Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Me & Hedy Lamarr

With the new Richard Rhodes book about Hedy Lamarr's inventions it occurred to me that there's a very good chance I might be responsible for this being better known. What happened is that sometime around 1995 or 96 I was doing freelance writing and research for Turner Classic Movies. Unconnected to this I had been skimming through Nicolas Slonimsky's Music Since 1900, a fascinating compendium of events, news items, performances, etc in chronological order, thousands and thousands of them and with an eye for the odd and eccentric. Somewhere in there I ran across a bit about Lamarr's patent, included because of George Antheil's involvement. So I photocopied the info, passed it along to the TCM people and soon afterwards this was being used in some of the on-air segments surrounding the films. From there obviously many people heard about this and several years later I noticed more mentions of Lamarr's patent. (Poor Antheil tends to be overlooked.) The information wasn't completely unknown of course. There was a piece in 1990 from Forbes apparently (Google Books is unclear about the original source) and at least some engineers had been using the idea since the 80s according to another book. But otherwise there seem to be very few references before the end of the 90s so I might as well take some credit for this.

Someday I should mention the band I designed a logo for, one that they're still using, but never received any credit for that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Rocketeer

Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer originally appeared during the period when I wasn't reading comics though I still knew about it somehow, perhaps from the movie which I saw when released or perhaps from periodically checking on the comics world. It was a highly praised and greatly loved series so it seems inevitable that word would get around. My library turned out to have a copy of 2009's The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures so it was easy to get up to speed and then to speedily wonder why anybody would bother.

Despite looming fairly large as an icon there are only two Rocketeer stories. The first is a slam-bang origin with fights, Nazi spies, hot dames, etc. It's all Golden Age stuff or at least an attempt at GA stuff though in many times the page count of a real story from that era and overall fairly routine. The second story is a more interesting one about a troubled past, revenge killings and circus freaks. The main problem is that it's really not a Rocketeer story. Yes, the Rocketeer makes a couple of appearances but for no real reason - the story could have easily been written without him since there's no need for his abilities.

The real appeal I have to assume is Stevens' art which is a clean, modelled style with elements of cartooning (hats they fly off heads in surprise and similar iconography). Plus of course the cheesecake. The distressed damsel is based on Bettie Page (yawn) and Stevens rarely passes an opportunity to have her in sultry poses and often even barely clothed. In fact the last image of her is wearing barely nothing in public that would hardly be passable today but in 1938 would certainly have resulted in being arrested. And oddly here is also perhaps Stevens' weakest spot, a clumsy handling of the figure where proportions change or seem wrong and in a couple of spots look like Stevens perhaps had never seen a human body. Then again this is a common failing among comics artists who too often learn drawing from other comics and not even other art let alone real life.

It's hard not to wonder why in 25 years or so that this is all the Rocketeer that Stevens produced. Presumably his illness was a factor later on but otherwise was it too time consuming? Was he just not that interested? Any idiot could have come up with more stories (just turn on your TV set or pick up a comic book for proof) so that couldn't have been the reason. The short bio in the book is a just-the-facts piece and doesn't address this. (And why not have an appreciation in a book of this type?) Then again maybe this is all the Rocketeer we needed.