5/6/12

Portland's Influences on The Simpsons

Milhouse Van Houten
Milhouse Van Houten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Does everyone know that a lot of the Simpson characters are named after streets in Portland? Maybe not everyone, but just in case, the Oregonian has a fun article filling in the lines.

It's barely one letter to go from N.E. Flanders to Ned Flanders. Other characters with street-based names: Milhouse Van Houten, Reverend Lovejoy, Bob Terwilliger aka Sideshow Bob, Kearney the bully, and Mayor Quimby. Mr. Burns' name is an amalgam of Montgomery Park (which used to be the Montgomery Ward offices) and Burnside street. Not mentioned in the article is Homer's half-brother Herb Powell (played by Danny DeVito). He could have been named after Powell boulevard.

Also, for some reason I always assumed that Principal Skinner is named after Skinner's Butte, a hill in Eugene, Oregon, close to the real-life Springfield.

Some other more tentative Portland influences on the Simpsons? The nuclear power plant where Homer works is based on the Trojan Nuclear plant (now closed) near St. Helens. I know that Matt Groening contributed artwork to a campaign mailer that was dedicated to shutting down the Trojan Nuclear plant. And, while many cities had afternoon cartoon shows hosted by clowns or other friendly (yet oddly scary) personalities, I'd venture to guess that Krusty the Klown was inspired by Rusty Nails, who hosted various children's television shows in the Portland, Oregon, television market from 1957 to 1972 - the exact time Groening would have been watching cartoons.
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Beyond the Cape at Stumptown 2012

One of the panels at Stumptown Comics Fest was titled "Beyond the Cape: Genre Fiction in Comics."  The panel was overly large so it was hard for the participants to have a true discussion of how superheroes contrast with their work, which was mostly horror-type comics, but it was a good opportunity to hear from a variety of creators about their own comics.  Vera Brosgol, author of "Anya's Ghost," didn't say much during the session but I'd heard her talk earlier in the week (which I have yet to write up).  I ended up buying copies of most of the other authors' works.  Here's a quick rundown of each book.

Batton Lash's "Tales of Supernatural Law" has a certain wry humor. The comic circles around a law office who defends the undead in law cases -- sort of like Ally McBeal meets the Old Cryptkeeper.  One story arc, for example, has to do with a group of ghouls who are accused of exhuming for revenge a Frederic Wertham character called Dr. Forrest Bertrum. During a panel Lash mentioned that he based his script on lawyers simply because he was drawing for a local newspaper and there were a lot of law offices in the neighborhood.  Lash also draws for Archie comics, and you can see a touch of this style in "Supernatural."  He seems like a friendly guy.

In a similar vein Brandon Seifert & Lukas Ketner offer up "Witch Doctor, Vol. 1: Under the Knife."  Described as "House meets Fringe" it follows Dr. Vincent Morrow, a man versed in both physiognomy and the dark arts as he cures physical ailments via the spiritual realm.  In the introductory story his patient's soul has acquired an immune syndrome disorder, becoming possessed by multiple demons, requiring that they turn him into a bubble boy for exorcism.  The monsters are creative and thoroughly disgusting, while Morrow in his impeccable white suit provides a House-like narrative to the chaos.

I was sort of surprised that I ended up with two supernatural comics set in the Old West.  "Strangeways the Thirsty" is a typical western tale of a feud between two towns, except one of them is inhabited by vampires.  We follow the path of ex-soldier Seth Collins as he first meets the vampires, learns about them, and battles the creatures and their master.  Author Matt Maxwell lets the story unwind casually, yet keeps the tension, always letting us know that the vampire is at the door.

Multiple people at Stumptown said I had to check out "The Sixth Gun, Vol. 1" by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt - so I did. The best way to describe it is as Wild West meets Lord of the Rings.  The exposition starts with the resurrection of Confederate General Oleander Hume, a murderous army man during the US Civil War who was corrupted by six Satanic pistols.  He's rescued from death by his four horsemen, each with one of the evil guns, shooting pestilence, fire, and one with the power to reanimate any of the dead souls killed by it.  Only one man stands in the way of Hume, Drake Sinclair, and his motives are questionable.  I like the way the story is told so that some plot lines are resolved while new ones develop.  Volume one collects six issues of the comic, completing one story arc while ending on a cliffhanger.  The fantastic elements of the story are inventive - a Soul Tree as an oracle, a pit that might be the entrance to Hell called The Maw, an incarnation of a dragon-like Thunderbird, and hints that the guns have been other weapons through the millennia.  The action is fluid, although the only reservation that I have is at times the kinetic action scenes can be confusing.

While most of the other genre books were supernatural, "Shooters" by Eric Trautmann, Brandon Jerwa and Steve Lieber is a brutal graphic novel about private military contractors.  It tells the story of Chief Warrant Officer Terrence Glass who's deployed to Iraq, is injured, suffers PTSD, and is eventually hired by a private security firm.  As a military contractor he encounters the same fighting he saw while in the Army, while also having the disorienting situation of meeting other private security firms.  The story doesn't pull any punches, while Lieber's artwork is clean, functional and honest. 

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