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Phil Austin 1941–2015

My pal Phil Austin, a member of that legendary four-man comedy team known as The Firesign Theatre, has passed today. My heart and prayers go out to his dear wife Oona (Phil nicknamed her The Big Blonde).


Phil was a great writer, performer, musician and friend. His best known Firesign character was Nick Danger, Third Eye, a hilarious parody of 1940s hard-boiled detectives. When The Firesign Theatre broke up, Phil partnered with the Firesign’s David Ossman. One of the most brilliant and funny plays I ever saw was Austin and Ossman’s Radio Laffs of 1940. Phil also created solo works of comedy and music.

I am indebted to Phil for several reasons.

I met Phil and the boys in the mid-1970s. My publisher/comic book seller pal Dave Gibson had acquired permission to collect all of The Mixville Rocket (a sort of neighborhood humor fanzine produced by the guys) issues as well as The Firesign Sun Duck and publish them in a book. Dave asked me to do the cover. The Firesign guys loved my cover and asked me to do the cover for their next LP, In The Next World, You’re On Your Own. I got to attend their recording sessions and we became friends — especially after I found out they shared my love for the works of Harvey KurtzmanColumbia Records resisted using me (I was unknown) but Phil and the Firesign persisted and stuck by me as their choice. Columbia ended up loving my cover (covers, actually; I gave the LP two front covers so that no matter how the LP was placed in a record bin, the potential buyer was always seeing a front cover) and I began receiving regular cover work from Columbia. The Mixville Rocket cover was later re-cycled (with new dialogue) as the cover for their Rhino Records LP Lawyer’s Hospital.


Austin and Harry Shearer introduced me to the films of Preston Sturges when one night Phil and Oona invited me to their Wonderland Avenue Laurel Canyon hideaway to see a film screening (this was pre-video and VCRs) of The Great McGinty.

I collaborated with Phil on my first film, a movie version (shot to the comedy album) of Firesign’s Everything You Know Is Wrong LP (soon to be released on DVD; I recently drew the cover — see below). I built props and appeared as an extra in the movie. This was film making at its most basic and I learned a lot. Not too long after that I scored work on Buck Rogers and then Conan the Barbarian.


That’s Phil Austin hanging from the world bottom left with his fellow Firesigners.

Phil and I collaborated on several Firesign Theatre T-shirt designs for which, to my amazement,  I am still getting regular royalties!


With his classic good looks and shockingly premature gray (and later, white) hair, Phil was the rock star of the group. I’ve always described The Firesign Theatre’s work as rock and roll comedy, so I was tickled to see Phil’s Wikipedia sidebar listing The Firesign Theatre as a “Music Group”. I know that music was very important to Phil; he saw to it that nearly all of his recorded collaborations had music or songs.

I got to spend time with all the Firesign guys but I think I spent the most time with Phil (and Oona). The last time I saw Phil was a couple of years ago at a Firesign performance in Barnsdall Park. We corresponded on FaceBook after that and I sent Phil and Oona some of my recent books. They had left Laurel Canyon a long time ago and had moved to an island near Seattle.

I’m already missing that guy…Peace be with you, brother….and lotsa laffs Upstairs.

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ILLUSTRATORS 10 – Now Available!


ILLUSTRATORS is a fantastically well-illustrated squarebound magazine on the artists who create some of the most popular images in the world.

Volume Ten features a William Stout cover and 35 pages on Stout covering just about every aspect of Bill’s career, illustrated with a whopping 75 illustrations, all but 7 in full color! It’s a real treasure trove of Bill’s work from 1968 to the present!

Also featured in the 96 pp. magazine are artists Patrick Nicolle, Cynthia Sheppard, Amit Tayal and Wu Chen.

This UK magazine is now available from the William Stout Bazaar on this website for just $24 each (plus shipping). Every issue ordered from us is signed on the cover by Stout (unless you tell us you don’t want him to sign yours).

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Christopher Lee 1922–2015

The legendary Hammer horror film actor Christopher Lee has departed this mortal coil.


I enjoyed Chris’ Hammer films as a kid. His Frankenstein monster in Curse of Frankenstein was terrific (in the true sense of the word) and he became forever associated with Count Dracula. He portrayed the famous vampire in at least nine films, the first being Horror of Dracula (Dracula in the UK).

I thought he made a fine Mycroft Holmes in Billy Wilder‘s wonderful Sherlock Holmes mini-epic, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Chris played Sherlock himself in the Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady TV movie).

I met Chris while I was working on Conan the Barbarian. Our writer-director, John Milius, was executive producing his pal Steven Spielberg‘s movie 1941 at the time, so we were sharing offices with Steven. Ron Cobb and I would work on Conan during the day and then in the evening kick around ideas with Steven for his next film project, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Christopher heard about Raiders. He was living in L. A. at the time (he had been cast in 1941) and really wanted to be cast in Steven’s next film. Chris decided one of the ways to Steven and a prominent role as a German officer was through Ron and me.

We could hear him coming before he entered our room. This was a man more in love with his voice than anyone I’d ever met. A deep, booming, cavernous baritone, his voice seemed to reverberate done the hallway to our office.

He dressed somewhat casually when he visited us — nice jeans and a starched but casual dress white long sleeved shirt, sleeves rolled up past his wrists. I think he was trying to affect a younger look (appearing to be too old was a reasonable fear; he’d been acting in TV since 1946 and movies since 1948 — a year before I was born). He always seemed cheerful, peppy and energetic, however.

At first his visits were fun, but as he pressured us more and more to suggest to Steven that he be cast in Raiders (“Did you know I’m fluent in German?”), it started to kinda drive Ron and me a little bit nuts. But that wasn’t just Chris doing that…nearly every actor or actress we encountered seemed to be on the hustle. We just preferred when it wasn’t so obvious.

Chris didn’t get the role he coveted in Raiders but he went on to a spectacular Second Act to his career. After being typecast as Dracula, he somehow (and this was no small feat) overcame his typecasting and landed plum roles as a James Bond villain (Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun), was in several Tim Burton (good ol’ Tim has never lost his love for monsters and the fine actors who portrayed them) movies and, most memorably, was Saruman in Peter Jackson‘s wonderful Lord of the Rings films.

I mysteriously ended up with a life cast of Christopher Lee’s face in the mid-1970s. I think I’ll retrieve it, prop it up on my sofa and watch one of my favorite Christopher Lee films with the head of ol’ Chris tonight. I’ll crank up my sub-woofer so that his voice is extra resonant. Cheers, my friend!

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OZ Book Back in Stock!


While rummaging through my studio I discovered a batch of my William Stout World of Oz books. An extremely limited edition (250 signed & numbered copies), I thought I had sold out of them. It’s been my fastest seller.

If you missed it the first time around, now’s your (last) chance! It’s available on this site under STORE in the William Stout Bazaar. Cheers!

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Preston Ritter 1949 – 2015

Preston James Ritter, mostly known for his being the drummer for The Electric Prunes, died on March 30 of this year (I only just found out about his passing when I read his obit in the current issue of MOJO) at age 65.

Preston was one of my best friends at Reseda High School (I attended Reseda — a great school — for one year, then my family moved to Newbury Park, CA where I attended Thousand Oaks High School). We were both drummers. Even though it was our first year in high school, Preston was already working as a professional musician. He played in a popular cover band, The Dantes.


We walked to school together nearly everyday. Drumming and music were all we talked about. We shared the same drumming philosophies and were both big fans of Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and the Dave Clark Five and Dave’s drumming (which I later discovered was Bobby Graham‘s drumming on those early DC5 records).


Until writing this obit, I never realized we were both at the Buddy Rich Disneyland concerts (I put myself through art school painting watercolor portraits at Disneyland during summers). Preston met and became friends with Buddy (no easy task, especially for a drummer. You had to be damn good). Buddy’s gorgeous daughter was attracted to me back in the 1970s but I was too intimidated by her dad to pursue the relationship (I thought I was a good drummer — I wasn’t — but nowhere near Rich’s league).


Buddy Rich and Preston Ritter, around the time we saw Buddy and his band perform at Disneyland

Even back then, Preston was pretty conservative. He hated long hair. So I was very surprised when I recognized Preston on the cover of the first Electric Prunes LP while rummaging through the record bin at my local supermarket in Newbury Park. There he was — but with long hair! Even today I suspect it might have been a wig in that shot.


The Electric Prunes’ 1st LP. That’s Preston, center (with the Prince Valiant bangs).

Preston played on their first LP, on some of their second LP (Underground) and on both of their big hits, “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” and “Get Me to the World on Time”, before being replaced by the band’s very first drummer, Michael Weakley.


Who’s not happy here? Preston with the Prunes and an unidentified female.

After the Prunes, Preston played with the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, James Brown and many other music stars. He credits Dobie Gray with giving him his first big musical break. Preston became good friends with Sandy (“Let There Be Drums”) Nelson and jazz great Louis Bellson. Bellson mentored Ritter and amazed Preston when Louis gave Preston a set of Bellson’s own drums.

I lost touch with Preston after moving away from Reseda. Once I saw he was in the Electric Prunes I tried to keep tabs on him. After he left the Prunes I discovered he had joined the Los Angeles Police Department (he played drums in the police band) and L. A. County Sheriff’s Department. From current obits I found out that he had worked his way up to detective. He later became a private investigator and then a non-denominational Christian missionary in Korea.


Recent photo of Preston

It’s frustrating. I had given up on trying to find Preston decades ago. Now I find that with the internet age, I could have easily looked him up and contacted him. I discovered that he, like myself, had become a big blues fan. We would have had a lot to talk about. That chance is now lost forever. Damn.

I’ve still got the memories, though, of my dear friend and great fellow drummer, Preston Ritter. RIP

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WonderFest T-shirt

How about something a little more cheery this time?

I create the official T-shirt image for WonderFest each year. It’s my favorite show of this type in the country. It’s a very warm and family-oriented event. They do so many things right with this show. For me, because I return as a guest each year, it always feels like coming home to family. The Rondo Awards are hosted there and my favorite thing to do in the evenings is to hang out at the Monster Kids Club House (Monster Kids are the men and women of roughly my generation who grew up loving monsters, primarily due to their exposure on the Shock Theater and Million Dollar Movie television packages and within the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine).

I thought you might like to see this year’s shirt.

I began, as usual, by getting notes from WonderFest as to what this year’s themes or who this year’s guests would be. The answer to that was Sara Karloff and Victoria Price, the respective daughters of horror film stars Boris Karloff and Victoria Price, as well as Marta (Lost in Space) Kristen, Greg (The Walking Dead) Nicotero and my artist pal Frank (Sketchy Things) Dietz. Also, there was to be a tribute to the Weird-ohs monster/car model kits.

I decided to make Price and Karloff the focus of the shirt’s image. But how to combine those two? I could have portrayed them as they were in the films they did together: The Raven and Comedy of Terrors.

Instead, I thought of portraying Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes and Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster (from Bride of Frankenstein) in the love embrace from the Gone With The Wind movie poster. Here’s the pencil drawing:


It was rejected by WonderFest. I hadn’t noticed the homoerotic undertones (maybe “undertones” is not the right word — it’s really kind of in-your-face and on the surface); I just thought it was a funny combo of images.

Back to the drawing board.

For Round Two I combined Vincent from House on Haunted Hill with Karloff’s Frankie in a kinda Weird-ohs setting. I also included visual references to building those models (WonderFest began as a model kit show but has expanded to include lots more of various related pop culture interests).

That hit the WonderFest sweet spot; I went ahead and inked it:


Normally, I never allow anyone else to color my stuff. I make an exception with WonderFest every year because my pal Lee Staton, who oversees the production of the T-shirts, always does an amazing job of choosing the shirt colors, coloring my designs and combining them with just the right typefaces for the text that accompanies the shirt images.

Lee outdid himself this year. I think he deserves a huge chunk of the credit for this year’s shirt being the fastest selling (it was sold out by Saturday morning) and biggest selling shirt in WonderFest’s history. Here’s what Lee did:


The WonderFest shirts have all become real collectors’ items. I hope to continue on with this tradition; I also just want to publicly thank Lee Staton for a job (very) well done!

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Close Call

You almost lost this guy today…

On my flight back from Louisville (I was a guest at the great WonderFest convention) to Burbank our pilot announced that one of the plane’s landing gear wasn’t lowering (code for “prepare for a crash landing”). He had to divert our plane from Burbank (runway not long enough) to LAX. You know you’re in trouble when your flight attendant straps in and starts to cry…

Fortunately, we had an ace pilot. He tried to manually lower the gear. He didn’t know whether it worked or not until his life-saving action was visually confirmed by the LAX fire department and Air Control (the pilot couldn’t see under the plane to see if what he did had worked; his instruments said he had failed).

Our entire cabin, a completely full flight, was absolutely silent on approach. I — and several other passengers — braced ourselves for the crash. We had a fire and police escort racing alongside the plane as we landed, their red lights flashing. When the landing proved successful (without crashing), our pilot got a huge round of relieved applause from the passengers — and we learned it was the pilot’s birthday!

Southwest offered to put us on another plane and fly us from LAX to Burbank Airport.

I instead opted to collect my luggage, get the hell out of there and take a taxi home.