Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Phantom -- For those who came in late

One of the things that makes the Phantom comic strip different is that it can change without changing. According to the origin story (reproduced below), the seemingly immortal Phantom is actually a succession of men, each inheriting the mantle from his fallen father. Which means that the main character can age and die, while the primary reason for the strip -- the masked hero -- can continue without pause.

When I first started reading the strip, the origin story would occasionally crop up in the Sunday sequence. Most recently (September 2015), it appeared in the daily continuity. But the current creative team -- writer Tony DePaul and artists Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty -- know their subject.

While they've added creator Lee Falk as a cameo narrator, they also honor tradition. As always, this recap of the Phantom origins begins with the understated "For those who came in late," before flashing back to the 16th century. Since the strip started in 1936, no matter when you started, you came in late -- by about 400 years.

(click on images to enlarge)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

John Rutter - The Gift of Life

If you like John Rutter, then you'll enjoy his latest album, "The Gift of Life." Rutter's style has remained stable and consistent for decades, and these new works run true to form. That consistency can be a plus or a minus, depending on how much you like Rutter's basic style, that can be either a plus or a minus. Personally, it's a plus.

The title selection, "The Gift of Life"  was written in 2015 -- in part as a counterbalance to his 1985 "Requiem." Of the two, I think "The Gift" is the most successful work. Rutter's music has a sunny, easy-going spirit to it regardless of the subject matter. While it made his "Requiem" somewhat unconvincing emotionally, it's ideal for a celebration of life. I found this six-part work both uplifting and inspirational.

Rutter rounds out the release with some other recent works. Of them, my favorite is "O all ye works of the Lord." It's is a quintessential British-sounding work, with a big, central hymn tune on par with those in Holst's "Jupiter" movement and Walton's "Crown Imperial."

There is a danger to all this consistency, though -- sometimes works can blend together. To my ears, the 2011 anthem "A Flower Remembered," sounded somewhat like Rutter's "Angel Carol" slowed down, at least for the first 16 bars.

The Cambridge Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have a long history with John Rutter, both as a composer and as a producer. The performances and recording quality of this release maintain the same high standards I've come to expect from Collegium.

John Rutter: The Gift of Life and seven sacred pieces
The Cambridge Singers
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Collegium Records COLCD 138

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Frazz Explains

In the October 7, 2015 sequence of Frazz, creator Jef Mallett explains it all. (click on image to enlarge).

Not only does he call attention to all the common conventions of comic strips (especially single-panel cartoons), but he does so in a way that makes the final observation the punchline. The entire structure of the daily humor strip laid bare in 2-4 panels.

Brilliantly meta.