Dude, That’s So Metal : Nick Bunch’s “Blood Horn”

I’ve been singing the praises of Philadelphia’s Reptile House anthology to anyone who would listen for the last couple of years, and to date no one who’s bought it on my advice has done anything other than thank me for turning them onto it — and a big part of what made the first issues (the first five issues, specifically) so special was the first serialized “adventure” of cartoonist Nick Bunch’s barely-fictitious band Blood Horn. These strips had everything you could want in a music-themed comic, in fact they had everything you could want in any sort of comic : relatable characters, quick-witted dialogue, anti-authoritarian attitude, and an unhealthy fixation on gross-out style laughs. It was a “fuck you” comic made by somebody who wasn’t making anything like “fuck you” money for writing and drawing it, and as far as I’m concerned shit doesn’t get any more real than that.

It makes perfect sense that Reptile House (the publisher, that is, not the series — although, I dunno, they’re pretty much one and the same thing) would collect this “arc” into a single volume, but what was surprising to me upon receiving it (some four or five months back — yes, I really am that far behind on reviews) was the extent to which they pulled out all the stops, production values-wise, on Blood Horn in this “stand-alone” iteration. Not only is the paper nice and thick, the cardstock cover is even nicer and thicker, and it’s printed in a really snazzy and apropos gold ink that jumps right out at you. This royal treatment couldn’t have been cheap, but the price of the comic itself still is, so hats off to RH for giving readers absolutely terrific value for money.

Of course, any book, regardless of how impressive it is purely as a physical object, is only as good as the contents it presents, and while we’ve touched on that subject already, it never hurts to elaborate further. Simply stated, Bunch is one hell of a cartoonist, and even better, while he’s clearly taking a lot of stylistic cues from the underground tradition (Spain Rodriguez, in particular, seems to be a notable influence), he’s not in any way tethered to the ethos of a bygone era. He may amp up the outrageousness to a degree that would make the Zap gang proud, but this is still a decidedly contemporary comic that reflects the concerns — as well as the sensibilities — of today’s 20-something artists, as well as their admirable lack of respect for people and institutions that aren’t worthy of any. Cops are certainly the most natural enough target in this regard, of course, but in a broader sense, Bunch is castigating the entire rotting edifice of late-stage capitalist hypocrisy, and he’s doing it with a smile on his face. This comic isn’t going to start a revolution or anything, but your average revolutionary — even of the armchair variety — is bound to get a kick out of it just the same.

In a pinch, I think irreverence sums up the tone here best, but it’s a smart, pointed, thought-through sort of irreverence that comes from lived experience. Anyone who’s ever been part of a band — or even just had friends who were in a band — is going to immediately recognize many of these characters, nod in knowing agreement at the ways in which they think, act, and speak, and generally enjoy being in their company. The plot, centering around preparations for an upcoming “battle of the bands,” is simple enough, but the road blocks (some self-generated from within, others imposed from without) our erstwhile “heroes” have to deal with are almost preposterously convoluted, so it behooves readers to pay close attention to everything on the page here, because you don’t want to be caught napping on what is a fluid and ever-changing series of strung-together absurdities.

In addition, there are any number of fiendishly clever sight gags that you likewise don’t want to miss out on. Bunch jam-packs every panel with visual information, never takes short cuts with his illustration, and is a virtuoso of cartoonish exaggeration. The social and economic margins are always a good vantage point from which to poke fun at the uptight self-importance of the “straight” world, sure, but it takes a special talent to communicate a sense of disdain for “The Man” through art every bit as much as through dialogue, and Bunch is — no BS — a bona fide master at doing exactly that. Partly he’s done his homework, partly he’s got street-smart Philly attitude to spare, and partly he’s just, to the extent that one subscribes to the idea of such a thing, a born cartoonist.

I’m of a mind that we all need more fun in our lives — even the lucky few who have plenty of fun already. And comics don’t get any more fun than this, so seriously — what the hell are you waiting for?


Blood Horn is available for the ridiculously cheap price of $6.00 from Reptile House at https://www.reptilehousecomix.com/publications/p/blood-horn

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Across The Plains (1939, directed by Spencer Gordon Bennett)

In the old west, a group of outlaws attack a wagon train, killing a husband and wife but sparing their two children.  One child is taken by the outlaws, who tell him that they have saved him from an Indian attack.  He grows up to be The Kansas Kid (Dennis Moore), a wagon master who still works for Gordon (Bob Card), the outlaw who raised him.  The other child is adopted by a Native tribe and grows up to be known as Cherokee (Jack Randall).  Cherokee has been hired to protect a gold shipment that Kansas and Gordon are determined to steal.  How long until the brothers come into conflict?

Across The Plains is a pretty good programmer.  Dennis Moore and Jack Randall are convincing as two men on opposite sides of the law who don’t realize that they’re brothers and director Spencer Gordon Bennett captures the scenery of the old west.  This is a western where the frontier really feels and looks like an untouched frontier!  The gunfights are effectively choreographed and directed and the family aspect is a good spin on a simple story.  For fans of westerns, Across The Plains is an enjoyable example of the genre.

Dennis Moore and Jack Randall were both B-western mainstays.  Moore occasionally played a hero but was usually cast as a villain.  Across The Plans gives him a chance to play a more complex role than usual and he takes full advantage of the opportunity.  The Kansas Kid may be an outlaw but he’s not so much bad as just misguided.  Jack Randall was one of the many stage names used by actor Addison Randall.  He started out as a singing cowboy before playing more traditional heroes, like in this film.  In Across The Plans, Randall was as tough and convincing a western hero as he always was.    Tragically, he died six years after making this film when he fell off a horse while filming a Universal serial called The Royal Mounted Ride Again.  He was only 39 years old.

Film Review: Being the Ricardos (dir by Aaron Sorkin)

Has Aaron Sorkin ever met anyone who doesn’t sound like Aaron Sorkin?

That was the question that I found myself considering as I watched Sorkin’s latest film, Being the RIcardos.  The film may present itself as being a film about Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) but neither Lucy nor Desi ever come across as being actual human beings or even celebrities trying to be human.  Instead, they both come across as Sorkin stock characters.  Lucy is the socially maladjusted genius who demands a lot from the people working for her and who struggles with apologizing.  Desi is irresponsible but a hard worker, a man who makes a lot of mistakes but who should never be underestimated.  They speak in quips and they instinctively understand what the people in their audience want to see.  Who can keep up with Lucy and Desi?  Certainly not the suits from the network!  Trial of the Chicago 7 had Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman taking on the military industrical complex.  Being the Ricardos has Lucy and Desi taking on both the entertainment industry and the McCarthy era.

The film claims to tell the story of the week that Lucy and Desi’s show, I Love Lucy, was nearly destroyed.  The week started with columnist Walter Winchell revealing that, when she was in her 20s, Lucy was briefly registered as a member of the Communist Party.  (Lucy explains that she did it as a favor for her grandfather, who “cared about the working man.”)  The day after learning that her subversive past has been exposed, Lucy and Desi tell the show’s writing staff that Lucy is pregnant and they expect the writers to write her pregnancy into the show regardless of what the uptight studio execs declare.  Meanwhile, Lucy has to deal with rumors of Desi’s infidelity while Desi struggles with being overshadowed by his wife.  Lucy’s co-star, Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), resents having to play a frumpy character while her other co-star, William Frawley (J.K. Simmons), spends most of the movie drunk off his ass.  If anything Frawley and Vance come across as being more interesting than either Lucy or Desi but, just as in real life, this is the Lucy show.  Frawley makes a few drunken comments about a seven year-old communist.  Vance sits in her dressing room and fumes.  In real life, when she learned Lucy was pregnant, she reportedly yelled, “I’d tell you to go fuck yourself but apparently Desi already did that!”  That line isn’t in the film, which is a shame.

The film skips around in time.  There’s an odd framing device, taking place in what I presume is meant to be the 80s and featuring the surviving members of the production staff are being interviewed for a documentary.  Why Sorkin decided to use this documentary device is odd.  It seems like he could have just used real archival footage if he wanted to go for a documentary approach as opposed to staging a fake documentary where older actors playing real people still sound like relentlessly quippy supporting characters in a Sorkin film.  We also get the occasional flashback to the early days of Lucy and Desi’s relationship, none of which are particularly interesting.  One of the people being interviewed for the documentary tells us that, before she met Desi, Lucy was being groomed to become a serious dramatic actress.  “She could have starred in All About Eve and blown the doors off!” we’re told and that’s great but is that the opinion on the fictionalized person being interviewed for the documentary or is that something that Aaron Sorkin came up with to try to create some dramatic tension?  I mean, saying that Lucy would have been the equal of Bette Davis is quite a statement but the film doesn’t show us any scenes of Lucy being a particularly skilled dramatic actress so it just comes across as being kind of overly dramatic thing to say.

We do get several scenes of Lucy explaining why jokes are funny.  Nicole Kidman gets a very serious look on her face while Sorkin shows us what’s happening inside her mind.  Lucy pictures herself, in black-and-white, stepping on grapes in Italy.  Dramatic music swells as we snap back to Lucy declaring what the scene needs to truly be funny.  (“I lose an earring,” she says, as if she’s just figured out how to resolve Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy.)  It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder if Aaron Sorkin has ever actually told a joke that he didn’t spend a few hours thinking about ahead of time.  The film’s portrayal of what went on behind-the-scenes of I Love Lucy is so portentous and overdramatic that it really only makes sense if you accept the idea of creating television being some sort of religious ritual, with showrunners and producers taking the place of God.  God needed 6 days to create the world but Lucy only needs 5 to create classic television comedy.  Take that, God!

Aaron Sorkin is a writer who desperately needs a cynical collaborator.  With The Social Network and Moneyball, Sorkin was fortunate to be paired with David Fincher and Bennett Miller, two directors with notably dark views of humanity and who served to temper Sorkin’s sanguine excesses.  When Sorkin directs his own material, the audience ends up with scenes like Joseph Gordon-Levitt standing in protest at the end of The Trial of the Chicago 7 or Desi Arnaz calling J. Edgar Hoover from the set of I Love Lucy in Being The Ricardos.  These are deeply silly scenes that did not happen in real life and which, even more importantly, should never have gotten past a first draft.  Sorkin’s need to end everything with a “big hero” moment is his most glaring flaw as both a writer and a director.

For the record, Lucille Ball did register as a communist when she was younger.  And, indeed, it is true that she did it as a favor for her grandfather.  It was briefly a news story but Lucy was quickly cleared.  Before shooting that week’s episode, Desi told the audience that “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair and even that is not legitimate.”  That was a good line and no, Desi didn’t need the help of J. Edgar Hoover to sell it.

Music Video of the Day: What I Am For You by Adi Ulmansky (2020, dir by ????)

Poor Adi Ulmansky!  She definitely deserves better and she should also be careful about having that many candles lit at once.  Seriously, I’m looking at all of those flames and just kind of freaking out.  Don’t get me wrong.  Candles are atmospheric and they’re romantic and it’s nice to use a few to set the mood but I think when you’ve got a 1,000 lit at once, you’re pressing your luck.

My best friend Evelyn introduced me to Adi’s music a few years ago.  I’ve loved the sound of her voice ever since.

Yes, the song is in Hebrew.  No, I do not speak Hebrew.  However, the emotions of the song are universal.  Adi and the music video both get the point across.