Wednesday, February 22, 2006


A notice about an upcoming fundraiser for a worthy cause has come in from a locally-based band called BuTTercuP: In the photo above they are (left to right) Cassandra Cossitt, Octavia Carpin and David Stover. Both Cassandra and David were members of the theater's staff in the early-1980s.

The band's harbinger of spring reads:

We have the coolest gig ever! You are cordially invited to the first annual Tricycle Gardens Fundraiser on Saturday, March 11, 2006, to be held at "The Expansion Joint", 211 West Seventh St. (near Legend Brewery).

Tricycle Gardens is a non profit community garden located in Church Hill. Their goal is to help create a better Richmond through community gardening. They are also striving to create educational programs, such as seed starting workshops and working with youth in the community.

Tickets for the dinner portion of the evening (7 p.m. - 9 p.m.) with Buttercup for desert, are $40 each or $75 a couple. This includes a fabulous buffet dinner, wine and champagne, and a silent auction with great donations from local artists, restaurants, and local businesses. Buttercup will be raising the roof from 9 p.m. on. Once again we are honored to be joined by several extra-special guest artists!

"Music-only guests" may come at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door. For more info and to reserve your dinner please contact Lisa @ (804) 683-7968. Hope to see you there!

staff: Rebus

Although Rebus was surprised to be called up from the cartoon reserves to serve in the Cartoon War, he's flattered that anyone remembered him. The panel above shows him reacting to the startling notice for him to return to active duty.

Rebus is best known for his role as the theater's official spokesdog. Drawn by yours truly he made his initial appearance on a midnight show handbill in our first year of operation (1972). His name Rebus came a few weeks later. It started as Uncle Rebus, then the Uncle was quickly dropped, when he reappeared in a single panel that I drew for my own amusement. It was titled: "Have a Good Time," which had become the Biograph's motto.

A month-or-so later, that single panel has grown into a nine-panel comic strip. It was subsequently published by VCU's student newspaper, The Commonwealth Times, which morphed into an all-comics tabloid called "Fan Free Funnies" for three issues in the spring of 1973.

What is a rebus?

It’s a word puzzle. The viewer sees a line drawing of an eye, then a plus sign, then the letter “c”, then another plus sign, then the letter “u.” Decoded that means “I see you.” Such little puzzles, usually somewhat more complicated, were common in publications aimed at children in the 1940s and '50s. The original Rebus comic strips all had little rebus puzzles in them, somewhere.

In the 1970s a circle of area artists was into drawing cartoons, making short animated films and even making large cartoon paintings. Inspired by “underground comix,” there was a scene, of sorts, in the Fan District then which revolved around cartooning. In some ways it was a precursor of the illustrated fiction wave that began to be noticed about ten years later. Anyway, in such a make-believe world, Rebus was a minor celebrity ‘toon, perhaps along the lines of local pitchman who appears on TV frequently selling sofas, promoting community events, etc.

Rebus continued to pop up on Biograph handbills and programs all during my tenure as the Biograph’s manager. He also was happy to help out with other projects, such as my 1980s Rock ‘n’ Roll promotions with Chuck Wrenn; we called our partnership Lit Fuse Productions.

Later, to make my then-girlfriend laugh -- she said Rebus was a chump -- I did a black humor series of small paintings called "Documenting the Death of Rebus." In each piece he was being killed off in a different way. Then she moved out.

Undaunted, Rebus made a rousing comeback in a series of 'toons published in SLANT (1985-94), doing some of his best work. As well, he has appeared on various posters, calendars and T-shirts. etc., I've produced over the years since.

Rebus rules!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

stories: postmortem anniversaries

A few Biograph Theatre anniversaries have been celebrated since it closed in December 1987. The ones I know about were parties I organized/hosted. In 1989 I had a part-time gig as a bartender at The Attic in Northside, so it went down there. This one happened by word-of-mouth. We showed some videos and looked at old photos.

In 1992, for the 20th, I booked two acts, lined up a room -- Twisters (it was the Back Door in the 1970s, now it's Nanci Raygun), promoted the event and even made up some T-shirts. We had the Useless Playboys as the headliner; Rebby Sharp did an opening set. I remember the late Carole Kass (perhaps the best friend the Biograph ever had) was there. The reunion aspect of it was nice.

For the 30th, in 2002, working with the Richmond Moving Image Coop, we showed several films and presented three bands at Poe's Pub. Colleen Curran at wrote a piece about the occasion. That party -- featuring Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon; Burnt Taters (now The Taters); Used Carlotta -- packed the house and raised a little money for RMIC. A good time was had by all, as far as I could tell.

What next?

Friday, February 10, 2006


The staff art show that hung during the Biograph's second anniversary party on Feb. 11, 1974 -- which featured the well-attended "The Devil and/in Miss Jones" prank -- included various works by several then-current employees and some former staff members, too. Most of those who worked there in the early days were artists of one stripe or another. This piece, by yours truly, was made to hang in the space of the lobby’s gallery that usually featured the artists' statements.

I also had a couple of pieces in the show. One of them sold and that was fun. Another piece was stolen. That was a bummer and a weird kind of violation.

Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists, that was not always the case. In the first three or four years, when the walls of the lobby regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, or so, occasionally art by then-renown artists, usually printmakers, was on display. Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and sculptor George Segal.
From Ernest Trova's Falling Man series

In the summer of 1978, the same time as the Rocky Horror Picture Show began its five-year run at midnight, we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, who drove a cab and sometimes played keyboard in a popular local band, Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a background of a flat field of a single color. The renderings were done in the sparse style of a government pamphlet. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something. I think Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them.

Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin; that one I’m sure of.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonalds fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonalds was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonalds’s signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonalds wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!”

Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonalds’ side.

Well, I called a friend who is a lawyer to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up.

So, what happened? Never heard from the wannabe McDonalds lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.


There was a time when February 11 meant a party was brewing, maybe a few surprises, too, on West Grace Street. Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the opening of the Biograph. Accordingly, here's an excerpt of "Thanks Aimee," written for in 2000:

"...Times had changed and the theater could no longer pay its way. But in that little independent cinema's heyday, Feb. 11 meant something to those familiar with the nightlife in the VCU area. The Biograph's second anniversary was the party that established the occasion of the theater's birthday as a date to mark on the calendar. That was the year of The Devil Prank."

Friday, February 03, 2006


Here's the handbill for the 1984 Fan District Softball League's All-Star Game/Picnic. It was the first year we had amplified music.

From this year's event through 1988's, this annual mid-summer party consistently drew between 250 and 300 people to the Columbian Center, in the Westend a long way from the Fan. One year, the temperature was at a blistering 99 degrees all day and the thirsty group went through 21 kegs of beer in the afternoon.

The beer truck driver was amazed. Do the math.

Image by F.T. Rea