Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bizarro? What's Bizarro? .... Bizarro is Weird. Plus, Is there Bizarro for Children?

I went to BizarroCon 2011 in Troutdale, Oregon (at McMenamins Edgefield) this last weekend and had a great time.  I met many Bizarro authors and learned some writing tricks and strategies that will be very useful to me as I continue to expand my writing efforts.

At one point, I arrived a little early to one of the activities.  There were three people in the room that I assumed might be part of the convention. So, I asked them if they were there for BizarroCon.  Their response was, "What's Bizarro?"  One of them made a little joke about Superman ("Bizarro" is the name of a character in the Superman comics who is sort of the opposite of Superman...quick aside: "Bizarro" is also the name of a comic strip by Dan Piraro).  It turned out that these people were just hotel guests exploring the grounds, but I was put on the spot. Strange images and brand new authors flashed in my head, but I had no idea what to say.  I eventually spouted out that it was a genre of literature that has always been around but has only recently been given a more official name.  In the past, some people called it "Weird Sh*t."  I mentioned Joe R. Lansdale, and one of the members of the group perked up.  I mentioned that Mr. Lansdale wrote some very odd and non-mainstream stories and books with elements that you normally wouldn't find on the Best Seller lists.

I then mentioned some titles of books like Carlton Mellick III's I Knocked Up Satan's Daughter: A Demonic Romantic Comedy and Robert Devereaux's Baby's First Book of Seriously F*cked up Sh*t.  I also told them that it isn't always funny and it isn't always gross...but those things can help make a Bizarro book great!  My conclusion was this, Bizarro is weird.  They accepted that and moved on with their explorations.

Now that I think about it, wasn't Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland pretty bizarre?  Bizarro-esque media has been around us for ages: Movies (there are some very weird 1920's films... plus, have you seen Richard Elfman's 80's movie Forbidden Zone?), TV (Monty Python's Flying Circus, anyone?) and music (personally, I love Adam and the Ants' "Don't Be Square (Be There)": "Antmusic for sexpeople / Sexmusic for antpeople / Get off your knees and hear the insect prayer").  If you read a lot of 1960's and 1970's children's literature and picture books, you know there is a lot of bizarre stuff out there.  There are whole blogs dedicated to kids' books that will mess up your children!

The other part of Bizarro literature is that anything officially marked "Bizarro" is currently 99.9% for adults.  Be it language or adult situations, it isn't things the average 10 year old should be reading.

Nowadays, children's literature is very sanitized and oftentimes even dull. There is hope though; Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series is WEIRD and fun.  Kids love weird.  I read my son Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers and he loved its weirdness.

I would love to see some official Bizarro books for kids. Yes, the parody "for adult" children's books are great too, but a well illustrated weird book for kids could be great too. Maybe even some Young Adult books too.

There are some quite strange children's books out there.  One being The Long Journey of Mister Poop (AKA The Fantastic Voyage of Señor Caca) by Angèle Delaunois which features the words "YUM" and "Ah!" on its cover alongside the titular anthropomorphic piece of excrement!   And for the pre-school sex-ed crowd there's Nicholas' Allen's Where Willy Went...The Big Story of a Little Sperm and for the slightly older picture book reader there is Hair in Funny Places by Babette Cole (featuring the scariest hormone monsters you've ever seen and the line, "Inside his penis, Mr. Hormone was lurking with another portion of the mixture..." SCARY AS HELL)!  Oh...and don't forget the smelly fun of William Kotzwinkle's Walter the Farting Dog series of books (their whimsical and totally crazy illustrations are fascinating).

Not all of the Bizarro-esque children's books are bathroom-function or puberty related.  Daniel Manus Pinkwater has been weirding-up children's minds for years.  The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death fascinated me as a tyke. 

I was kept away from some of Daniel Pinkwater's other books like Devil in the Drain (featuring a demon in a little kid's drain!) and I totally missed the awesome sounding The Wuggie Norple Story (illustrated by Tomie dePaola and features a HUGE cat and the line "The next day was Saturday, and Lunchbox Louie didn't have to go to work, so he took Bigfoot the Chipmunk, and King Waffle, and Wuggie Norple, and Freckleface Chilibean, and Papercup Mixmaster and Exploding Poptart, and Laughing Gas Alligator, and a big basket of lunch and they all went to Nosewort Pond for a picnic..." Totally Bizarro!).

Bizarro kids' lit doesn't have to mess up you children's minds or scare them from ever using the toilet or touching themselves again.  If done correctly, it should expand their minds and make them realize that fiction doesn't have to be just Junie B. Jones or Harry Potter.  There's nothing wrong with kids reading those mainstream books, but don't put your kids into the same box that everyone else is trying to put them into.  If you are hesitant, read it with them, or read it first.  But please, please, please, buy your child something weird, strange, weird, bizarre, weird, funny, weird, Bizarro! 

Now snuggle into your Tauntaun sleeping bag and I'll sing you a Bizarro song called "Little Bunny Foo Foo" before I say "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the Zipperump-a-zoos bite!"

PS: If you are interested in trying out Bizarro for Adults, try one of the Bizarro Starter Kit books or read more about Bizarro at Bizarro Central (

Friday, September 23, 2011

A NEW Shel Silverstein Book! "Every Thing On It" is out now! Plus, an Ode to it too!

Shel Silverstein's Every Thing On It

Most kids born in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's (and the parents of those children) are very familiar with the poetry and art of a man named Shel Silverstein.  For many, you can start a random line and they'll even be able to finish it or you'll at least get a knowing smile... like "Help I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor!" ("A boa constrictor! A boa constrictor!") or "Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout" ("would not take the garbage out...").  His books are in over 20 languages and he has sold over 20 million copies of his works worldwide.  Books like The Giving Tree and The Missing Piece, and poetry collections like Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are a must in every library.

Well, fan, Romans, parents, kids, and monkeys lend me your eyes, ears, and nose... There is a NEW book of about 150 never-before-published poems (and drawings!) and it clocks in at almost 200 pages!.  Oh, and Shel Silverstein's new book is called Every Thing On It! It came out September 20th, 2011 and it is fantastic (I picked mine up at Target for a little over what it is currently priced at on Amazon).  It has the exact same look and feel as the classic collections of Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light In the Attic (and Falling Up too, in case you missed that one).

His humor is here -- of course -- and the dark side that kids secretly love is here too (like bad children who... well.. die!). The illustrations have the same look and feel as all of his "normal" illustrations.  His use of irony and turns of phrase are just like you remember them.

And now... for something completely different...

An Ode to Shel Silverstein's Every Thing On It
by Robert Brouhard

It's here!
It's here!
Shel Silverstein's,
Every Thing On It!
Let's cheer!
Let's cheer!
Stay up late,
And read all of it!

I just bought it today,
And I am oh so happy to say,
There are poems in here,
that will remind you of yesteryear. 
At the start or by the end,
It may bring to you, my friend,
a happy or nostalgic tear.

There are plays on assumptions,
and he'll fool your perceptions,
There are funny stories,
(Even some that are gore-ies),
There are poems of insightfulness,
And some full of frightfulness...
But no matter how they beg,
No matter how they wheaze,
Don't let your parents read it,
Unless they say "Please."

So come and roam,
Through this Poetry tome,
Full of four lined quickies,
And eighty lined longies,
Boy and girls and ponies,
Talking tummies and macaronies
Legsies and toesies
And fingies as nosies
But, oh my, please,
Remember this, Dears,
When you have Shel Silverstein,
With Every Thing On It,
You'll have the treasure of laughter for years.

Although Shel Silverstein did die 1999, good ole (bad ole?) "Uncle Shelby" will always live on in the imaginations of children, young and old, everywhere.

So, goodnight, sleep tight, and don't let the Zipperump-a-zoos bite.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Disney Comics App for iPhone and iPad featuring X-Mickey! (updated 05/25/2011)

You know me, I love to read, and that includes Comic Books. I’ve recently discovered the Disney Comics App in the App store on iTunes (available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). I have an iPhone and I love it.

Here is what makes the Disney Comics App so cool: A lot of the comics have never been available in English or in the United States (there are settings for “English,” “English (United States),” “French,” and“Spanish” in the App settings, but I don’t know if this will change the language of the comic books or just the App buttons). Some were released by Gladstone and Boom Kids! The thing is, Italians have a comics publication called Topolino (which I believe is their name for Mickey Mouse). It started in 1949 with issue #1 (100 pages). Issue #500 came out in 1965 (180 pages). #1000 came out in 1975 (over 100 pages). #1500 came out in 1984. #2000 came out in 1994 (388 pages). #2500 came out in 2003 (196 pages)… They are almost to #3000. If you get where I’m going, this is a weekly comic book that has been around for over 50 years with over 100 to 200 pages an issue and little to no reprints! 1,000’s of stories that a lot of us have never even seen! Plus, there are a ton of characters that Americans might not be aware of (or at least don’t see very often)! Like: Fethry Duck, Donald Duckling, Pipwolf, Quackmore, Portis (Peg-Leg Pete’s partner), and many more.

There are currently about 17 totally free digital comic books available on the App (ranging from a couple pages to 45+ pages). This will give you plenty of time to get to know the different ways to use the App. There are also 40+ purchase-able comics too (Many of which are available as a part of the various Bundle deals they have going on right now).

You need to get this app to read X-Mickey. X-Mickey is sort of a mix of Mickey Mouse’s mystery comics with a touch of horror (not too scary at all). They feature a Goofy-like character named Pipwolf that is a werewolf, but he isn’t evil or scary. The series was originally released by The Walt Disney Company Italia from 2002 to 2004. It was a short-lived series of only 30 issues that started with #1000 and worked their way DOWNWARD to #971. Then the series continued from that point in the main Italian Disney Comic Topolino (including a pretty long, 87 page, story in Topolino #2762 and #2763, story #TL 2762-2P). In the app, the original X-Mickey comics are numbered normally, and #1 - #11 are on there right now. DISNEY, PLEASE get #12 - #30 on there as soon as possible (plus the bonus material and the Topolino appearances, pretty please)! I think the title is a reference to The X-Files (and certainly not the X-Men).

Now, here is the sad thing. While you get the original full X-Mickey stories that were in those issues of X-Mickey, you don’t get the full original comic book! For Example, X-Mickey #1 (AKA #1000) was 84 pages long. But the X-Mickey digital comic is 45 pages long. The Digital comic is missing “Chiedilo a Pipwolf” a 4 page story featuring Jeremy the invisible mailman and Pipwolf, “Cartoline da Mostropoli” a 12 page story featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, some ads, a fake ad featuring Pipwolf as a magaician, and the original front and back cover. While I’d LOVE to see it all translated to English, I am okay with getting just the main, uncensored, X-Mickey story that was in each issue.

I have read some negative reviews, but they seem to all stem from people not being patient enough with downloads (and be connected to an Internet source) or not reading the Settings section's "Help" section under "About".... There is also a great amount of info on their website:


1) Free comics! And most of the comics are only $0.99.

2) No ads at all (none in the comics…and the ones in the app are for deals within the app).

3)Translations.  Previously unavailable in English comics like X-Mickey!

4) X-Mickey. These huge comics (about 45 pages) are totally entertaining and feature brand new (to me) characters and monsters.

5) Actual pages are listed. Not panels like some comic apps.

6)ZOOMING. You can choose to pinch-to-zoom, or have the app zoom-in from panel to panel with just a tap! You can even have it automatically go from panel to panel… if you’re a speedy reader (the speed is adjustable).

7) Sounds. These scared me the first time they happened. Every once in a while, if you are reading with the panel-to-panel method, a pre-recorded sound will play…usually a zinger of some sort that matches the action in the comic. This is a totally unnecessary thing, but it is fun and it usually makes me jump. It is easily turned off in the “Sounds and Animations” section of the“Settings.” I haven’t seen any“Animations” yet, but they might be cool!

8)Prices.  $0.99 a comic story is great!  Some of them are $1.99 and some are more than that, but I believe the price points are based on length... something like 30 pages or less is $0.99... 31 or more pages is $1.99.  There are some deals for longer comics being $0.99 (or less with bundles)... Personally, I think that all the comics SHOULD be $0.99.  I'm not purchasing any of the higher priced ones. For Example, the Superduck series, most of them are $1.99, and they are really good, but I can't buy 11+ comics for $1.99 each (they are about 48 pages each, and probably worth it though...maybe).

Cons / Easily fixable things:

1) The banners advertising the different deals and comics don’t always work (currently there is one that says “Villains”with Magica De Spell and the Beagle Boys on it, but tapping it doesn’t bring you to to a list of their comics).  Sometimes these banners do work, and when they do, there is usually a good deal attached to them.   UPDATE for new 10/2011 version:  THEY WORK NOW!

2) Incomplete comics/No ads in the comics… WHAT? Yes, you read that right. From what I understand, the original X-Mickey releases had FAKE parody advertisements in them (featuring the X-Mickey characters with story related silly items), and these aren’t included… but the big stinker is, the bonus stories that were in the original issues aren’t included either.  Also, the Topolino comics were a few hundred pages, and they aren't completely available... just the full stories are available (which is hard to complain about). October 19th update: A new 15 page free comic called "X-Mickey Extra #1: Postcard from Monsterton" (which looks like it should be called "Smile!") was just added... this may be a GOOD sign! Smile was originally printed as "Sorridi!" in 2002 in X-Mickey #998 (#3). 

3) Non-searchable database. You can’t search. Period.  You just have three lists for the regular and three lists for the free comics: “Featured,” “Top 25,” and “New” in each.  Note: You CAN sort of search the comics you've purchased/downloaded via a list of ALL of them, called "titles," a list called "Characters" and a list called "Categories." UPDATE FOR NEW VERSION of the APP released 10/2011: "Characters" and "Categories" have been added to a "Kiosk" section of the main comics and a lot of comics are listed under those that aren't anywhere else.  Currently, the "Characters" list in the Kiosk section is missing a lot of characters, but they are working on it.  There still isn't a "search" though.  I want a key-word search. 

4) Translations need another proofread sometimes. Two of the comics I’ve read on the Disney Comics App have had errors that should have been picked up by a proofreader. One of these was in Wizards of Mickey #1 (which I have the Boom Kids! Graphic novel of the first four issues… but the app had it as a free download too). The interesting thing is, this typo wasn’t in the Graphic Novel at all. The typo is “You’ll find out in soon in the next episode…” A totally easy mistake to make when a writer changes how they are going to word something mid-sentence. Maybe they need to hire a Copy Editor/Proofreader, or a second one.

5) The original covers aren’t always a part of the comic download. This is due to a lot of these originally being part of a bigger comic like the Italian“Topolino” comics that usually have a lot of stories. But for something like the X-Mickey comics, I don’t know why they aren’t included. The original X-Mickey covers are works of art.  This is a little picky, but it would be nice.

Here is a list of some of the comics (besides X-Mickey) that are currently available:

NOTE: the TL ####-#’s are the story codes. I noticed these in the books and there are websites dedicated to them. The TL stands for "Topolino"

Arizona Goof and the Risky Adventure (also titled “Arizona Goofy and the Risky Adventure” within the App). TL-2649-2 (this series was originally titled Indiana Pipps/Goofs, I believe). Original Italian title: Indiana Pipps e la rischiosa avventura

Donald Duck and Fethry Duck in “Operation Seaweed”. TL 2541-1. 30 Pages. Original Italian title: Paperino, Paperoga e la "Missione Alga"

Donald Duck and Gladstone Gander and the Trash Collection. TL 2688-2. 12 pages. Original title: Paperino, Gastone e la raccolta differenziata

Donald Duck and the Secret of the 313, TL 2071 (AKA TL 2071-1). 29 pages. Original Italian title: Paperino e il segreto della 313

Donald Duck and the Beach Training Camp. TL 2752-1. 26 pages. Original Italian title: Paperino e il singolare allenamento balneare

Donald Duck and the World Cup Mission. TL 2638-1. 30 pages. Original Italian title: Paperino e la missione "mondiali" (Note: this also features Fethry Duck.)

Donald Duck in Gone With the Wind #1. TL 1396-A. 44 pages. Original Italian title was: Paperino e il vento del sud (Note: #2 isn’t on the App yet, but #1 is free right now)

Gladstone Gander and the Holiday in the Pocket. 4 pages (free). TL 2211-3. Original Italian title: Gastone e la vacanza in tasca

Goofy and the Elephant Memory. 5 pages (free). TL 2224-4. Original Italian title: Pippo e la memoria da elefante

Gyro Gearloose and the Shielding Gloves. 12 pages (free). TL 2695-3. Original Italian title: Archimede e i guanti paranti

Mickey Mouse and the Secret of the Black Whale. 36 pages. TL 2523-1. Original Italian title: Topolino e il segreto della Balena Nera

Mickey Mouse and the Sword of Ice #1. 31 pages. Part 1 of TL 1411-BP. Original Italian title:Topolino e la spada di ghiaccio

Mickey Mouse and the Sword of Ice #2. 31 pages. Part 2 of TL 1411-BP. Original Italian title: Topolino e la spada di ghiaccio

Mickey Mouse and the Sword of Ice #3. 39 pages. Part 3 of TL 1411-BP. Original Italian title: Topolino e la spada di ghiaccio

Mickey Mouse and the River of Time #1 (also titled “Mickey Mouse in the River of Time” in the APP). 24 Pages. TL 2243-1A. Original Italian title: Topolino e il fiume del tempo. This story was printed in English before in Mickey Mouse Adventures #2 (ISBN 0-911903-69-0)

Mickey Mouse and the River of Time #2 (also titled “Mickey Mouse in the River of Time” in the APP). 26 Pages. TL 2243-1B. Original Italian title: Topolino e il fiume del tempo

Here is a list of some comics that have been available as a part of a promotion, but they are currently no longer available:

San Diego Comic Con 2011 specials:
Cinderella (a 44 page comic adaptation of the film, FREE)
Up (a 48 page comic adaption of the film, FREE).

New York Comic Con 2011 specials (as of Thursday morning at 1:21 New York time):
From what I understand, a QR code on staff t-shirts will lead to a special mobile site with specially-priced New York Comic-Con exclusives.  Here is what the app has on it right now (with the prices for "regular" users:
The Mickey Mouse Once Upon a Time in America Series:
Mickey Mouse and the Treasure of the Mayflower (34 pages, free)
Mickey Mouse and the Boston Smugglers (35 pages, $0.99)
Mickey Mouse and the Big Sky (40 pages, $0.99)
Mickey Mouse and the Second-to-Last of the Mohicans (35 pages, $0.99)
Mickey Mouse and the River's Beauty (32 pages, $0.99)
Interview with George Washington (30 pages, $0.99)

Two Tangled shorts: "Flying Stars" and "Pascal's Painting" (only 4 pages each, and way over-priced at $0.99 each... these should be free). They were originally published in Disney Presents #1.

The Lion King (46 page film adaption, 2.99)

Toy Story (48 page film adaption, $2.99)

Aladdin (46 page film adaptation, $2.99)

Up and Cinderella too (but for $2.99 each).

Some of the bundles are listed in the Special Offers secitions of the App, but they are all regular price.


UPDATE October, 2011

They just released a new version!

There is a "Kiosk" choice at the top.  Tapping it will bring you to two choices "Characters" and "Catagories."  Going into those will bring up a lot of comics that don't show up anywhere else. Like: "Arizona Goof and the Idol of the Chicken-hearts," "Mickey Mouse in War of the Worlds," "A Christmas Carol" (Jose Colomer Font's 1982 34 page version)and a whole slew of "Superduck" comics!

The banners now work!

All of my purchases moved to it without me even having to re-download.  NICE!  There is an option in the settings to do this if you can't find something you've downloaded.

Now... just add a search and they'll be golden.


Update May 2012

Things have been pretty slow in this App recently.  A lot of comics have been released/translated onto this app, but most of their prices have been the higher $1.99 instead of the more economical $0.99 (including "X-Mickey" #12 through #20, grr).  Doubling the price is a horrible idea in my opinion. So, I haven't been purchasing like I used to.  Paying for a non-physical item that I can't donate or sell or give to my kids when I'm done with it is just... hard to deal with.  It feels like renting, and if I'm going to "rent" these comics, I don't want to spend more than $0.99... or have more "Bundle" options... or more sale days.

On Free Comic Book Day (first Saturday in May 2012), the App released 4 comics:
"Cars: Raditor Springs" 
"Donald Duck and the Space Tourist"
"Tangled: Flying Stars"
"Phinneas & Ferb: Happy Birthday, Perry!" 
I purchased these the day they came out, but my phone pooped out on me and I had to download them later.... BUT I COULDN'T.  The books are no longer available now.  So, now they are sitting in my download queue.  Everytime I open the app, they try to download again, but alas, they cannot.  I emailed the company and they told me to delete the App and redownload it.  It turns out this was NOT good advice.... fortunately I asked more questions and got a straight answer from "Eric",
"Unfortunately, the comics that were available on Free Comic Book Day were only available to download on that day."
So, these four comics will continue to attempt to be downloaded, I guess, every time I open my app (or my phone locks and unlocks).  ANNOYING.  You see, they can't be deleted because they haven't been fully downloaded yet.  Disney needs to just make these available to those who have purcahsed them (like me), or they need to update the app so you can delete an un-downloaded book.  So, I assume that if you DID download them, and deleted them, you'd never be able to get them again!  That doesn't seem right.  All of the other purchases remain available if least that is what the App says...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Gwot! Horribly Funny Hairticklers" by George Mendoza: One of Steven Kellogg's First Illustrated Books!

Author: George Mendoza

Illustrator: Steven Kellogg

1967, Harper & Row, Publishers

One of the first books I remember my mom reading to me was GWOT!  Horribly funny hairticklers by George Mendoza and illustrated by Steven Kellogg, and so that is the book that I want to share with you wonderful readers today (I found it in a library sale)!

Most of us are aware of Steven Kellogg.  He is an excellent illustrator and story teller.  He is well known for the Pinkerton series of books.  My personal favorite by him is Much Bigger Than Martin (I had a big brother).  George Mendoza on the other hand is an odd duck, and that is why I blogged about him yesterday.

GWOT! was George Mendoza’s “first book for children” per the dust jacket.  This might be Steven Kellogg’s second illustrated book.  The dust jacket states that Steven Kellogg had also illustrated Mary Rodgers’ The Rotten Book, but the earliest year I can find online for that book is 1969... so GWOT! may be his first published work in book form.  But to be honest, It is really unknown to me which book came out first.

This book consists of three stories, “The Snake,” “The Hairy Toe,” and “The Hunter” (plus an unnamed three panel bonus wordless story). All have scary aspects. Although, when I read them to my then five-year-old last year, he just looked at me and said, “Was that supposed to be scary?” Of course, he was scared during the stories. I could tell. He was just trying to be brave...I think.

Ants and a hairy severed toe!

Maybe the reason this books sticks in my mind is my mother’s wonderful reading of “The Hairy Toe” story. My mother was a 2nd grade teacher and she could read a book aloud like no other. You may be familiar with this classic “jump story” because it has been re-told many times. Usually about a bone or “tailypo” or something that is dug up by an older person or a “teeny tiny” woman. They take it home and hide it or put it on their night stand or under their pillow. That night while they are in bed a ghostly voice starts softly asking for their item back. “Who’s got my bone / nasty underwear / whatever” Louder and louder… closer and closer…until the creature / ghost / zombie / whatever bursts in and says “You’ve got it!” or something like that. I’ve scared the bejeezus out of my nephews during a campfire story telling of this type of story. The version of this type of story, things are changed around a little.

In this case it is a hairy toe that is found by an old gnarled woman while digging up potatoes and picking beans. When she finds the toe, she exclaims, “Gwot!” In fact, “Gwot,” is all she says for most of the story. She takes home the toe, beans, and spuds and cooks them all up (yes, all)… and she EATS THE HAIRY TOE!

Mmm, hairy toe soup, my favorite!

“Nasty!” as my son said at this part and I agree whole heartedly. That night, sure enough, while she’s in bed she hears, “Who’s got my hair-r-ry to-o-o-e-e?” Over and over… louder and louder… (the tension is well built up for four pages)… until “…the old woman bolted up in her bed screeching – GWOT! I ATE IT!”



The wordless (except for some signs) and untitled story involves a girl who has some creatures (bats, a snake, and a huge vulture-like bird) on the outside of her house.   She tries to scare them away with a broom, but ends up getting carried away… literally, by the vulture-like bird to a fate unknown.


That thar is a snake

The story, “The Snake” involves a man who runs into a large snake on his property, and he chops its head off.  The next day his chickens are missing and he runs into a bigger snake and slices its head off.  Over and over this happens with bigger and bigger animals missing and a bigger and bigger (presumably the same) snake getting its head lopped off…  Until one day, the farmer runs into a snake that is bigger than most of his farm (and that just ate his horse!), and the farmer runs away and locks himself up in his farm forever.   In a way this is anti-climatic, but you can’t just have the snake bite the farmer’s head off to show him how it feels in a children’s book.  Hee hee hee.

Holeee crub!


"The Hunter" has the best illustrations in the book.  The story is about a "fierce" hunter name Humber and his three hounds, Sniffem, Chasem, and Catchem.  The hounds are great at tracking and cornering live prey... but the prey isn't always ferocious...

Poor teddy

This sometimes frustrates the hunter.  Then the hunter discovers the HUGE footprints of the Gumberoo! He makes sure the dogs have the scent of the Gumberoo and nothing else, and the dogs go for it.  They track for many hours, well into the night.  Humbert sits to reast and BOOM the Gumberoo literally runs him over...

Gumberoo squish mighty hunter

getting its smelly oily fur all over the hunter... uh oh.  Needless to say, the dogs smell the hunter and and he is chased until who knows what end.

And that is all the stories in this awesome little tome of scary/funny stories.  I hope you can find it and love it.   Oh, and a fun fact before you go.  George Mendoza wrote another book featuring the Gumberoo called The Hunter, the Tick, and the Gumberoo (illustrated by Philip Wende)... but it isn't recommended for kids because (from what I understand) the hunter in that book ends up incedently committing suicide (by blowing his  I'd like to see this other "Gumberoo" book someday and I hope to.

In 1989 a part 2, sort of, to this book was released. It was simply titled Hairticklers and it was illustrated by the multi-talented Gahan Wilson. It has 13 more "scary" stories to make your kids squirm.

So, goodnight, sleep tight, and don't let the Zipperump-a-Zoos bite... and don't let the Gumberoo step on you either!

Friday, August 12, 2011

George Mendoza: An Intoduction to a Prolific Author, Poet, and World Traveller

I started writing a blog about one of George Mendoza's books, and while doing so, I ran into a lot of dead ends about who exactly he is/was. So, I am going to share what information I do have.

When was George Mendoza born? I don’t know. I believe it was around 1935. A 1967 dust jacket calls him “young.” This could mean anything, but I take it to mean he was in his early 30’s because I think his first book was And Amedeo Asked, How Does One Become a Man?, a 42 page novella from 1959. So, he was about 24 at that time… So he is possibly turning 76 this year (if he is still alive). In 1955, he was married to Cindi Huber, but they divorced shortly after their son, George Mendoza Jr., was born (he is now a nearly blind artist and athlete and has written about three books). In May of 1971 George Mendoza (Sr) was 36 and he had a 2 year-old daughter. He was re-married by this time and this wife was possibly Nicole Sakora-Mendoza (this is just speculation based on the fact that this name appears in a few credits in his books).

A 1975 dust jacket states that George Mendoza also has written Television and Movie scripts. The only one that I could find was the one he co-wrote in 1978 with Michel Legrand , the ABC Afterschool Special Michel’s Mixed-up Musical Bird (they also wrote the book together). The book was illustrated by DePatie-Freeleng Enterprises Inc (mostly by an illustrator named Yakutis… who I think is Tom Yakutis who died in 2002). One article online states that he wrote/helped create things for Sesame Street, but if he did, credit hasn’t been given.

George Mendoza wrote a ton of books in the late 60’s and during the 70’s (and a few in the 1980s and a couple in the 90’s). Chances are, if you have a lot of “vintage” children’s books from this time period, you have a book or two by him. His works have been illustrated by Mercer Mayer (the rare Gillygoofang and The Crack in the Wall & Other Terribly Weird Tales), Steven Kellogg (GWOT! Horribly Funny Hairticklers), Eric Carle (The Scarecrow Clock), Joelle Boucher (Henri Mouse series), Norman Rockwell (sort of… Mr. Mendoza wrote a lot of books that have his paintings in them like Norman Rockwell’s Americana ABC and the Norman Rockwell Illustrated Cookbook), Peter Parnall (The Inspector), Doris Susan Smith (Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse!), photographer Sheldon Secunda (What I Want to be When I Grow Up featuring Carol Burnett and the Sesame Street Book of Opposites with Zero Mostel), photographer Milton H. Greene (The Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book), Robert Quackenbush (The Scribbler), the hands of Prassana Rao (Shadowplay), and many more.

Let me make a quick note here for the parents of young children… some of Mendoza’s books are controversial because of how graphic they are. I don’t own a lot of his that are in this category (yet), but I know about them from people talking about them. Like any children’s book, read it yourself first. If the head falling off in the book In A Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (not Mendoza) doesn’t bother you or your children, then most of Mendoza’s stuff probably won’t either… but just be aware of it. Also remember, most kids can deal with more than you may believe, but YOU have control over what goes into their heads. Kids obsess over the oddest things. The previously mentioned Alvin Schwartz book includes the story “The Green Ribbon” and that was one of my biggest “freak out” obsessions as a kid.

GWOT! was George Mendoza’s “first book for children” per the dust jacket. Previously he had written The Hawk is Humming, A Piece of String (illustrated by Norma-Jean Koplin), many articles for Pageant magazine, and a lot more. By 1975, he had published over 100 books…. Probably a lot more from then through now. I have no idea if he is dead or alive. I just know that he was from Long Island (born in New York), he went to the State University of New York Maritime College and Columbia University. He loved boating in the 1950’s and 1960’s and he sailed, by himself, from New York to England on multiple occasions. He has lived in Connecticut (in New York), Paris (France), and many other places. He considers himself a poet, sailor, trout fisherman, and of course a writer. His last two known books were Traffic Jam illustrated by David Stoltz (May 1990) and Were You a Wild Duck, Where Would You Go illustrated by Jane Osborn-Smith (June 1990)… and he was never heard from again. In 1975, when asked he wanted to be when he was a little boy he stated, “An adventurer like Jack London. Now I only want to be a bird with long feathers.” He may have retired, passed away, or became a wild duck and flew away to places he did not reveal in his last book. In August of 2005, George Mendoza was still living in New York and experiencing health problems (per this article about his son).

I don’t know where you are now Mr. Mendoza – a hidden trout stream in a mountain retreat, a bird flying free, sailing uncharted waters, sipping rare coffee in Paris, in the great beyond, at a McDonald's in New York City, or somewhere else – but thank you for your books, your words, and your addition to (warping of? ha ha) children’s minds everywhere.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek by Steve Senn: A Review and Appreciation

While moving from heavily illustrated books to chapter books, I had a few milestone books that I loved. To name a few: The first few books of The Little Vampire series by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg (My Friend the Vampire, The Vampire Moves In, Vampire in Love, etc…); the Bunnicula series by James Howe; the Soup series of books by Robert Newton Peck; and the one I’m going to talk about today, The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek by Steve Senn.

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek (the version I had as a child was the Avon Camelot, 1985 paperback) by Steve Senn is a book I remember quite well from my early years of reading (although the name eluded me for YEARS). This book also introduced me to Science Fiction. I think I was a curious 9-year-old at the time when I picked the 1985 paperback up at a local bookstore. The sight of a boy waking up next to a dinosaur in the other twin bed in his bedroom – both with shocked looks on their faces – was enough for me to get it.

The story involves a human boy waking up one day in another dimension exactly like his own except this new-to-him universe is populated by anthropomorphic dinosaurs (human-acting dinosaurs). In this other dimension, humans are extinct and the dinosaurs do the exact same things that humans did in Walter’s home dimension. Much time is spent disguising Walter to look like a dinosaur so he doesn’t freak out the dinosaur population. Later the pseudo-science of inter-dimensional time travel is explained down to a fourth or fifth grade level. I remember being utterly fascinated and accepting it all as fact (major willing suspension of disbelief). There isn’t any “magic” involved, but it isn’t ultra-real science either. Just stuff kids can digest. This book made me interested in Fantasy and Science Fiction and shortly after it I was reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series.

Although I had no idea of it at the time, Steve Senn illustrated this book too (he didn’t do the paperback’s cover though, just the inner illustrations). The very cute line drawings were one thing that I really remembered about this book.

In 2009 a local bookstore of mine sadly closed and sold off their inventory. While filling a $5 bag of books I found a green hardcover of The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek without a dust-jacket. The cover looks like green, bumpy, leathery dinosaur skin (probably just leather-like). It also has an embossed picture on the front board of what looks like a happy dinosaur on it. I had no idea that this book had been in hardcover and my paperback was lost long ago. Of course, I purchased it the green volume. I even put a picture on Amazon of it.

Sometime in 2010, I figured out that Steve Senn is also known as Oscar Senn (I think Steve or Steven is his middle name, but I’ve read somewhere that Oscar is his middle name too). I found his website and wrote him a fan letter. We emailed back and forth and he sent me a picture of the original illustrated (by him!) dust-jacket for The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek hardcover (since mine was missing a dust jacket). I shared this picture on Amazon too.

The dust-jacket clearly states “Written and illustrated by Steve Senn.” During these conversations, it was pointed out to me that the “happy dinosaur” embossed picture was actually put on the book upside down by the publisher. I turned my copy over, and lo and behold, a very normal looking triceratops!

Further research uncovered that in 1985, there was an animated special of this book on CBS Storybreak (hosted by Robert Keeshan AKA Captain Kangaroo). I haven’t seen this animated short (about 30 minutes or less), but I’d love to.

The cover of the 1985 paperback (at the top of this blog) is by Tom Newsom and is based on an inner illustration by Mr. Senn that he drew in 1980.

Tom Newsom is a prolific artist. I have a ton of books with his art on the cover (Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard, James Howe’s Celery Stalks at Midnight, Ellen Conford’s Diary of a Monster’s Son, three more of Mr. Senn’s books, and many more). He also has painted some pretty popular Santa Claus art.

If you really enjoyed this book, there are two more written in the same universe…so to speak. Not the dinosaur universe, but Walter’s “normal” universe. These books are Ralph Fozbek and the Amazing Black Hole Patrol (Avon Camelot, 1986) and Loonie Louie Meets the Space Fungus (Avon Camelot, 1991: Steve Senn writing as Oscar Steven Senn). Both feature boys having science-fiction-y fantastic adventures and are quite fun.

That's all for now.  Join us next time for... RRRAWWWWRRR!   AAAaaaaarrrrggghhh!!! Dinosaaaaaaurrrrr! I've gotta run... fast!