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Archie Meets Ramones

The Ramones existed as a band from 1974 until 1996. The original members of this dysfunctional band o’ brudders–singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), and drummer Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi)–have all gone on to the great Bowery in the sky. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that the group has become legend, a universal pop-culture touchstone whose image and music are summoned as pervasive talismans in movies, print, TV shows, advertising–virtually everywhere except on the goddamned radio–and whose impact and influence are recognized by anyone and everyone who understands the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Archie was created by cartoonist Bob Montana, and debuted in Pep Comics # 22 in 1941. The title character Archie Andrews has been described as “America’s typical teen,” and has bumbled and/or braved his way through 75 years of comic mishaps. The most common central conflict of Archie stories has been the unresolved love triangle of Archie and his would-be girlfriends, down-to-Earth Betty Cooper and pampered rich girl Veronica Lodge. Archie’s best bud Jughead Jones and rival Reggie Mantle complete the core cast of Archie; Archie and his pals and gals have starred in comic books, newspaper strips, a radio series, and TV cartoons, with a new, edgy live-action TV series called Riverdale on The CW in 2017. The fictional quintet has also performed in comics and cartoons as a rock group called The Archies, who crossed over to real-world chart success with the # 1 hit single “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969.

Archie and The Ramones. This does not seem like a match made in Heaven; what highway to Heaven could possibly lead through both the make-believe Riverdale and the all-too-real Forest Hills? And yet, the one-shot comic book Archie Meets Ramones is perfect. Lemme emphasize that again, with the sledgehammerin’ precision of New York’s Finest: Perfect. Perfect! PerfectPerfectPerfect!

When this book was announced, I heard complaints from some Ramones fans, whining that a crossover with the squeaky-clean Archies would be an insult to The Ramones’ memory, a whitewash of the group’s grungy, street-level depravity and inspiration. True, there was never any likelihood that a Ramones-Archies book would include glue-sniffing, heroin, violence, casual sex, male prostitute Dee Dee turning tricks, or Hilly Kristal‘s dog crapping on the floor at CBGB’s. These were all integral components of The Ramones’ formative years, and they have indeed been politely ignored in the pages of this comic book.

But if you think any of that is really what defines The Ramones, then I’m sorry to say that you don’t get it. At all.

You can protest, but I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, etc. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Ramones fan this side of Riff Randall, I don’t care if you were there at CBGB’s or Arturo Vega‘s loft, and I don’t even care if you’re Danny Fields, The Ramones’ first manager (though I think Danny would get it–he was among the firstto really get The Ramones). If you believe that The Ramones are defined more by the seediness of their origins than by the brilliance of their pop music, then you need to check back with Miss Togar for some remedial sessions at Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

Remember: The Ramones wanted to be a pop band. When I interviewed The Ramones in 1994, Johnny told me, “We started off, and I think we wanted to be a bubblegum band. At one point, The Bay City Rollers were becoming popular. They had written ‘Saturday Night,’ and we then sat down and said, ‘We have to write a song with a chant in it, like they have.’ So we wrote ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’ Somehow, in our warped minds, I think we thought we were a bubblegum group.”

Also remember: The Ramones were a pop band. Indisputably. Their songs were concise and catchy, immediately unforgettable, and made transcendent via velocity and force of will. But the songs are great songs at any speed, played in any style; I’ve heard elevator versions of Ramones songs, earnest acoustic versions of Ramones songs, surf instrumental versions of Ramones songs, and Y2K girlpop versions of Ramones song, and each disparate version has retained the spark and panache The Ramones bestowed upon the original version. The durability of this catalog suggests a band greater than the sum of its vices.

Moving on to The Ramones’ only feature film, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, it’s worth pointing out that Johnny Ramone specifically and firmly nixed the idea of any scenes showing The Ramones doing drugs. Nein. Verboten! It was not the image The Ramones wished to project. No, in the film, pizza would be their stimulant of choice! 

After all the Carbona huffin’, and the chainsaws and the lobotomies and the beating on the brat with a baseball bat…The Ramones still wanted to be a bubblegum band. Johnny said they wanted to be The Bay City Rollers; it would have been just as appropriate for them to be The Archies.
Archie Meets Ramones suddenly makes a lot of sense in that context.  

The comic book’s story, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Riverdale!” (written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with simply gorgeous artwork by Gisele Lagace), begins with The Archies tanking at a high school battle of the bands. Frustrated and angry, The Archies are ready to give up this silly notion of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band, but things change with a gift from Archie’s friend Sabrina the Teenaged Witch: an enchanted copy of The Ramones’ debut LP from 1976. As Archie plays that record, as the sound of “Blitzkrieg Bop” washes over Riverdale, The Archies find themselves magically transported back to ’76, standing in front of the iconic club Max’s Kansas City, and face to to face with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy.

The tale is breezy and energetic, full of love for The Ramones, and loaded with an endless barrage of Ramones references. Sure, you know how the story’s gonna end long before The Archies realize it, but just getting there is more fun than a barrel of Sheenas. And that’s a lot of fun! There’s even an uncredited cameo appearance by Talking Heads. The book is just pure joy, from start to finish, the kind of pure joy I already recognize from listening to The Ramones.

Joy. That may not be a word often associated with The Ramones, but we should use it more often. We know of the troubles the individual members of The Ramones faced, of their bickering and battles, Dee Dee’s addiction, Joey’s OCD, Johnny’s authoritarian prickishness, Tommy’s nervous breakdown; but that’s not what I hear when I listen to The Ramones. I hear joy. Pure, loud, rock ‘n’ roll joy. This comic book captures that joy completely. And to say that something’s as good as a Ramones record? I don’t know of a greater compliment I can give.

Take it, Betty! 1-2-3-4…!

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Boppin'

THE LOVEABLE LUNKHEAD RETURNS

This was originally distributed privately to patrons of this blog on December 1st, 2018. This is its first public appearance. You can become a patron and support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) for just $2 a month.
A recent online exchange about DC Comics Silver Age characters, cosmic crisis crossovers, and a popular real-life entertainment figure who starred in his own long-running DC Comics title inspired this flight of fancy. 

It was yet another crisis. You’d think such things would be rare, but they seemed to happen every summer, sometimes even more frequently. The world, the universe, multiple universes in danger, and the superheroes must save us. Worlds will live. Worlds will die. The universes will never be the same. Again. And again. And again.

But this crisis was different. This time, they invited me.

I’m usually excluded from these things. I used to be as big a star in our four-color world as any of the big guys. I don’t mean just my (if you must) “real” world counterpart, the comedy legend with the telethons and the movies and the temper, the adoring fans in France, the gurgled cries of LAAAAAAAAAYdeeeeeee! I mean me–the comic-book me–mingling with the Caped Crusaders and the Man of Steel, the Amazon Princess, the Scarlet Speedster. I was the Lovable Lunkhead. I met the prettiest girls. I had amazing, silly adventures, and the kids kept coming back for more, every other month. I did all right: Forty issues with my martini-guzzling ex-partner, and then 84 more–that’s 84!–without him, a total of 124 issues from 1952 to 1971, That was a longer sustained success than most of the superheroes in the freakin’ League, man. I was a king of comedy in the funnybooks.

Funnybooks. Nobody calls ‘em that anymore. No one wants any comic in their comic books. They just want another crisis. The real me was celebrated. Comic-book me was forgotten.

I don’t know what made this crisis du jour unique from the infinite previous crises. Maybe because all the heavy hitters were taken off the table before the action even started, out of commission at the hands of a mysterious grandmaster pitting champion against champion for the fate of all reality. Or something like that—I’ve never really understood the macguffins tossed around in these secret superwar things. I only knew that I’d been called to battle, as had dozens of presumably lesser heroes. It was like sending in the walk-ons during an NCAA basketball tournament. The bench was empty; we were the last hope standing.

I’m not a fighter. I’d tell you I never shied from a fight, but one look at my flailing panic in desperate situations would expose that lie. We chosen champions (such as we were) were supposed to fight each other—God knows why—in order to save the multiverse or some such mishigas. Most of the others were bona fide superheroes and adventurers; they expected me, a comic-book avatar of a popular film comedian, to compete with that? Oy….

My pesky nephew Renfrew and my housekeeper Witch Kraft accompanied me, though Renfrew disappeared immediately—knowing him, I figured the little monster was probably working up a high-stakes gambling pool—while Witchy zeroed in on some hero’s sturdy sidekick to flirt with. Everyone presumed I’d be dusted in the first round; presumed I’d be dusted in the first round. This never happened to Buddy Love, man.

My first opponent was a superhero, a stalwart member of a whole Legion of such people, but get this: his super power? He could eat anything. That’s it, I swear, hand to God. He could eat metal bars, walls, and plants and birds and rocks and things. Especially rocks. Man, even I wasn’t afraid of that. He charged at me, and I bent down to tie the loose laces of my sneakers. Safety first. Mr. matter-eatin’ boy overshot, and went careening into our picnic table, landing face-first into Witch Kraft’s Super Secret Recipe mocha, jalapeño, and sardine potato salad á la mode. Even an ability to eat anything wasn’t enough to spare my opponent the gastronomic indignity of that concoction, and I had won my first round.

Then I won my second. And my third. My fourth…?! Crazy. I would trip and my opponent would knock him- or herself out. Slapstick is my super power. I made it to the final round, and I knew that would have to be the end of the line for me.

Why? Because my opponent in the final was the daughter of that badass Dark Knight guy and the buxom cat burglar who used to cause strange stirrings in his utility belt. Trust me; it was a thing that led to a fling, and a second-generation superhero. Little Miss Batcat was one of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighters ever known. My luck had run out for sure.

She whispered something in my ear before the battle. At first, I was thinking to myself, You smooth Don Juan–if only Dean could see you now! But then I heard what she was saying, and I understood my role.

I came out fuming. Bellowing! Beating my chest and swaggering the swagger of the clueless and doomed. She remained tightlipped, all business, making it look good. I tried to make it look good, but my sheer haplessness hampered my façade. I nearly decked myself, not once, not twice, but three times, oh LAAAYdeee! She rolled her eyes behind her mask, but managed to keep saving me from myself. Finally, I seemed to have gotten in a lucky shot, and she crumpled to the ground, apparently defeated.

I had won.

I HAD WON!

The crowd was speechless, dumbfounded. From behind a cosmic curtain, the hidden orchestrator of this contest emerged, masked and hooded, hopping mad. YOU?!, he cried in anguish. YOU won this double-bag super-duper crossover crisis mega event? YOU? He was much shorter than I would have expected a cosmic criminal mastermind to be. I lost a friggin’ FORTUNE in bets on this! YOU WERE AT A BILLION TO ONE ODDS! The only way I can maybe break even is to destroy the universe and do a reboot…ULP!

The miscreant’s dastardly soliloquy was cut short by a savage blow from my former opponent, the Batcat chick. Yeah, she’d thrown the game, but for noble purpose, giving herself the opportunity to play possum and then get close enough to bring the bad guy down. With the dramatic flourish of a true comic book champion, she unmasked the mastermind as…

…Renfrew? MY NEPHEW RENFREW…?!

That kid just ain’t right in the head. Another get-rich gambling scheme. Ponzi had nothing on Renfrew, lemme tell ya. And rest assured: after Witchy and I got Renfrew home, he wasn’t able to sit down for a solid week.

The crisis was over. The vanquished champions recovered, and even more champions from across the multiverse showed up for the after-party. Hell, I think Dean was there, which was my cue to exit. Always leave ‘em wanting more.

I don’t get to participate in crises. Maybe that’s best. I’m a hero—no, scratch that, not a hero. I’m a comic book star from a different time. Fans look back and think because people laughed I must have been a joke. But I wasn’t a joke. I was an A-list star. Readers loved me, and my comic book ran for almost twenty years. They were good comics, too. It’s a shame so few will ever read them again. So I fade away. There’s no dark and gritty revamp of me. There’s no back-to-basics retread, no breathless hype that everything you thought you knew about the Lovable Lunkhead is wrong. There’s just the memories. I’d thank you for those, but that line belonged to another comedian turned comic book star. Instead, I sing: When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high. You’ll never walk alone.

Oh. And I have a hot date tonight with the Batcat chick. The ladies still dig a guy that can make ‘em laugh. The Lovable Lunkhead rises. The Lovable Lunkhead returns.

***

Thanks to Michal Jacotfor providing the spark.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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