Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getting High In Illinois

During World War II,  the Japanese seizure of the South Pacific cut off the worldwide supply of hemp.  The U.S. military needed hemp.  Fibrous hemp stalks became the rope used on naval ships.  The United States government desperately needed a new hemp source.

Government scientists conducted soil, water, and weather tests throughout the agricultural Midwest.  They isolated several areas perfect for hemp cultivation.  One of these locations was my hometown, Earlville, Illinois.
 
 
The government ran a contest.  The town that committed the most acreage to growing hemp would also get a processing plant, called a hemp mill.  This would give the local economy a boost and provide local residents with another source of employment.

Earlville beat out all the other towns and won the contest.

The government dutifully built a help mill on the outskirts of town.
 
 
Unfortunately, mill management couldn’t get enough people to work there.  Farmers and their sons were busy farming.  Farm wives and daughters ran the rural households. That left the townspeople.  There weren’t many of them – Earlville had a population of only 1,400 -  and most were already employed elsewhere.

So the government started a campaign to recruit more hemp mill workers. 

One aspect of this campaign involved interviews with hemp mill workers. They were instructed to talk about the benefits of working in the mill.  These interviews ran each week in the town newspaper, the Earlville Leader.

In the most interesting of those interviews, a woman says, “Working in the mill is hard and it’s dusty.  No question about that.  But at the end of the day, when we take the leaves out  back to the incinerator and burn them, and the smoke drifts through the plant and off across the town, we all go home so calm and mellow and happy.”

As you probably know, another name for hemp is marijuana.

And that’s how the government toked up my hometown.

The hemp mill closed soon after the war ended.  The plant eventually reopened as a manufacturing site for corn curls, a corned-based snack food.

The hemp went to seed.  Hemp started growing wild along the creek beds.  During the sixties in the summertime hippies in wildly colored Volkswagen vans would drive down from Chicago to harvest the crop.

Sadly, I never knew any of this until years later when, as part of a research project for a book I was writing, I read all the issues of The Earlville Leader from the war years.

Had I known in my youth what was growing wild in Earlville, I might have started seeing talking rabbits a whole lot sooner.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fan Artwork for Who Censored Roger Rabbit?

This is a drawing done by a talented young artist named Justin Sneed.  He's doing a series of illustrations based on my original Roger Rabbit novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? That's the novel that eventually became Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  As you might know, I posed on the cover of that novel as Eddie Valiant. This is my favorite of Justin's drawings.  He nails my essence as a craggy, hard-bitten, wanna-be private eye.  If you're in his virtual neighborhood, check out his other Roger Rabbit drawings. Here's a link to his site.  http://insaneasylum123.deviantart.com/  He's very, very good. Believe me, you're gonna be hearing a lot more from this young man in the future. If you haven't read the book and don't have a clue what he's drawing about, go to Amazon.com, download it, and catch up.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cover Blurb for Who Wacked Roger Rabbit?

Huzzah!  Here's the cover blurb for Who Wacked Roger Rabbit?  Sounds like a must read, don't cha think?

Hard-boiled gumshoe Eddie Valiant lands a plum job as Gary Cooper's bodyguard while Coop scouts locations for his next movie—a screwball comedy titled Hi, Toon! But Eddie's dream job quickly turns into a nightmare. The film's being shot in Toontown, and Coop's co-star turns out to be none other than Roger Rabbit.

Eddie's a big fan of Coop. Of Roger? Not so much.

Now a sinister hoodlum is threatening to murder Coop if the movie gets made. Before long, Eddie, Coop, Roger, and the ever-glamorous Jessica Rabbit are embroiled in a mystery that could destroy Toontown. When Roger bites off more Toonish trouble than Eddie can swallow, the answer to the question Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? suddenly becomes no laughing matter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sharing A Toilet In Paris

One a recent trip to Paris, my wife an I were having dinner one evening in the Latin Quarter at a small family-owned restaurant near the Sorbonne.  The restaurant was filled with students, incredibly handsome young men and stunning beautiful young women.

After finishing off my share of a bottle of wine, I had to pee.

The toilet was down in the cellar, accessible via a circular iron staircase.  There was only one toilet down there.  Unisex.  Ah, I thought, so very French.

 I went inside and saw a porcelain commode and a hole in the floor.  I had spent many years in the Orient where a hole in the floor was the only option.  I decided to give the hole a shot for old times sake.  I unzipped and started to pee.

Suddenly, the door behind me, which had no lock, opened.  An attractive young French woman walked in.

She blithely pulled down her panties, sat down on the commode, and she started to pee.  All the while speaking to me in French, which I don’t understand.

 When I had finished sharing our moment, I zipped up and hastily went back upstairs to my table.

A few moments after I sat down, my toilet companion also came upstairs.

As she passed by my table, she knocked on the tabletop with her knuckles, smiled, said something to me in French, and blew me a kiss.

My wife’s reaction was, understandably, “What was that all about?”

I told her the story.  I said I didn’t know what that young woman said to me as she passed by, but I suspected it was “Monsieur you have the biggest baguette I have ever seen.”
 
 

My wife, who does speak French, laughed and said, “No what she actually said was ‘don’t forget to return the breadstick you took from the glass on the bar.’”

 
Gotta love Paris!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why I run, write, and do yoga

Here's a wonderful article about the compulsion to run long distances.  With 38 marathons under my belt, I can understand the logic.  However, this also explains my need to do yoga every day.  And to get up at an ungodly early hour every morning so I can write.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2013/08/20/213869143/why-this-compulsion-to-run-long-distances-a-runners-beautiful-confession?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=share&utm_campaign=

5-Star Review for Typical Day

A nice 5-star review for my science fiction novel Typical Day.  No talking rabbits in this one, but plenty of other oddities.
http://anotheruniverse.com/typical-day/

Doing Yoga On The Roof Of The World

During my recent trip to China, I spent a week doing yoga at a remote monastery in Tibet, the Roof Of The World.  I practiced under the watchful eye of a Tibetan Shaman.

My “final exam” required me to do one hundred prostrations on the stone walkway surrounding the monastery’s temple.

For those non-yogis in the crowd, here’s what a prostration involves.  You hold a half pound smooth stone in each hand.  You wear a smooth leather apron.  You stand straight, raise your rock-holding arms over your head, click the rocks together, and then dive forward headfirst, sliding on your slick leather apron.  The same action you would take if playing baseball and sliding into second base. When you come to a stop, you hop to your feet, and do the same thing again.  One hundred times.  At 14,000 feet.  Where the air is rare. It’s a real “Whew” experience.

I finished my one hundred prostrations in two hours.  I was literally sucking wind at the end.

For my “graduation present,” the Shaman gave me a beautiful fire agate prayer bead necklace which he had blessed.

 
I said to the Shaman, “Holy Master, I have a god daughter.  She’s fourteen years old and has been doing yoga with me since she was eleven.  She would adore one of these necklaces.  Could I please have one for her?”

 The Shaman contemplated for a moment as he always did whenever I asked him a question.  Finally, he nodded.  “Of course you may have another necklace for your god daughter,” he said.  He smiled and pointed at the stone walkway.  “Give me one hundred more!”

 I gave that second necklace to my god daughter as an eighth grade graduation present.  I told her, “You lose it, you break it, you’re going back to Tibet and doing a hundred around the temple for the Shaman.”

We both wear our fire-agate prayer bead necklaces Western-yoga bracelet style, wound three times around our wrists. We are definitely two of the coolest yogi’s in our yuppie downtown Boston studio.
 
 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Follow Me On Twitter!

Finally, after much prodding by Roger, Jessica, and half the looneys in Toontown, I'm on Twitter. Follow me at @GaryKWolf and @GaryKWolf_WWRR.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How I Came To Own My Mother's Zebra

I grew up watching Western movies.  Every Saturday afternoon I hightailed it down to the Lyric Theater in Earlville, Illinois for The Kiddies Matinee.  There I spent a thrilling, popcorn-fueled 90 minutes vicariously riding along with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Tonto, and the rest of their fearless, rootin' tootin', cow punching compadres.  I cheered them on as they chased outlaws and renegades back and forth across the Technicolor expanses of the Great American West.

With my weekly allowance and ample help from Woolworth's Five and Dime, I outfitted myself in my heroes' images.  I sported a matched set of nickel plated cap guns, genuine imitation leather holsters, a two gallon hat, plastic spurs that didn't jangle but did glow in the dark, and an oversized pair of tan corduroy slacks which, if you squinted and used your imagination, resembled chaps.

I always lacked the one essential cowboy accessory I wanted more than any other; a horse, a trusty steed, preferably one named Trigger, Champion, Topper, Silver, or Scout.  I longed to sit tall in my very own saddle, wave my hat in the air, shout "Whoopee-ti-ti-yo.", spur my mount, and ride off like the wind.  Palomino, pinto, bay, paint, I loved them all.  Any size, any breed, any color, didn't matter.  I wanted a horse of my own.

I never got one.  The closest I came were my yearly trips to Chicago's immense and wondrous Riverview Amusement Park.  Forget the roller coaster, Tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, and fun house.  I went for the merry-go-round.  Specifically to ride one magnificent wooden horse.  He stood strong and proud on the outside row.  He was jet black.  His tossed mane, barred teeth, flared nostrils, and wide-open eyes gave him a savage, fearsome expression.  He had a rifle tucked under his blanket and a coiled lariat looped over his pommel.  He was everything a budding cowboy could want.  I named him Lightning and rode him to exhaustion (mine, not his.) once every summer.  I never forgot the thrill I got from sitting astride that beautiful wooden steed, and I never will.

I gave up on my fantasy of owning a real horse.  I had to.  I now live on the top floor of a high rise co-op.  I suspect my downstairs neighbors would strongly object to the clip clop of horse hooves overhead, let alone that pungent manure smell wafting through the hallways.  Even worse,  turns out that exposure to horse hair gives me a severe case of sneezing fits.  A singing cowboy, yes.  A sneezing cowboy?  I don't think so.

Instead of a real horse, I now a merry-go-round horse.  Even though I may never ride my beloved Lightning again, I can still climb aboard his first cousin.  My merry-go-round horse was hand carved by the very same fellow who created that fantastic animal I remember so well from my youth.

A friend who knew of my interest in merry-go-round horses once sent me a photo showing a rather goofy looking horse.  All white from head to foot. missing both ears and one front leg.  The horse’s real horsehair tail stuck up at an odd angle high up on its rump.  Somebody had gouged out the eyes and had replaced them with red bicycle reflectors.  The saddle had been wired up so anybody sitting on it would get a shock when the leads were connected to a battery.  Still, the horse had charmingly dainty lines.  I suspected thick, multiple coats of paint might be covering up a rather nice piece of carving.  The horse was for sale, so I bought it.

Through research, I discovered this horse had been part of a long-dismantled carousel which had operated at Riverview Park (a different Riverview, not the one of my boyhood memories) in Aurora, Illinois. 

When I told my mother about my new acquisition, she remarked that she and my father had visited that park many times when they were courting.  Her favorite animal had been a zebra.  She rode the zebra every visit, the same way I had ridden my favorite Lightning.

I turned this odd-looking animal over to a carousel restorer.  The restorer took one look and told me why this was such an odd looking horse.  Because this wasn't a horse.  This was, surprise, surprise, a zebra. 

As merry-go-rounds aged, and park attendance declined, carousel owners could no longer afford to maintain the rides in pristine shape.  When time came to repaint a thirty or forty year old merry-go-round, rather than laboriously redoing the zebra's stripes, owners eliminated the stripes and turn the zebra into an ersatz horse.  This necessitated cutting off the wooden zebra tail, drilling a new hole, and inserting a horsehair tail.  That accounted for the tail’s weird high-up angle.  The rest of the alterations, the eyes and the hot-wired saddle, came when the zebra-horse eventually landed in a college fraternity's rec room.

I called my mother and asked her to describe that zebra she had ridden so long ago at Riverview. 

She had no trouble whatsoever.  She still remembered that animal vividly, especially the monkey heads carved on either side, just behind its saddle.  When I checked. I discovered, low and behold, twin monkey heads behind this zebra’s saddle.  I had purchased the very same animal that had enchanted my mother so many years ago.

My restorer put the animal back into original condition.  New ears, eyes, tail, and leg finished off with an authentic zebra paint job. 

 
After the zebra was completed, I showed the animal to my mother.

She started to cry.  “Yes,” she said, “that’s the same zebra I rode when your father and I were courting.”

I helped her climb up and sit in the saddle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy.

What’s even more amazing is the fact that no other animal from that Riverview carousel has ever surfaced.  Only this one.  My mother’s favorite.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jessica Rabbit In China

I just got back from a six week trip to China.

While I was there, I gave a number of lectures to college-level art, writing, and animation students.

 At one of these lectures in Beijing, I was trying to explain who I was and what I had done.  My audience was a group of 20-25 year old young men who were studying fine arts.

Disney is not well known in China.  You don’t see the abundance of Mickey Mouse T-shirts so common around the world.  These young men shook their heads when I mentioned Roger Rabbit.  They had never heard of him.  Same with Eddie Valiant, Baby Herman, and Benny the Cab.  They had never heard of these characters.

Then I mentioned Jessica Rabbit.

I immediately got a response.  The young men started nodding and saying something in Chinese.

I asked my translator what they were saying.

My translator told me their comments translated roughly to “Big melons.”

That’s my Jessica Rabbit! A standard of excellence wherever fresh fruit is sold.
 
 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fans of Who Wacked Roger Rabbit on Facebook

Go here, like the site, and keep up to date on all the latest developments of the third Roger Rabbit novel, Who Wacked Roger Rabbit?
https://www.facebook.com/WWRRMusaPublishing

How Serendipity Works in Toontown

On my office wall I have a Who Framed Roger Rabbit animation cell which Disney gave me as a thank you gift after the movie came out.  The cel is from the scene in which Roger and Jessica are hanging from the ceiling of the Acme Warehouse.  This scene is one of the few from the movie in which Jessica and Roger appear on-screen together.  My cel is autographed by Steven Spielberg, Bob Zemeckis (the movie’s director,) Dick Williams (the Academy Award winning head animator,) Bob Hoskins, Charlie Fleischer (voice of Roger Rabbit), and Kathleen Turner (voice of Jessica Rabbit.)

 
A few months ago, I was reading a Facebook posting from one of my animation friends, Tom Sito.  Tom worked as a lead animator on the Who Framed Roger Rabbit movie.  He’s gone on to award-winning success as an animator, lecturer, and author.  One of the comments on Tom’s posting came from Jacques Muller.  Jacques also worked on the Who Framed Roger Rabbit movie. He was working at the Disney animation studio in London, so I never got to know him well.

Jacques’ profile picture was the Roger and Jessica scene I have hanging on my wall.

I had to “friend” a guy like that.

When Jacques accepted my friend request, he told me that he was the artist who had animated that scene.  He sent me his portfolio which included some of the most astounding animation artwork I’ve ever seen.  Jacque asked if I would like him to draw a picture of Roger for me.

“Funny you should ask,” I wrote him back. “We’re currently looking for a Disney-experienced artist to do the cover artwork for my new novel Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? Are you interested?”

Jacques got back to me so quickly with his “Yes!” that the force of his internet reply nearly blew a hole through my computer screen.

Jacques and I worked together with my editor and the publisher’s art director to come up with a really great concept for the book cover.  Stay Tooned to my blog post, and you’ll be one of the first to see what we came up with.

Jacques is now working to visualize some of the incredible new characters in the book.  I’ll give you a peek at those as soon as he’s finished.

And that’s how things happen in Toontown, where you never know what, or who is waiting for you just around the corner.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Roger Rabbit Reunion Party

The Roger Rabbit animators are having a reunion party this Friday, August 16, 3013.  If you're a Roger Rabbit animator, or a rabbit, grab your ears and come on down.
http://flipanimation.blogspot.com/2013/08/roger-rabbit-reunion-party-friday.html?spref=fb