good king/bad king

Stephen King has had good movies made from his books and some really bad ones.  Someday I’d like to discuss why this is so, but I think the main reason is simply the vagaries of the movie business.  When you have as long an IMDB list as King, you’re bound to have a few gems and a few duds.  Just in time for Halloween, here is a quick rundown of some of King’s best and worst cinematic adaptations.


The Shining (1980) – Easily the best of all Stephen King’s movies.  The fact that King has disowned this movie in favor of a far inferior version (see below) baffles me.  Stanley Kubrick took one of King’s scariest books and made it into something weirder and more profound.  Jack Nicholson’s signature role.

The Mist (2007) – Frank Darabont, who cut his teeth writing the screenplay for Nightmare on Elm Street 3, loves Stephen King like almost nobody else.  And thank goodness King has a fan in Darabont.  The Mist, based on King’s short story, is claustrophobic fun.  People get terrorized by monsters from another dimension.  Be sure to watch the black & white version, which completes the monster movie feel.

Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Another Darabont adaptation.  Based on Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Darabont turned a somewhat hokey story about a jailbreak into a meditation on friendship and the nature of Truth.  This movie coined the phrase “Shawshank Redemption good.”

Christine (1983) – Who’d’ve thought a car could be so scary?  Christine, the titular car, takes hold of all-American nerd Arnie Cunningham and warps him into a sadistic greaser.  Christine the movie is made great by a virtuoso performance of Keith Gordon (as Cunningham).  This guy has been in only a few movies, but in Christine he showed us how it’s done.

Cujo (1983) – About halfway through this shaggy dog story I thought Cujo was one of those throwaway King adaptations.  But when mother and child (played by Dee Wallace and Danny Pinaturo) become trapped in their car, look out.  Cujo proves that horror doesn’t have to employ alternate dimensions, demon spirits, or massive CGI to work.  Horror, like any good story, works best when it is told on a human level. 


Carrie (1976) – Brian De Palma directs and Sissy Spacek gets doused with pig blood.  Besides that seminal scene and the final fright, there isn’t a whole lot going on here.  Still, not bad.

Pet Sematary (1989) – Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall makes this movie worth watching.  “Sometimes, Louis, dead is better.”  I swear the TV version of the ending is scarier than the gross-out unedited version.


The Shining (TV miniseries) (1997) – 17 years after King tried to fire Jack Nicholson, he finally got The Shining he wanted.  King wrote the screenplay for this craptastic farce.  Watching the dude from Wings and the chick from The Hand That Rocks The Cradle bicker their way through a haunted house is about as scary as an episode of Divorce Court.  Throw in another in a long line of terrible child actors, cheesy make-up, and the fact that they filmed the Boulder scenes in Denver, and you’ve got one of the worst movies I’ve ever had the pleasure to forget.

Thinner (1996) – I hardly remember this one.  A fat guy hits a gypsy with his car because his wife is giving him a BJ.  The gypsy curses him to become thin, which is awesome at first (free stomach stapling!), then gets scary because he keeps shrinking!  The ending has completely eluded me, but I think he accidentally kills his wife.  Whatever.  This sucked.

Firestarter (1984) – Almost bad enough to be good.  Drew Barrymore in the role that made her famous.  She starts fires with her mind!  They made a funny SNL skit about this: Firestarter Sausages.

It (1990) – Another TV miniseries best forgotten.  Good job casting Tim Curry as Pennywise the evil clown/spider/demon/whatever.  When a group of childhood friends begin dying as adults, they must return to the sleepy Maine town they all left as soon as they could.  This is the Big Chill of horror movies, except the Big Chill was good.  Maybe if they had used the cast from the Big Chill instead of Harry Anderson and John Ritter.  Also: the only member of the group to stay in this tiny Maine town was the black guy?  He was the only black guy in town!  Of course the evil clown will find the only black guy in town!

The moral here is to not be so slavish to the source material.  King has an amazing imagination.  He has written some plots, the scope of which are unparalleled.  In order to make these stories into movies, some things need to be left out.  Some things need to be changed.  You cannot make a cohesive movie if you’re following an 1100-page book to the letter.  That said, I do find myself enjoying almost every King adaptation for one reason or another.  They’re never boring (except Thinner).

Here’s to many more years of Stephen King movies.  Happy Halloween, everybody!

Blog friday robot

friday robots: canned sardine

My friend Kenan had the brilliant idea of driving down to Monterey the day before APE so we could visit the aquarium.  Before Monterey was an aquarium town, it was a sardine canning town.  Now some of the factory machines are on display at the aquarium, mere feet from where live fish frolic and play.friday-robots-10-29-10

Falling Rock

Welcome to Falling Rock National Park

Falling Rock

Welcome to Falling Rock National Park

Falling Rock

Welcome to Falling Rock National Park


city lights books


I cannot imagine a cooler bookstore than City Lights Books. Located in downtown San Francisco, and known for its connection to and championing of the Beat writers, City Lights is as much a cultural landmark as a still-thriving bookstore.

That is why I am pleased as punch to announce that you can find See America First for sale at City Lights. To be associated with huge mega-stars such as those listed above is a dream I would never have dared dream, and yet here it is, not a dream at all but reality.

My next book of comics will be written on one continuous scroll, a la On the Road.

Just kidding. I don’t think they make Bristol board paper in scrolls.

For those of you living in or near the great city of San Francisco, be sure to check out the zine rack at City Lights Books and buy a copy of See America First. Don’t make them regret hearing my name.

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autobiography Blog comic con

APE 2010

Kenan told me to sit this way.  He called it the Trump Pose.

As my friend Brian used to say about Alternative Rock, “Alternative to what?”  The Alternative Press Expo, in San Francisco, is a showcase for comics, zines, trinkets from Shangri-La, relics of saints, baubles, broaches, brocades, elfish magic tricks, a pie-eating contest, and mythological animals.  It is the alternative to everything boring, dull, and stupid.  It is the epitome of aweseomness, daring, and the new.  This was my second year exhibiting at APE and I daresay my best.  It was a real party.
I was seated in the midst of genius: my tablemate, Reid, a way better artist than me and also taller by at least 4 inches, was debuting his book Cryptozoology.  Turns out his instincts were right on.  He got a number of folks remarking on how cryptids were this year’s “in” theme.  Although it certainly wasn’t Reid’s intention to cash in on the zeitgeist, he ended up making four billion dollars and got a movie deal.  No seriously, he did well and made some new friends, some of whom were even nice enough to stop and talk with me too.

To our left was the table that could barely contain Kenan and Neil.  To my great delight we got to spend time together after the show; our little collective made me feel like a real artist.  We partied like it was some year that ends in the numbers 9, 9, and 9.

My neighbors, Kenan and Neil

Saturday night the four of us went to a Chinese restaurant.  You enter through the kitchen, go up a flight of stairs, and sit in a tiny, narrow dining room.  The server was an older lady who was trying, apparently, to have a heart attack that very night.  That or a broken leg; she kept running around and nearly tripped down the stairs.  It was especially strange since the crowd was not all that large and did not necessitate a server who literally threw our chopsticks at us as she sprinted by.

Later we went to Isotope, a very cool comic shop a few BART stops away.  Every year they give the Isotope Award to a deserving minicomic.  This year’s winner was Pete Hodapp for his comic The Possum and the Pepper Spray.  As you can imagine, if you put that many cartoonists in a room and serve alcohol, you get a wild party.

Of course the joy of APE is not confined to The Concourse in San Francisco.  On my drive down I paid a visit to the majestic redwoods.  These trees are powerful.  I’ve met them twice now and still don’t feel like I have spent enough time with them.  Perhaps next year I can make more time for the trees.L1020486 L1020517

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, just chillin’.

After the redwoods, I made a beeline for the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.  I’ve never seen so much original Peanuts art before; the linework and design that went into each individual strip was almost unbelievable.  Schulz drew huge!  27.75 inches by 7 inches for a daily, 23.25 inches by 15.75 inches for a Sunday.  That’s a lot of ink.

There is a tile mural in the grand hallway.  It is composed of about ten year’s worth of strips, made into tiles, and when you stand back they form an image of Charlie Brown trying to kick a football from Lucy.L1020531
Next to the museum is the ice skating rink Charles Schulz visited every day.  After a morning of cartooning, he’d have lunch and watch the skaters; he was a huge hockey fan and even played in the National Beagle League for three seasons, from 1953-55. (He eventually quit in frustration after he kept losing his puck to the Puck-Eating Tree.)L1020552
To my great amazement, a little red-haired girl was taking skating lessons inside.  I am not making this up.L1020556
On the Friday before the convention, Kenan and I made a trip down to Monterey to visit their great aquarium.

Seahorse watching.

The aquarium stood on the site of an old sardine canning factory.  They left standing one wall of the old plant, and had several of the machines used for the production of canned fish on display.  These machines will show up as Friday Robots in the future, have no doubt about that.L1020711
Now it’s that part of the post dedicated to LINKS!
A number of old friends were also exhibiting at APE, listed here in no particular order.  Visit their websites! Read their comics!  Live your life without regrets!

Keith Knight
Stephen Notley
Raina Telgemeier
Dave Roman
Alec Longstreth
Greg Means
Matthew Ocasio

I managed to make a number of good trades despite being tied to my table for the majority of the show.  This just goes to show you how much talent there was; had I spent the whole weekend browsing I would have filled boxes with awesome comics.

Spitball Press
Octavio Rodriguez
Karen Knighton (Karen also works for the website Ringtales, which you should check out  for their animations of daily comic strips.  I’ve never seen comics animated so well.  The way they do it, it works.)
Kevin Woody
Russ Kazmierczak, Amazing Arizona Comics
Ako Casuera, Cactus Girl
Jen Tong, prints
Jonas Madden Connor

Finally, links are coming back to me about…me.  Here are a couple early reviews:

A Comic a Day
Neil’s Oh Boy, Comics!L1020476

Falling Rock

Welcome to Falling Rock National Park



Unlike a root canal, midterm elections are a treat for all the senses.  You get the party who is currently out of power scrambling to regain a majority, and the party who is in power scrambling to retain their tenuous and largely imaginary dominance.

This time around it’s the Republicans, the Party of No, who want us to forget what the years 2001-2008 looked like. The Democrats, many of whom should have been ousted in 2002 for crimes against humanity, have been trying their best to remember that they are the party for the 99.99% of us who aren’t Ted Turner.  Actually, I take that back.  Ted Turner is not that bad a guy.  The Democrats stand, in their best form, for the endangered species that is the middle class, the diversity of races and cultures that make up this nation, and for the idea that you don’t have to be rich to be happy, but you do have to at least earn a living wage.

President Obama is one of the greatest presidents this country has ever seen.  (Keep in mind that this statement is coming from the guy who brought you Carter/Obama ’08.)  He made a lot of promises when he was running for office, and in the two years since he has been diligently keeping those promises.  Financial reform, money for science and the environment, money for jobs, and, oh, let’s not forget the health care bill. 

My liberal friends complain that it was not a good bill, even before the Republicans hacked away at it, but I must remind them that health care has long been the proverbial “third rail” in politics.  Touch it and you’re dead.  Not only did Obama pass one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation for the good of the populace of this country, he did what no other president in recent history could do.  This is by no means an end.  We must work to amend the bill and make it even better.  A public option, for starters.  But the hardest part is done.

The problem is, nobody likes to talk about domestic issues.  They aren’t popular, politics-wise.  We don’t like to talk about homeless people, or sick people, or kids who can’t go to school because they have to work three jobs.  But those are the kind of problems we have to deal with now, way too late, because President Bush and his gang of thugs told us there are terrorists everywhere and we need to fight them everywhere (but mostly in Iraq).

Nobody likes to balance their budget, least of all state and federal governments.  Ronald Reagan could attest to that, at least before his mind started “resting.”  Why balance the budget when you can buy all kinds of shiny new planes and ships for the military?  Why balance the budget when you can drive over to Best Buy and get a HDTV? 

Fox News, which I watch for kicks but also to see how the other half lives, wants us to believe that President Obama and the Democrat majority have created the highest deficit ever.  What they gloss over is the simple fact that Bush ran that deficit up, and kept running it up, like it was the credit card his daddy gave him.  He’s probably still running it up right now.  No no no.  I won’t stoop to wild accusations.  But you get my point: the Republicans only get fiscally responsible when a Democrat is President, or when they’re talking about domestic issues, or both.  Right now, we have both.

President Obama came to Portland recently to stump for our Democrat candidate for governor, Kris Kristofferson.  In his speech, he said the Republicans are running a campaign of amnesia.  That is, they want us to forget what happened a mere two years ago and vote for them.  What happened two years ago, you ask?  Massive unemployment, the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression, our car companies begging for change on the side of the road, Florida selling itself on craigslist for 35 bucks.  In 2008 I was laid off.  Two years later, the country is turning around.  The car companies have promised to pay back their debt to the government, Florida is still standing, and I have a new job.  Nothing’s perfect, but we’re on the right track.

Thanks for listening to one cartoonist’s rant about politics.  I write this blog in part to touch on issues that will never appear in Falling Rock.  Hopefully I’ve only alienated a small number of you, dear readers, and that you will forgive me my Scotch-fueled verbosity.