips from the ’30s featuring Buck and his buddies and baddies, and this year will provide more of the same.  One thing in these strips I’m really curious about, however, is the stamp and coin-trading game presented in the last panel of each strip.  Each week, a series of stamps and coins featuring the strip’s characters would be available for readers to cut out from their newspapers.  You could trade them with your friends and check  their values each week.  Which combination of stamps and coins will prove the most profitable with this issue’s storylines?  There’s also a space rocket race between Earth and Mars as a last-panel feature in this issue as well; I think it is a really novel concept for a time when such technology was still in its infancy.  Cool beans, that’s all I’ve got to say!

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants does have his own comic book, and this year, he’s a featured FCBD character!  This issue contains a number of wacky sea stories from the good people at United Plankton Pictures, the same production company that makes the Spongebob TV show.  It’s amazing to me that these TV guys could make such a high-quality comic, but from the scant few issues I’ve seen of the regular comic, they’ve succeeded numerous times!  Even better, most of the stories in this issue are written and illustrated by former contributors to Nickelodeon Magazine who worked with a variety of Nick shows and characters, Spongebob included.  The Nick Mag comics section was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I’m super happy that it’s back in a new form, and on FCBD, no less!

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace

FCBD is about more than just comics, you know!  It’s also a great place to release special mini-magazines about comic book collecting.  This special issue from the makers of the famous Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide contains info-packed articles about various notable anniversaries, including Batman’s 75th and the 20th of the comic book company Shi.  One other article caught my eye: an overview of comic book reboots (basically when a series starts over from issue 1) and the best ones to collect.  Outstanding stuff!

Bleeding Cool Magazine  (not my favorite title, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess)

Bleeding Cool Magazine is another mini-mag like Comic Book Marketplace with more generic articles about collecting comics, but it does have an in-depth look at the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie.  It also contains price guides of its own for various characters and notable titles.  I already own some price guides, but they’re a few years old.  I am curious to see if and how the prices of the comics in my collection have changed, so this one’s a must-have for me.

These are but a few of the many fantastic selections I’m interested in for Free Comic Book Day in 2014.  What do you think about this magical time?  If you’re planning on participating this year, which titles are you going to check out?  Let me know in the comments.  FCBD is a day that I always look forward to, and I think many families could have the same kind of fun that I have.  So, take your family and friends out to your local comic book stores on May 3 and see what you can find (and ask about special sales the store might have for the day; FCBD can result in some amazing bargains).  If you’re reading this after May 3, visit a comic book store anyway!  Sometimes they have left over issues they’d still like to give away, as well as some other freebies here and there.  Enjoy Free Comic Book Day everyone, and spread the word!

What Lies Out There in the Infinite “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey?”

There is excitement in the air, and for good reason!  An event that has been in the works for some time is finally coming to fruition.  Fans of previous iterations are flocking to this newest incarnation in droves, but it remains to be seen if this year’s edition can live up to the hype.  All the pieces are in place for it to be successful, but then again, it has barely begun, and everything could change on a dime.  But enough about WrestleMania 30 (even though the new Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery movie does look very entertaining, I must say).  What I really want to discuss today is the new incarnation of one of television’s most revered science series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  The original version hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980 and its companion book published the same year opened millions of eyes (mine included, years later) to the wonder of the universe and everything within it.  Can the 2014 version with Neil Degrasse Tyson do the same, or is it as devoid of life as the vast expanse between galaxies?

I tuned in to the first episode of the new Cosmos with my family the night it premiered, and I really liked what I saw.  I had seen a handful of episodes and clips from the original series and was impressed with just how many big scientific concepts and ideas Carl Sagan was able to explain in the most eloquent, memorable ways, and how he was able to effectively convey how they all fit together.  One such feature which made a big impression on me, and an icon of the series as a whole, was the Ship of the Imagination, a sleek, futuristic vessel in which Sagan and the audience could head anywhere in the universe and anytime in history.  On the ship, we could travel to a giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, back in time to witness Sir Isaac Newton getting clunked on the head by a falling apple and discovering gravity, or shrinking down to the size of an atom and flitting about the protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The new series has some big shoes to fill in this regard, and with even less time to do it in (the original show’s PBS airings had 60 minutes per episode, but this one has just 44 with commercials).

One thing the new Cosmos has going for it are some very nice visuals which take full advantage of modern technology to bring science to life.   The new Ship of the Imagination swoops, dives, and curves through space and time, flying past incredibly detailed planets, asteroids, comets, stars, and other space phenomena all the while reflecting everything in space off its shiny outer hull.

Neil Tyson gives a tour of an updated version of the Cosmic Calendar, a device from the original series which condenses the whole of the universe’s billions-of-years old history into a single calendar year.  This time, however, the months and days literally come alive with computer animations of each cosmic event mentioned.  Thus, we get some amazing versions of the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, and moons, and even a very cute take on animals climbing out of the water to kickstart evolution.  Cosmos certainly offers a feast for the eyes and a constant reminder that the universe is full of amazing things for us to discover.

This journey of scientific awesomeness is guaranteed  to lead us to some surprising places.  I think the first episode has some very note-worthy destinations .  To start us out, Neil Tyson opens the upper and lower windows on the Ship of the Imagination to offer overhead glimpses of Earth from space as it appeared roughly 100 million years in the past and how it might appear approximately 250 million years in the future.  The differences between both Earths from our own present planet were simply staggering to me.  Prehistoric Earth’s continents were lumped together as a single giant landmass, Pangaea, with endless oceans surrounding it and little to no signs of civilization as we know it.   In fact, instead it had a lot of green stuff; grass, trees, and thick forests.  Future Earth appears to have the same continents we currently have, but cities have grown noticably larger and use a heck of a lot more electricity. On this Earth, North America looks like a blinding-light advertisement for Thomas Edison’s most famous creation.  Not to mention there’s a lot of muddy brown on the continents:  where did all the green go?

These views of Earth in different times raised a few questions in my mind.  How accurate will the placement of the continents in the Cosmos version of future Earth really be in 250 million years?  Continental drift has created radically different Earths in the past 100 million years; who’s to say if it’ll still look like it is now well into the future?  How much electricity is being used by those cities, and if they’re using alternative energy sources to get all their power, which ones and how effective are they in providing the energy modern society needs to survive on a day-to-day basis?  Did the cities/humanity play a role in the sudden disappearance of green from the world map?  I’m also pretty sure the oceans looked a lot less blue in the show’s future model; a very alarming sign to me that trouble is surely on the way if we don’t watch out.

Cosmos also uses portions of each episode to present intriguing philosophical questions which relate to the scientific content, a feature I greatly appreciate as a seeker of knowledge.  For example, the first episode relays the story of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk with a vision of an infinite universe.  A vision he was ultimately condemned to die for.  I did a little research on Bruno after hearing his story.  As well as being a monk, he was an avid astrologist, and I feel that his story brings up a good point about scientific investigation which is worth some due consideration.  Bruno had little to no way of proving the existence of an infinite expanse of space (aside from Greek writings from 1500 years prior to his time and Biblical accounts which support exactly that conclusion, but apparently no one else besides him bothered to look up those references; it pays to read, kids!), but his vision was later proved to be accurate by scores of scientific studies and other observations.  That’s the beauty of science: an idea deemed ludicrous at one time can later be proven as truth through research and observation, or vice versa, and what remains in the end is factual information.  Science supports the same notion Bruno perceived:   that the universe is endlessly vast, is wonderfully complex, it opens up anew, and offers continual surprises to humanity.   We just have to search for them.

All in all, I’d have to say I really like the new Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  It’s a fascinating journey through the width and breadth of outer space and challenges our understanding of our place in the universe and how we choose to view it.  I think it paints an awe-inspiring picture of the world (worlds?) we call home and all the neat stuff we’ve discovered and hope to find out more about.  Definitely must-see TV to me!

What do you think of this new Cosmos?  If you’ve watched it, what did you like/dislike about it?  If you’re a fan of the original series, how do you think it compares to the new version?  Is there anything you’d change about this new show, and if so, why?  Are there any other scientific figures you’d like to see represented here?  Expand your view of the universe, and mine as well, by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: Attempts at Explaining What Is Funny Through the Cartoon “What Is Funny?”

Of course, another way to word this question could be, "Funny, what is?"

I’ve been turning this question over in my head…

Back in the late 1990s, Nickelodeon had a neat cartoon show called Oh Yeah! Cartoons that I loved to watch.  It was an ambitious project in which a large group of animation directors and other personalities, young and old, worked on a series of almost one hundred shorts featuring a wide variety of new characters (fifty-four characters all told; for some strange reason, I want to see all of these guys in a group shot on a T-shirt).  These shorts acted as what is known in the television industry as “backdoor pilots,” meaning that any shorts that got a particularly great reaction from Nick’s executives or the viewing audience (maybe even both if the short was really good) could be turned into a new cartoon series for Nick.  This was how we got such shows as The Fairly OddparentsChalkZone, and My Life As a Teenage Robot (the original short was called My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot; not much of a difference, I’d say).

All of these cartoons are quite memorable to me, but there is one particular short that stuck in my mind long after I first viewed it.  The short What Is Funny?, directed by Will Burnett and Vincent Waller, features a dog named Slap T. Pooch (Anyone wanna bet the T stands for “The?”) who is always asking the question posed in the short’s title while being caught in increasingly bizarre and presumably funny circumstances.  There’s all kinds of humor demonstrated in this cartoon, and in a neat way, it has made me think deeply about what I find funny and why certain things make me laugh.  I’ve wanted to talk about this kind of thing for a long time, and I feel that now is a good opportunity to do so.  The following are five observations I have made regarding What is Funny (Mind if I not use the question mark for the rest of this blog post?  Thanks, it saves me a lot of headache!), what I find funny about it, and why.

1. Funny is simple yet full of detail.

The premise of What is Funny is pretty bare-bones (pun unintended, all apologies to Slap the dog).  Slap wants to find out what funny is and is willing to go to any absurd length to get a good answer (and in just under seven minutes, no less!).  This premise probably sounds very mundane on paper, but that’s the beauty of it in my view.  A lot of cartoons have amazingly simplistic plots: Elmer Fudd, a hunter wants to blast Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to smithereens (I wefuse to type that as “smitherweeens,” bwast it!).  Wile E. Coyote wants to catch the Road Runner.  SpongeBob Squarepants just wants to work at his dream job and enjoy life in his off time. 

What makes these premises funny is that the way they are achieved is so gosh-darned strange.  Elmer has to deal with a Brookwyn-accented wabbit and a screwball duck who compwains of “pronoun trouble.”  (See what I did there?  I’ll stop now for sanity’s sake.)  The coyote, instead of using his own natural reflexes, relies almost entirely on mail-order products to get his fast-moving dinner (not that he ever gets it, mind you).  SpongeBob works as a fry cook, but he flips his patties in a colorful underwater cartoon fun-land, and the rest of his adventures are certainly not boring by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s the same with What is Funny.  Slap’s exploration of humor is bizarre and takes a lot of unexpected turns.  The question may be simple, but the details encountered in answering that question give this cartoon a strange life of its own that I find fun to explore.

2. Funny could be gross (especially if you’re on Nick in the ’90s.)

One of the first things in What is Funny that had me chuckling was Slap contorting his face into various unexpected shapes, some of which looked really strange (the bit where he had his lips wrapped around his whole head with just his teeth showing and he was singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a laugh riot for me).  This kind of sophmoric “gross-out” humor was quite common in Nickelodeon cartoons during the ’90s, so I wasn’t too surprised when I found it here as well.  Not to mention that Vincent Waller, the director and one of the co-creators of this short, was also a prominent member of the creative team behind Ren and Stimpy, the unofficial king of gross during Nick’s early days; go figure.  To viewers who prefer more sophisticated humor, such visual (and visceral!) material is likely excruciating to take in (or block out). 

Personally, I like this sort of stuff.  I grew up watching it a lot on Nick and Cartoon Network, of course,  but characters squirming and stretching around in bizarre bits of anatomical madness is something that just appeals to me on a base level.  It seems to me that it has always been a part of cartoon culture, too; Daffy Duck was moving his body in all sorts of weird ways from the first moment he “Woo-hoo”ed onto the silver screen, and his signature squirms in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery remain among some of my favorite cartoon visuals.  That traditon is alive and well in What is Funny, and you can still see it in plenty of cartoons today.  Good enough in my book!

3. Funny can be hazardous to one’s health (namely the cartoon star’s health), but it doesn’t seem to leave any lingering effects.

Daffy Duck gets his bill blown off numerous times during Rabbit Fire, but he just puts it back on and continues arguing with Bugs.  The dog in Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie suffers all sorts of physical calamities after the black cat crosses his path, but he recovers by the time the screen fades out then back in for the next gag.  In What is Funny, Slap is grabbed by an eagle and dropped into a wooden tub full of “deadly” stockbrokers (they do work with bulls and bears after all) and suckerfish, which apparently change into thumbtacks and squirrels on Slap’s command (only in a cartoon, I guess).  Even though Slap clearly has a pained expression on his face and says he doesn’t find these objects particularly humorous, the results did elicit laughter from me.

Of course, pain is no laughing matter in real life, so why does it draw guffaws in cartoon form?  I think it’s because the pain in cartoons is usually of the exaggerated kind.  Rarely does one suffer real pain in such obviously outlandish ways.  Besides, it doesn’t seem to affect cartoon characters very much; all that happens is the camera fades away and then comes back to find the characters have fully recovered with no apparent scarring.  There’s also a handful of instances where characters have literally shrugged off the results of their pain and stripped away all the bandages and boo-boos, returning to their usual healthy selves faster than one can say “fountain of youth.”  It seems to me that pain has no real consequences in the cartoon universe other than drawing laughter out of the huge vacuum between fictional injuries and real life.

4. Funny likes terrible puns.  ‘Nuff said.

Come on, what else could I possibly say about a bunch of talking gingerbread men calling themselves “tough cookies?”  That’s just clever right there.  Not since Mr. Peabody has there been such a perfect use of lousy wordplay to great humorous effect.  That’s not just funny, that’s funtastic.

5. Funny never has to explain itself.

Okay, I know this last point probably doesn’t make much sense given the title of this blog post, but there is an element of What is Funny that works in just this way.  Throughout the short, a farmer, a chicken, and a pig keep popping into frame and singing “What is funny?” over and over.  Why they are doing this is never really explained.  It’s just a strange funny thing that is endlessly repeated to the weirdest cartoon music I have ever heard (though it is sort of awesome to me that it sounds almost like the X-Files theme).  There is one thing about it that kind of makes sense in retrospect (the TV Tropes website refers to this type of retroactive realization as “Fridge Logic“; the more you know).  At some point between the second-to-last and final appearances of this strange “Greek chorus,” the pig is turned into bacon and package-wrapped, yet still has a recognizable face and is still singing.  It’s pretty senseless, but I still think it’s neat.

What do you think is funny?  If you watched the What is Funny cartoon yourself, what did you find funny about it and why?  Do you think Slap T. Pooch could have been successful in his own series?  Let me know in the comments, and keep on laughing!  (Oh yeah, one more thing…  Oh Yeah! Cartoons had one of the best theme songs I’ve ever heard.  I thought it was a bit strange that it was always played over the closing credits rather than at the show’s beginning, but it was still one of the most memorable parts of the show for me.  Give it a listen (as well as this longer version) and tell me if it made you go “Oh Yeah” or “Oh No.”)

Random Top Five: Shows That I Think Need to Be On the WWE Network

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaStarting on February 24 at 11:05 P.M., WWE (a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As World Wrestling Entertainment”) will begin broadcasting a new Internet-based television network.  The WWE Network looks promising to me, with a wealth of shows that I am genuinely excited about watching.  From the blow-by-blow account of the epic battles between WWE and WCW that constitute The Monday Night War  to the novelty of a group of wrestling legends living together in a luxurious home on Legends House and even the untold possibilities offered by the prospect of live Super Bowl-esque pre- and post-shows for Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown, the WWE Network will have a lot of great stuff to offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The WWE Network will also have a Netflix-like archive with over 100,000 hours of content, just in case there’s nothing on the main channel that looks good at the moment.  I like the idea of being able to go into wrestling’s past and digging up old shows and pay-per-views to pass the time with, and there are already some shows that I have made a mental note to definitely check out.  Still, there are some shows that I would really like to see that haven’t yet been announced.  My personal vision of what the Network could be has about as good a chance of coming to fruition as Gorgeous George’s ghost has of winning this year’s Royal Rumble.  I can still dream, though, so here’s my wish list of shows which I hope the Network might show one day, whether on the main channel or stored in the archive (but preferably the archive; I don’t have as much time these days to veg out on the couch, so the archive part of the Network is the one I’d probably count on the most for my entertainment).

5. Global Wrestling Federation

WWE recently put out a DVD in which they discussed the content they have in their tape library (which will be heavily drawn from in order to program the Network).  They then showed a graphic of the logos for all of the different wrestling companies and other sources of material in the archive.  At the bottom of that pile of logos were three peculiar initials: GWF.  I had heard of those initials before, but I couldn’t remember what they stood for, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found they belonged to a short-lived company called the Global Wrestling Federation.  As I read through the description, I couldn’t believe how awesomely weird  the GWF’s product sounded on paper.  Some of the storylines they presented sound incredible to me.  What would you say about a ”bungee” match in which the loser is attached to a bungee cord and “launched” all the way to the moon?  How about one of the show’s announcers getting amnesia and believing he’s Elvis Presley (I guess Jerry Lawler’s not the only “King” in wrestling!)?  They even had a storyline in which a psychiatrist evaluated the wrestlers’ mental health (not the kind of “wrestling psychology” I’m used to, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth)!  I sincerely hope some GWF content is included in the WWE Network’s archive so I can watch it at a time that’s convenient to me and see how well these strange storylines hold up today.  Those 2 A.M. ESPN Classic reruns just simply aren’t an option!

4. WWE Saturday Morning Slam

This show actually ended in 2013, but I think there could still be a place for it, or at least a show like it, on the WWE Network.  It was a half-hour show targeted at kids who watched the CW’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup (It shared space on the schedule with the Justice League, Spider-Man, and the Power Rangers; not too shabby!).  Wrestling moves aimed at the neck weren’t allowed to be shown on camera, so the in-ring action tended to skew more toward comedy routines, but that just made the show cooler to watch in my view.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see Santino Marella square off against Heath Slater in an air-guitar contest!  The show ran for only one season on the CW with no indication if it was ever coming back.  I’d like to see a second season with more sensational silliness.  It would definitely bring some of the fun back to wrestling, something I believe it sorely needs these days.

3. WWF(E) LiveWire

During the announcement of the WWE Network, it was stated that it would soon feature a live in-studio broadcast as part of its programming.  I’ve heard rumors that it might be similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter in that they would cover the events of WWE programming and possibly other sports and pop culture topics of the day (which sounds more like ESPN2′s SportsNation, but enough of my kibitzing).  Personally, I think WWE had a show like that already which would be a good example for the new show to follow.  It was called WWF LiveWire.  Back in the days when “the ‘E” still had an F as part of its initials, WWF LiveWire was a live studio show where viewers could make a phone call and talk to their favorite WWF wrestlers.  A show of this nature could be a good way to get viewers more invested in the network, and the myriad methods of communication available to most people today could lead to a wider variety of conversation pieces.  You could still have phone calls, but also e-mails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, Skype video chats, and all types of other ways to facilitate interaction.  A show like this could be the most well-connected show around.

2. WWF Wrestling Challenge 

A few years back, I was a loyal subscriber to WWE’s old video archive service on-line.  One of my favorite features of this archive was its collection of episodes of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Each episode was mainly comprised of “squash matches” in which the big boys of the WWF routinely beat various no-name wrestlers as well as a mixture of promotional interviews and recaps of current storylines.  For some strange reason, I found this show incredibly entertaining.  The wrestlers all had colorful personalities which grabbed my attention very quickly, and the witty banter between the show’s commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was even better than the matches themselves most of the time.  This was popcorn TV at its finest, and I regret to say that there isn’t really a show like this in WWE’s current TV output.  Sure, Main Event and Superstars come close in terms of format, but my overall opinion of these shows is that they are a little underwhelming.  If the WWE looked back on its rich, colorful history, particularly this show, and applied what worked back then to today’s product, I am sure the shows would be much more exciting.  It would certainly make the Network a lot more fun!

1. Tuesday Night Titans

Now here’s a real gem of a show that needs a reboot, stat!  Before Ted Turner founded Turner Network Television in 1988, this original TNT was blowing viewers’ minds in 1984 and ’85.  Vince McMahon made for a surprisingly witty Johnny Carson wannabe as he made light conversation with all of the movers and shakers in the wrestling world.  This show was full of memorable moments such as the Iron Shiek showing off his pet camel, Hulk Hogan getting his famous “24 inch pythons” (his arms folks, not actual snakes) measured by female wrestler Wendi Richter, and Rowdy Roddy Piper starring in a supremely corny rendition of the Christmas Carol story.  Tuesday Night Titans was the place where the WWF’s stars could unwind in between slugfests and have a grand old time.  I wonder if the talk show format could still work in 2014, in an age where the wrestlers’ personal lives are well-known and broadcast on all different forms of social media.  Maybe there’s some sides of them that have never been shown for whatever reason, and a show like TNT could help them to kickstart their careers in a bold new direction.  The WWE has a new network to fill with lots of original programming; I think a revival of TNT could fit in very nicely in the new program lineup.

The WWE Network will be starting up very soon, and I am looking forward to see what the future holds for it.  WWE has a TV lineage dating back almost a century, and in all that time, it has produced a lot of good television, so I have high hopes that the Network will be a great addition to that legacy.  

If you’re a wrestling fan, are you looking forward to the Network and would you consider subscribing to it?  If you’re still hesitant, is there anything WWE could do in terms of programming that might make you change your mind?  Let me know in the comments, and please give this thing a chance.  It could turn out to be something really special if we support it in the right way!

Pop Culture Haikus: Disney Renaiisance Edition

When I was growing up during the 1990s, there were a lot of great entertainment options available to me.  Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, and Kids WB all had great lineups of live-action and cartoon shows that could keep me entertained for hours before and after school.  I subscribed to a host of interesting magazines (Nick Mag and Disney Adventures, you will be missed!) and read through an endlessly-growing collection of books.  One of the most memorable entertainment sources for me during this time, though, was the long string of fantastic animated films released by Disney during this time.  This period has become known as the Disney Renaiisance because the quality of the animation, artistry, music, and other elements of these films were amazingly high; I was a bit too young to appreciate such finer details, but I did really like these movies.  As a small tribute to this period from 1989 to 1999, I present the following Pop Culture Haikus, one seventeen-syllable poem for each film released during this time.

The Little Mermaid

Sea girl meets nice boy./Mean witch steals ocean girl’s voice./Witch becomes fish food.  Nice boy is confused./”Why does the nice girl have fins?”/Just kiss the girl, boy!

The Rescuers Down Under

Aussie boy is kidnapped./Cute U.N. mice rescue him./Boy saved by vermin!  This had an eagle/that the Aussie boy flew on./That’s all I recall.  (Still, that eagle ruled!/Come on, a freaking eagle!/I ride eagle next?)

Beauty and the Beast

Girl meets furry boy./Beast defends her, loves her true./Aw, they got married!  Gaston was a jerk./He didn’t treat Belle nice much./Furry boy much nicer!  Feel bad for Gaston, though./Being thrown off cliff must hurt./Hope landing was soft!

Aladdin

Boy meets nice princess./Boy uses magic to impress./Girl likes real men more.  Jafar wants power./Magic makes him more snake-like./Audience: ”Boo!  Hiss!”  Genie is funny./True, he turns into weird things./Still, he’s pretty nice.

The Lion King

Mufasa has son,/Dies at hands of jerk brother./Can son become king?  Son gets two new friends./They tell him, “Not to worry.”/I think he should care.  Simba faces Scar,/Surrounded by hot lava./Better than Ali fight!  Peace reigns in Pride Lands/Because Simba won the battle./Life’s circle rolls on!

Pocahantas

Princess meets nice boy./It’s reverse of Aladdin!/Disney recycles plots!  John Smith is nice man./He loves native princess much./Doesn’t quite get girl.  Radcliffe big, greedy./Cares nothing for natives, only gold./He’s a blowhard jerk!  Pokey and John meet,/Get along though differences/Keep them both apart.

Hercules

A kid from the gods:/”Greece is chock-full of monsters./Let me save it, please?”  Hades, big bad guy:/”Jerkules wins, I burn up./Get me an aspirin!”  I like the muses much./Best Greek chorus ever filmed!/”That’s the gospel truth!”  Pegasus was neat./Large white winged horse impressed all./Rainbow Dash still coolest!

Mulan

Legendary girl/Saved China from the Hun hordes,/Also found husband.  Mushu is cute help./He’s rivals with small cricket./They’ll soon get along fine.  Shang is big captain/In fledgling Chinese army./First big test is Huns.  Mulan can help out./She’ll go as a boy soldier./She’s tougher than most!

Tarzan

Legendary man/Raised by apes, king of jungle/Heard this all before?  Terk’s Tarzan’s best friend./Brooklyn accent in Africa?/Normal for Rosie!  “Trashin’ the Camp” song/Backstreet Boys sing great doo-wop!/Too bad the camp’s trashed…  Clayton hunts big apes/Tarzan says, “That’s not okay!/This hunt is postponed!”  Ape man meets Jane girl/Ape man likes Jane girl heap lots/Maybe they’ll elope?

Do you like Disney?/How about these haikus?  Hmm?/Leave comments below.

Random Top Five: Awesome Awe-Inspiring Experiences I Had at Disney World

I bet it runs on pixie dust.

All aboard for Disney magic!

My family and I recently came back from a week in Florida.  We spent Thanksgiving with my uncle who lives there and had a great time catching up.  While there, we also took in some of the local scenery.  We walked along the beach, window-shopped at various stores (Hulk Hogan’s beach shop was a pleasant surprise to me!), and soaked up the refreshing, warm Floridian sunlight (November days without cold and snow was something I had never experienced before).  The major highlight of my vacation, though, was visiting one of Florida’s most famous locales, the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” Disney World!

There were many amazing rides, attractions, and other delights at Disney World; I felt a bit overwhelmed at times by all there was to see and do, but I was able to have a great deal of fun just the same.  We only had a limited time to visit, but what I was able to see definitely made a big impression on me.  The following list is of five attractions that I thought were the most memorable from my visit.  One small note: I only visited a small portion of the World, so the list will reflect what I was able to take in, which included Tomorrowland and Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom and Future World at Epcot.  My family and I are considering another visit to Disney World in the future to check out some of the other attractions we missed this trip.  I can’t wait!

5. Spaceship Earth

What better way is there to start off this list than with the first ride I took in at Epcot?  This ride is one heck of an introduction to Disney’s educational utopia and a fairly epic experience in itself.  I didn’t expect that Epcot’s signature gigantic golf ball (Actually, it’s a geodesic sphere, but I kept imagining a gigantic Tiger Woods hitting it off a tee; would the Gulf of Mexico be considered a water hazard?) would be home to a ride, but sure enough, my dad and I went inside the ball and came out the other side feeling that we had just witnessed something very uniuqe.  The ride itself is a brief travelogue though Earth’s history, making various stops at mankind’s accomplishments and placing a heavy focus on advancements in communication.  Each point in history is acted out by Audio-Animatronic robots with lifelike movements; my favorite robots included the Egyptian stamping a message onto a papyrus scroll and Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.  It was a great short ride; not bad for a golf ball!

4. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and Turtle Talk with Crush

These two attractions have a lot in common: both are based on Pixar films (Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo respectively), both feature characters talking to and interacting with the audience, and both are very funny!  We visited the “Laugh Floor” in the Magic Kingdom first.  The monsters have learned that laughs generate more power than screams, so they have set up a vaudville-type comedy show in the human world.  A few cameras have been placed throughout the theater where the show is housed and at various points the cameras focus on a few audience members who are shown on the big screen for the monsters to interact with.  This can lead to some very bizarre, cute, and genuinely chuckle-worthy moments.  For instance, one of the featured acts was a rapid-fire retelling of the Monsters Inc. story with various audience members standing in for the characters.  The part near the end where the camera was cutting back and forth between each audience member involved got big laughs; I was amazed that all of those rapid-fire cuts didn’t give me a case of whiplash!

We visited “Turtle Talk with Crush” after going through “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” at Epcot (we also checked out the aquarium - there was an impressive collection of fish, sharks, stingrays, coral, and other denizens of undersea life- an attraction I highly recommend if you ever visit).  The Finding Nemo star who specializes in surfer-speak communicates through a “hydrophone” to the audience (he apparently believes we all live in a “people tank”) and answers questions about turtles and other sea creatures.  Just seeing his interactions with the youngest audience members made me smile because I could tell he is very good with children.  He made both the kids and their parents feel quite happy.

3. Hall of Presidents

In Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, there is a show dedicated to the Presidents of the United States.  All forty-four of them, from Washington to Obama, as well as the First Ladies, are featured in a moving tribute to the country’s highest office.  Before the show began, we were able to enjoy replicas of various presidential artifacts (I was especially impressed with George W. Bush’s Inauguration cowboy boots) as well as some of the First Ladies’ outfits in the Hall’s lobby.  The show itself was very interesting:  a twenty-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman (He can make anything interesting, can’t he?) went over the history of the Presidency and the effect the men who have filled the position have had on America.  Toward the show’s end, a gathering of Audio-Animatronic models of all the Presidents was presented; the Abraham Lincoln model gave the Gettysburg Address, and the Barack Obama model (voiced by the Prez himself!) gave a few closing thoughts.  This show was very patriotic and moving to me; it was certainly one of the highlights of my time in Florida.

2. Universe of Energy- Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Ellen Degeneres is probably best known these days for voicing Dory in Finding Nemo and having a popular (and hilarious, I might add) talk show.  You might even remember her old sitcom Ellen.  When she was still starring in that show, she also appeared alongside Bill Nye (The Science Guy; Science still rules!  Check out this classic energy episode for a “not that bad” jolt of info.)  in one of Epcot’s oldest attractions.  First, there was an introductory video in a movie theater-like lobby.  The gist of the introductory video is this:  Ellen falls asleep in her apartment while watching Jeopardy! and has a nightmare in which she doesn’t know a thing about energy.  Luckily, Bill Nye shows up and promises to take her and the audience on a whirlwind tour through the world of energy, covering the different energy types, where they come from, and what we can do to ensure they and other alternate sources of power are still around for years to come.

After the introductory video, we passed through a set of doors and were invited to sit in several theater-like seats that then divided into several vehicles on tracks.  As they began to separate and move, we were all transported back in time to a prehistoric setting as Bill Nye explained how the dinosaurs turned into fossil fuels - the start of our energy sources.  Jungle foliage dotted the rocky landscape, an erupting volcano boomed in the background, and all manner of dinosaurs sqwuaked and scampered about.  I recognized a Stegosaurus battling a T-rex in a recreation of a scene from Fantasia, a detail I thought was very cool.  One of the dinos even tried taking a bite out of an Audio-Animatronic version of Ellen (she hurled some pretty good one liners at the dino as we went by)!  I was greatly impressed with the level of detail the Disney Imagineers gave to this part of the ride, and it was one of my favorite images from my time at Disney World.  The rest of the ride continued with more information about energy and how to save it; this part played out like a vintage episode of Bill’s old show with a lot of memorable set pieces and interesting presentations of large chunks of facts and figures.  The entire attraction was very well done and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

1. The Holiday character parade (whose name I forget; They change so often anyway that I’m not sure the name even matters!)

Toward the end of our day at the Magic Kingdom, we saw a parade of costumed Disney characters and floats as they made their way through the center of the park.  It was cool seeing so many Disney and Pixar characters I loved all together in one spectacular celebration.  Mickey and Minnie led the parade and were followed by a series of themed floats grouping together seemingly every character in the Disney universe.  I remember seeing: Lilo and Stitch; Ariel and Prince Eric; Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and Bullseye; Donald, Goofy, and Pluto; Pinochio, Jiminy Cricket, J. Worthington Foulfellow (the fox), and Gideon (the cat); and a host of other characters.  To me, it had all of the pomp and pagentry of the Macy’s parade, and it was set to a peppy song about celebration that was fun to listen and dance to.  My mom got a few choice photos of the parade; I can’t wait to see them!

Disney World was incredible and definitely worth the 22-year wait.  There is still so much there that I still want to see and do, but this first trip left a great first impression.  I’m up for an encore!  If you’ve ever been to Disney World (or any other Disney park for that matter), how did your experience compare to mine?  What were your favorite rides/attractions/ characters?  How does Universal compare to Disney?  Let me know in the comments, and may all your dreams come true!

Tiny Death Star iPad Game Review: The Force Is Small With This One

 

Kinda looks to me like the "Globe of Death" from the circus.

The Empire’s ultimate weapon, in handy diagram form. Doubles as a cute hamster ball!

Tiny Death Star , I think, is an amusing game for the iPad that combines the premise and basic game mechanics of Tiny Tower, another hit iPad game, with the vast interstellar possibilities of the Star Wars universe.  Instead of Tiny Tower‘s premise of contstructing a massive skyscraper in which virtual “bitizens” can live and work, the player for Tiny Death Star  instead takes on the role of a teeny-tiny Darth Vader and builds a massive portion of the infamous Death Star space station.  At the start of the game, a miniscule Emperor Palpatine informs Vader that the building of the Empire’s ultimate weapon requires a great deal of funding.  To obtain the necessary galactic credits, he assigns Vader (alias, you the player) to the job of Imperial Landlord, moving various denizens of the Star Wars galaxy into apartments on the Death Star, putting those new residents to work in various restaurants, gift shops, and other stores, and extracting secrets from captured Rebel forces.  Will Vader prove himself capable of managing the galaxy’s most terrifying “ant farm,” or will it all blow up in his dark helmet-covered face?

I’ve played a bit of Tiny Tower before, but I stopped playing it and took it off my iPad.  I am not quite sure why: I think it was either because I found the basic game play a bit bland or I was not fond of its presentation of a combination apartment/office building.  Weirdly enough, Tiny Death Star is the exact same game as Tiny Tower with a Star Wars coat of paint, but I find this version much more compelling.  It is probably just due to the material being used, but let’s face it, watching small Stormtroopers and droids go about their daily routines isn’t something you see every day.  In addition, there is also a steady stream of miniature bounty hunters, aliens, X-Wing pilots, Han Solo lookalikes, and a host of other familiar faces among the itsy-bitsy crowd.  If you play long enough, you’ll even see a few of the really big players in the Star Wars  saga drop by.  Early in the game, I received a visit from Jar Jar Binks who used his long tongue to snag a sandwich from a high shelf in my cafe; unfortunately, he also caused a portion of the ceiling to collapse.  (Don’t worry, this was only in an in-game movie and everything was fine once the movie finished playing.  I’d still like to know why Jabba the Hutt fell through the ceiling, though; just how did he get onto the Death Star, anyway?)  If these special character cameos keep coming, I will be one happy Padawan (junior Jedi Knight; Yeah, it’s not my favorite Star Wars terminology either, but if I was eight years old again and able to swing a lightsaber around with Yoda as my teacher, I’d put up with any terrible name I was given!)

Seeing new characters is great, and keeping the Death Star up and running for them to enjoy is almost as fun to me.  My main duty as Imperial Landlord consists of managing my growing collection of residents and making sure they are in positions where they are able to generate the most credits.  Each of them has a series of numerical ratings attached to them indicating which type of work they perform best (retail, service, manufacturing, etc.).  A worker with a high retail rating placed in a retail job will, of course, generate considerably more income than someone with a low retail number.  Each resident also has a “dream job,” a particular place they would especially like to work.  If they are placed in that location, they generate a bit of a bonus income on top of their regular contributions.  I only have a few stores open on my Death Star at the moment, so my work force is not as productive as they could be.  I’ll need a bit of time to get things up to lightspeed, but once they are perfectly aligned, I will no doubt have one of the best sales groups in the cosmos!

What is really pushing me forward, though, is the potential for the game to tell a compelling story.  The building of a structure as huge as the Death Star is an interesting situation to play with, and Star Wars is fairly famous for game-changing plot twists (Vader being Luke’s father, for instance).  I can only imagine what might happen with an apartment complex smack dab in the middle of a gigantic space battle.  What happens if Rebel X-Wings take a few shots at the Death Star and ruin my new balcony?  What if the Wookiees (Chewbacca and his family and friends) and the Mon Calamari (Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar and the rest of his kind) don’t like each other and want to be kept as far away from each other as possible?  Just when in the Star Wars timeline does this game take place?  I don’t want no stinkin’ trench run ruining my well-intentioned apartment-empire!

The combination of Star Wars and real estate development has made for an exciting combination so far.  I think I will be sticking with this game for far longer than I did Tiny Tower.  I just hope that the experience lasts longer than the real Death Star did in the movies!

What are your feelings on Star Wars?  Would you be willing to play Tiny Death Star, and if you have, what do you think of it so far?  Do you think the Rebels would notice a bunch of apartment towers jutting outward from the surface of the Death Star (just seems like a huge security risk to me, is all)?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you faster than it takes Han Solo to make the Kessel run (12 parsecs is a long time, you know!).

Random Top Five: Snoopy Personas

"Contact!" he shouts.

Here’s the World War I Flying Ace, looking proud on his Sopwith Camel featured on an emblem for the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

One of my favorite characters in all of popular culture is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle from the Peanuts franchise.  Ever since I first laid my eyes on him in a videotape recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have grown to love Snoopy immensely and take great pleasure from seeing his antics.  I like the idea of a dog standing up on his hind legs, walking around, and hanging out with a little yellow bird.  The one aspect of Snoopy that I love the most, however, is that he has an overactive imagination.  Not content with being merely a dog, Snoopy has decided to fill the dull moments of his life with fantastic adventures in which he is the hero of epic stories, usually taking on some truly iconic identities in the process.  It is these alternate personas of his that stand out the most in my mind whenever I think of Snoopy.  Here is a small appreciation of five of Snoopy’s most famous personas and why I like them so much.

5. The World-Famous Novelist, a.k.a. The Literary Ace

“It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out!”  If you’re reading a Peanuts strip, chances are you will see these words hovering over Snoopy’s head while he is banging on the keys of a typewriter on top of his doghouse.  You will then have witnessed one of the most harrowing moments in all of literature: here is the World-Famous Novelist making another attempt at writing the Great American Novel.  It’s just unfortunate, though, that he is borrowing his opening line (the “dark and stormy” part, anyway) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, an 1830 work whose beginning sentence is apparently considered one of the world’s worst story starters.  Despite the continuous stream of rejection letters that arrive from various editors and publishers, Snoopy still persists in writing, always with that line as his lead-off hitter. 

I was inspired to become a writer partly because of Snoopy’s attempts to be a writer.  I admired how he never gave up on his dream despite everyone else telling him he should stop.  He kept on writing anyway just because he was that dedicated to his craft.  It just so happens that his work has been published at least one time, believe it or not, and I acquired a copy of it myself a couple of years ago.  The year 1971 saw the publication of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, a book based on several different Novelist storylines and featured a special reprint of Snoopy’s written work.  I highly recommend hunting a copy down for yourself on Amazon, especially because of the beagle’s account of a surprisingly awesome pirate fight.

4. Legal Beagle

Snoopy has a secret second life separate from his regular existence as a dog and even from his other personas.  In this other life, he is one of the USA’s most elite trial lawyers.  Here is the world-famous lawyer, easily recognized by his bowler hat, bow tie, and carrying a briefcase filled with legal papers (and doughnuts and cookies).  This stalwart defender of truth and justice, sometimes seconded by loyal assistants Linus and Rerun Van Pelt, has had an ecclectic list of clients, including most notably Peter Rabbit (It turns out Mr. McGregor can be far more deadly with a lawsuit than he ever was with a shotgun and rabbit traps.) and the Knave of Hearts (who may have stolen some tarts, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial; it may be that Snoopy himself had a nibble of some of the tarts in question). 

I like this persona mostly because of the absurdity of Snoopy being a part of the legal world and all of the unusual situations that would bring about, and also because I have seen it more in the comics than in the TV specials which makes it stick out more in my mind.  I wonder what would happen if Snoopy went up against Phoenix Wright in a real “trial by fire?”

3. Beagle Scout

When Woodstock and his identical yellow bird friends want to go camping, hiking, sailing, or engaging in nearly any other outdoor activity they can think of, they know the beagle to call.  Snoopy is the loyal den dog to the Beagle Scouts, a group of young birds working to earn merit badges in a variety of disciplines.  Sometimes their excursions take them out onto the neighborhood golf course, marching through sand traps and around holes, frequently taking some treacherous hiking paths through the nearby woods.  There is plenty of risk of being hit with flying golf balls or being chased off the course by its owners or by Charlie Brown and the gang, but the experience of being outdoors is well worth the effort to Snoopy and his young scouts.  The rest of the time, they hike and set up camp through some beautiful countryside; how much of this is really part of the neighborhood or just part of Snoopy’s imagination, the world may never know.

The Beagle Scout persona is a Snoopy persona I can particularly admire because he and his bird friends get to walk through some exquisite outdoor settings.  Charles M. Schultz drew amazing depictions of lush forests, wide meadows, craggy mountain passes, sheer cliffs, calm rivers and streams, and other outdoor locales for the Beagle Scouts to explore, ones which remind me a lot of nearby parks and woods near my home.  They look well-suited for places to spread out one’s sleeping bag and stare up at the stars.  Snoopy is truly an appreciative outdoorsman (or is that outdoorsdog?).

2. Joe Cool

Snoopy’s salute to the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), Joe Cool is undoubtedly one of the hippest (in his own mind) personas the beagle has.  The sweater-wearing, sunglasses-sporting “student” is not as concerned with making good grades as he is with making a name for himself around Charlie Brown’s school, hanging around the water fountain and flirting with the girls.  Whether this approach makes Snoopy/Joe any more popular is up for debate; if You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is any indication, he certainly isn’t popular with teachers and other faculty who do not want a beagle leaving pawprints all over the school. 

Personally, I think Joe Cool lives up to his name, if only in that he knows how to make a sweater with one’s name plastered on it look like the coolest sweater in the world.  This somehow, by extension, makes the wearer himself look cool, so maybe the beagle is on to something here.

1. World War I Flying Ace

Here is what is undoubtedly Snoopy’s most famous persona, immortalized through his show-stealing appearance in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Royal Guardsmen’s top musical hits “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and even a couple of video games (a different Snoopy vs. The Red Baron and Snoopy Flying Ace).  The World War I Flying Ace is a living tribute to all of the men and women in the armed forces, a pilot who is still fighting the war even though it officially ended when Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.  The Flying Ace climbs on his Sopwith Camel and flies once more into the wild grey yonder (it would’ve been blue if only all those guns stopped blasting ordnance for a second), searching for the “bloody” Red Baron.  Even though the Baron is credited with a long string of successful wins in dogfights, his winning streak of  ”ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more” pales in comparison to his legendary rivalry with that ace of aces, Snoopy.  Thank goodness it’s a relatively bloodless rivalry.  Every time they meet, the Baron just shoots a few holes through the doghouse and forces his opponent to make a rough landing, free to repair his “plane’s” smoking (?) fuselage while shaking his fist (It’s astonishing that dog is even capable of making a fist.  Cartoons, gotta love ’em.) and shouting, “Curse you, Red Baron!”  Snoopy and the Baron even seem to have come to an uneasy truce: every Christmas, they land their planes and share a cup of tea together, wish each other a Merry Christmas, then fly away until their next aerial clash. 

This part of the Flying Ace’s legend is one that I really like to reflect on.  How cool is it that even though they’re such fierce rivals usually intent on “rolling out the score,” Snoopy and the Baron have enough respect for each other to reenact the famous “Christmas truce” from the 1914 portion of the War to End All Wars every single year?  It makes me hope that others will be willing to take up the cause of “…bringing peace to all the world/And goodwill to me-e-e-en.”

I have read many times that Charles Schultz stated that people could interpret his work however they wanted; that all he was trying to do with Peanuts was to make people laugh once a day every day for fifty years.  Well, he certainly made this reader think a lot about life while he was laughing.  In regards to Snoopy, Schultz said that despite the character’s sensational popularity, he himself tried his darndest not to let the beagle completely hijack the strip.  However, I personally believe that Snoopy is the best part of Peanuts.  His boundless imagination and creative flights of fancy are a wonderful respite from the usual storylines of Charlie Brown’s hangups and everyone else’s insecurities.  Snoopy is almost never depressed; he is astoundingly happy all the time and completely engrossed in his fantastic adventures.  Even if the rest of Schultz’s Peanuts work is forgotten over time, I hope Snoopy will remain popular for a long time to come.  I think the world would just be a lot sadder without him.

What do you think of Snoopy and his numerous personas?  Which one is your favorite?  Make sure to fly over to the comments and leave your thoughts, and here’s to hoping you don’t have any “dark and stormy nights” anytime soon!