All the News That Fills

unicorn times filler ad

Filler ad from the Unicorn Times.

The best job I ever had, certainly the best job title, was Filler Editor for the Unicorn Times. Whenever an ad fell out, which was often — and often on deadline — I was tasked with filling the space. Which I gleefully did with the help of some spiffy clip art and the photo archives of ’70s rock bands.

The Unicorn Times was a monthly arts and entertainment tabloid that published from the early 1970s into the early 1980s, when the much better organized Washington City Paper came to town and finally squeezed it out of business. Unicorn was the brainchild of a jovial Irishman who started the paper largely as a way to get free drinks. In exchange, he offered to print the entertainment schedule of various nightclubs and when he had enough bars lined up, voila, a newspaper.

Unicorn grew into much more than that, launching some actual journalists. I never wrote for the paper. I was nominally the production manager, in charge of pasting up the ads, though I also delivered the papers once they came back from the printer in West Virginia. (Once, I got to deliver the “boards” as they were called to Morgantown, which was an exciting day trip.)

Many of the fake ads were blatant come-ons for ridiculous products and included what I thought was the obvious gag of demanding money for a “free” catalog. And the address was always my father’s post office box: Box 602, Rockville, Md. Dad was a traveling salesman and I guess he thought he needed a PO Box as the mark of a serious businessman. I was fascinated by the idea and used it as my address for the comic books I subscribed to.

Some of my jokes were apparently too subtle. I created a fake record company whose entire catalog was devoted to songs of the humpback whales, which was a thing at the time. Such supposedly spurious titles as Reggae Songs of the Humpback Whales, featuring Bob Marley and John Denver did not seem at all insane to the Library of Congress, a representative of which wrote a letter asking that I send over my catalog.

The above filler ad is but one example of my publishing outrage recently unearthed from the Nuttycombe Archives. The rest are on my Tumblr site. Enjoy.

Batman v Superman v Bullshit

The film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was so scorned by critics (a lousy 28% on Rotten Tomatoes) that the Warner Bros. marketing team has been reduced to dredging up what positive quotes they can find from the most random people on social media: a guy from Pakistan, an Irish dude who mostly tweets about football (i.e., soccer), and even a grandmother on Facebook.

In the time-honored movie-marketing ploy of plucking a few words out of context from a review to suggest that the critic actually enjoyed the movie, the Warners team has been posting the following graphics to Twitter. To be fair, the fans seem to have actually enjoyed the movie (the Rotten Tomatoes audience score is an inexplicable 69%). But is the opinion of someone with less than 200 followers on Twitter of any use? Yeah, yeah, democratization of the Internet, end of the gatekeepers, blah blah. But seriously, Twitter user @ceepascual‘s money quote, “Literally every scene with @galgadot in it took my breath away,” is just a guy ogling a pretty lady. Progress!

I have been retweeting these desperate memes right back at Warners, with snarky comments, to no effect.

There is an entire wing of the Nuttycombe Archives filled with Silver Age Superman and Batman comic books, a treasure trove that I adore. I was such a Batman purist that when I watched the Adam West Batman show on TV in the ’60s, I despised it. Why so unserious? As a kid, I did not understand camp. I’ve evolved.

But the approach to adapting comic book characters for film and television (and, indeed, in comic books) has swung so far in the other direction that I was about to write my own screed against this current climate of morose, sociopathic superhero movies, filled with what Wesley Morris in the New York Times termed “lugubrious solemnity and generic philosophizing.” But here’s the Austin American-Statesman‘s Joe Gross summing up better than I the problem with BvSDoJ. Spoiler alert: He compares it, unfavorably, to a garbage fire.

Here are some of the film studio’s sad attempts to lure you into the theater, and the new social media cineastes who inspired them:










“@ohsnapitsgingee” seems to have disappeared from Twitter.











Simpsons In-Joke Explained

danny simon comedy writing degree

On tonight’s Simpsons episode, Lisa and Marge go to see a musical version of Bad News Bears at the “Danny Simon Theater.” Danny was Neil Simon‘s brother. Neil, of course, does have a theater on Broadway named after him. His older brother does not. But Neil always credited Danny with teaching him the art of comedy writing. (So does Woody Allen; they all wrote on the Sid Caesar show.) In fact, the idea for The Odd Couple was Danny’s — it was his life. He and another recently-divorced TV writer were sharing a house. One day they started riffing a husband-and-wife bit between them. Danny realized there was a good idea somewhere. He started writing, but got tired and gave the idea to younger brother Neil. I know this because it’s one of many anecdotes Danny shared while teaching a comedy writing course at UMd. As you can see, he autographed my diploma, which remains one of my cherished possessions and the only degree that I deem worthy.