Mantan the Funnyman
& Monday Misc.
"Sunderland! Thirteen hundred years ago it was the greatest centre of learning in the whole of Christendom and the very cradle of English consciousness. In the time of Lewis Carroll it was the greatest shipbuilding port in the world. To this city that gave the world the electric light bulb, the stars and stripes, the millennium, the Liberty Ships and the greatest British dragon legend came Carroll in the years preceding his most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, and here are buried the roots of his surreal masterpiece. Enter the famous Edwardian palace of varieties, The Sunderland Empire, for a unique experience: an entertaining and epic meditation on myth, history and storytelling and decide for yourself -— does Sunderland really exist?"
Morning, one and all, and a fine Monday it promises to be, too.
If you're aching to read my blather, there's a healthy weekend worth of posts awaiting you below, including mucho Cine-Ketchup for those so disposed.
Better yet, though, my interview with Bryan Talbot on his new graphic novel Alice in Sunderland is at last
Bryan and I are still at it, with more interviews on his recent and upcoming projects underway, which are plentiful. Few Americans are aware of the span and variety of Bryan's incredible body of work -- as cartoonist, writer, etc. -- or that his career dates back to the original British underground comix scene of the early 1970s.
We'll be covering all that and more in upcoming interviews, exclusive to PaneltoPanel.net and this blog.
In any case, be sure to give this initial installment some time today -- and be sure to order your copy of Alice in Sunderland with the signed Bryan Talbot bookplate from PaneltoPanel.net,
Tell them I sent you!
But that ain't all.
I'm always reading at least two books, and lately I've been devouring my preordered copy of Michael H. Price's brand-new book Mantan the Funnyman: The Life and Times of Mantan Moreland. I highly recommend this new tome to you, too. Michael H. is an old friend, so I'm a bit prejudiced toward any and all of his projects, mind you, but this is a real honey.
Packaged with an exclusive CD showcasing some incredible Mantan recording rarities from the 1920s to the '60s, hosted by Mike himself, Mantan the Funnyman offers a comprehensive and quite exhaustive overview of the late Mantan Moreland's extraordinary life, times and career -- and whole lot more than that.
Like almost all of Mike's books, this gem is peppered with a banquet of bon mots from Mike's own life and times, offering a multitude of narrative threads: Mantan's, Mike's (growing up in Texas with a jones for all things Mantan & musical), Mantan's daughter Marcella Moreland Young, and interviews and anecdotes from Rudy Ray Moore, Bill Cosby, Moe Howard (Mantan was almost the third stooge after Curly's death!), Aaron Thibeaux 'T-Bone' Walker, Frankie Darro and too many others to name here. There's a wealth of information lovingly culled from four decades in the newspaper biz (Michael H. has been a reporter and journalist since the late '60s) that also embraces the nooks and crannies of minstrel show and vaudeville history, the Southern "chitlin'" and black stage & music circuit, the black film industry of the '20s, '30s and '40s, the various incarnations of Amos 'n' Andy, the Charlie Chan films (which Mantan featured prominently in as Birmingham Brown), the ACLU's campaign against black actors and comedians like Mantan (which derailed the great man's career from the '40s on), and much, much more.
Michael covers so much cultural and subcultural history that the book functions as a crash-course on 20th Century civil rights issues in the entertainment industry as much as biography of its titular subject. Neatly contextualized with its foreword by Gregory Kane and intro by Josh Alan Friedman, launched with Mike (and Marcella)'s views on the savage caricature of Mantan that figured prominently in Spike Lee's akimbo agitprop feature Bamboozled,
Like Mike, I became a Mantan fan for life thanks to a late-night TV broadcast of the Monogram WW2 'walking dead for the Third Reich' opus King of the Zombies (1941). Mantan's character Jefferson 'Jeff' Jackson was, to my young eyes, clearly the most pro-active character in the movie, its true hero: yes, he runs away when common sense prevails in the face of danger (which always seemed utterly pragmatic to me), but it's Jeff who uncovers the menace to civilization (a Nazi scientist cultivating an army of zombies), insists this be dealt with, and, as Mike puts it, "laughs in the face of danger... and gives the white guys plenty of jovial back-talk in protesting his second-class citizenship" (Jeff is the valet of the film's nominal hero played by Dick Purcell). Moreland's playing subverted the film's horror element completely; once the villain succeeds in enlisting Mantan into the ranks of his walking dead (apparently via hypnosis: 1940s zombies were always ambivalent about their status in terms of living or dead), he pushes over the lanky lineup of stiffs with the line, "Move over, boys -- I'm one of the gang, now," which cracked me up enough to prompt my dad to stir from my parent's bedroom and insist I watch my movie quietly -- no laughing out loud.
That proved difficult, but not as difficult as it proved to see more Mantan; I fell for Mantan's brand of comedy that evening, and always kept an eye out for his films thereafter. This was a tough task in the era of succinct TV Guide movie listings, no articles on Mantan, and no internet. Still, I lucked into a few, and was constantly surprised at the unusual (and sadly usually fleeting) Mantan appearances, right on up to his murder-victim cameo in Jack Hill's delirious Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told (1964), which I didn't see until the video explosion of the 1980s (and a taped-off-broadcast vhs copy my late amigo Bill Kelley sent me).
FYI, my other fave Mantan movie line that's zombie-specific remains "If there's anything I wouldn't want to be twice, zombies is both of 'em!" Michael H. spices his new book with an abundance of Mantanisms, many imminently quotable, but to quote 'em, you gotta read 'em.
There's also Michael H. and John Wooley's latest installment in the extraordinary book series Michael launched with the late, great George Turner back in the 1980s, Forgotten Horrors.
The first edition of the first volume, as I recall, was a full-size trade paperback published, oddly enough, by Eclipse Comics, an aberration in the Eclipse lineup to be sure, but a grand and glorious revelation for die-hard horror movie buffs like moi. Micheal H. and George later prepared at least two revised editions, and Michael H. has since considerably expanded, revised and extended that pioneer effort into a series of books with various partners (co-authors and publishers, natch). I've got 'em all in my library, proud to say, though they're still in boxes just now... the move is over, but the unpacking has yet to begin in terms of my library. Sigh.
This latest installment covers the years 1948-49, and I can't wait to see what lost treasures, curios and obscurities Mike and John have brought to light -- and also can't help salivating over what awaits us once they get to the 1950s!
Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy is
And that's that this Monday AM, have a great one!