Thursday, April 29, 2021

Interview with Legendary Superman artist, Wayne Boring

A Rare Interview with Superman's Godfather, 
The Man Who Took You to Krypton;

WAYNE BORING

by Richard Pachter 

Interview first published in Amazing Heroes 41 February 15, 1984

Wayne Boring calls himself "the cat who started this whole mess with Jerry and Joe!" — with an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence — just like in a comic book word balloon. He's right, of course. After Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman and started the super hero genre, Boring's art gave the character power and grace and put him in a realistic-but-fantastic setting. His Superman is actually the definitive one. All other artists who've drawn the big guy from Al Plastino to Curt Swan to Dick Dillin to Joe Staton to Jose Garcia Lopez or anybody consciously or not follows Boring's example. 

When artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel, two teenagers from Cleveland, first put the strip together, it was intended as a newspaper feature. Comic books weren't even considered at first, since most were reprints of material originally prepared for the daily and Sunday press. After gettting rejected by the syndicates, who distributed the strips around the country, Jerry and Joe placed their Man of Steel with Irwin Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz's Detective Comics, Inc. 

When Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), he was an immediate hit. The demand for original material by DC obliged Jerry Siegel to find an assistant for Joe Shuster. He placed an advertisement in Writer's Digest

Wayne Boring recalls: "I carried the magazine in my back pocket for a couple of weeks until I dropped them a line. And I got an answer back. I sent some samples of my work." 

At the time, Boring lived in Norfolk, Va. working as an artist advertising salesman at the Virginia Pilot. Born and raised in Minnesota and South Dakota, Boring attended the Minneapolis Institute of Art after high school and studied anatomy at the Chicago Art institute with J. Allen St. John, the illustrator of the original Tarzan stories. 

Although Wayne made a decent living at the Pilot, he wanted to be a cartoonist like his idols Frank Godwin and James Montgomery Flagg. When jerry Siegel asked him to come to New York, he jumped at the chance, secured a leave of absence from the paper, took a train to the Big Apple, and met Jerry at Grand Central Station. Siegel met him there and they went to see Joe Shuster. 

"Joe was living over on Third Avenue in a real rat-hole right on the elevated (subway)," Wayne laughed. "He had a room with a cot that you had to walk over to get to the other end! And there was the elevated right outside his window! Joe was a very timid little guy who wore elevator shoes. He got up and we shook hands on the bed." 

Jerry and Joe asked Wayne to move back to Cleveland with them. They set up a shop and were joined by three other artists — Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowack and John Sikela. DC had sold a daily and Sunday newspaper strip to the Bell McClure Syndicate, which placed it with hundreds of papers around the country. Boring pencilled, inked and even lettered the strip, which, like virtually all the Superman material during the time, was written by Jerry Siegel. Wayne also worked on stories for Action and Superman comics. 

I asked Wayne how they'd work. Did Jerry write the scripts and then have Joe lay them out? Boring replied, "At first, Joe would sketch it out pretty lightly and we'd work over it. Later, he developed something wrong with his hand and his eyes were very bad. He already wore very thick glasses. Now, he's almost blind. But he came in one day and started to delegate the work to someone else. He wore a gadget a doctor gave him -- a leather glove that completely immobilized his hand!" 

Boring laughed as he talked about the studio. "We had an office about 12 by 12 with four drawing boards set up there. Jerry had a desk in the anteroom. But it was the smallest office in Cleveland. 

"Once, some reporters came out to interview Jerry and Joe for an article for the Saturday Evening Post. they had photographers and everything. So they were photographing Joe and talking to him and here I was working with my back to the.em. One of the reporters came over and said, 'Would you please leave because we need the room!'" 

I asked Wayne if, in the beginning, DC knew that he had been drawing Superman. 

"No,," he replied. "They kept that pretty much in the dark, and I didn't sign it at that time." 

In addition to Superman, Jerry Siegel wrote other features for DC, including Slam Bradley and Spy. But the company wanted him to spend all his time chronicling the adventures of The Man Of Steel. 

"Donenfeld and Liebowitz came out to Cleveland and had a hell of an argument with Jerry," Wayne recalled. "They were paying him a fee for writing and they said 'Jerry, stop writing all this other crap! All we want you to do is write Superman' and Jerry had grown up poverty-stricken and said 'Look, I'm gonna write it all!' I think they paid him ten dollars a page for writing and they said they'd make up for it by paying him more to do Superman, but he said no. He was going to hang on to Slam Bradley and the others. Of course that didn't last." 

In 1940, the Siegel and Shuster shop moved to New York City, at the urging of DC. Wayne, along with his bride Lois, made the trip to New York, too. 

As Superman grew in popularity, a series of animated features were made by the Max Fleischer Studios for Paramount. A radio show also went on the air and was quite successful. 

Siegel and Shuster and their team of artists continued to supply DC and Bell-McClure with hundreds of pages of material a year. Even after World War II broke out and Siegel went into the army, he continued to send in scripts to be drawn, although others started to contribute to the Superman legend around this time. 

Despite the war, comics were booming. In addition to the usual pre-teen market, millions of servicemen now read comics, too. And after the war, the famous post-war baby boom continued the upward sales spiral. 

Superman brought in millions of dollars for DC, but not nearly that much for its creators. Boring and the other artists were relatively well-paid by Siegel and Shuster, who in turn were paid by DC. But Dc owned Superman and didn't share the revenues generated by the outside merchandising, the cartoons, the radio shows, and (later) the movie serial and the television show. 

Wayne Boring recalled the origin of the situation: "Donenfeld and Liebowitz knew that Superman was a hit, so they called these kids (Jerry and Joe) in and told 'em, 'Here, sign this' and they did and they signed away all their rights. Of course it was a swindle." 

Why didn't Siegel and Shuster fight it? Boring's opinion is that the company "scared the hell out of these kids. DC had a whole pack of lawyers. These guys would come in with their briefcases and there would be these two kids from Cleveland...!" 

Eventually, Siegel and Shuster brought suit against DC. But they sued Wayne Boring, too. 

He recalls: "Jerry hired a lawyer, the lousiest lawyer I've ever seen. I was sued for abrogation of contract and told that I was fired. Why his attorney advised him to do that, I don't know, but he said, 'You're no longer drawing Superman!'" 

How did he feel about being sued for no apparent reason by his employers? "I didn't care about it. Not really. I also worked for Johnstone & Cushing, an advertising agency. I got 600 bucks for a half-page, which Stan Kaye would ink for me. Remember How to Fly a Piper Cub? I did that. 

"But I went to see Jack Liebowitz at DC and said, 'Look, what the hell is this thing?' And he said that they were being sued by Siegel and Shuster and that I should continue to work for them (DC) until it was straightened out." 

So Wayne Boring worked directly for the company now, while Siegel and Shuster went ahead with their case. But their suit never got off the ground. Jerry Siegel wrote for several other comic companies until returning to Dc in 1959. He wrote many more Superman, Supergirl, and Superboy stories as well as The Legion of Super-Heroes. 

Joe Shuster didn't fare as well. With his bad eyes, he was unable to draw or do any other graphic work. He left comics completely. In the late seventies, Neal Adams and other comic creators and fans crusaded for Jerry and Joe. Warner Communications, who owned DC by then, agreed to pay Siegel and Shuster a yearly pension. They also receive credit on every Superman splash page for creating The Man of Steel. 

Wayne Boring continued drawing Superman for DC into the 1960s. Originally, he was able to ink his own pencils, but because of all the scheduling demands, he eventually had to give it up. The DC bullpen occasionally inked his work, but Wayne eventually took on Stan Kaye as his regular embellisher; working closely under Boring, Kaye's inks kept the art clean and sharp and beautifully enhanced the lucid layouts. 

Wayne now worked with writers other than Siegel. Bill Finger, the original Batman scripter, wrote several Superman stories, as did Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman and a very young Jim Shooter, who sent in little self-drawn and scripted comics to DC. 

Boring says that Edmond Hamilton was his favorite writer. "No doubt about it. He wrote good pictures. I could always visualize his descriptions. There was no effort to draw. Always smooth. His stories sang." 

Boring's work continued to mature. Whether he depicted downtown Metropolis or uptown Krytonopolis, it was always realistic. Steranko, in his History of Comics, refers to Wayne's "towering cities." However, the realism he brought to this fantastic otherworldly feature made Superman visually compelling throughout the '50s and '60s. 

Editorially, Wayne worked first with Whitney Ellsworth and Jack Schiff, but later (and finally) with the legendary Mort Weisinger. 

Weisinger, originally a science fiction fan, agent and editor, came aboard as writer for the Sunday Superman strip, according to Boring. He eventually became editor of the line and stretched the Superman legend to include many more survivors of Krypton, as well as a host of Bizarros and other looney heroes and villains. 

Boring recalls a stormy but productive relationship. Weisinger was somewhat difficult to work with and bullied artists and writers, he said. 

One day in 1966, Weisinger told Boring he was fired. Wayne was astonished and asked, "You mean I'm not working for you anymore?" 

Weisinger repeated: "You're fired!"

Boring persisted, "Fired? What do you mean? All you've got to do is stop sending me scripts!" 

Weisinger then said, "Do you need a kick in the stomach to know you're not wanted?" 

Weisinger said he'd call Stan Lee and try to find something for Boring at Marvel. Wayne said he liked what he called Marvel's "punchy style," but after doing some sample work for the company, didn't get any work just yet. 

The day after he was sacked by Weisinger, he contacted Hal Foster, and went to work for him as his assistant (and ghost) on Prince Valiant. Wayne later worked with Sam Leff on Davy Jones, another newspaper strip, and with John Prentice on Rip Kirby

But it must have been a shock to be fired from Superman. Wayne recalls, "I was kind of down after 30 years." 

As for Weisinger, "I was afraid I'd die and go to hell and he'd be in charge! That would have been the capper!" he laughed. Wayne eventually did do some work for Marvel Comics, including some Captain Marvel art, with a Roy Thomas-scripted issue of Thor a few years back. 

Now 66 and working as a part-time security guard, Boring draws a bit and started painting several years ago. He says, "Painting has improved my drawing 1000 percent. Now I'm cussing myself that I didn't start years ago. By God! I've still got some punch yet!" 

He frequently hears from fans and loves to talk about his work on Superman. The fans, of course, love to talk to him. Ultimate fan Fred Hembeck, in fact, met Wayne at a comic convention a few years back in Orlando and the two artists swapped sketches. 

Sitting on his patio, I told him that Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane returned to DC, once again drawing and entertaining a new generation of fans, and also about the company's new enlightened and benevolent management which seems to be far more considerate towards it artists than its predecessors. I wondered if Wayne would want to draw Superman comics again. 

He paused for a few seconds and said, "You know, I'm pretty well situated now. This is a mild job I've got, as a day security man. They're the nicest people I've ever met. They pay me well." He paused again and looked me in the eye and said softly, "Of course. Yeah, I'd like to get back to drawing, now that you mention it." 

Will the man who drew the classic "Superman's Return to Krypton" himself return to DC Comics and the Man of Steel? Stay tuned ...

(P.S. He did, but that's another story ... )
 




Thursday, April 15, 2021

The No Asshole Rule

 

The No Asshole Rule

Book stresses curbing vile workplace behavior

It may no longer be necessary to tolerate really bad behavior in the workplace, according to this new book, which also discusses how to modify the behavior of habitual offenders.

BY RICHARD PACHTER

 

Originally published in The Miami Herald on 4/2/07

 

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Robert I. Sutton. Warner Business Books. 210 Pages.

 

Are you an asshole?

 

Of course not.

 

But if you were, you probably would not admit it. After all, bad guys rarely consider themselves villains, and even the most misguided or murderous dictator usually claims a higher purpose. The people that author Robert Sutton writes about in this bracing new book are often oblivious to the unacceptability of their behavior.

 

Yet, almost every workplace seems to have several jerks who regularly run roughshod over others' rights and feelings. Most of us have toiled with weasels who blamed us for their own incompetence, laziness or malfeasance. Some may have even messed with us for the own amusement — or just because they could. I sure could tell you a few delightful stories, in fact, but as Don Corleone wisely declared, "This is business, not personal.''

 

SAY IT LIKE IT IS

 

In recent years, a new term for this stuff has gained popularity, both in the workplace and in academic settings: bullying. That's what it is. Employees who abuse their authority are craven bullies. Just as principals and teachers have come to recognize the corrosive and dehumanizing effects of such behavior, so too, have a growing number of employers.

 

It's not just bosses abusing subordinates; hostile words and/or actions directed at co-workers are also counterproductive and a waste of time and money. Sutton tells of a company in the UK that itemized the costs of the aberrant and abhorrent behavior of one such scoundrel and presented him with a bill for the expenses the company incurred as a result of his antics. Though commendable, the author points out that it's still a half-measure and that the firm really should have just fired the bad bloke.

 

Sutton provides a very solid and honest examination of the phenomenon but is not above recounting his own behavior when it veered near the precipice of iniquity. And there's a large dose of good-natured humor throughout the text, as any genuine discussion of human behavior must include, but he's also pragmatic. Despite his solid academic credentials, he is well acquainted with the world beyond the ivy-covered walls.

 


HUMOR AND SOLUTIONS

 

While the diverse examples and knowing asides Sutton invokes are interesting and reveal the ubiquity and universality of purposefully intemperate conduct, he also discusses a number of possible reactions and remedies. There is a lot of humor in his anecdote about the put-upon office worker whose boss always ate the food on her desk. The disgruntled employee left some chocolate laxatives for the transgressor -- with the expected results -- but the ideal approach to handling such situations varies, Sutton explains. Too often, however, management can't or won't take matters seriously until a subpoena or lawsuit serves as a wake-up call.

 

Even more interesting to me is Sutton's informal survey of organizations that actually implement the dictum of this book's title. It's tough, for example, to toss out a top performer who is otherwise a total SOB, but companies that are truly serious about creating and maintaining a positive and non-threatening workplace are well worth exploring.

 

Don't you wonder if any of 'em are hiring?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Comics, Seriously




This was originally written in 2007 for Moli.com, a hybrid business-social site, now defunct, that published a substantial amount of original content. I was business editor. This was the first part of an abortive series on comics creators, never completed due to the site's demise.

The makers of comic books are all powerful. With a flick of their wrists, they create and destroy universes, cheat death, shatter the time barrier, and imbue mere mortals with powers far beyond those of mortal men. But despite their heroic demeanor and soaring imaginations, many of these omnipotent, omniscient Masters of Reality have been broke, exploited, and demoralized victims of corporate oppression. Occasionally, some rise up to fight this injustice and subjugation.

Our story begins many years ago ...


As content, comics are now a primary source of material for blockbuster movies. But the business of comics is just that: a business, albeit a rapidly changing one. Once upon a time, there were many companies producing comics. But for the last 40 years or so, the best-known characters like Spider-Man, Superman, the Fantastic Four, Batman, the Hulk, and others, have come from two companies: Marvel and DC. Sales of traditional pamphlet-sized, individual "comic books" have dropped sharply over the last decade, while the sales — and mainstream cultural acceptance — of hard- and soft-cover compilations, as well as original "graphic novels," are ascendant.


If you grew up reading comics in the '60s or '70s, you were regaled with tales of the Merry Marvel Bullpen, a wondrous place where all the artists drew their comics while laughing and kibitzing with writer/editor Smilin' Stan Lee. They had a grand time.


Turns out the bullpen was essentially a myth. Few, if any, artists hung around the office, except to pick up a check and a new assignment. They toiled from home, or from their own rented studios. That's the way it's still done. Most of the creative work in comics is performed by freelance writers and artists on a work-for-hire basis, with the companies retaining ownership of the story, the characters (old and new), and any derivative works, like movies, TV shows, cartoons, lunch boxes, ring-tones — whatever. Creators are sometimes offered a slender sliver of the pie, but paying actual royalties to actual creators is a relatively recent innovation.


Years after signing away his rights to the iconic character, Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel couldn't even get a writing assignment from DC or any publisher. His partner, Joe Shuster, was legally blind and couldn't draw, so he toiled as a messenger in Manhattan and lived in semi-poverty. Marvel comics artist Jack "King" Kirby, at minimum responsible for the original design (if not the actual creation) of the Fantastic Four and nearly every other Marvel character, was forced into pleading, threatening, and finally shaming Marvel into returning a fraction of his original drawings — those that hadn't already been lost, stolen, or destroyed.


"All I know is that I own my drawings, but they've got them, and they know that I own them," he told The Comics Journal back in 1986. "They know, and they're holding them arbitrarily. They'll grab a copyright, they'll grab a drawing, they'll grab a script. They're grabbers — that's their policy. They can be as dignified as they like. They can talk in lofty language, although they don't usually ... not to me [laughter]. They can act like businessmen. But to me, they're acting like thugs."


And this was Kirby, the King of the Comics! Mere mortals, and just plain journeyman artists and writers, have been treated far worse.


While it's legal and practical for publishers to exploit (in the positive sense of the word) their intellectual property, until quite recently these companies have also exploited their freelance writers and artists, paying on a per-page basis with none of the benefits typically accorded salaried employees, such as health insurance, paid vacations, holidays, etc. When a group of veteran writers organized in the mid-1960s and asked for basic health insurance, DC's reaction was to abruptly cut off their work — in effect, firing them. That was the end of that little uprising.


Modest improvements were made over time, including the advent of creator-owned properties and shared trademarks, royalties, and payment for reprints. Most of the advances were incremental and isolated until 1992.


Before that important year, the hegemony of Marvel and DC had been challenged by a handful of smaller publishers: Dark Horse, First, Pacific, Eclipse, Malibu, Comico, Valiant, and others (all of which are now out of business except Dark Horse, whose close ties with film properties like The Mask, Time Cop, and other Hollywood productions augment and support their print ventures). Some of the indies produced books with production values equal to or better than the majors, though the quality of the stories and art varied greatly. Distribution was inconsistent, at best. They were less a threat to the Big Two and more of a farm system for new talent.


But in 1992, seven of Marvel's hottest artists (Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Mark Silvestri, and Jim Valentino) met with the company's management and announced the formation of their own publishing entity, Image.


Jim Lee told author George Khoury in Image Comics: The Road to Independence, "There was a wide, wide rift between how we perceived ourselves and our value to the company as creators, and [how] they valued us as creators, and I think they felt that they would survive without us. And they did, ultimately. They took a hit for ... several years because I think they underestimated what Image would become."


Image began to publish books written and drawn by the rebel alliance. At first Malibu distributed the comics. After learning they were paying Malibu for services that they could handle themselves, like dealing with printers and other vendors, Image distributed the books themselves.


But Image wasn't even a publisher in the traditional sense. It didn't own the copyrights, trademarks, or characters. It was (and is) more of a collective, with each of the then-six (Portacio dropped out) shareholders owning their own creative properties and calling the shots. The effect of Image's entry into the marketplace was immediate; initial sales of their books were quite high, even surpassing DC's volume, albeit briefly. Comics featuring their creations — Spawn, The Savage Dragon, Wildcats, and others — sold in the millions (!), and the Image founders became quite wealthy, especially for comic artists.


It's worth pointing out that these Image founders were all artists, and not writers; none wrote their own tales, though some had already begun either scripting or "plotting" the stories they drew at Marvel in collaboration with an editor or a "scripter," who penned dialogue to match the action depicted in the drawings.


In the wake of Image's success, several groups of writers and writer-artists also tried forming similar publishing collectives, but none gained traction and all were abandoned.


Image itself didn't stay together. Jim Lee's Wildstorm imprint was wholly acquired by DC in 1998. Lee is still ostensibly in charge of the creative side, but DC manages the business, which frequently involves creative decisions, too.


Marc Silvestri's Top Cow Productions left Image in 1996 but returned shortly after Image founder Rob Liefeld was voted out by the other partners over a variety of complaints and conflicts. Top Cow regularly works with Marvel. Lee and Liefeld have also drawn books for their old company, though since the DC acquisition, Lee's work has mostly appeared under that company's banner.


The comics industry is subject to the same competitive forces faced by most businesses, including consolidation. Image, though originally formed as a means to empower and enrich its creators, found that they still had bills to pay, payrolls to make, and profits to turn. Business is business; it's revealing that nearly all of Image's current books are written and drawn by non-partners.


But creators still seek to create businesses to serve their needs — and not the other way around.


The latest, artist Steve Rude, is a journeyman "artist's artist." In an upcoming post, we'll explore the secret origins of his new company, Rude Dude Productions, which one skeptical veteran editor termed "a suicide mission." We'll see.


© 2007, 2008 The Pachter Family Trust. Originally appeared on www.Moli.com.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Tiffany Haddish Super Bowl Spot: Groupon's Wasted Opportunity

I was super-happy to learn that Groupon hired Tiffany Hadish for its 2018 Super Bowl spot. Her hilarious anecdote on Jimmy Kimmel about using a Groupon to take out Will and Jada Smith is hilarious and her recent guest stint on Drunk History was amazing. (Heard she steals a movie, too.)

So when I saw the Groupon spot, I couldn't believe it. Take a look yourself:


What a missed opportunity — on several levels.

First of all, you could literally (yes, LITERALLY) substitute any actor, actress, spokesmodel or shlep off the street to do the spot. There's nothing Tiffany Haddish-ish about it. Generic Spokesmodel could've delivered those lines.


Second, does Groupon understand its own product? Sure, it's great to support local business (duh!) but is that Groupon's USP? Has ANYONE ever said, "Uh, yeah, I wanna support local business, so I'll buy a Groupon."? (Spoiler: NO!)

It's to save money; try a restaurant or service at a reduced cost. Period. Full stop.

The spot itself is unfunny and dumb. Wow, a rich guy gets hit with a football. Hardee har har.

No lie: I could write a better spot. Hell, almost anyone could.

Glad Tiffany Haddish got a big check, but this is a Super Bowl spot, Groupon. You blew it.



Saturday, September 3, 2016



HADRIAN'S WALLS. Robert Draper. Knopf. 326 pp.




Review by By RICHARD PACHTER
Special to the Sun-Sentinel

The best thing a novel can do is to reveal a heretofore-undiscovered world. Former Texas Monthly editor Robert Draper's first novel, Hadrian's Walls, does all this and more, presenting a tiny universe that crackles with conflict, contradiction and energy. It is an impressive work of entertainment and literature; with its page-turning plot and vibrant characters, it's perhaps the perfect book for summer reading.

Draper's revelatory universe is a Texas prison town; truly a microcosm of humanity. With layers of politics, personalities and perversion, the heroes and villains live on, long after the story concludes.

The tale is related as a first-person narrative by Hadrian Coleman, convicted of murder at 15, now returning to his hometown of Shepherdsville, Texas, the prison town run by his boyhood pal, Sonny Hope. From this logical point of attack, the story unfolds, with well-timed flashbacks revealing and amplifying the plot.

Texas, with its singular history and culture, is a great setting for any novel. Its larger-than-life legends illustrate, amplify and extend human foibles and heroics. But Draper wisely keeps things at the human level, allowing the action and its implications to assume their natural, albeit Texas-sized, proportions.

As the story unfolds, the author's intelligence and energy keep things moving at a remarkably steady pace. His craft and poise also serve to smooth over any soft spots in the plot, rendering them barely noticeable. For a novice novelist, this is a considerable feat, resulting in a story within which the reader becomes happily absorbed and remaining so well after its completion.

Hadrian Coleman is an Everyman; a Prodigal Son, to be sure, but also a figure of great gravity and tragedy. The childhood murder was, of course, the singular event in his life, but his existence before and after is even more defining -- and filled with archetypal characters and situations. Hadrian's father is the country veteran who can do no wrong; his best friend is the town's ne'er do well, the woman whom they both love is the unattainable goddess, and so on. Draper not only breathes life into these hoary, would-be stereotypes, but imbues them with such vibrancy and vitality that they're born again as fresh characters.

Hadrian's Wall's would make a terrific movie (Matthew McConaughey: call your agent!) or -- better yet -- a miniseries, but don't hold your breath. Instead, read this book, and just try to wait patiently for the author's next one. I certainly will.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Worse to Worst



Serious effort in the humorous series is a good effort but hardly revelatory


BY RICHARD PACHTER

The Worst-Case Scenario Business Survival Guide: How to Survive the Recession, Handle Layoffs, Raise Emergency Cash, Thwart an Employee Coup, and Avoid Other Potential Disasters. David Borgenicht, Mark Joyner. Wiley. 208 pages


How about starting a new job and on the third day, you arrive at work to discover that the building is surrounded by police cars? Shocked, you wonder if the joint was robbed but soon learn from a stern cop that the company is accused of criminal activities. Or another gig where the owner ushers you into his office and asks you to accompany him to a business meeting with a competitor. On the car ride to their site, he announces that he’s going to pitch them on acquiring his company! Those are two screwy situations that yours truly encountered that may not be “worst-case” scenarios, but neither are most of the relatively typical business problems depicted in this short and amusing little book.
Previously, books in the “Worst-Case” series offered humorous and straight-faced advice for dealing with obviously over-the-top situations — how to jump from a bridge or a cliff into a river; how to survive if trapped in a lion’s cage; how to escape from a giant octopus — accompanied by retro-ish illustrations that evoked hokey how-to manuals from eras past.

It was a winning formula, apparently, as a stream of follow-ups and brand extensions appeared, including a TV special. I haven’t read every volume, but my sense is that each took a similarly light and frivolous approach to the issues, even if some weren’t very serious themselves, like surviving a zombie attack.

This new volume is VERY SERIOUS, however, and emphatically states so in both forwards by each of the authors of record. With no less than 25 “experts” weighing in with their advice, the pair, I’d guess, probably did the book’s outline and final rewrites. But this veritable Justice League Unlimited of kibitzers must’ve come up with a lot of stuff that was sliced, diced and concentrated to fit snugly into a book of just under 200 pages of text. But that’s still a lot of serious!

Regardless, the book is divided into five chapters of “emergencies”: Financial, HR, Productivity, Sales and Marketing, and Executive, with a “Basic Training” summation at the end of each chapter. The presentation is pleasant enough and the intermittent appearance of Colin Hayes’ beautifully deadpan line art will elicit a chuckle or two. The advice is solid, simple and un-surprising. If you possess a minimal amount of common sense, you’ll know this stuff cold. If you’re just starting out in the world, this might be a useful book to study or one to bequeath upon a clueless co-worker who aspires toward management. Please be careful; if you hand it to an actual manager they may be insulted — and you could be mortally wounded — or your career will be. But it’s immeasurably more constructive than any cheesy, rodent-infested pop parable or other well meaning but quintessentially vapid folderol. And if you need a stocking stuffer or a present for a holiday office gift exchange, you can pick up a copy for under 12 bucks on Amazon.com, which will undoubtedly aid in surviving, at the very least, that potential disaster.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Janis Joplin's Spirit Eludes Detailed Biography


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BY5XRHS/?tag=wordsonwords-20

SCARS OF SWEET PARADISE: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin. Alice Echols. Metropolitan Books.

By RICHARD PACHTER

The only Janis Joplin songs on the radio these days are Me and Bobby McGee, and maybe Piece Of My Heart. But her image — larger than life — endures. Alice Echols' new biography of Joplin thoroughly examines her life and image, but the result is wholly unsatisfying.

Born in 1943 and raised in claustrophobic Port Arthur, Texas, Joplin grew into an "ugly duckling" teen. A vivacious, outgoing child ostracized by her classmates, who cruelly voted her "Ugliest Man On Campus," the preternaturally bright young woman became a social outcast. Purposely cultivating an unsavory reputation, she pushed the limits of propriety and parental authority by hanging with the town's lowlifes and beatniks until she escaped to college.

A self-professed folkie who gravitated to the music of Odetta and Leadbelly, Joplin barely attended classes, devoting all of her time to nearly nonstop partying and sexual explorations. She began singing at clubs and coffeehouses and nurtured her growing talent, which was sometimes fueled by copious amounts of legal and illegal substances.

She dropped in and out of school, and attempted to live the conventional lifestyle of her parents a final time before abandoning any pretense of conformity. She explored Greenwich Village, but eventually settled in San Francisco just in time for the emergence of the hippies of Haight Ashbury.

In San Francisco, Joplin found a community that welcomed her as a kindred spirit. The burgeoning music scene was a hotbed of experimentation, socially, sexually and sometimes even musically. Bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and the Charlatans recognized Joplin's talent and outrageous character. She hung out — and coupled — with many of those involved. Country Joe McDonald had a relatively long-term relationship with her, and memorialized the singer in his song Janis, on his 1967 album Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die.

The Bay Area's "anything goes" attitude gave Joplin license to party even more. When she joined Big Brother and The Holding Company, a ragged hippie rock band, Joplin's astounding voice became its immediate focal point. Hailed as the Caucasian reincarnation of Bessie Smith and other black blues singers, Joplin and the band inked a typically exploitative contract with a smallish record label, quickly producing a low-fi album that was ignored by radio.

At the first (and only) Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, a now-legendary appearance by the group and its fiery vocalist attracted rabid attention from the music business. Bob Dylan's manager quickly displaced Big Brother's home-grown handler, and the rest of the band faded into the background, forever relegated to the role of Janis Joplin's first backup band. Columbia Records bought out their recording contract, and Big Brother made its real debut album under the tutelage of producer John Simon and engineer Elliot Mazer.

Though the album, dubbed Cheap Thrills, seemed like a live recording, all but one track — Ball and Chain — were cut in the studio. Simon and Mazer figured that the band's ragged playing would be more palatable if presented in a concert context, so they added fake audience tape-loops and canned applause, crafting a simulated live album.

Though the LP sold a million copies in its first month of release, Joplin was urged to abandon Big Brother by her manager, her record company and others. Subsequent musical accompaniment inarguably served her prodigious talents better. Big Brother recorded one album following her departure, before becoming a music history footnote.

Joplin's newfound celebrity and fortune enabled the acceleration of a Sybaritic lifestyle, as she made up for lost time. Her casual pansexual couplings, drug addictions, alcoholism and other passions undercut potential artistic and career growth. Echols lists many of Joplin's lovers, including Jets quarterback Joe Namath and musician Kris Kristofferson, who composed her posthumous hit, Me and Bobby McGee. But Janis felt lonely and unloved, despite the seemingly endless parade of short-term companions.

In October 1970, at the age of 27, she was found dead after an overdose of heroin, forming an immortal triumvirate of prematurely departed rock icons. Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix — Echols says Joplin had brief affairs with both — were dead within months of her.

Her enduring image as a red-hot mama and rock archetype inspired Bette Midler's film The Rose, which was originally touted as a Joplin biopic. Another Joplinesque movie is said to be under consideration, this one supposedly starring Melissa Etheridge, who says she draws inspiration from the late singer's bold life. Other women artists similarly express solidarity with Joplin's sexuality and legacy .

Echols' book is a sympathetic but nearly clinical exploration of Joplin's life. With ample research, including scores of interviews with friends, lovers and associates, it's clear that much earnest work went into this project, but the result is a scholarly tome, contrasting wildly with the subject's flamboyant life and work. The ferocious power of Janis Joplin hinted at here may be impossible to authentically convey in any non-aural medium.

Originally published on March 14, 1999 in the Sun-Sentinel