Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Red Headed Stranger

Previously:




We've seen several comic book characters visit the Lone Star State over the years, especially the gang from DC and Marvel.  But it was only a matter of time before the kids from Archie Comics wanted to get their piece of the action...which brings us to 1991's Veronica #17.


The story begins with Riverdale rich girl Veronica Lodge on a plane headed to DFW Airport to visit her father who is already there on business.  She passes the time by reading a paperback adventure of "Dusty Marlowe, Rodeo Star."  When a bit of turbulence gives her an old school, sitcomy konk on the head, naturally she gets the type of amnesia where you believe yourself to be the character you were just reading about...very common stuff..


Armed with the confidence that comes with a brand new persona, Veronica (or "Dusty" as she now calls herself) then proceeds to lasso a wild bucking bull who was loose in the airport (They really gloss over the whole "bull is loose in an airport" element of the story) like a champ.

The bull's owners, father and son rodeo organizers, Harry and Matthew Chase, offer her a job in their rodeo which she promptly accepts.  They even seem to be okay with giving the amnesiac teenage girl they just met a ride in their truck.


One bottle of red hair dye later, Matthew starts laying on the charm by taking Veronica out to dinner at whatever the restaurant at the top of Reunion Tower was called in the early 90s.  Check out artist Dan Parent's take on the Dallas skyline:


The house style for Archie comics might seem somewhat simplistic but if you take a minute or two to examine the drawing above you'll see several details of the Dallas skyline were included and not just the obligatory Reunion Tower cameo.  At this point in the story we get into a tour of Texas landmarks.  Since we're starting in downtown Dallas, let's do some side-by-sides from that area:


One of the first sights is the JFK Memorial, a.k.a. the JFK Cenotaph which is unfortunately mostly covered by word balloon.  Making matters worse is that the Old Red Courthouse Museum is featured prominently in the panel but the artist didn't seem to have a good reference pic to work from so the resemblance is not very accurate.


Veronica notices that Dallas founder John Neely Bryan's log cabin was not necessarily matching its downtown Dallas surroundings.  The cabin has been moved around and refurbished several times over the years and always seems to get attention.  You may remember that a few years back another comic book tourist noticed it when Spider-Man teamed up with the Dallas Cowboys.


After a while it was time for the traveling rodeo to start traveling and it was southbound to Houston.  Amnesiac teenager "Veronica/Dusty" continued to tag along and nobody seemed too weirded out about it.  And the tour continued!  This time at NASA in Houston.

While all this is going on there's a few subplots in the story trying to keep the queso spicy.  One involves a pair of rodeo clowns planning to steal from the Chase Rodeo's box office.  Another involves Veronica's father hiring a private detective (who's always eating something for some reason) and Veronica's mother hiring a psychic (who, like all psychics, is faking it til she makes it) to track down their daughter.


And, of course, the tour continues!  This time it's a Texas history lesson at the San Jacinto Monument.  Either Veronica is genuinely interested or she's doing a great job of faking it.  But there's no time to bask in Texas Independence...it's time to head to Austin!


Like most tourists, one of the kids' first stops is the Capitol Building.  It's an impressive sight (and a great drawing) but I can't help but stare at the mustache bro who's looking right at the reader:


Yeah, this guy knows what's up.  He's got a secret...a dark secret.  But that's a story for another day.  Unfortunately, our fate is to continue following Veronica and Matthew on their tour of famous Texas sites:


The last stop on the tour was a quick swim at Hamilton Pool.  Looks like there wasn't a postcard handy for the artist to use as a reference because this one was a little off too.  The real thing is more of a grotto than what you'd think of as a traditional water fall but it was still pretty cool that a natural landmark was included in the issue.  Now all that's left is the wrap up.


The rodeo clown robbers were foiled, Veronica got her memory back, her parents finally caught up with her and they all celebrated with some BBQ and some Texas two-stepping.  All in all, a pretty standard trip to Texas.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bar Necessities


The 1991 film "Necessary Roughness" was a part of a wave of "ragtag misfits come together" sports movies that were hugely popular in the 80s and early 90s.  It fit right in with movies like "Major League" or "Wildcats" and works for our purposes because it was filmed in Texas.

The majority of the movie was shot at the University of Texas in Denton which filled in for the fictional Texas State University (go Armadillos!) and there are are few other north Texas locations, but what brings us all here today is a bar room brawl at the World's Largest Honky Tonk.



Scott Bakula, Sinbad and the rest of the gang decide to blow off some steam at Billy Bob's Texas in the Fort Worth Stockyards.  Billy Bob's is a world famous bar and entertainment venue that attracts some of the biggest musical acts in the world.  So of course, I had to stop by and see if I could find some of the specific areas where they filmed.



The problem, of course, being that the movie is a couple of decades old and the bar has been remodeled a few times since then.  Gotta get the saw dust off the floors and keep it fresh!  So consider this an exercise in seeing how the place has changed and updated over the years.  For example, you can see that the light fixtures over the pool tables are different.



Seems like some of the neon has been moved around or replaced too.  Normally I try to match up shots as closely as I can but I had to settle for just getting close on this trip.  There are a few other shots in Billy Bob's rodeo area and out front but the main action happened where the drinking gets done.

There's a lot to see in the bar, like the concrete hand imprints of the musicians who have performed there and several celebrities who have visited.  But there's also an interesting prop from a forgotten movie above the dance floor.



The duded-out saddle from the movie "Rhinestone" serves as the disco ball above Billy Bob's dance floor.  The movie stars Dolly Parton as a singer who makes a bet that she can turn Sylvester Stallone into a country music sensation...which sounds like a totally made up movie parody but it was real...and the proof is in Fort Worth!



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Shoe Maker

Houston is known for its Art Cars of a variety of shapes, sizes and overall wackiness. One of the biggest and brightest puts its best foot forward at parades and charity appearances throughout the year.  Ronald McDonald's Big Red Shoe Car was made by Texas artist Jason Barnett and I had a chance to ask him about his ultimate clown car.

Texas Pop Culture: How did you get involved with the creation of the Shoe Car?

Jason Barnett: In about April of 2002, a friend of mine was one of the local Ronald McDonald's that made appearances at McDonald's events. He came to me and said that the Texas Gulf Coast McDonald's were looking to have a promotional vehicle made is the shape of a Ronald McDonald clown shoe and that they were going to have some of the local art car parade guys bid and build it. My friend Bill (Ronald), told me of a meeting that was to take place the next day in Houston about the shoe car idea and if I wanted to get a bid in that I had better have something ready by that morning. I immediately did a quick sketch of my idea and built a remote control model of my idea using a PT Cruiser remote control car that I bought and removed the body from.


JB: I worked all through the night and at about 5 am the remote control car was finished. The problem was, at the time I lived in Midlothian and it was a 4 hour drive to the meeting. I drove all the way down to Houston and handed over the car sketches and the remote control model. Bill is the ultimate in presenters and showmen. He waited for the meeting to start with all of the board members at their giant table and then flung open the doors and drove the remote control car into the room. Instantly my phone was ringing and the board wanted to meet. Over the next few months we went back and forth over the design and over a year later I received a check to get started.


TPC: How long did it take to design and build?

JB: The actual construction process involved about two years of hard labor and itching from the fiberglass body. I had underbid the project so badly that I had to take on other jobs to fund the project. If not for that blunder, it would only have taken about a year to complete. As I was building the car, improvements were made to its design. The first thing was that I decided to make the entire nose of the car flip forward to access the engine and I decided to have suicide doors.


JB: The car was about 8ft wide in the front and narrowed down to about 4ft wide at the rear. It would have been very difficult to get to the engine with a normal car style hood. Originally the car was to be built on a 2003 Chevy1/2 ton truck chassis with a 6 cylinder engine. When I went down to buy a truck from the dealership, they made me a better deal on a truck with a V8 and cruise control. I have personally driven the shoe car well over 100mph!

TPC: What was your favorite part of the process?

JB: As far as my favorite part of building the car goes. I would have to say that was when I got the fiberglass body back in from the workshop that hand laid the fiberglass. We didn't use molds. I carved the shape of the car out of huge blocks of foam and then coated them with layers of drywall mud to fill in the imperfections. The giant mock-up was sprayed with latex paint to create a barrier from the fiberglass. Once the fiberglass was laid up on the mockup and cured, I popped the new fiberglass body off of the foam. I still had a lot of hand work to do to the body, but at that point the car was coming to life. Anytime a new part was added- doors,hood, hatchback,etc., it was necessary to drive it around to test for problems and rattles. There was nothing like watching kids and adults freak out as I drove past in the 23 ft long shoe.


JB: I had it in my head from the beginning that I was going to be able to pull this off entirely by myself. Luckily for me, I had a lot of friends and family that volunteered and spent endless days and nights to make this project a reality.


Check out Jason's website for more of his unique work:
http://www.jasonbarnettartist.com/

He's a very talented guy and we hope to cover his upcoming projects so check back soon for more details!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pros at Cons

These days, if you wanted to, you could probably attend a scifi or pop culture convention just about every weekend.  Sure, you'd have to travel but probably not as far as you'd think.  The act of standing in line to get a $40 autograph from someone who did something you liked has gone completely mainstream as conventions are popping up everywhere, all the time.

But not so long ago these kind of cons were a lot rarer to find.  They were grass roots initiatives by and for hardcore fans that are now the stuff of legend.  One such convention was HoustonCon.  I stumbled across program for the 1974 HoustonCon and today we're going to check out some of the highlights.


Celebrities



If you found yourself cast in a scifi or superhero show today you'd probably have a clause in your contract necessitating a certain number of convention appearances per year (or at least an incentive for those appearances).  That's why you might find half the CW Network in Lexington, KY or Bozeman, MT on a particular weekend.

But in the good old days, actors had to make their own way to cons and it was usually well after their show was off the air.  And if they charged for autographs, it wasn't anywhere near today's prices.  There was a bit of a negative connotation to these appearances back then as it was sometimes seen as a desperate choice for someone whose acting work had dried up but we've thankfully gotten past that today.

HoustonCon '74 had two primary focuses:  old movie serials and Star Trek.   With those themes, these two were pretty good gets.  Kirk Alyn was the first ever live action Superman on film in the original serials and Walter Koenig served his tour of duty on the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original Star Trek TV series and movies.  There were other actors that were willing to brave the Houston humidity that year but these two are probably the best known today.

Artists



There were a couple of artists listed in the program but I picked Fred Fredericks to feature on the blog because of his contributions to the program itself.  You can see his two page spread above as well as his work on the cover.  At first I wasn't sure if that character was meant to be the Lone Ranger or not because of the weird netting on his mask, but after some quick research, it looks like it is.


Apparently that's the type of disguise the masked man wore in the first Lone Ranger movie serial.  With the convention's movie serial theme, it makes sense that Fredericks would use this design.  He also seemed to be known for his work on the comic strip for pulp hero Mandrake the Magician as well as several cartoon character comics.

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First up is an ad for the "All American Book Store" in Hurst which features what I can only assume is a non-authorized appearance by Captain America.  I'm not sure which artist drew him but I'm gonna guess...the store's owner?  I can't find any confirmation that this place is still open but thankfully the ad includes a handy "map" if anyone wants to try and track it down.

The next ad is a great sign of the times.  This was well before the age of Netflix or video on demand, so if a fan wanted to catch their favorite episode of "I Dream of Jeannie" or 'The Flintstones" they'd have to wait until the rerun was rerun.  These bootlegs were presumably for sale on VHS but in 1974 I can't imagine too many people had VCRs.  Like any good page from a decades old convention program, this brings up more questions than answers. 

In addition to the gems I've posted, the program included con rules and schedules, with an emphasis on their screenings of Star Trek episodes and movie serials as well as bios of the other actors, writers and artists that were appearing.  It's a great window into a different time when fandom was a lot more work than it is today...but it looks like it was worth it.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Eat and/or Be Eaten


As you can imagine, the "East Texas Zoo and Gator Park" in Grand Saline is packed with various wildlife but the main event is definitely the gators.  And the best part of watching gators is: feeding time!  Each day at 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM a park employee will bring out the feeding bucket the frenzy begins!

The gators' menu seems to consist of (at least during scheduled feeding times) chopped up chicken parts.  When a piece hits the ground it doesn't take long to end up inside a gator's belly.  Here's a little glimpse at supper time:




 If watching that makes you work up an appetite then the Park has a way to turn the tables and put you in the role of predator by offering a small selection of dishes with alligator meat at the Park's Grill (bottom left):


Behold the Gator Kabob!!


A little small for the price but the gator meat was fantastic.  It was perfectly seasoned and well textured.  The old cliche is that it "tastes like chicken" but this had more of a red meat vibe, probably since it was grilled with similar spices that would be used on a steak.  It wasn't gamey at all.  The veggies were good too!

So whether you're interested in gators eating or eating gators, this place is definitely worth a stop!


Friday, October 12, 2018

Jobe to the Future

Previously:



"Amazing Stories" was an ambitious mid-80s attempt to capture a little Twilight Zone lighting in a prime time bottle.  As with any anthology, there were hits and misses but it's widely regarded as a show that was "pretty good."

The third episode of the series caught the attention of a young "me" since it featured a world famous landmark I had recently visited...the Alamo!  The legendary Texas battle site was having a bit of a Hollywood renaissance with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Cloak & Dagger making use of the location and now it was time for a small screen adventure.


The elevator pitch for the episode is: a fifteen year old volunteer from the Battle of the Alamo is transported to present day (A.K.A. 1985).  And that's also pretty much a summary of the episode too.  It's not what you would call a very plot heavy entry into the time travel genre.

The story begins during the battle (and uses footage from the John Wayne Alamo movie from 1960) and our hero Jobe (Kelly Reno from the Black Stallion movies) name checks fellow Alamo heroes William Travis and Davey Crockett and is given instructions to take a note to "General Lefferts" on "Shuttlecock Road."


While this is going on, Jobe keeps seeing 1985 tourists pop up in the mission, seemingly unaware of the carnage surrounding them.  He even hears some unfortunate news about the ultimate fate of the Alamo defenders from a tour guide (who probably hasn't gotten to the part about adobe or corn yet).


Sure that's a freaky thing to see but Jobe's a totally pro and is determined to deliver the note.  But now it's his turn to time travel on his way out of the Alamo.  After a quick visit to the 1985 gift shop he's kicked out by one of the staff.


If I were to ask you, does that door look familiar?  You'd probably say, "Yeah, that's the door to the Alamo."  But you'd be wrong.  And I'd really stick it in your face in the smuggest way possible.  And then you would walk away from me and I'd be left alone once again with my useless trivial knowledge.

That being said, the Alamo doesn't allow people to film there.  So any time you've seen a movie or TV show at the Alamo, you've seen a sound stage.  This particular faux Alamo door was built for the film "Cloak & Dagger":


And at this point, just as Jobe must come to the realization that he's in another time (which he never really seems to do), we must realize that this episode is passing off Los Angeles as San Antonio.  But at least they make an effort to hide it.  Check out this matte shot:


Well now it's time for some fish-out-of-water shenanigans as Jobe hijinks his way across pseudo-San Antonio in the 80s, while encountering tons of sights and sounds that should freak him out but never really do.    It wasn't too long before it was time for a a classic trope:


Yep, out-of-towner guy meets hip guy.  In this instance the "hip guy" is a break dancer who tells Jobe that he digs his "funky cap."  Just as Jobe seems mildly curious yet mostly uninterested in the future things he see, the people he meets seem to feel relatively the same way. 

I guess seeing somebody walking around San Antonio dressed in buckskins is like seeing someone dressed as a Disney princess in Anaheim.  After awhile it just becomes a fairly common part of your work week.


After some additional fun involving bus rides, pay phones, a stolen horse and a police chase, our hero finally gets to his destination.  There was no "General Lefferts" involved with the real Alamo and the real San Antonio doesn't seem to have a "Shuttlecock Road" so don't feel obligated to go on your own Jobe-esque quest the next time you're in town.

The fictional Leffert had a fictional descendant who runs a fictional antique shop where Jobe finally ends up to deliver the note.  Mission Accomplished!  With that done he returns to the Alamo and presumably his own time.  But before he gets there he gets directions from this helpful citizen:


So does this mean that Jobe survived the Battle of the Alamo and had kids?  It's not really clear and I'm not anticipating a follow-up any time soon so we'll all just have to write our own Amazing Stories fan fiction...as usual.

So once again our beloved Alamo has made its presence felt in popular culture and we all plan our next family road trips to the real San Antonio.