Bart Wars

The hand that every day draws Homer Simpson is also the hand that draws — in fine pencil detail — King Kong fighting a tyrannosaurus rex in a swamp. Discovering this is not unlike learning that the same god who made the puppy and the kitten also, on his time off, made the ocellated spiny-tailed Uromastyx lizard. This discovery came at Film Roman, the people who draw The Simpsons and King of the Hill and who, on Thursday night, held an employee art show on the second floor of a studio office in North Hollywood. Aluminum pie-tin UFOs dangled from the ceiling over bottles of wine and cubes of cheese. Spacy Mars Attacks! music played while Darth Vader, Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper contemplated a painting on the wall.

“Excuse me,” said the Stormtrooper in a computery voice, “do you know what time it is? I can’t get to my watch under my laser shielding.”

Turning to Darth Vader, he pointed to the painting, No. 27, by Ken Hayashi. It is a purple-suited superhero embracing — no, make that spooning — a man-sized tiger. “What do you think is going on in this picture?”

“I don’t think I want to know,” said Vader.

Across the hall, Boba Fett was talking on his cell phone: “After this I’m going to the 99-cent store . . . yes, the 99-cent store. Where am I? I’m at an art show. An art show.”

The exhibition was a chance for the studio employees — the animators, directors, producers, character designers — to show off their non-Simpsons, non–King of the Hill drawing or painting or sculpting skills. “The theme,” said event mastermind Dusty Abell, “is pick your favorite film from the following three choices — fantasy, sci-fi, horror — and create a piece of artwork.”

Thus, there was piece No. 21, Sean Cashman’s Bart Wars, a meditative study of Bart and Lisa Simpson reconfigured as Luke and Leia Skywalker. Bart-Luke holds aloft a slingshot caught in a tractor beam of light, as loyal sister Lisa-Leia gazes into the distance. Above them, the dark specter of Homer-Vader looms, while the menacing sphere of a Donut–Death Star (with fancy sprinkles) floats eerily in the upper left corner.

Painting No. 32, by veteran Simpsons animator Paul Wee, features a hip duo of wasp-waisted Star Trek women. In No. 15, Hot Rod Riding Hood Meets the Wolfman (crayon, paper collage, pencil, pastel, watercolor and marker), muscle-boy Hot Rod Riding Hood is driving his red top-down convertible while daintily toting a picnic basket. But beware! The full moon is rising, and the Wolfman has caught Hot Rod’s scent.

Everybody was in awe of No. 20 by comic-book coverlord Dave Johnson. It is a set of four original characters drawn with black marker on plain brown cardboard: A man with a bulbous nose. A robot. A sexy vixen girl with Cleopatra eyelashes. An alien.

“I love the bubble wrap in the eye socket,” a woman murmured.

“Dave’s line quality is so good,” said someone else.

“Dave has a thing for creatures with one eye,” said animator Glenn Dion, who painted No. 23, a scene from Excalibur. Glenn draws for King of the Hill. Before that he sold shoes in Seattle. He reminded me of the nice, shy guys in high school who sat in the art room during lunch, who spent hours perfecting the angle of the Punisher’s jaw line, the guys who would have gone insane had it not been for drawing. “Tonight was cool,” said Glenn, “because we never get to see how good people really are when we spend all day drawing the same characters in the same way.”

Although the opening was supposed to go to 9:30 p.m., Darth Vader and everyone else had left by 8. As a building maintenance guy herded us out, I told Glenn that my favorite was No. 53, the only piece that doesn’t show off the artist’s badass kung fu drawing skills. Two origami animals — a chicken and a unicorn — have been glued to the inside of a wood box. On the back of the box are printed scenes from Blade Runner. Glenn grabbed the guy with the office keys and slapped him on the back. “This is Juan Raymond Aguilar,” he said. “Without him this whole operation would collapse. That’s his piece.”

“I have one of those jobs where they start you with one title and then add 50 more,” said Juan, grinning. “When I watched Blade Runner, it was the first time I
realized . . .”

What? I prompted. That he wanted to be an artist? That he loved art?

Juan nodded sagely. “It was the first time I realized I liked origami.”

 

—Gendy Alimurung

Mike Savage’s Next Big Thing

At 82 years of age, Mike Savage could be forgiven for coasting through his afternoons at the tony Beverly Hills offices where he still runs a mergers-and-acquisitions business. But after a lifetime of wandering through the arcana of high finance and leveraged equity, he’s on to his next deal — satellite phones in Iraq that he’s not supposed to talk about; an IPO for a vast underground storage space beneath Kansas City; a handful of patents.

“I’ve been in just about every business imaginable,” Savage says. “It’s amazing the goals you can achieve — mostly from sticking to something. I never stuck with anything. Maybe it’s because I had the ability of always thinking of the next thing.”

The son of Hungarian immigrants — a father who was a bootlegger, union organizer and amateur inventor; a mother who came over from Europe as an indentured servant — the former Solomon Szabo was born in Highland Park, New Jersey, in 1921. The family made its way to Los Angeles in 1936 with hopes of improving the elder Szabo’s health. It wasn’t soon enough; Savage’s father died less than a month later. His older brother got into the business of selling monogrammed athletic goods to local high schools, but Savage is the one who perfected a way to modify the silk-screening process to mass-produce logos on T-shirts. When a GI from the gunnery school at Nellis Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas, appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1941 wearing one of Savage’s creations, the T-shirt industry was suddenly born (no doubt replacing the undershirt industry that Clark Gable had killed off two years earlier by appearing without one in It Happened One Night).

After the war, in 1948, Savage invented the first automated car washes, the largest of which was located at Wilshire and Fairfax, where the Petersen Automotive Museum stands today. (Savage was ostensibly looking for a better way to realign brakes on a conveyer belt.) And then, in 1952, in partnership with George S. J. Lanier, a multimillionaire UCLA professor who started one of the first computer companies (Benson-Lanier), Savage established General Leasing Corp., the first leasing company for manufacturing equipment. Suddenly, the brand-new electronics and aerospace industries could transform the means of production into a tax-deductible item.

“One of the biggest leasing companies was started by Howard Hughes for his own equipment,” says Savage, “because he recognized early on what was going on. He was a brilliant guy. He started his company in 1956.”

T-shirt logos — the tribal drum of youth culture. Car washes — the handmaidens to automobile culture. And equipment leasing — the foundation of everything from microprocessors to satellites to film culture. All of them predicated on Savage’s handiwork. Try imagining Southern California without them.

Today, Savage is dressed in a dark jacket, pressed black jeans, cowboy boots, and an ascot and matching handkerchief. He looks like a slightly older Al Pacino. He was married to his last wife for 22 years (she passed away several years ago), but before that, he was a social fixture in 1950s Hollywood — drinking with Lee Marvin, escorting Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, and prowling for local beauties with Andre de Dienes, the photographer who discovered Marilyn Monroe. And, as it turns out, equipment leasing wasn’t the only unexplored territory he made it into just ahead of Howard Hughes.

“I was responsible for making two girls very famous,” he says, basking in the glow of reminiscence. “Anita Ekberg, by taking her to Andre de Dienes, the famous photographer, and Piper Laurie, who I introduced to [agent] Herb Brenner.

“Howard Hughes used to keep Anita in a house up here in Sunset Plaza; she had to sneak out the window because he had two guys out front protecting her. I met her at a party in Hollywood in 1952. Her first comment was — in this heavy Swedish accent — ‘Are you a face man?’ She was right.”

When this revelation is greeted with a blank stare — face man, that’s like a leg man or a breast man? — Savage kindly elaborates. “She was asking me if I was a cunning linguist. She had a problem having an orgasm — about the only way she could do it is if you were a face man.”

Savage’s storied life also includes owning the second McDonald’s franchise in Los Angeles (at Washington and Central Avenue), taking the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas public, and publishing a book on the Sonderkommandos, or Jewish concentration-camp workers, to help a friend of 50 years find some closure. He credits vitamins, exercise and meditation with his longevity.

 

“My gift was the ability, for some reason, to be able to look into the future,” he says. “Carrying out — I’m not the best at. Coming up with the idea? I am the best at.”

—Paul Cullum

Goodbye Midnight (1970–2004)

 

Hungry man, reach for the book, it is a weapon.

—Bertolt Brecht,
and motto of Midnight Special

A faithful throng congregated in the back room of Midnight Special Bookstore last Friday for a valedictory evening of stories, songs and testimonials. Authors, artists and patrons — Robbie Conal, Mike Davis, Luis Rodriguez and Michelle Shocked among them — paid tribute to the store, as they always had: browsing the shelves, gathering books in their arms, and lining up at the cash register all the way to the front door. After 34 years as a refuge for the literary and politically minded of L.A., Midnight Special — which took its name from a story about a train whose light was said to emancipate prisoners — will be closing its doors in July.

The absence of the beloved bookstore, which began as a small, radical, Venice-based cooperative in the ’70s before relocating in 1980 to its longtime home on the Third Street Promenade, will leave a sizable crater on the Westside. Last February, the store closed temporarily and went into storage as they searched for a new, less expensive space. Seven months ago, they reopened at 1450 Second St. — but it was too late. The long delay hit them hard. “It’s a shame it was necessary for them to close when it’s so necessary for them to continue,” says Paul Yamazaki of San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore. “Midnight Special has been a vital and important institution and an example to all independent bookstores.” Owner Margie Ghiz reflected on the history of Midnight Special and the embattled nature of the independent bookstore.

 

L.A. WEEKLY: What played the largest role in the store closing — was it the politics, local or national, or the economics of the independent bookstore?

MARGIE GHIZ: The economics. If you are a big store or an outlet of a major chain, you can afford to keep losing money, at least for a while. An independent store can’t do that. Had we found a place before we closed [in 2003], we would have had a far better chance. Every minute of the delay hurt us. Thousands of dollars to a major chain is chump change. We’re both existing in the same economic climate, but what is life and death to us is nothing to them.

When and how did Midnight Special originate?

1970. The store grew right out of the civil rights movement and the anti–Vietnam War movement. When I took it over [in 1981], it was going out of business in Venice. I used to go there and volunteer. In 1985, we had an accountant who estimated that from the time it opened, there were 1.5 million unpaid hours in that bookstore. The bookstore never would have lived otherwise. In order for a “radical” bookstore to make it, you have to have a lot of trial and error. You’ve got to figure out how to get through to people.

For a long time, on the Promenade, you were as well-known for the dissenting displays you put into your windows as for the books readers took out of the store.

We did that on purpose. Whether you’re a reader, a writer, a teacher, whoever, today more than ever, everything’s a battle. Do not think it’s going to happen without you. There’s a book out there called Meena, about a young woman who was 20 years old in Afghanistan and she started to organize. She had to maneuver the Taliban. By the time she was 30, she was assassinated. Alice Walker wrote this wonderful thing about her legacy, and one message was always “Dare to be present in your own time.” I thought that was amazing.

What advice are you giving readers and other booksellers?

It’s important that the minds keep screaming and yelling and spreading ideas. That’s what matters. Even if people come in to the store and they don’t agree with you, they are part of a community, and are constantly challenging you. It keeps you relevant and alive. An independent bookstore is not a place, not a collection of books, it’s a relationship — with people who read, with the staff, and with all the authors who have read here. We’ve done between 25 and 30 events per month — we have for the last 10 years.

What shocked you the most about closing?

 

Why did I think we’d be immune to what is affecting everything else? There are kids that work in my store who have had their classes dropped because of cutbacks. There are teachers who used to shop here who have lost their jobs. There’s a government that, as far as I’m concerned, lies to us and kills behind those lies. I somehow thought I would always be here to scream about it.

—Anthony Miller

The List

Batting practice: Former Dodgers’ 2004 stats vs. the current lineup (as of June 1).

Former Players OB % SLG % HR RBI AVG
Mike Piazza, Catcher, Mets .313 .408 .545 10 22
Paul Konerko, 1st Base, White Sox .278 .383 .497 10 34
Jose Offerman, SS, Twins .230 .356 .402 2 8
Todd Zeile, 3rd Base, Mets .256 .347 .402 3 12
Todd Hollandsworth, OF, Cubs .306 .405 .597 6 11
Jeromy Burnitz, OF, Rockies .295 .384 .636 14 42
Gary Sheffield, OF, Yankees .282 .384 .415 5 28
Marquis Grissom, OF, Giants .313 .356 .489 6 27
TOTAL: .284 .377 .497 56 184
Current Players OB % SLG % HR RBI AVG
Paul Lo Duca, Catcher .366 .408 .446 1 18
Shawn Green, 1st Base .235 .332 .408 7 23
Alex Cora, 2nd Base .294 .382 .444 3 13
Cesar Izturis, SS .308 .340 .385 2 18
Adrian Beltre, 3rd Base .314 .338 .555 12 36
Dave Roberts, OF .240 .353 .344 1 9
Milton Bradley, OF .267 .347 .442 7 22
Juan Encarnacion, OF .222 .255 .389 7 27
TOTAL: .280 .344 .426 40 166

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