Felix? Felicissimus!

By John Hertz: (reprinted, mostly, from No Direction Home 29)  Also reaching a centenary this year is Felix the Cat, who arrived with The Adventures of Felix or, if as sometimes considered he continued Master Tom introduced earlier, Feline Follies (each 1919). He came from the studio of Pat Sullivan, created by Sullivan (1885-1933), Sullivan’s lead animator Otto Messmer (1892-1983), or both, the first animated-cartoon character to win international fame. In 1921 Winslow B. Felix (1890-1936), a friend of Sullivan’s, opened a Chevrolet automobile dealership in Los Angeles irresistibly called Felix Chevrolet; in 1958 new owner Nick Shammas (1915-2003) put up a giant Felix the Cat sign, still proudly maintained by the current owner, 3330 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles 90007. Everyone knew Felix’ pacing deep in thought during the cartoons (at left, from Oceantics, 1930). There was also a comic strip for newspapers (1923-1966). The fantasy element was broader, or something, than anthropomorphism; at a moment when a man might tip his hat, Felix might raise an arc with his ears from the top of his head; wanting to see at a distance, he might take off his tail and look through it as a telescope. Later, at the hands of Joe Oriolo (1913-1985) for television, Felix had a satchel Bag of Tricks; this may have been a weakening, or even a blandification, but it produced an object which an opponent could try to get. Joe’s son Don (1946- ), a painter, musician, and maker of guitars, inherited Felix, became known as the Felix the Cat Guy, and licensed him in the United States and abroad, particularly in Japan; dozens of Felix paintings by Don have appeared, some with guitars, at least one noting the resemblance of Felix and the Kit-Cat® Klock (invented 1932 by Earl Arnault 1904-1971, adopting a distinctive bow tie in 1954, or pearls for the Lady Kit-Cat in 2001). In 2014 rights to Felix were acquired by DreamWorks Animation, now part of NBCUniversal owned in turn by Comcast.

In 1925, Felix at his height, Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) led a Vanity Fair article with him.

In the course of one of his adventures, my favorite dramatic hero, Felix the Cat, begins to sing…. little black notes hang in the air above him…. He reaches up, catches a few handfuls of them, and…. fit[s] them together into the most ingenious … scooter … the wheels … made out of the round heads of the notes, the framework of their tails. He helps his companion into her seat, climbs in himself, seizes by its barbs the semi-quaver which serves as the lever of propulsion and, working it vigorously backwards and forwards, shoots away…. What the cinema can do better than literature is to be fantastic…. A study of Felix the Cat would teach … many valuable lessons.

“Where Are the Movies Moving? The brilliant success of the cinema in portraying the fantastic and preposterous”; July, pp. 39, 78

Having spoken of a fictional black cat famous through graphics I must bring another, who started earlier, ended earlier, stayed mainly on the plain printed page (though there were 230 animations – half as many as Felix), was less widely known but perhaps greater: Krazy Kat, in the eponymous 1913-1944 comic strip by George Herriman (1880-1944). Fantasy element broader, or something, than anthropomorphism? The landscape is strange, and while the characters are stationary may change. Krazy has been called androgynous; sometimes she seems to be female, sometimes he seems to be male. The characterization, the layout, the language, the plot (if any) – is there anything that isn’t extraordinary? maybe the policeman, Officer Pupp? – no – maybe Ignatz Mouse’s bricks? yet if they are the anchor to reality, that is very strange. And William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) loved it. P. McDonnell et al. eds., Krazy Kat (1986) is a good overview. Bill Blackbeard while at Eclipse reprinted the 1916-1924 Sunday strips in nine volumes 1988-1992, then at Fantagraphics the 1925-1944 Sundays in ten more volumes 2002-2008.

Because Herriman illustrated the tales of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis (“MAR-kwiss”; 1878-1937) we know Mehitabel, an alley cat with whom Archy the cockroach hung out, was also black. Starting in 1916 Marquis ran them in his column for the New York City newspaper The Evening Sun, then in the Tribune, then in Collier’s magazine, then The Saturday Evening Post. Archy, the protagonist, had been a free-verse poet in an earlier life; he took to writing stories and poems on a typewriter in the newspaper office after everyone had left, climbing onto the machine and hurling himself onto one key at a time; he couldn’t manage capital letters, which called for simultaneously pressing the Shift key (though once landing on the Shift Lock key he wrote CAPITALS AT LAST). Several collections have been published; Herriman is in them only, starting about 1932. Michael Sims edited The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel in 2006.

Filers know a long run of photographs from people under the topic “Cats Sleep on Science Fiction”. Last September I sent a photo I took at the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention of Steven Barnes asleep on some SF he was writing. He was, I explained, one of the coolest cats I knew. Note that Our Gracious Host uses the spelling “SFF”, presumably to make certain-sure, in these days of uncertainty, that both science fiction and fantasy are included.

The KitKat candy bar, wafers coated in chocolate, was originally made in England by Rowntree’s of York; now by Hershey in the United States, by Nestlé elsewhere. When I went to Yokohama for the 2007 Worldcon (“The Worldcon I Saw”, File 770 152 [PDF]; “The Residence of the Wind”, Argentus 8 [PDF]), Terry Karney said I should be sure to try a green-tea KitKat, because they were strange. He was right. I had been brought from the U.S. by the Hertz Across to Nippon Alliance (hana meaning flower or blossom is a Japanese word much used in poetry), Chris O’Shea from the United Kingdom by the Japanese Expeditionary Travel Scholarship (JETS).

As I was going my way west
Farther than ever one day,
I met a traveler going east.
The world is round, they say.

                                            

Title, Felix Mendelssohn and His Times p. 1 (H. Jacob, 1963; J.L.F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy 1809-1847); felix in Latin means happy or fortunate, felicissimus is the superlative; fortunate lingers in English happy (which is mostly cheerful, contented, sunny), since hap is occur, and English still has happen, still allows e.g. “He had the happy knack of bringing people to like him”.

Pixel Scroll 12/14/16 The Wee Pawn Shops Of Ishtar

(1) ATTENTION ON DECK. Star Trek: Discovery has cast its lead reports Entertainment Weekly.

Sonequa Martin-Green, well known to genre fans for her role on AMC’s mega-hit The Walking Dead, has been cast as the lead of Star Trek: Discovery, sources tell EW.

The casting ends meticulous search to find the ideal actress to anchor the eagerly anticipated new CBS All Access drama. Martin-Green will play a lieutenant commander on the Discovery. (CBS Television Studios had no comment.)

Martin-Green is will continue to serve as a series regular on AMC’s zombie drama, where she has played the tough pragmatic survivor Sasha Williams since season 3

(2) CREATOR OF KRAZY KAT. The Washington Post has a review by Glen David Gold of Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand, a 600-page biography of the creator of “Krazy Kat.” Tisserand explains why Herriman was so subversive, literary, and weird that his fans included T.S. Eliot and Umberto Eco.

Genius is simplicity. A dog, who is a policeman, loves a cat who loves a mouse. The mouse throws bricks at the cat, and the policeman jails him. Some aspect of this, more or less every day, for more or less 30 years, was the comic strip “Krazy Kat.” In isolation it seems as though it dropped out of the sky, and when its creator died in 1944, to the sky it returned. It has since been recognized as one of the greatest American comic strips, a mix of surrealism, Socratic dialogue, low-rent vaudeville, jazz improvisation, Native American motifs and, as it turns out, a subtle — so subtle no one seems to have noticed at the time — commentary on the peculiar notion of race.

(3) FOLLOW THE MONEY. A Reuters infographic charts the cumulative weekly box office take of all previous Star Wars movies, for those who want to see if the new release is as successful.

With the release of Rogue One, the first Star Wars anthology film, Disney is hoping to expand the Star Wars universe with stories that run outside of and in tandem with the main saga

(4) NEED FOR SPEED. Jay Leno’s Garage had Neil DeGrasse Tyson go to JPL to drive the Mars Rover, reports John King Tarpinian. There’s also a YouTube clip of Tyson along for a different ride “Jay Leno Blows Out The Window In His Jet Car.”

Blast off! Jay Leno takes Neil DeGrasse Tyson for a ride in his jet car. Built in Jay’s garage, the EcoJet has 650 hp and a Honeywell LTS-101 turbine engine. Watch the season finale of Jay Leno’s Garage Wednesday, December 14 at 10p ET/PT on CNBC!

 

(5) NAUGHTY OR NICE. The BBC tells how a gaming company dealt with a “troll”: “Fable video game team hunted down troll”.

The images had been posted to Lionhead’s own forums, which gave the staff access to the internet protocol (IP) address of the person who had uploaded them.

IP addresses can easily be traced back to a physical location through a variety of online tools, assuming the user has not taken steps to conceal the details.

In this case, the 16-year-old culprit had not taken the precautionary measure.

“We knew where the guy was living and managed to get a hold of the guy’s high school record through a mate, including the poem that he had recited at his end of year [class],” Mr Van Tilburgh said.

“We wrote a public message as Lionhead Studios to the group Kibitz and we started the message with the opening lines of the poem he had recited in high school, and we included the landmark he could see from his house where he lived.

“And I said, ‘You have got to stop this now otherwise I pass all this information on to your mum.’

Chip Hitchcock comments, “I’d have called this induhvidual a hacker or thief, but the interesting feature to me is the civil-liberties issue the article completely ignores. I wonder whether the gaming co. tried talking to the police or just assumed that would be useless (or at least not as effective as vigilantism).”

(6) FOX OBIT. Bernard Fox, who specialized in playing eccentric Englishmen on American television, has died at the age of 89 says The Hollywood Reporter. A popular actor who got a lot of work, he found some of his bit parts resulted in repeated callbacks.

Fox appeared as Dr. Bombay on 19 episodes of Bewitched, which ran from 1966-72, and then reprised the role on the 1977 sequel Tabitha, in 1999 on the soap opera Passions and on a 1989 episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

In a 1998 interview, Fox said he drew inspiration for Dr. Bombay from a man he served with in the Royal Navy during World War II.

“He was the officer in charge of the camp that we were in, and it was an all-male camp, and one evening, I was on duty and we got six Women’s Royal Naval Service arrived to be put up,” he recalled.

“So I went to this officer and said, ‘What shall I do?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, give ’em a hot bran mash, some clean straw and bed ’em down for the night.’ And I thought, ‘What a great way to play [Dr. Bombay.]’ And that’s the way I played him, and [the Bewitched writers] just kept writing him back in.

“If I’d just gone for an ordinary doctor, you wouldn’t have heard any more about it. But because I made him such a colorful character, that’s why they wanted him back; he was easy to write for. They came up with the idea of him coming from different parts of the world all the time and in different costumes; that was their idea. The puns, I came up with, and in those days, they let you do that.”

Fox’s genre credits include the movies Munster, Go Home!, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Yellowbeard, and The Mummy, and appearances in episodes of TV series The Flintstones (voice), I Dream of Jeannie, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild, Wild West, Night Gallery, Fantasy Island, and Knight Rider.

(7) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • December 14, 1972  — The end of an era: Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan re-entered the lunar lander — the last man to walk on the moon.
  • December 14, 2005King Kong remake debuts.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY GIRLS

  • Born December 14, 1916 — Horror novelist Shirley Jackson.
  • Born December 14, 1946 – Actress Dee Wallace

(9) WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN? This gallery of 10 actors who have played Darth Vader wouldn’t make a good clickbait quiz because you wouldn’t remember half of them.

(10) POP-UP MUSIC. James Davis Nicoll asked his Facebook friends, “Has anyone done an angry song from Hermione’s point of view? Perhaps called ‘No, I won’t do your god-damned homework.’” His question inspired JTigwell to instantly create one. Tune in at Soundcloud – “(Hermione) I won’t do your fucking homework”

Nicoll has the complete lyrics at More Words, Deeper Hole. Here’s the last verse —

I know you’re always saying,
I’m the girl who has no fun,
But listen up here boy who lived,
I’m the girl who gets shit done

(11) HINES BENEFIT AUCTION #16. The sixteenth of Jim C. Hines’ 24 Transgender Michigan Fundraiser auctions is for an autographed copy of a Blaze Ward novel AND a Tuckerization.

Today’s auction comes from author Blaze Ward, for an autographed trade paperback copy of AUBERON and a Tuckerization (meaning you’ll show up as a minor character) in one of Ward’s forthcoming books. You can be either a hero or a villain — your choice!

About the Book:

Jessica Keller faces court martial for disobeying a direct order. Her actions also prevented a massacre during the latest starship battle between the Republic of Aquitaine Navy (RAN) and the Freiburg Empire.

What does this maverick commander have to do to impress the RAN high command? To get the Freiburg Empire to declare her a threat? And at what cost to herself?

Auberon–the first novel in The Chronicles of Jessica Keller–combines adventuring to distant stars with seat-of-the-pants excitement. A fascinating expansion to the Alexandria Station universe.

(13) NEW YORK SF FILM FESTIVAL. The first New York Science Fiction Film Festival takes place January 20-22. It’s only a conflict for those of you with Inauguration Ball tickets – which is to say, none of you at all.

The festival will serve as a meeting place where creativity and expression takes center stage with a highly acclaimed lineup of science fiction, horror, supernatural and fantasy films and virtual reality entertainment. Valuing the importance of filmmakers from all walks of life, the festival presents to audiences modern masterpieces where storytelling transcends expectations and possibilities are endless.

Highlights include the USA premiere of Marcos Machado’s UFO’s in Zacapa (Ovnis en Zacapa) (2016), the NYC premiere of Marco Checa Garcia’s 2BR02B: To Be or Naught to Be (2016) and the East Coast premiere of Ian Truitner’s Teleios (2016). Among its many gems, the festival is also proud to screen Hiroshi Katagiri’s Gehenna: Where Death Lives (2016) starring Doug Jones (Hellboy) and Lance Henriksen (Alien), Lukas Hassel’s Into the Dark (2014) starring Lee Tergesen (The Strain) and a prominent virtual reality block featuring Ben Leonberg’s Dead Head (2016) and Ryan Hartsell’s I’ll Make You Bleed (2016) set to the music of the band These Machines are Winning.

The festival will run on January 20, 2017 at Instituto Cervantes (211 E 49th St, New York, NY 10017), January 21, 2017 at Producers Club (358 W 44th Street, New York, NY 10036) and The Roxy Hotel Cinema (2 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013) and January 22, 2017 at Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue [at 2nd Street], New York, NY 10003).

(14) BUT THERE ARE NO OLD BOLD COLD EQUATIONS. Paul Weimer has worked up a great Twitter thread based on the discussion of “The Cold Equations” here at File 770.

(15) POPULARIZING SF IN CHINA. The Hugo-winning author is the genre’s spearhead in China – “’People hope my book will be China’s Star Wars’: Liu Cixin on China’s exploding sci-fi scene” in The Guardian.

When he was a schoolboy, Liu Cixin’s favourite book was Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. This might seem like a fairly standard introduction to science fiction, but Liu read it under exceptional circumstances; this was at the height of the Cultural Revolution, in his native China, and all western literature was strictly forbidden….

But more than 40 years ago, growing up in a coal-mining city in the Shanxi province, a young Liu found the book that would alter the course of his life, hidden in an old box that once belonged to his father.

“No science-fiction novels were published, and people did not have any notion of scientific imagery,” Liu recalls. “At the time, almost all the translated novels from the west were strictly banned, so I had to read it in secret. This very book turned me into a sci-fi fan.”

It wasn’t until the late 1970s, when China experienced economic reform and the strictures on western literature were relaxed, that science fiction was translated widely into Chinese. With this came a sudden surge of Chinese authors writing in the genre – and Liu wanted to be one of them. But instead of studying literature, he got a job as a power-plant engineer in Yangquan. But what looks like a career diversion was entirely strategic: the stability of his career meant he could write, he says.

“For about 30 years, I stayed in the same department and worked the same job, which was rare among people of my age. I chose this path because it allowed me to work on my fiction,” he says. “In my youth, when I tried to plan for the future, I had wished to be an engineer so I could get work with technology while writing sci-fi after hours. I figured that if I got lucky, I could then turn into a full-time writer. Now looking back, my life path has matched my design almost precisely. I believe not a lot of people have this kind of privilege.”

(16) NASA VISUALS. NASA now is sharing its best images on Pinterest and GIPHY.

On Pinterest, NASA is posting new and historic images and videos, known as pins, to collections called pinboards. This social media platform allows users to browse and discover images from across NASA’s many missions in aeronautics, astrophysics, Earth science, human spaceflight, and more, and pin them to their own pinboards. Pinboards are often used for creative ideas for home decor and theme-party planning, inspiration for artwork and other far-out endeavors. To follow NASA on Pinterest, visit:

https://www.pinterest.com/nasa

NASA also is now on GIPHY, a database and search engine of animated images in GIF format. Users can download and share the agency’s creations on their own social media accounts, and can be used to create or share animated GIFs to communicate a reaction, offer a visual explanation, or even create digital works of art. These GIFs are accessible directly from the Twitter app. Just tap or click the GIF button in the Twitter tool bar, search for NASAGIF, and all NASA GIFs will appear for sharing and tweeting.

To see NASA’s animated GIFs on GIPHY, visit:

http://giphy.com/nasa

iss-wave

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Andrew Porter, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]