Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why I love W.C. Fields

Fields was perhaps the only American comic who had a sequence in a major studio film gags centered around a blind person

I spent a good part of my recent vacation at the Cape finished the best book – and I think I've read them all – on the life and career of W.C. Fields.

Thankfully many of his films have made it onto video, although in collections, rather than single releases. I hope younger film fans take to time to discover this true American original.

James Curtis's book explodes many of the myths surrounding Fields, such as his hatred of kids, his drinking habits and his general reputation as a curmudgeon. Instead through many interviews and his own letters a far more complex portrait emerged of a hard-working self-made man who understood his comic gift and fought very hard to bring his vision forward.

Go out and find this book if you're a Fields fan.

I've always been attracted to people who are individuals. They don't follow trends. They don't make themselves over into something widely accepted. They stand and fall on their own merits.

Fields certainly falls into that description. He could employ slapstick, but it never seemed stereotypical. His drinking jokes were unique and his views on American families were not like any other. There was no other comic with a point of view such as his.

Like Keaton, I think Fields would find a pretty wide contemporary audience if his films were given a chance. The two were very popular among the college crowd in the 1960s and '70s and I think a revival would be successful.

The first film star I ever interviewed was Buster Crabbe, who was quite gracious to me. I remember being so nervous I could barely stop my leg was bouncing as I spoke to him on the phone. Crabbe worked with Fields on "You're Telling Me" and said he was just like his screen image in real life. At the time, I thought what Crabbe meant is that he was a guy who drank too much and disliked children and dogs – the short-hand image Fields grew to have. Yet if you watch the film – one of his best – he plays a well-meaning family man who eventually triumphs despite his many short-comings.

After reading this book, I prefer my latter interpretation.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I spoke this week to students at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont on public relations, marketing and media relations issues. I offered my services because what I have seen is the average person involved in some sort of creative pursuit is more than likely at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting the word out on a product.

Today one can create comics, a prose book, movies or music much much more easily with the advent of the new digital technology. While some futurists would like people to believe the Web and the social networking sites now allow greater exposure for alternative or independent efforts – they do – the playing field is still not even.

Having a Web site and a Twitter feed is not enough.

It takes a multi-tiered concerted effort to find an audience for a product and to create a brand. Using everything from personal selling at conventions to considering ad buys to support a product or appearance is all part of the mix. What I have seen and experienced, each creator needs to have a very active part in this process.

The following is an outline I used for the class. I'm happy to answer questions from people as this was a two-hour class. Post here or e-mail me at mdobbs at

Why make a concerted pr/marketing effort? Competition for entertainment dollar and justified paranoia: don’t trust your publisher to take care of you.

1. Who are you? What is your product?

Can you describe it in 30 seconds – elevator pitch?

2. Secret of success is in knowing your product and yourself. Where does your product fit in?

For example, I discovered my animation magazine did not sell particularly well in comics shops, for example. Although one might think this was a legit market, I discovered comics fans are not necessarily cartoon fans. I fared better with regular bookstores.

Where would your product best fit in? Who is your audience? You must do research to make sure that where and to whom you present your product

Essentials: Prepare yourself for personal marketing. If after your pitch, if someone expresses interest. Be prepared. Have a business card. Can you put your book as a PDF on a CD? A CD is easier to have in pocket or purse than your book.

Importance of having a blog and a web site with your name in the URL. Naturally be on Facebook and Twitter. The easier it is to find you, the better.

Remember: You are the brand. Properties come and go, but you need to be known.

3. You must fit your product with the right audience. To do so, you must do research.
Example: My experience with my project with Steve Bissette, "The Year in Fear Calendar" was a failure on EVERY level because I trusted the publishing staff and their premises and because I didn't do my research. We found out comic book shops in 1991 weren't interested in something like a calendar. We sold 125 of a 2,000 press run. Next I discovered our calendar came out too late for regular stores to consider buying. Its huge size and lack of a hole – and of course it was laid out not as an effective calendar with the days of the week – would have made it a challenge for any retailer to display.

Much of this pain could have been avoided if I had done my research.

4. Let’s talk about the first level of pr/marketing – conventions.
Research is important. Is the convention the right one? What is the price point range of the audience? Don't waste your time trying to sell comics at a Star trek convention for example, or have really expensive items at a small regional show.

Have a range of items and price points. Can you have a $2 or $3 item on the table as well as a $12?

Conventions teach how to sell. Improper way: sitting at table not paying attention to potential customers – drawing, writing, yakking. Right way is to engage customers and to have right price points at right prices.

5. Next step: spreading the word.
Again research is important. Where do you publicize your product?

What is the news significance of your product? New book from acclaimed artist? First book? Good reviews?

Reviews: how to you get them? Do you know someone whose name would help sell your book? Seriously, use them! Think about handing out copies at cons to well known types. Always include business cards.

Check out the following web sites for their submission requirements:


Do your own podcast and videos to promote appearances, conventions, etc.

To get stories in the mainstream press, you need a hook or a reason for the story: local artist, first book, second book, won award, lauded by critics, etc. This is where a good review can come in handy to sell an editor on doing a story.

First, find out the right editor to send material and what they want and how they want it. Look at web site or call.
Prepare materials according to instructions.

What’s the best press release? A one-page document that answers the questions of who, what, when, how and why and spells out the hook of the story.

Send materials and follow up several days later with phone call. Be polite.

6. Advertising
It’s important to realize that even the best free marketing campaign should be supplemented by advertising.

Put an advertising page in your books that lists other publications of yours and how to buy them. Consider trading ads with other creators.

Consider forming advertising and distribution collectives with other like-minded creators. Create a pool of money and look for logical ad buys to promote books and appearances.

Remember basic rule of advertising: smaller ads that appear regularly have more impact than big one-shot ads.

Promotional items – "freebies" – ideally should not be free. One of the CCSers prepared a sampler that sold for a $1. They gave it away to key people but sold the rest at a price point that allowed people to take a risk without much risk – great idea.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Scenes from the Cape

Sitting on the beach of our timeshare, enjoying a book, a seegar and an adult beverage, the Fat Man forgets about deadlines, advertisers and politicians.

At Jack's Outback 2 in Yarmouth Port, I encounter a mind-boggling breakfast, stuffed french toast. We go to the eatery because Rachael Ray featured it in her book "$40 a Day." We later find out this isn't the original restaurant nor owner, who lost his lease, and the subsequent owners have used his name. The food was good, though and affordable.

The Edward Gorey House is a great museum dedicated to the life and work of the acclaimed late artist. He lived in this house in Yarmouth Port from 1986 until his death in 2000. If you're a fan of his work, this is a must see. For more info go here.

Mary always takes a wade at the Cape regardless of weather. Here, her toes take a dip near the Cape Cod Canal.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kane Richmond is behind the mask – something the Shadow of air and print never wore

At last, the Monogram Shadow films

I'm not sure how many people today have actually realized at the enormous shift in popular culture that has happened since the success of the Christopher Reeve Superman film and the first Star Wars movie.

In the case of "Superman," the success showed there is an adult audience for material once viewed as just for kids. My friend, veteran movie producer Richard Gordon, once observed how the major studios shifted their feature films to the subject matter once reserved for B-movie and independent films:science fiction, action, horror and adaptations from comic books, pulp novels and radio shows.

"Star Wars" showed the power of the modern merchandising and the enduring ability of a "cult" film to grow a loyal audience.

One would think given today's producing standards, movie makers would have jumped at the chance to bring the successful Shadow character to the screen. The Shadow novels were very popular and the weekly radio show endured over two decades.

A property such as that was not considered "serious," by the big studios then and The Shadow was relegated to an unsuccessful feature made by Grand National, a Columbia serial and then three features produced by Pathe and released through Monogram.

I have several stills from the films (which I will post once I return from vacation) and as I'm a big fan of Kane Richmond, I have been wanting to see them for a long time.

Thanks to a dealer at Cinefest, I now am the proud owner of the three films and they are amazing – in the wrong way.

The casting is fine as Richmond was a veteran B movie hero. If the screenplays had called for it I'm sure he would have made a great Shadow. Instead he was called on to spend most of his time as Lamont Cranston, the meddling nephew of the police commissioner, who insists in solving mysteries before the police can. He and his girlfriend Margo Lane were transformed into a B movie version of Nick and Nora Charles – squabbling and cracking wise.

Although Burbank is a minor character in the first film, "The Shadow Returns," he is the only Shadow associate except for Shreveport the taxi driver who is carried over from the novels or radio show. There is no mention of The Shadow "clouding the minds of men" nor does Richmond ever look like The Shadow with the piercing eyes, red scarf and hawk-like nose.

When he is The Shadow, he is sometimes seen as a shadow, implying some sort of transformation and super power, although it is never clear just what is being presented.

The intent in all three films was to present a generic mystery with comic/romantic overtones that could capitalize on The Shadow without actually having to make an authentic adaptation.

That's not to say there aren't some interesting moments in all three movies ( released in 1946). There's a nasty reporter in a very film noir story element in the second film "Behind the Mask" and the overly complicated plot of "The Missing Lady," the third and last film has some very good photography that any big budget film noir would have been proud to have.

But overall they are disappointing, but in my mind they are not as disappointing as the big budget Shadow film with Alac Baldwin. Now those folks should have known better.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mary and Mike at Bass River Beach, S. Yarmouth, Mass.

Caution Reminder Publications readers. Dobbs uses some blunt language here. Read at your own risk.

On vacation!

Now there is a guy at work who razzes me every time I take time off. He is apparently offended that I have been able to negotiate four weeks vacation time from management.

But I don't actually take vacation very often.

I do take time off, but there is a difference. Usually, I take time off because I need to use it (or lose it) or to accomplish things I can't get done through the weekends.

Right now though I'm actually on a for real vacation – an extended period of time in which I have no work commitments. Well sort of, kind of. I still must write two pieces for the paper this week while on I'm on vacation,

The last time I took a real vacation was in 2006 when we went to Scotland. This year, we're at our time share at Cape Cod and I'm doing basically nothing.

I've got an excellent book on W.C. Fields I'm reading and have a bunch of DVDs to watch. So far I've furnished the three Shadow movies made in 1946 by Monogram starring Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston. I've wanted to see these for years and will write about them later this week.

We've walked on the beach, ate a couple of nice restaurants and poked around.

I know the odds are when I return to work there will be unnecessary issues I will have to resolve as well as now a backlog of e-mail, etc.

Until then, frankly Scarlet, I don't give a shit!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

And yes, this is serious commentary from the most listened to man in talk radio. Hate is indeed easy and clearly profitable for Rush.

Here's another one:

Didn't George W. Bush use executive orders? Go here to check out his bunch