As I’ve had some articles published all over the place recently, figured it was time to start a new compilation post.

Chris Rousseau sorts through records at Nice Price Books in Carrboro.

Very Sad: Beloved local used bookstore Nice Price Books is closing, and I talked to them and several other used bookstores to get the reasons why.

Jonathan M. Katz - Zach Hetrick

Here’s an interview I did with reporter Jonathan M. Katz about his new book on life in Haiti and the failed policies of relief efforts, THE BIG TRUCK THAT WENT BY.

Madeline Trumble and Con OShea-Creal as Mary Poppins and Bert

Here’s a strangely detailed review I did of the touring production of Disney’s MARY POPPINS, and how it compares to both the original books and the film.

LIzzy Caplan and Geoffrey Arend in SAVE THE DATE

For Valentine’s Day: A look at some anti-romantic movies, SAVE THE DATE, CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER, THE HEARTBREAK KID, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and MARGARET.

Kyle Baker recently put his classic graphic novels including WHY I HATE SATURN and THE COWBOY WALLY SHOW online for free, and here’s my look at why these are worth checking out.


I interviewed  Brandon Sanderson on his besteselling conclusion to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, A MEMORY OF LIGHT!

Ron Rash - Photo by Mark Haskett

Here’s my interview with SERENA author Ron Rash on his new short story collection NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY!

George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" plays Saturday at 7 p.m.

A look at the films of the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham this weekend, including JOHN DIES AT THE END and a 35-mm print of the original DAWN OF THE DEAD!

My new interview with Ryan Browne of the webcomic GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS on his Kickstarter Campaign!

Here’s my talk with Michel Fiffe on his acclaimed self-published comic COPRA!

My interview with the creators of the webcomic TRIP FANTASTIC!

The creators of HACK/SLASH and HOAX HUNTERS Pay Tribute to Fake 1980s Toys with MINI COMICS INDLUDED on Kickstarter!

The Book of Mormon comes to Durham Feb. 11-23, 2014.

A Look at the Durham Performing Arts Center’s New Broadway Series!

Follow-up to earlier piece: Nice Price Books is having a closing sale that will help raise money for the Chapel Hill Library.

A review of a local production of the play THE LAST FIVE YEARS!

Jeffrey Brown talks the adorable VADER’S LITTLE PRINCESS!

A look at the many (many, many…) faces of Superman’s foe General Zod!



My Little Pony Meets Doctor Who with “Doctor Whooves!”

Coming soon: New JURASSIC PARK Toys!

New “Presidential Monsters” with Baracula!

The Many (Toy) Faces of Slyvester Stallone

New Batman “Movie Masters” Trilogy 3-Pack!

The Return of Captain Power Toys?

Some high-end pieces of IRON MAN 3 Merchandise!

Check Out This Chic Han Solo in Carbonite Business Card Case!

Yes, they finally made a figure of Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING

New WALKING DEAD Michonne 3-Pack

New Target “New 52” Justice League 7-Pack!


How to Build Your Dragon — Getting Down with Masters of the Universe Classics’ Granamyr!

New Reverse-Flash FUNKO at Dallas Comic-Con!

These ‘Alien” Pint Glasses are Xenomorphically Awesome!



Had such a good reception to the blogs about obscure toys that I’m going to try some more original pieces on a few of my other passions, and see if this leads anywhere.

The first series is going to be about children’s books, and I want to do a few posts going over some of the ones that I just find weird, or uncomfortable.

Today: Racism, yay!

I found this really nice late 1960s edition of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at, of all places, an estate sale I spontaneously visited (everything was overpriced that was of interest, including a lovely collection of Beatrix Potter-inspired miniatures).  It was one of the versions with the original illustrations by Joseph Schindelman, and I was infatuated with the cover, which combined the pen-and-ink artwork with this crazy colorful backdrop.

I couldn’t find a full version online (didn’t get that copy), but here’s the best pic I could Google:

More Googling led to my finding a blog about the original African depiction of the Oompa-Loompas, and also the use of stereotyped Africans in the Doctor Doolittle books:

Not Exactly the Tiny Orange Men of Legend, Eh?

Ohhhh, lordy.

The Oompa-Loompas appeared this way in the first version of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in 1964.  By the early 1970s, they had prompted some complaint and were re-rendered like this (again, taken from the piece linked above):

I suppose that’s better.

The Oompa-Loompas were part of a major problem you had in a lot of 20th century children’s stories: They were racist as hell.

Black people were a major part of African society, but this was the height of “separate but equal,” remember.  So when blacks were in movies/radio/etc., they usually talked like “Yes, massah.”

And when they were depicted in cartoons and illustrations…oh lordy.  Big eyes, big lips, and more of the awful dialect.

This wasn’t just America — British children’s stories did this a lot, with a famous example being the Golliwog, who’s even appeared in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN:



And then there was Doctor Dolittle.
As the piece linked earlier indicates, there were some AWFUL stereotyped depictions of Africans in the Dolittle books.  The most infamous example is from the first book, THE STORY OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE, where the African prince Bumpo helps the doctor escape his tribe…after the doctor bleaches his face white, so he might seem appealing to a white woman he previously frightened.
It’s no surprise that almost every reprint of this book either cuts or alters this chapter (one version has the doctor help the prince look like a lion, which is only barely better).  A major illustrator I speak with sometimes says he was offered a chance to illustrate a new edition of the book a few years back, but refused based on this content, even after the publisher said it would be cut.
I had a weird thing about the Dolittle censorship; when that awful Eddie Murphy movie came out, I was 18 and fondly remembered several Dolittle books from childhood  and spent some time tracking down the ones I’d missed, including DOCTOR DOLITTLE IN THE MOON.  I was irate at the prospect of censorship, particularly the idea that whole chapters had been cut out of some editions, along with non-racist but lovely illos included in the cut chapters.
Of course I wound up never finishing most of the books I tracked down, and also found that the problem with many of those books was that they were overlong and digressive, and probably needed to be cut.  But I still have them; thought of selling them a few years ago, and Mom said not to, as she viewed them as a symbol of what I could achieve when I really focused on something.  The adventure behind getting all of them is their legacy, for the most part.
Anyway, it is fascinating how many great books are marred by the presence of the institutionalized racism of the 20th century and before.  And it’s many of the great masters as well!  An early Tintin book has been under much fire for this reason, TINTIN IN THE CONGO, which was only recently ruled as not racist by a Belgian court.
 Will Eisner, the great master of comics, long expressed his embarrassment for giving his character the Spirit an inarticulate, big-lipped black sidekick, Ebony White.
Captain Marvel(who sold 1.5 million comics twice a month at his peak)  had a black friend named “Steamboat” who spoke in a similar dialect, which allegedly caused an African-American group to protest Fawcett Comics.  Even some of the Disney comics had big-eyed, big-lipped natives/African-Americans who were all “Sho’!”
As a kid, I found this way of talking hilarious whenever I encountered it and occasionally did imitations that were shot down by my parents.  It wasn’t that I found the characters stupid for being black; it was simply I thought the way of talking sounded funny in and of itself.  Hell, I encountered something similar when Robert Downey Jr. did that character in TROPIC THUNDER a few years ago.  It’s just easy to forget the real ugliness that comes from those kinds of depictions, and what they can encourage in small-minded people.
Rarely is there anything as misguided as the prince wanting a formula to turn himself white in the first Dooittle book, though…!
Weirdly, “Little Black Sambo” was not what I recalled as a racist story — I think the version I saw depicted Sambo as more Pacific Asian, and I think the “black” was made to refer to his black hair in the story.  I could be wrong, though.  Memory is like that.
The thing is, all the books and comics I named above are some of my favorite things from childhood.  They’re groundbreaking works by groundbreaking writers and artists, and have many, many aspects that are still funny and touching and exciting and hold widespread appeal for kids today.
It’s just a very disheartening thing to realize that, as products of their eras, they reflect some of the ugliness and ignorance of those times as well.
I’ll do another post soon that will be a bit more upbeat and focus on some cool illustrators, and then I have an idea for one for books that are just WEIRD.

Director Julie Taymor is a frequent name in the entertainment news these days with her $65 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark being Broadway’s most expensive and potentially life-threatening musical.

The sheer scale of the project—and its oddball depiction of a classic comic book superhero in a mythology-based story with songs by U2’s Bono and The Edge—holds an uncommon allure for the public. Sure, it looks spectacular, but it also looks like it could be nonsense, and the sheer number of actor injuries gives it the morbidly fascinating quality of “When’s someone going to die?”

All this makes Taymor’s biggest hit, The Lion King, more fascinating. The production at the Durham Performing Arts Center is the must-see for families, but it also contains a certain appeal for those who haven’t been able to make it to the Great White Way to see Taymor’s work live. For those who only know her for such films as Frida, Across the Universe and The Tempest, how does her sense for artistic spectacle play on stage?

Read the full review here!

Beauty and the Beast is familiar family fare 

by Zack Smith  

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Durham Performing Arts Center
Through June 13

There’s not a lot to say about the production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Durham Performing Arts Center other than it certainly looks pretty, and it’s entertaining family fare. If you’ve seen the classic 1991 animated film, you’ve already seen the story. There isn’t much new material beyond a handful of additional songs to link scenes and explain character, all of which might as well be entitled “Padding.”

Read the full review here!

All along the watchtower, a princess kept the view: Amy Adams in Enchanted
Photo by Barry Wetcher/ Disney

In Bruno Bettelheim’s classic analysis of fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, he suggests that the lack of description and characterization in fairy tales is a way of allowing the reader to relate themselves to the characters. The recent barrage of self-aware, deconstructionist fairy tale films (three Shreks, Happily N’Ever After and several dozen straight-to-DVD numbers) have all suffered from the problem of fleshing out the two-dimensional characters of fairy stories while maintaining this sense of reliability

Full review here (scoll down)