Kool Kat of the Week: Dangerous Curves Ahead with Atlanta’s Tori Rodriguez as She Bends it Like Bettie and Releases Her Inaugural Bettie Page Fitness Workout Video

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crewdvd cover image for web
Managing Editor

Tori Rodriguez unleashed this past week, the first in a series of Bettie Page fitness videos,Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio” on DVD (digital version also available), which can be purchased on the Bettie Page Fitness website. Tori, local psychotherapist, wellness coach, freelance journalist, singer-songwriter (as Aneles) and all-around Bettie aficionado, is the social media editor for several Bettie Page (1923-2008) websites including BettiePage. Three more videos are on the horizon, so shake a tail feather and keep your eyes peeled! For a peep show of stills from the first video, take a peek here.

Experiencing Mary Harron’s 2005 film, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE for the first time ignited the unquenchable flame leading Rodriguez to becoming enraptured with the life of Ms. Page. Not only has Rodriguez written oodles of articles exploring the life, times and images of history’s notorious bombshell Pin-Up [“The Pin-Up Model’s Guide to Body Confidence” – REFINERY29, Feb. 2015; “Male Fans Made Bettie Page a Star, but Female Fans Made Her an Icon” – THE ATLANTIC, Jan. 2014, just to name a few], she’s also worked alongside Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori, during Atlanta’s kick-off screening of his documentary, BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (2012). Mori’s documentary headlined Rodriguez’s BettieFest at The Plaza Theatre in December 2013, which also included her debut tribute to Bettie Page, “Bettie Loved.” Rodriguez’s current Bettie-venture, and labor of love, Bettie Page Fitness, encompasses a desire to reinforce positive body image while stepping away from conventional female role labeling and embracing Ms. Page’s ability to reconfigure and redefine societal views on health and beauty.

ATLRetro caught up with Tori Rodriguez for a quick interview about her Bettie Page affection; her new series of “body-positive” Bettie Page fitness videos; working with Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori; and the influence Bettie has had on the life of women in the past and present.

bettie fit ab still for promo with logoATLRetro: We see that you are an all-out Bettie Page lover, and who wouldn’t be? She was gorgeous, ferocious, independent and strong! Can you tell our readers a little about your first introduction to the “Queen of Pin-Ups”?

Tori Rodriguez: A dear friend who knows me well, who knows I have thing for radical women, suggested we watch THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, in which Bettie is played by Gretchen Mol. Immediately after watching it, I started learning everything I could about the real Bettie–and of course, she was even more mind-blowing than the movie demonstrated, though I think Mol did an excellent job.

You wrote an article for THE ATLANTIC titled “Male Fans Made Bettie Page a Star but Female Fans Made Her an Icon.” What do you think Bettie symbolizes to women then and now?

I don’t think many women back then knew about Bettie, because they generally didn’t have access to the men’s mags she appeared in. But today she represents all those wonderful traits you mentioned, and she’s so free, confident, authentic and joyful. All of those are things that people struggle with, so it’s compelling to see a counterexample to what we assume is normal and inevitable. She’s also insanely hot, but still imperfect–a little cellulite here and there, bags under the eyes at times, imperfect teeth by today’s standards–which makes her confidenceThe-Notorious-Bettie-Page even more inspiring! And it reminds us that we can also be beautiful even in our imperfection. It’s more about how you embrace and work with what you’re blessed to have.

Why do you think her popularity has only increased over time?

I think it’s because those traits are timeless and universally appealing. One of the most important ways in which Bettie is inspiring is that she rejects false dichotomies–the commonly promoted and accepted notion that women can only be one thing or the other. She’s strong and soft, sexy and sweet, smart and silly, sexual and virtuous; all kinds of seemingly conflicting roles. So, in fact, we can be both, neither, everything, at different times. And she’s always so sure about whatever she’s doing–even when it’s like, “Who would ever think of doing that?!” Ha!

Would you say that the widespread burlesque revival, rife with “liberated sexuality” and “unflinching body positivity,” has kept Bettie in the limelight longer than most sex symbols/icons of her day? And why?

bp fit video still 2That’s a good question, and I’d be curious to know more about that. I do know that, yes, many in the burlesque community absolutely love Bettie and definitely support her legacy. I think she stands out and her legacy endures because of those unique characteristics mentioned above, and because of her depth and range of expression compared with, really, any other model ever.

Who, besides Bettie, are your other vintage role models?

Of course there’s Marilyn Monroe, who I know much less about, but plan to learn more. I do know she was much smarter and more interesting than people might imagine. I adore funk singer and producer Betty Davis, ex-wife of Miles Davis, who influenced changes in his sound and look. I’m a complete and utter fanatic for Jackie Wilson; he’s a huge influence on me as a singer.

In December 2013, your alias/band, Aneles, released its first single, “Bettie Loved,” through Sneer Records, which was performed live atBetty-Page-Reveals-All-poster Atlanta’s screening of Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori’s BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. Can you tell our readers a little about the song and its importance?

It’s funny you ask because the song plays during the credits at the end of the workout in my video! It was such a huge honor getting to sing it at the screening of BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. It all started when I learned that Bettie loved Western movies, and for some reason I thought “Bettie loved Westerns” (which is the first line of the chorus) would be a cool, simple line that would capture something specific and colorful about her personality. I wrote the whole song from there – lyrics, melody, vocal arrangement – and I felt compelled to make it a true tribute song, a bio in a nutshell that, if someone hears it now or in a hundred years, they’ll have a clear idea of who she was and why she was and is important, especially to and for women. I was fortunate to get to meet with Mori around that time, who has always supported and helped facilitate all my Bettie-related projects, starting with letting me create BettieFest, which I organized around the screening of BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. It’s a documentary about Bettie’s life, which she narrates. It’s captivating and visually stunning – nonstop photos of Bettie, many of them previously unreleased – and it really captures her personality and spirit, while giving her the opportunity to tell the story that had only been told on her behalf.

Will there be additional Bettie-inspired tunes in the future?

I’m sure I will write more Bettie-inspired songs in the future!

Photo by Wayne Ackerson

Photo by Wayne Ackerson

The first video in the Bettie Page Fitness series, “Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio” will be available on DVD on August 4. Can you tell our readers a little about the workout and what to expect with the workout?

Amazingly, production finished ahead of schedule, so I released the DVD this past week! When I designed the workout, I based each move around specific photos of Bettie–all of which appear in the video. She’s either doing an exercise move or just a pose that resembles one. I also incorporated lots of moves and tips to work toward the excellent posture, balance and core strength that she had. Viewers will get a fun and challenging total body workout while being encouraged and entertained with photos of Bettie throughout.

How many videos will be in the series? And how can our readers get a copy of the DVD so they can empower themselves, Bettie-style?

I don’t know how many videos there will ultimately be in the series, but I already have three more planned. I’m strongly leaning toward yoga for the next one; inspired by this article I wrote about Bettie and yoga in June 2014, for “You Beauty”, which you can read here. Readers can order the DVD or digital version of the video at Bettie Page Fitness.

You state that your workout videos embody a “body-positive workout,” inspired by Ms. Page. Can you explain a little about what this means and give a little detail about Bettie’s views on body image?

It’s a body-positive workout in several ways. One is that I encourage viewers to respect their body’s limits, to challenge themselves but not overdo it. The point is to be healthy, feel alive and enjoy our bodies like Bettie was and did and not to punish or push ourselves too hard. It’s also body-positive in that the point is not to look like her or anyone else, but to be inspired by her to be the best version of ourselves. I haven’t read anything about Bettie’s view on body image specifically, but she’s known for defending nudity as natural, and she loved to take naked “air baths” as she called them!

Pin-Up Tori Rodriguez, Photo by Bettina May

Pin-Up Tori Rodriguez, Photo by Bettina May

What’s next for Tori Rodriguez?

In addition to making more Bettie Page Fitness videos, I’ll continue in my roles as psychotherapist and wellness coach, freelance journalist, blogger and social media editor for the BettiePage website and related sites, and singer-songwriter… and I’m sure I’ll find more pursuits to have fun with!

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about yourself and your loyalty, appreciation and love of Bettie Page?

I take great pleasure and privilege in finding new ways to honor Bettie’s life and legacy, and I hope everyone enjoys my labors of love!

All photos courtesy of Tori Rodriguez and used with permission. Photos of Bettie Page used with permission by CMG Worldwide.

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Smokin’ Hot with Torchy Taboo! The “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” is at it Again, Snagging Awards and Shakin’ a Flamin’ Tail Feather!

Posted on: Aug 26th, 2014 By:
2009 Burlesque Hall of Fame, Photo by Ed Barnes

2009 Burlesque Hall of Fame, Photo by Ed Barnes

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/Contributing Writer

Eva, “Torchy Taboo” Warren, a.k.a. the “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” and Atlanta’s Neo-Burlesque Revival, is back again with a va-va-voom vengeance! What began with a Bettie Page Lookalike Contest at DragonCon in the mid-1990s has come full circle, and has earned this hot mama a coveted Lifetime Achievement Award, or “Sassie Lassy” at the 2014 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas in June 2014! With this award in tow, Eva is ready to set the stage aflame again during Nayeli Belly Dance Troupe’s presentation of A GROWN AND SEXY AFFAIR: SOME LIKE IT HOT! burlesque a-go-go shindig at TheGoat Farm Arts Center, this Saturday, August 30! [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Torchy Taboo, here]

ATLRetro caught up with Eva for a short interview about her Phoenix-like revival, her newly acquired Sassie Lassy and her admiration for Atlanta’s burlesque community and family.

ATLRetro: Can you tell us about the award and what it means to you?

Eva: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekdender is the Olympics of Burlesque. I was the first-runner up in 2005 and this award, the Sassie Lassy is an award given to veterans and icons of the international burlesque scene. The award is given out for different things, but I received it as a lifetime achievement award. I got it for pioneering the burlesque revival in the mid-90s and the award means the motherfucking world to me! I was actually dumbfounded! Having been a stripper for 30 years and performing burlesque for 19, it redeemed my dream that stripping can be an art form. It was such an honor to be on that stage. It’s a thrill every time!

June 2014 Sassie Lassy being presented by Elvez

June 2014 Sassie Lassy being presented by Elvez

What is your take on the current Neo-Burlesque scene in Atlanta? How do you feel to be back home?

As I have recently re-entered the scene, after taking a personal hiatus, I am so honored, humbled and inspired to be a part of it again. I’ve been drawn and sucked back in wholeheartedly! They have “lit a fire under my rear” so to speak, and as I have returned to Atlanta, my heart was overwhelmed with love after receiving the award and I wanted to bring that back to my girls here.

Who would you say is your burlesque heroine?

Miami 2008 - photo by Art Basil

Miami 2008 – photo by Art Basil

I’ll say that my heroine is Ursula Undress. [September 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Ursula, here] Not only does she run the Atlanta School of Burlesque, but she’s always taken good care of me, has gone far out of her way for me. She’s definitely been an inspiration!

Any advice for gals (or guys) who want to tease it up in the land of burlesque?

My advice is that it’s an art form. You owe your audience to be entertaining. You owe your muse to be original. Sex, humor, shock and awe! That’s what it’s about. You have to dig deep and pull it out. That’s the secret! You’ve got to bring your heart and soul to the stage. Be playful and enjoy it!

What’s new for Torchy Taboo?

Big things are in the works! I will be producing again on the hot and heavy! It’ll be like the Fourth of July! It’ll be a “raising of the bar”. I just want to remind everyone that, Torchy Taboo is back!

All photographs are courtesy of Eva Warren and used with permission.

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Shop Around: Atlanta’s Swankiest Retro Couple Jezebel Blue and Nathaniel Self Will Dress You Up 2the9s For the Holidays

Posted on: Nov 22nd, 2013 By:

Jezebel Blue and Nathaniel Self.

Some of Atlanta’s finest burlesque performers will be gracing the stage this Saturday night at Tits for Toys for Tots, the seventh annual holiday fundraiser for charity produced by Syrens of the South. But tassels won’t be the only reason not to miss the show, local artists/vendors Jezebel Blue and 2the9’s Retro, aka Nathaniel Self, will be selling everything you need to dress to the Retro max or wrap up under the tree for your honey this holiday season.

Jezebel crafts jewelry with vintage images from pin-up girls to movie idols to steampunk style. Nathaniel sells men’s vintage shirts, jackets and zoot suits, as well as ties, small suitcases and custom-designed Retro purses. Best of all, the couple’s prices are as sweet as they are. ATLRetro caught up with the dynamic duo to find out more about their way-cool wares, what they have planned for Tits for Toys for Tots and also where else you can find them vending this holiday season.

ATLRetro: You two are one of Atlanta’s swankiest Retro couples, hair and clothes to the 9s. There must be a swell story behind how you met, and don’t lie to me, you do own the actual cat’s pajamas, right? 

Nathaniel: First off, thanks for the compliments. I don’t know about how swank we think we are – pretty sure we consider ourselves to be two of the biggest goofy nerds in Atlanta. And as for owning the cats PJ’s, we don’t own them, but if 2the9’sRetro can find them for you, we will, and Jezebel will make the accessories to match.

How we met is sort of a trip to Jerry Springerville. A couple of years back we met at a great mutual friend’s event, The Rockabilly Lounge, put on by the wonderful Mon Cherie. We were both getting out of relationships, and I was actually sort of flirting with her sister at the time, but that didn’t work out, so I decided to step into the land of Jerry Springer and started chatting up Jezebel. Me being a photographer, I loved her look and her fun attitude, so we hit it off right away. I knew it was a good match on our first date when people at Cafe Intermezzo wouldn’t stop interrupting us to take our photo and to say how lovely she was. By the time we left, it was around the restaurant that we were professional swing dancers. Which is very entertaining, because I have two size 12 1/2 left feet and Jez has arthritis and can’t be on her feet for long periods of time, let alone swing dance.

Jewelry by Jezebel Blue.

How did each of you get started on your path to righteous Retro craftiness? 

Nathaniel: I’ve always been an artist, started out sketching as a kid, drawing fake tattoos on classmates. Then on to photography, which I do part time with my other business, Self Images Photography. After meeting Jez, I started selling clothes and vintage luggage. Her creativity rubbed off on me, so I started designing bags in sort of the same kustom kulture/pin-up vein as some of her jewelry. I’m still getting used to doing it. Jez has the hard job making her jewelry. I’m just her carnival barker. My bread and butter is getting lucky being able to find great Kustom Kulture shirts and suits for resale.

Jezebel: I actually took a beginner jewelry-making class when I was in high school, about 24 year(and now I feel old).  I had learned how to crochet from my grandmother when I was about five and always liked making things, but the minute I laid my hands on pliers, a spool of wire and some mandrels I was thoroughly addicted.

Jezebel, how do you select the images for your pieces?

Jezebel: I really have no rhyme or reason. I have a little over 3000 electronic images and folders full of old books, calendars, postcards and photographs. I look through them and wait for something to ‘strike’ me. It could be the colors or composition. It could be something as simple as I just really like the dog in it or the woman’s expression. I wish I knew myself sometimes.

Nathaniel, what are your top three tips for a man who wants to outfit himself as a true gent.

Nathaniel: If you’re serious about wanting to go all out and make an impression:

1.) Do your homework. There are so many variations on vintage style you can really stand out if you want. Make the style your own, do your own thing with it, but I’ve found if you arent comfortable in your own skin you’ll never be comfortable in a three-piece suit.

2.) Find clothing that fits you and the occasion. You don’t need your own personal tailor – it wouldnt hurt –  but you can look ace on a budget, trust me. Don’t step out in a suit that’s all bunched up at the feet and a suit jacket two sizes too large. I’m a hard fit, so I know it’s not always easy, but it can be done if you’re serious about looking ace. Nothing makes you stand taller than a good suit. Dressing for the occasion is a must. You don’t always have to be in a suit. You can look just as ace in a lounge-style button-down and jeans if i’ts a casual night out. It’s all in the details.

3.) If all else fails, go and see a couple of my friends, New Orleans Jon and Chad Sanborn as they perform and take some hints from their style. Those two fellas are the best dressed in Atlanta in my opinion. Jon was really like a mentor and not afraid to tell me what I needed to work on with my gear when I first started out with 2the9s: “Lose the creepers man, find yourself some real shoes.” Haha. He has it pegged down on every detail.

What’s a favorite piece or pieces that you have right now for sale for each of you, and why? 

Nathaniel: Hmmm, that’s a hard one. I can’t even get into all the shirts I have, because I typically like them all so much I want to keep them, but that wouldn’t bode well for my store. I’ve got a couple of pieces of vintage luggage that I have right now that I’ve never seen before. One of my best is a large round blue luggage. Those in such a large size and good condition are becoming hard as hen’s teeth to find. I recently just sold a 1950’s oxblood tuxedo jacket with gold thread throughout. It’s hard to explain, but it got a lot of looks. It was definately one of my favorites just because it was such a great showpiece.

Jezebel: For me, my absolute favorite pieces are the rings I have made with vintage chantons, a fancy word for a pointy-backed rhinestone. The sparkle is unreal; it rivals and, in my opinion, outshines Swarovski. My second favorite piece is an image I use often called “Til Death Do Us Part.”  It is a couple in Day of the Dead makeup done in a school tattoo flash style that I purchased the rights to. To me, it is just a beautiful synthesis of Victorian aesthetics with the couple facing each other but done in a modern rockabilly style – and it talks to my romantic side.

Jezebel, how much time does it take for you to make a piece of jewelry and how do you price your pieces? Always seems to us that your prices are very reasonable, so in other words, how do you do it?

Jezebel: Simple pieces like my $8 anchor earrings take about 20 to 30 mins. Some of the more elaborate pieces can take three to 18 hours depending on the techniques used. The jewellers grade resin I use takes three to four days to fully cur,e and that is after a minimum of three hours work. I try to keep my prices down by not overly marking up the pieces. I know jewelry is a luxury for most of us, as a single mom, even $10 can make a difference and I would rather make a little and make someone happy, than mark up a piece and put it out of reach of someone who would really truly appreciate it. It drives my family and Nathaniel insane. They constantly tell me I am under-pricing based on the amount of work I do.

Nathaniel, vintage luggage is making a comeback. Why do you think that is, and how do you select your pieces? 

Nathaniel: All things pin-up and Burlesque are making a comeback or so I find. Thanks to the tattoo shows, suicide girls and rockabilly hitting the mainstream, everyone is looking for that little something extra to set themselves apart in a group of girls trying to ape the Bettie Page style. For some it’s just nostalgia. I can’t count the number of times I hear “Ohhh my grandmother had one exactly like that!” when I’m vending at shows.

I try to stay away from the plain Jane pieces. I like a lot of character. Sometimes I have to pay more than I want to get them, but it’s worth it when you know that what you have is a cut above the ordinary. Whatever I can do to keep them from being turned into a boombox speakers.

Nathaniel Self and Jezebel Blue.

What can we expect to find at your tables this weekend at Tits for Toys For Tots?

Nathaniel: I’ve gotten a few more shirts and suits, from high-end Valentino suits to vintage double-breasted pinstripe gangster suits and an eclectic mix of shirts from garage, lounge, western and even some Hawaiian and tiki stuff. I still have the great vintage luggage and train cases, as well as a few hand-decorated bags with pin-ups and tattoo graphics and maybe even a couple of new Lux DeVilles if I can find the room.

Jezebel: I will have a little bit of everything: vintage chanton rings, negligee necklaces, pin-up and steampunk-inspired pieces, locker tag bracelets, honestly you never know.

Where can we expect to see you next, and also where can we find your products online? 

Jezebel: The easiest place to find me online is Facebook.  Single mommy-dom is time-consuming, but I can throw things up on FB and answer any questions as needed and it makes it more personal. I will be at Hayes Elementary on Dec 7 from 9-11 a.m. for a breakfast with Santa. I am not sure of anything after that, but I do post my itinerary on Facebook.

Nathaniel: We’re going to be at the Tits for Toys for Tots obviously. After that I’m looking into being a vendor at some of the East Atlanta Village craft shows and the EAV Santa Parade. After that, the future is unwritten. Matter of fact we’re open to anyone who might want to have us at their concerts, car shows or craft festivals. We don’t discriminate, so feel free to get in touch with us. The best place to find me is on 2the9’s Retro on Etsy.com or 2the9’s Retro on Facebook. We look forward to seeing you out and about. Stop on by our booth and say hello.

All photographs are courtesy of Jezebel Blue and 2the9s Retro and used with permission.

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The Engines of James O’Barr’s Art: On Returning to The Crow, Heading to Atlanta for Days of the Dead, BLADE RUNNER, Robert Mitchum and His Latest Pin-Up Passion

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

The cover to issue #1 of THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR, a six-part comics series which marks James O'Barr's return to his most famous creation. Used with permission.

At the Days of the Dead convention this weekend at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel downtown, horror fans can meet and collect autographs from a rogues’ gallery of actors from a DEVIL’S REJECTS/HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES cast reunions to Butch Patrick, the former child star who played Eddie Munster. Or they can visit the table of artist James O’Barr and pick up an exclusive signed print, preview original artwork from James’ first return to THE CROW in 20 years, and muse about art, favorite movies and the Retro glory days when Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, full of curves and class, ruled the silver screen.

While quite a few comics creators delve into the darkness, James is one of a handful who cross mediums and regularly attends horror cons as often as comics gatherings. But that’s not the most surprising thing about him. First published by Caliber in the early 90s, then reprinted and completed by Tundra Publishing and recently picked up by IDW, The Crow’s revenge saga was inspired by James’ own tragic loss of a lover. It gained an even more mythic status among fans when Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died due to an accident on the set of the movie based on the comic. So as the creator of a vigilante antihero with an androgynous mimelike visage and Gothic black hair, James might be expected to be as tough as nails as his own hero Robert Mitchum or as dark and brooding as Trent Reznor.  But anyone who’s met the artist knows that while he’s weathered his share of adversity amplified by years living in crime-ridden Detroit and dwells creatively in the realm of the dark phantastique, James has also come through the other side. He has emerged surprisingly soft-spoken and even with a signature joie de vivre. His most common public demeanor is a smile and a wisecrack, probably more than a little politically incorrect.

ATLRetro spent a couple of hours on the phone with James this week to find out more about what he’ll be doing and displaying at Days of the Dead, as well as what it’s like to be back drawing The Crow after all these years. And yeah, we couldn’t help but ask about his own influences from Will Eisner to Bernie Wrightson, mural painting with Mark Bode, his take on the BLADE RUNNER prequel, what makes Robert Mitchum still so unmatched among men, and find out his current Retro pin-up crush.

ATLRetro: You’re one of the few comics artists who regularly does horror media cons as well. What sets the comic and horror con experience apart for you?

James O’Barr: I am one of the fortunate ones that has a crossover audience since I had a film made of my comics. I don’t consider it a horror film, but it does get grouped in. There’s a lot of surface differences between the different crowds, but in reality they are kind of the same thing – groups of fans all broken up into little subgenres. At a comics show, some guys are just there for the super-heroes and others hate super-heroes. At a horror show, some people are into slasher movies. Other people hate them and love the classic Hammer Films. It’s the same animal but just from a different continent.

Will you be have any new work or prints for sale at Days?

Yeah, every time I do a show, I do a handful of prints, maybe 20 of each that you can only get from me and only at that show. That way the fans have something special that no one else has anywhere else in the US. I have so much material that it’s not difficult for me to pick a new image for each con.

Are you doing any panels or demonstrations at Days, or more body-painting like you did at the dooGallery during DragonCon?

I don’t think I have anything officially scheduled. But the body-painting will be at the show, and I volunteered to paint some more half-naked girls because I had a lot of fun doing that last time. I’ve only done it three times, and it’s a learning process. I’m getting better each time. Body-painting is difficult because it’s like painting with makeup, and it has entirely different textures than paint or ink, plus you’re not dealing with a flat surface. It does make a difference because I when I painted Frankenstein or Dracula on a girl’s back the last time I was there, I had to take into account the arch of her back so it didn’t look like he didn’t have a chin. It’s like Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel where he had to elongate the figures so they would look correct from the floor.

What’s the craziest thing a fan ever did to get your attention at a con?

Just the typical like a woman showing me their tits and people just trying to shock me. I’m not easily shocked. Mostly my fans are very kind and gracious and very polite. I have the greatest fans in world who have stuck with me for 25 years, and because of them, I get to do what I love for a living. So I’m very appreciative.

You’ve said that you wanted to work with Jim Terry (the artist on THE CROW:SKINNING THE WOLVES, the recently released three-issue IDW miniseries set in a Nazi concentration camp) because you liked his “Eisneresque style.” How much of an influence was Will Eisner on your own work and wanting to get into comics?

Will Eisner was a huge influence on me. It was by studying old SPIRIT stories that I learned actual storytelling. Then it suddenly dawned on me that he was taking film techniques and applying them to comics, and no one had ever done that before. So I pretty much took that basic premise, using film techniques in comics for lighting set-ups and camera angles, and I push that as far as I can into comics. As much as movies and comics have in common with each other, they also have so much uncommon or ‘discommon’ between them as well. In comics, you can’t control the timing like you can in a film, but you can slow down the pace of a page by making someone spend more time by putting more images on it. Another huge drawback is lack of sound. You don’t have a soundtrack to accentuate the emotions portrayed in the image. You don’t have the voices of the actors, and you don’t have sound effects, so you have to rely on the reader to supply those in their head. But like I said, it can also be a plus. What’s there is only what you put there, but an actor could spoil a scene or music could spoil a scene or a bad sound effect could spoil a scene. I am one of the few artists who does employ sound effects. If someone fires a gun in my comic, there’s a big boom sound effect. To me, supplying sound effects is an essential part of comics. It’s one of the charms of comics, I think.

If you had to pick five classic comics artist greats to recommend to a new reader, who would they be?

Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman. Jordi Bernet is not well-known in the US. He’s from old Milton Caniff (TERRY AND THE PIRATES, STEVE CANYON) school – lot of brushwork and shadows. IDW is reprinting his TORPEDO series about gangsters in the 1930s. There are so many. Bernie Wrightson was a huge influence on me. The way I look at it, Will Eisner showed me how to tell the story, but Berni Wrightson showed me how to light the scene for the most dramatic effect. And probably Dave Sim for teaching me how to include dialogue and sound effects into the artwork to where they are essential, which is why I like Dave Sim.

I still hand-letter all of my comics on the actual artwork. Since we’re talking Retro, I might as well point out I don’t use computers for anything. Everything is ink on papr or paint on paper. Nothing is photoshopped. Even my titles are hand-drawn on artwork – which is a pain because lettering is not my forte. I can do balloons, but with a three-inch font, I inevitably fuck it up. But that’s part of charm of hand-lettering. It’s not a perfect font pulled off a computer. It’s not that I have disregard for PhotoShop and those tools. I see people like Jon Foster who do great artwork with them Looking at his work, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t oil-painted or acrylics, but to me, using a mouse or a keyboard or a tablet would just drain all the fun out of comics. I love draging a brush across a blank page. For me, that’s the joy of creating comics. I sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and everything is my choice. And it has to be the right choice because there is no undo. This may make me a more confident artist than those who use computers. I don’t redo. I know what I want before I sit down.

Mark Bode's and James O'Barr's mural tribute to Frank Frazetta at Clarion Alley in San Francisco.

Do you have any more mural work planned with Mark Bode, and how does working with a spray can on a wall compare to a paintbrush on a canvas?

Every time I see Mark, usually once or twice a year, we plan on doing something. The only difficult thing is San Francisco is finding a place to do it and deciding what we’re going to do. But the four we have done have gotten progressively better. I posted some pictures of the Frank Frazetta one on the Internet, and people thought it was the original, so we’ve gotten really good at it. They all have been tributes to our artistic heroes who have passed away –  Moebius, Jeff Jones and Frazetta. I’m going to be up there later this year, and we’re hoping to do a Jack Kirby one which will be a lot of fun — to do that hyper-stylized Kirby line. The main difficulty is not necessarily working with a spray can but it’s working that large. The shortest was like 20 feet tall, so it involves being up on a ladder and drawing, and it’s hard to tell if something is in proportion without stepping back off ladder and walkg back 20 feet. Mark and I are really good about trading off with one of us painting and the other watching. He taught me everything I know about graffiti art, even though I still do more artistic things rather than scribbles or tags. I have no idea what they say. I would rather do Monet’s waterlilies 20 feet tall than put a line of poetry up there that is so stylized that the lettering is illegible. I like mural work. It’s free, outside and for the public. It’s transient because it will only be there for a certain amount of time. And it’s been great to introduce certain artists, like Jeff Jones, to people who may not have ever heard of them before.

What has the reaction been to the return of THE CROW published by IDW?

Honestly it’s been mixed. The one I’m doing by myself (THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR) hasn’t come out yet, but I think some people were expecting right off the bat that the first book would be mine. The first series looks very rushed, though it had a nice script by John Shirley. THE CROW: SKINNING THE WOLVES book has done phenomenally well. The first two issues sold out, and it’s in its second printing, and I think that’s because I was involved. It sticks rather closely to the kind of thing I do even though Jim Terry was responsible for the artwork.

From the original THE CROW series by James O'Barr.

THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR will be six issues. I’m finishing up the third issue, but I didn’t want them to solicit until the third was done because didn’t want there to be any lags between issues. I wanted them out on a regular basis because it’s continuing story. I have to say I am more than happy with the work I’ve done on it so far. It’s far and above the best thing I’ve ever done. I have definitely learned my craft over the last two decades. With the first CROW book, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I just sat down and let things flow out of me. There are lots of flaws in that book, but I think the love and passion which I put into that work is what made the public love it and kept it in print for 25 years. But there were things in that book that I avoided because I didn’t have the skills to do them. With his book now, if I can think of it, I can draw it. It’s not a struggle at all. With every page, I set a challenge for me. How can I make it more difficult and learn something from this page. Without exception, 60-something pages into it, I’m delighted with every page.

Will it be in black and white like the original CROW or in color this time? And can you reveal anything about the story? 

At the beginning, IDW kind of strong-armed me a little bit, saying they wanted it in color. I said it’s my project and it’s a CROW book, and I think it should be in black and white – or at least the ones I do should be. For me, it adds a certain otherworldly aspect to it with hard shadows. Honestly I don’t see it in the coloring I see in comics nowadays. If it was going to be in color, it would have to be handpainted by me, but I am hesitant to do that. However, that being said, I just did 20 black and white pages of this shootout and then in the middle, added an intermission in color – that kind of 1930s technicolor where everything is in brighter, warmer and hotter colors that don’t exist in real life. So that gives it a very dreamlike feel to it. Since I learned all the rules in the last 25 yrs, now I can break them.

Plus after 20 pages of people getting killed, it’s a nice little break for the reader as well. Still even though they are pretty and bright, happy colors, just them having been done by me has sort of a haunting creepy quality about it as well. Also I think it’s kind of funny that it’s a CROW book, but I am 60 pages into it and birds haven’t appeared in it once. I’m using rabbits this time. Not talking rabbits, but they are the animal in it. I think it’s so close in feel and atmosphere to the original book, all on a much higher level of competence, that people don’t even notice there’s not a bird in it. The bird will make a few cameo appearances.

It all looks really amazing, and in this one, the best character is the Skull Cowboy, that never actually appeared in the movie. The death character is with the woman the whole time. It kind of takes the place of the bird. The bunny man. He even scares me when I’m drawing him, probably because he reminds me a lot of myself. He’s very – I don’t want to say evil – but there are no ambidexterous morals in this. He’s frightening, but he’s a smart-ass and he’s lovable as well. It gives the bride a nice alter-ego to play off of.

I don’t want to give too much away, though. I’d rather that you come by the table [at Days of the Dead] and see what I’m doing and decide for yourselves. But I guarantee no one will be disappointed.

James O'Barr gets happy at his convention artist table. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Shifting gears back to some of the pop culture you’re known for being passionate about, as a big BLADE RUNNER fan, how do you feel about Ridley Scott’s announcement that he’s going to go back to and do a prequel after all these years?

BLADE RUNNER was Ridley Scott’s vision so if he wants to go back and play in that universe, I am more than happy to sit in the audience. I will pay my $15. I really liked PROMETHEUS. I think I am one of the few people on the planet who did. I thought it did no disservice to the ALIEN film. I read somewhere he’s going to connect the ALIEN universe and the BLADE RUNNER universe or make references to both taking place at the same time. Somebody told me he read the script to PROMETHEUS 2 and that there were references to replicants in there. I’m a little skeptical about him pulling that off but I would love to see it. I have no idea what he is going to do, but I would love to see how the replicants got to Earth. He throws it all into one sentence — they escaped from an off-world colony. It would be great to see how Roy and Pris escaped from the planet where they were slave labor. I don’t know who could play those parts now, but it’s a really rich universe he created there and a lot was skimmed over the surface. I have a lot of faith in Ridley Scott. He’s made about 20 films and less than a handful have been bad. He needs to stay the fuck away from romantic comedies, though. The one he made with Russell Crowe and [Marion Cotillard] – A GOOD YEAR – that was just horrific, painful. He’s at his best when he’s exploring fantasy and science fiction and – some people probably will hate me but – nobody does epic like Ridley Scott. Even something like KINGDOM OF HEAVEN that’s factually based has more stunning imagery than all three LORD OF THE RINGS movies together.

What’s so great about Robert Mitchum?

He was the last real man, I think. He was a brute and a gentleman and a real life badass. Jason Statham would last about 30 seconds with Robert Mitchum. He just has such a presence. He’s very subtle, and he never, ever plays to the camera. Laurence Olivier could not say a line without turning to the camera and making a face. Robert Mitchum wouldn’t care if his back was to the camera. He was so charismatic, and he was willingness to take on any role. That was endearing to me. He’d play the hero or the bad guy, he didn’t care. He was truly frightening in CAPE FEAR (1962). THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and OUT OF THE PAST (1947) are two films I could just watch any time. I do watch both of them once or twice a year. In fact, I just bought the British release poster for OUT OF THE PAST. It was called BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH in London when it was released. That was the original name of the story.

You’ve often said that you admire the style and shape of the classic actresses and models of days gone by such as Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. Who’s your favorite right now and why?

Right now going through a mild Bettie Page fascination. I purposely avoided the whole Bettie Page parade 10 years ago because I was a little angered and disgusted that all these people were making money off this girl, my artists friends included. So I avoided anything Bettie Page. Just recently I subscribe to those vintage pinup Facebook pages, and I have gotten into appreciation. I see what it’s all about now – all the curves, and there was a really gentle innocence to her, too, where she always looks like she is having fun. I have definitely seen some pictures where I don’t think she had any idea what she was doing, such as the bondage stuff. That’s my least favorite. I love the images of her on the beach. There’s something about her eyes and her smile that is really endearing, and that silly haircut that people are still imitating today. I kind of group her in with Marilyn Monroe. I look at the pictures, and yes, I see all the right curves, but I don’t get aroused looking at them. It’s more endearing and charming to me than anything else. There’s something about both Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe that makes me want to protect them. It makes me want to take on a fatherly role. I have never seen one so I assume it was impossible to take a bad picture of them. There’s some kind of inner beauty there which really transcends the film.

James O'Barr strikes a Mitchum pose. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Given the success of THE CROW franchise, are a lot of fans surprised that you lead a pretty simple life of drawing/painting, writing, watching old movies and hanging out with cats? 

The reality is that I grew up way below the poverty level, and so I have never been comfortable with luxury. It’s not that I don’t think I deserve it, but I don’t need it. Having expensive things does not make me happy. I’ve had a five-bedroom semi-mansion, and invariably I spent all my time in the basement in the dark drawing. There were rooms I never even went in. I like that I lead a very insular disciplined life, and I only bring things in that bring me joy and happiness—books and movies and music and artwork. I don’t need anything else. My cat’s my best friend. He never lies to me. He doesn’t cheat on me. He tries to lie to me. “You didn’t feed me. You didn’t feed me.” “Yes, I did. I did.” Just like dogs, they have unconditional love. My cat is lying on my feet right now. He wants to be close to me. I love dogs, too, but I prefer cats because they’re less needy. I can go away for a weekend, leave cat food, and he will be fine. I definitely like companionship. Being artist or a writer is very solitary. Just to have a little silent partner next to me is very comforting.

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Giving the Female Elvis Her Due: Rosie Flores and Marti Brom Throw a Tribute to Janis Martin at Smith’s Olde Bar

Posted on: Nov 15th, 2012 By:

We’re really excited about Rosie Flores’ and Marti Brom’s Tribute to Janis Martin Sun. Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Smith’s Olde Bar in celebration of the release of the female rockabilly legend’s long-awaited new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS. Torchy Taboo shares a sweet memory about how she discovered Janis and why you should be excited, too.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

One beautiful spring afternoon in the early ‘90s, I went to visit my friend “Rockabilly Kim” on her horse farm in East Atlanta. Entering her home was like stepping back in time, and she always had a wonderful new find to show me or a great piece of vintage clothing she’d picked up to add to her vast collection. This afternoon the find was a clutch of 45 records which she immediately began playing for me. When she played a song called “My Boy Elvis” for me, I jumped up and chirped, “Who is this Kim?!” She quickly gave me one of her patented “don’t you know anything” glances and replied, “Janis Martin! You know, the female Elvis!” Embarrassed at my ignorance, I feigned in-the-know, “Oh yeah, right.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “a FEMALE Elvis? How’d I miss this fascinating bit of historical feminism?” Hold on, rewind. At the tender age of 9, I saw my first Elvis movie, KING CREOLE (1958) with Carolyn Jones and Walter Matthau. Of course, I was an instant fanatic. But at 9 years old, not yet sure why girls like boys, what really hooked me was Elvis’s character’s swagger – how he did as pleased and sang about it, how he waltzed into the five-and-dime, picked up a cheap guitar and got everybody’s attention. He was cool and fearless, and I wanted to be like that – to walk into the drug store on Main Street in Tucker, GA and sing my heart out!

Back to the horse farm. A few years after I’d first heard Janis Martin, I had started performing in a retro style and had an occasion to dance in a show built around celebrating Elvis’s birthday. I knew I needed a great rockabilly song but something different from the Elvis standards the rest of the show would be filled with, so I called Kim. “I’ve got the perfect thing for you!” She loaned me a mixed tape of the vintage female greats. I immediately zeroed in on Janis Martin’s song called “Drugstore Rock ‘n Roll.”

The Female Elvis singing “it’s real gone man!” about the Drugstore?! I flashed on the five-and-dime scene in KING CREOLE where he sang “Lover Doll” so sweet. But I wanted something revved-up, and the Janis Martin song had that in spades – released on the B-side of “Will You Willyum” in 1956 when Janis was a mere 15 years old. She had been billed as the female Elvis because of her onstage hip-shakin’. If that’s not fearless, I don’t know what is.

Janis’ career lost momentum in 1958 when her label, RCA dropped her because she’d gotten pregnant when her GI husband she’d eloped with was on leave. Pretty wild stuff in the ‘50s.  Like ‘50s pin-up icon Bettie Page, she lived by her own rules.

Since my introduction to her music in the ‘90s, Janis has come to be one my favorites. I was lucky enough to see Rosie Flores in the mid ‘90s as well as a rare Atlanta show with Marti Brom. I’ve added both to my list of female rockabilly greats. This pair performing a show to celebrate the new CD, JANIS MARTIN – THE BLANCO SESSIONS, that Rosie recorded with Janis Martin in 2007, should prove quite memorable.

Find out more about Janis Martin in her own words in THE JANIS MARTIN STORY, in full on Youtube here

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A Burlesque Guide to Dragon*Con

Posted on: Aug 31st, 2011 By:

Shellie Schmals. Photo credit: Billy Gilbert.

Annual Bettie Page lookalike contests were a sexy staple of early Dragon*Cons. While those were replaced with the Dawn contest in more recent years, that enthusiasm for pin-up and burlesque culture has found new ways of expression in the midst of one of the nation’s biggest pop culture celebration. With so much going on, we asked Minette Magnifique’s beautiful Shellie Schmals, aka Baroness von Schmalhausen, to sort through the schedule to see what some of Atlanta’s burlesque ladies are up to for your Retro entertainment…

By Shellie Schmals
Contributing Blogger

Seriously, I can hardly wait! It’s my first official DragonCon (Sept. 1-5, 2011). Alas, Labor Day is a pretty popular time to get hitched and I’ve found myself out of town every year up to now and unable to attend this glorious tribute to everything pop culture, historical + science fictional. But now watch out world – there’s so much to do + see, especially for those who LOVE and adore everything vintage and retro. These are just a few little things I have on my MUST DO list …

Kessel & ATLRetro's Philip Nutman.

To Learn: If you’re a fan of burlesque and want to learn a background of the undergarments that slip off so gracefully, then Costumes of History is for you!! Enjoy a panel discussion, which includes Atlanta’s MUAH extraordinaire, Andrea Mast-Kessel.
Day + Time: Sun 11:30am-12:30pm
Where: Costume Track, M103-M105 (Marriott Marquis)

To Spend: Now that you know about the bustles, corsets, + petticoats, you’ll want to spend your money with Delicious Boutique. Delicious Boutique specializes in edgy and unique men’s and women’s independent designer lines such as Skingraft, Junker, Wild Card Leather and, of course, their own line of Delicious Corsets! Where: Dealers’ Exhibit Hall, Marquis Ballroom (Marriott Marquis)

Talloolah Love. Photo credit: Mark Turnley.

To Party: Hosted by none other than Voltaire and Atlanta’s own Talloolah Love, The Grand Pirate and Time Traveler’s Ball will be THE event to attend for the distinguished and refined person at Dragon*Con! So grab your first mate and biggest sword.
Day + Time: Sunday 8:30pm – Mon 1:00am
Where: Westin Peachtree Ballroom

To Dress Up: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was the first horror host ever to be syndicated nationally. It only makes sense that she’s the host of Dragon*Con’s very first Comic Book Babes Costume Contest. She’s a legend, and if your costume makes the cut – you will be legendary!!
Day + Time: Sat 8:30pm
Where: Centennial Ballroom I-III (Hyatt Regency)

Stormy Knight.

To Watch: Well, ladies, you’ll want to keep your comic book costumes on for Dragon*Con Cabaret. Produced by Stormy Knight, a leading lady in Syrens of the South Productions, this show features a bevy of burlesque honeys from across the nation performing classic-style burlesque acts as your favorite superheroes and villains! Harley Quinn! Poison Ivy! Dark Phoenix! Oh, my!  I’m way over-the-top excited to place a top hat on my head, as Mistress of Ceremonies, Zatanna Zatara!!
Day + Time: Sat 11:30pm – Sun 1:30am
Where: Regency Ballrooms 5 & 6 (Hyatt Regency)

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Weekend Update, June 24-26, 2011

Posted on: Jun 24th, 2011 By:

Friday, June 24

Blair Crimmins

Things could get dangerous as radical ragtimers Blair Crimmins & the Hookers revive the Roarin’ Twenties after A Fight to the Death and Lille at The Earl. Read ATLRetro’s interview with Blair here. If you missed AM Gold‘s brilliant heartfelt rendition of the entire Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits ’74-’78 album at Bubbapalooza, we guess you could settle for the real Steve Miller Band at Delta Classic Chastain. Experience a funkier kind of jazz with Cadillac Jones at Star Bar. Catch an IMAX movie and swing dance the night away to Kingsized at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.

The bewitching Dario Argento classic SUSPIRIA, starring Jessica Harper (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) and Joan Bennett (DARK SHADOWS), is this month’s feature for Shriek Theatre Movie Night at DooGallery. And Film Love:Robbie Land includes 16 mm shorts and a chance to meet the acclaimed filmmaker. Works include MICANOPY WINTER WONDERLAND, which documents an antique jukebox converted into a diorama wonderland scene, and FLORIDALAND, about defunct Florida theme parks from 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Film Love founder/director Andy Ditzler was a recent Kool Kat.

Saturday June 25

Greg Theakston, comics writer/artist and the man who rediscovered Bettie Page, signs JACK MAGIC, THE LIFE AND ART OF JACK KIRBY, his definitive biography of the King of Comics who co-created many of Marvel’s most iconic characters from Captain America to the Fantastic Four, from 3 to 6 PM at Criminal Records.

Forget 3D! Ever seen a movie in hypnoprismoscope? Ghost Host with the Most Prof. Morte will unveil the mysterious new process this weekend as The Silver Scream Spookshow screens schlocky 1953 sci-fi/horror – well we’re not sure it’s a classic – movie ROBOT MONSTER at the Plaza Theatre. Come early for the hilarious pre-film stage show featuring gorgeous dancing ghouls and other fiendish friends. Kids matinee at 1 PM and adult show at 10 PM. Look for ATLRetro’s review soon.

It’s also the last day to see the ever irreverent Dad’s Garage Theatre take a stab at the ’80s horror genre of camp slasher films in SLAUGHTER CAMP about a homicidal maniac terrorizing a theatre camp. DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno.

Sunday June 26

It’s a day for new exhibitions. At the High, be among the first to experience RADCLIFFE BAILEY: MEMORY AS MEDICINE and JOHN MARIN’S WATERCOLORS: A MEDIUM FOR MODERNISM. Read more about the former in this week’s Kool Kat. Marin was named America’s number one artist in a 1948 LOOK magazine survey. While his name is not a household one today, this exhibition reminds us of his important place in the modernist movement and why watercolors became such a powerful instrument for avante-garde art in the hands of him and other artists in the Stieglitz Circle, including Georgia O’Keefe.

The Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) opens its newest exhibit WaterDream: The Evolution of Bathroom Design, which runs through Sept. 24 in the dynamic new Midtown space. Displays take visitors through a four-part journey into the bathroom including the birth of minimalist aesthetics in 20th century design and progress into current concepts.

The Barrow Boys headline blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. And at night catch ’80s-founded alt-rockers Dinosaur Jr. at Variety Playhouse.

Ongoing

MODERN BY DESIGN, the High‘s newest special exhibition celebrates three key moments in modern design and also the Museum of Modern Art, New York‘s (MOMA) collection history. The works on loan from MOMA cover “Machine Art” (1934), “Good Design” (1950-55) and “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” (1972), with the latter addressing modernism in the context of 1960s and ’70s counterculture.

Margaret Mitchell Typing - Courtesy Margaret Mitchell House

Get a rare chance to view original manuscript pages from the last four chapters of ATLANTA’S BOOK: THE LOST GONE WITH THE WIND MANUSCRIPTat the Atlanta History Center. The new exhibit, which opens today and runs through Sept. 5, is part of a series of activities celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of the international bestseller and also includes foreign and first edition copies, the desk Margaret Mitchell used while writing it and select images.

Tune back in on Friday for Weekend Update. If you know of a cool happening that we’ve missed, send suggestions to ATLRetro@gmail.com.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Time-Traveling with Torchy Taboo to the Roots of the Neo-Burlesque Revival in Atlanta

Posted on: Mar 10th, 2011 By:

Ask anyone in Atlanta’s neo-burlesque scene who started it here, and one name inevitably comes up— Eve “Torchy Taboo” Warren. She’s been dubbed the “Godfather of Atlanta Burlesque” and nothing seems more natural than her hosting the Dirty South Burlesque Showcase, a late-night cabaret on Saturday night for some of the best regional performers, one of several star-studded performance events at this weekend’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest [read ATLRetro’s preview here].

With all the burlesque troupes and production companies performing here now, it’s hard to imagine that just 16 years ago, none of that existed. While Atlanta was home to one of the nation’s largest collections of adult entertainment venues, those venues had long ago left behind any appreciation of the art of the tease. Among all the stagnant bump and grind for big bucks, however, one dancer had a dream.

This red-haired 5-foot-nothing Rita Hayworth lookalike never had been an ordinary stripper. When she wasn’t dancing, she was vagabonding across Europe, performing at drag shows at The Sports Page, studying art history, sipping Polynesian cocktails, waxing poetically about corndogs and jitterbugging to rockabilly bands at the Star Bar. That’s how I met her in 1995 through my friend “Go-Go” Max Bernardi, another Star Bar regular and a singer, painter and performance artist whose artwork and acts were often seen at 800 East, an Inman Park warehouse that at the time was a haven for the city’s alternative creative scene.

The cast of Go-Go and Torchy's Taboo Revue including Eve "Torchy Taboo" Warren, "Go-Go Max" Bernardi, Wanda Baker, Tim Monteith, Ivy Godiva, Dave Olsen and the Queen Bee. Photo credit: April Stevens

Together, Eve and Max cooked up this crazy idea to put on a tribute to the burlesque variety shows of the mid-20th century which they would come to call GO-GO AND TORCHY’S TABOO REVUE. It took place at the Catch City Club, next to Center Stage in Midtown, on October 14-15, 1995, and included many top players in Atlanta’s burgeoning rockabilly, lounge and performance art scene. Useless Playboys former front man “Big Mike” Geier even returned to Atlanta from Richmond, Va., to emcee. Later on he’d found some band called Kingsized and perform with a neo-burlesque company called Dames Aflame, which incidentally also was founded by Torchy Taboo. Another reason why it’s only fittin’ that Big Mike will be hosting and the Dames Aflame are special guests at the FreeRange Burlesque Show Friday night at Southern Fried.

“Go-Go” Max Bernardi clowns in her cowboy boots before her Taboo Revue opening number as Cleopatra.

Kelly Hogan (The Jody Grind, Rock*A*Teens), Wanda Baker (Bleu Velveeta) and Dave Olsen (Atlanta rockabilly swing icons The Lost Continentals) sang solo numbers, and almost every number was performed live by a seven-member lounge band, featuring Olson and other members of The Lost Continentals. Dashing up-and-coming illusionist, Christopher Tracy, provided magic, and Ivy Godiva, the weekly guest star of the then-infamous Go-Go Rama dances at the Star Bar, delivered laughs as his ravishingly redneck assistant, as well as a red-hot striptease to a revved-up rockabilly version of Dion and the Belmonts’ “Ruby Baby.” Puppeteer Tim Monteith boogied woogied as all three Andrews Sisters; he still regularly performs at Syrens of the South and other local shows and is competing in the first annual Southern Fried Burlesque Pageant earlier on Saturday night. In an artistic interlude, modern dancers Anik Keuller and Sonya Sconiers re-interpreted the Greek myth of Persephone without removing a stitch. And a certain ATLRetro writer/editor danced and sang as a 1920s art deco Bumble Bee Queen, with Bee-ettes “Saasha Foo” Wilson, hostess to many of 800 East’s zany variety shows, and her friend and fellow disco dancer Faith Farley.

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Southern-Fried Sensuality: Atlanta’s First Burlesque Festival Showcases Local and International Talent

Posted on: Mar 3rd, 2011 By:

Atlanta certainly has earned its place on the map of the Neo-Burlesque Revival with amazing performers and troupes. Now this steamy Southern city finally is getting its first bonafide burlesque festival, too. In case you’ve been too naughty to notice, Southern Fried Burlesque Fest dances into town next weekend, Thurs. March 10- Sun. March 13, 2011, at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Decatur. But co-founders Katherine Lashe and Ursula Undress (Syrens of the South Productions) kindly have agreed to pull back the curtains and strip down to some of the delicious details…

Katherine Lasche & Ursula Undress invite you to some Southern-fired fun at Atlanta's first burlesque festival.

1. Is there any story behind how you hatched the idea for Southern Fried Burlesque Fest and why Atlanta needs its own festival?

Katherine Lashe: Atlanta’s the biggest city in the Southeast and a hot bed for burlesque with guest performers coming in all the time so it seemed to make sense that we should have a festival to show off all of the amazing talent from all aspects of burlesque that the Southeast had to offer, in addition to showing the Southeast what the rest of the world has to offer as well.

Ursula Undress: I had heard some talk about how we needed to do something like it here at a few of the Atlanta Burlesque & Cabaret Meet-Ups and had been to a few other state-specific festivals. So I supported Katherine with wanting to move forward with one here and told her I would do whatever I could to help. We definitely have the talent in the city and surrounding areas—so it has become sort of a regional thing.

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Kool Kat Of The Week: Shellie Schmals, Minette Magnifique – Atlanta’s Baroness of Burlesque

Posted on: Feb 7th, 2011 By:

Minette Magnifique may be Atlanta’s youngest burlesque troupe, but these voluptuous vixens, true to their motto “the art of delectable dance, sans the pants,” are fast forging their own ravishing reputation. Shellie Schmals, aka Baroness VONSchmalhausen, shares a few secrets about her stage and other personas, as well as a tantalizing peek behind the tassles of the House of Minette’s Valentine’s spectacular, FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, Friday Feb. 11 at Le Fais do-do in west Midtown.

Shellie Schmals of Minette Magnifique. Photo credit: Jordan Barclay

ATLRetro: How did you personally become interested in burlesque and when did you start performing?

Shellie Schmals: As a little girl, I saw the iconic image of Bettie Page and was entranced. She looked so sweet, but she was also extremely sexy in a way that wasn’t popular in 1980s mainstream media. I identified with her more than Christy Brinkley or Cindy Crawford. Living with a family of antique collectors, I was surrounded by pinup advertising of the 1940s and 50s – which I adored too. Somehow, I just always knew burlesque was there but never knew how to find it.

It wasn’t until 2008 that I was introduced to the Atlanta burlesque scene by the Syrens of the South. We collaborated on a comedy and burlesque show at Relapse Theatre, and I performed one comedic burlesque [act] under the stage name “Mrs. Velma NoHeart.” After that show, I was still very interested in performing. The right opportunity and role didn’t come along again until January 2010, when my Minette Co-Founder, Kellyn Willey (Madame Willey) was starting up another troupe and we knew we needed to combine our creative forces. Our first Minette show was on May 1, 2010 and we’ve been on fire ever since!

You dance and emcee under the show name, Baroness VONSchmalhausen? Can you share a little bit about her and how she came to join Minette Magnifique?

Photo credit: Offhand Photography

In 2006, I started my event production and marketing company VONschmalhausen, named after my family’s name before it got chopped up at Ellis Island at the turn of the century in the 1900s. My ancestors were from Poland and Hungary and I really wanted to honor my Jewish heritage. VONschmalhausen literally means “of the small house” and my tag line became “small house * BIG IDEAS” – how could it not be??!!

Since then, VONschmalhausen has grown into a brand for all my events, performance and projects. When it was time for me to name my burlesque character, Baroness VONschmalhausen seemed the obvious choice. My Baroness VONschmalhausen persona is still me, but bolder with a lot more sparkles. Although I enjoy raunchy and vulgar humor, it never sounds right when I say it. If I were to pick words that describe Baroness: elegance, innocence, sly humor, dirty innuendos with a smile, double entendres with a wink, and poetry with a little slapstick.

 

For that matter, what’s the origin of Minette Magnifique? Did I hear right that the troupe got started in New Orleans?

In the rich tradition of vaudeville performers, we rewrote our history. Each performer scribed a bio that speaks to who their characters are, and we did the same thing for the troupe itself. Although we might not come from New Orleans, our spirit lives there.

Minette Magnifique, and/or the House of Minette, is a really creative name for a burlesque troupe. Is there a story behind how you selected it?

Naming Minette Magnifique is an example of how beautifully Madame Willey and I collaborate together. Madame Willey was enthralled with the first name “Minette”, as it has multiple identities as an girl’s name (which means “protector”) and as the French slang for a girl who is all dolled up. We didn’t want to give ourselves the traditional moniker of Minette Burlesque, because we felt it was too restrictive. Being the alliteration junkie that I am, “Magnifique” came to me almost from divine intervention.

I started calling us “The House of Minette” as a way to bring all the performers and members of Minette on stage at the end of a show. The phrase is very grand, invoking images that are regal, with a splash of bordello. Just like us!

 

Blast-Off Burlesque has a wacky pop culture edge and Dames Aflame have embraced the showgirl aesthetic. How would you describe Minette Magnifique’s unique niche in the Atlanta burlesque scene?

I would describe Minette as theatrical and comical, sexy and sultry, vintage with a contemporary appeal. We love romance, sparkles, glitter, glamour and paying homage to the golden era of performers who graced the burlesque stage, pinup calendars and golden age of the silver screen.

Minette Magnifique’s Website bills FROM PARIS WITH LOVE as “a romantic, Parisian-inspired evening of musical and magical entertainment.” Can you divulge a little bit about what audiences can expect when it comes both to music and magic?

Our venue Le Fais do-do, is the perfect setting for us. It sets the mood for the Minette routines – each dancer selects their own music, and each girl was inspired from vintage French music. Expect to see a lot of interaction between the dancers. Mimi de Milo and Portia Lynn Dahl are performing a sister act. Vyolet Venom will be singing. Expect BIG SMILES, NEW DANCE MOVES and TWIRLING TASSELS!!

Would you tantalize us with a sneak preview of your own acts this Friday?

I’m excited to be performing two routines with our guest emcee, Mr. Tonguelinguist, my dear friend and improv co-hort, Jeff Wisard. I’ll be swept off my feet and into the lap of love!!

What about your emcee persona? How do you get into character and do you script it all out in advance or play it more improv?

Getting into character starts a few hours before show time, I’m very much in my head and am pretty quiet. As soon as I hit the stage to greet the audience with my signature phrase “Good evening ladies and lords …,” I’m in there, alive and in the moment. A shot of Jager always helps, too!!

I LOVE writing our shows. Before each dancer performs, I give a little intro that sets the scene for our audience. Since all of our Minette shows are themes, it’s a fun challenge to write something saucy and unique for each dancer, that not only describes their personality but also puts a time and a place on a routine. You can be sexy and just dance, but it’s even sexier to know the inner thoughts of the performer and create the world around them.

My role as Minette emcee is more of a storyteller, so much of it is scripted. Although, I play with the audience and improv as well. Most emcees announce the dancer’s credentials. We decided collectively that we wanted something different and my role has evolved with that. I’m very versatile though, and have emceed for many events without a script or notes – just going off the cuff and enjoying the energy from the audience.

Who are the guest performers for this week’s show?

We are thrilled to have Blair Crimmins, as our musical guest. He’ll be performing with Darcy Lemmonier, as she debuts a new routine. Blair’s music embodies everything that Minette is about: whisking the audience member back to a time where romance prevailed, the music was big and bawdy, and life was, too.

Joining us also will be Chad Sanborn, as our guest magician. Chad’s charisma and creativity provide an added touch that is going to make this show special and different. We’ll also be using Chad throughout the evening to help heighten our storyline.

My guest co-host for our Paris show is Mr. Tonguelinguist, [as noted previously, otherwise known as my improv buddy, Jeff Wisard]. Jeff did a guest spot with us in December as a boy toy and we loved him so much, we asked him back in a larger role! I’m excited to work with Jeff in this new capactiy too. We’ve been improv’ing together for years.

What’s next for you and Minette Magnifique?
As a troupe, Minette feels very strongly about the importance of giving back to others. In 2010, we participated in benefits for The Rainbow Center, PinUp for Pitbulls, Living Walls and Hurricane Katrina. Our next performance will be Friday, February 18 at Carnivale: A Benefit for Actor’s Express. This is a great opportunity to support the creative endeavours of our peers in the entertainment community.

When you’re not performing, what else do you do for work and play?

I can’t gush enough about my job. I work at a fabulous organization, ART PAPERS, as the director of development + public relations. ART PAPERS exists to provide an independent and accessible forum for ideas on contemporary art. I am coming off the heels of our weekend-long Art Auction fundraiser and am still jonesing on an adrenaline rush.

My heart also belongs to Relapse Theatre. I volunteer my time as director of community affairs  [and] I manage all the social media and community service/social projects that happen within our walls and in the Atlanta area. I’m also lucky enough to perform with 2Girls3Eyes, a talented group of improv performers, every Friday night on the Relapse stage.

And I, like, LOVE to shop!!! I’ve been surrounded by antiques my whole life. As a child, I would frequent garage sales, estate sales and flea markets with my parents looking for gold amongst the ruins. I was fortunate enough to amass a collection of vintage jewelry from the 1920s-1970s called VINTAGEsparkles by VONschmalhausen that is available for rental with photo shoots by PinUpGirl! Cosmetics in Grant Park.

More Secrets About Shellie:

Favorite Retro Movie: FREAKS by Tod Browning

Favorite Retro Musicians: The Beatles, The Shangri-Las

Favorite Retro Song to Dance to: “Chantilly Lace” by The Big Bopper

Favorite Retro Book: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS by Jacqueline Susann

Inspirational Burlesque Performers (Vintage Or Present-Day): Gypsy Rose Lee, Mae West, Bettie Page, Indigo Blue

Purchase tickets for FROM PARIS WITH LOVE here.

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