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Stupor Duck: Carl Stalling Project Bonus Track

[photo of Carl Stalling] Carl Stalling was a silent-movie organist in Kansas in the 1910s and early 1920s who later went to work for his friend Walt Disney, composing soundtracks for his new cartoons. His involvement in one of the most important cartoons of all time, Skeleton Dance, was crucial; it was entirely set to Stalling’s music.

But he is best known, of course, for his work with Warner Brothers, with whom he started in 1936. Every WB cartoon for the next 22 years featured Stalling’s music, making him one the most-recognized composers in history (though certainly not the best-known). With Warner Brothers, Stalling could pull any composition from their massive music publishing subsidiary, and mash it up for his own needs. His rapidly-changing tempos and instrumentations along with his proto–sound collage would make him an unknowing avant-garde pioneer.

Stalling’s work wasn’t generally appreciated until 1990, when producer Hal Wilner put together the CD The Carl Stalling Project. After searching for a long time through Warner Brothers’ archives, Wilner managed to find the original music tapes of most of the cartoons, without the overdubbed voices. The CD he put together was a fantastic overview of Stalling’s career, with a combination of entire cartoon soundtracks in addition to collected cues from various decades.

The Carl Stalling Project has additional significance for me; it was the first CD I ever bought. I went to my favorite record store in 1990 to pick it up: “What do you mean, it’s only available on CD?”, I still remember asking the clerk. I couldn’t believe they would issue something on CD but not on LP. I bought it anyway, although I wouldn’t have a player for it for another year; any time I went to a friend’s house with a CD player, I would bring it along.

As it happens, it wasn’t only available on CD; it was also sold on cassette. And the cassette had a bonus track, oddly enough: the music from the 1956 cartoon Stupor Duck. Cassettes have a slightly longer running time than CDs but this is still the only time I know of this happening.

While the CD is still available, record companies haven’t sold pre-recorded cassettes in years. So this long out-of-print track is presented below. If you like it, be sure to buy a copy of the CD. And if you already have MP3s of the CD on your hard drive, go ahead and add this; you’ll have to renumber the tracks to make room. This is the new track #11, and it goes between “Medley: Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” and “Carl Stalling with Milt Franklyn in Session”.

Steve Ditko: Avenging World

[Steve Ditko drawing of an oozing, frightening Club of Evil.] Steve Ditko is, of course, best known for being the co-creator and original artist of Spider-Man. What most people don’t know, however (except serious comic-book nerds like Brakhage and me), is that in the early 1970s he went on a tear and produced a series of insane Objectivist independent comics/rants that are unlike any comics produced then or now.

The series of self-published comics featured an array of forgettable one-shot superheroes and one continuing series with his favorite character, Mr. A, loosely based on The Question, a superhero he had worked on for Charlton Comics a few years earlier. Mr. A was the Randian hero moved to a superhero setting; like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, he was the uncompromising perfect man, set upon by the cowardly, mediocrity-loving elites, including a newspaper publisher (J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man was also right out of Rand; at one point in the early series he admitted he hated Spider-Man because he made him seem ordinary by comparison — the mediocre dragging down the perfect). Alan Moore would later base the character of Rorschach in his series Watchmen on The Question/Mr. A; Moore lacked the political empathy and understanding, however, to truly parody someone whose beliefs were so far from his own, and Rorschach became simply a fascist psychotic, albeit a memorable and oddly charismatic one.

My favorite of these, though, was Avenging World. Not a superhero comic, or indeed even really a narrative comic at all, it was more of a diagrammatic tract outlining all the movements he hated (Christianity, Communism, welfare, post-modernism, equivocation) and explaining what was wrong with the world. This style was perfect for Ditko; while his lecturing diatribes would often sound ridiculous in the mouth of Mr. A (who would frequently be seen saying something like “Why did you deny what truth you did know as true?… How did you expect your dishonesty to lead to an honest gain… a worthy end?” while pummeling a miscreant), they worked very well in the context of his more abstract, tract-like diagrams.

His art, too worked better in this format. When he needed to draw a club representing coercion, he drew a club; I submit to you that there isn’t an artist in the comic-book world that could draw a more evil club than Ditko. Not only is it twisted and knobbing in a menacing fashion, it literally is oozing evil. This is the most hideous, scary, abstract-concept–representing club you will ever see.

I picked a bunch of his comics up because I’m generally a fan of bizarre propaganda and ramblings, and from what I knew of this I was sure I find it terribly amusing. And I did, but…

Uh, heh, well.. (cough, cough)… I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but when I read Avenging World, I realized that I pretty much agreed with what he had to say (I probably would have made this discovery had I ever read any Ayn Rand, but I never had the attention span for that). I recognized the lunacy behind it, and yet… I dunno, I just couldnt find much to argue with. Quibble, yes. But since everyone knows Ditko is just this right-wing lunatic, what does that make me? (Don’t answer that.) Oh well. I hope we can still be friends.

In honor of Ditko’s 80th birthday last Friday, here’s the long-out-of-print Avenging World; take your pick of PDF or Comic Book Archive format.

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