Melvin Monster by John Stanley

October 23, 2017 4:04 pm by Crocodile

Melvin Monster collection
By John Stanley

John Stanley was a cartoonist and comic book writer active from the 40s through the 60s, he wrote a lot of the Little Lulu comic books, and a grip of other stuff as well in various funny animal books and in the comic book versions of Nancy & Sluggo and Krazy Kat. Like Carl Barks he worked anonymously, and for years the only way you could tell a Stanley story was that it had more and better jokes than it had to, and that it contained a few of his trademarks, like characters who exclaim “YOW!” and laugh like “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”. Drawn and Quarterly collected some of the titles he lifted big weight for, and put them out in a handsome hard-bound set, labeled “The John Stanley Library”. Included in the set are the Nancy comics he did, a book focusing on Little Lulu’s friend Tubby, the incredible Thirteen Going On Eighteen, and a 3 volume set of Melvin Monster.

Melvin comics originally came out in 1965, prime time for the monster craze– Addams Family and the Munsters came out in 1964. Melvin is a good little monster, a constant disappointment to his Monster Family and all other monsters in the monster society in which he lives. The storyline is kind of a double-switcheroo– with Addams Family et al, there’s a sort of inverted sensibility at play- bad stuff is good, good stuff is bad. Melvin goes one more where his world is bad-stuff-good but he isn’t. He would rather not, for instance, jump into a thorn bush, or eat a broken glass sandwich, or wrestle with an alligator, which makes him an outcast to his family and peer group. He’s a problem child. On this beautiful framework John Stanley hangs an unending set of great gags pitched at an incredible pace, all of which serve the story. And on top of that, Melvin is truly a great character- whereas other writers might make a similar character just a  one-dimensional goody goody, Melvin is sweet-hearted and endearing, with a subtle sadness that never dulls his deep joy of life. Almost no one else in this field (1960s funny books) was putting nearly as much care into their work, and as a result these books glow like embers in a field of ash.

There are sort of a lot of Nice Reprints on the market right now, and some Not So Nice. One argument I see about reprint books is how pristine to make them- they were originally printed poorly and they were designed to be printed that way, so cleaning them up too much can be detrimental, and can leave them looking garish. On the other hand you don’t want to read a blurry mess. The John Stanley Library books are ideal- they look like the cleanest possible version of the original printing as you could get, and the pages are colored to look like the crummy paper the original comics were printed on.  They look great, the lines are clear, the colors are muted in a pleasant way. Also they aren’t bogged down with scholarly essays or sanctimonious errata. Perfect for kids of all ages.

The only thing I don’t like about these books is the covers- mononymous Canandian cartoonist Seth (not to be confused with the mononymous spiritual guide of the same name) did a good job with the overall design and cover lettering, but the pictures on the covers on the covers are pretty much all bad. Is there a legal or licensing reason he had to redraw the characters for the covers? The entire John Stanley Library is this way. The best covers are the ones where he redrew the characters close to the original style. The worst are the ones rendered in crisp geometric shapes. I understand the sales tactic of having a bold cover, and the desire to do a close-up on a character’s face, but in comics, don’t you want to have drawings that are full of life? All these dead eyes staring out at you… yuck. I mean it’s not a big deal, but if the books are lying around on the table I definitely turn them face down. That said, the rest of the design is really good! The books look and feel great, like an old children’s encyclopedia, and all the blurb / UPC / price info is on a sticker on the back that peels off easily and goolessly, leaving you with a timeless classic. Very thoughtful!


The Nancy one is ok, the Melvin one is not so good, and the Sluggo one is straight-up Wrong.

These books were $24.95 originally, and there are 3 volumes of Melvin Monster. The books are really great and I’m not saying they aren’t worth $24.95, but I waited patiently until I could find them at my local remainder shop for $9.95 each. I would strongly recommend these to anyone that likes old comic books and/or monsters, especially those interested in the 1960s wave of monster hysteria (aka 2nd wave American Monsteria). Unlike the Carl Barks reprints, Melvin Monster is OK for kids, as there isn’t any weird racist shit. Although the dad is an abusive rage-filled maniac, so I wouldn’t give these to a kid with an abusive rage-filled maniac dad. Or maybe it would help? I don’t know, read it before you gift it.

For more on John Stanley I recommend the very excellent stanley stories blog, which has lots of scans, plus commentary and background info. Stanley really is the best ever kid’s comics writer, and the fact that he worked anonymously and in a wide variety of different titles is almost a blessing to the fan- new Stanley stories are getting discovered constantly. Once you get the bug you’ll find yourself flipping through the absolute shittiest-looking comics looking for a lost Stanley. Keep an eye out for:

  • people yelling “YOW!”
  • people laughing like “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
  • sound effects appearing in word balloons (for instance a door that “says” KNOCK KNOCK)
  • there are more jokes than there need to be
  • the jokes are good

Happy Halloween!

                                                                                                 

Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu

October 19, 2017 4:22 pm by Crocodile

Cat Eyed Boy vol 1
By Kazuo Umezu

Perfect Halloween comics. Cat Eyed Boy is a weird little dude who lives in the attic of a house, maybe yours?? He peeps on you and something horrible happens. He doesn’t cause bad things, he’s drawn to them before they happen. Then he sits and waits and observes. He dresses in black shorts and a black long-sleeve shirt, has a Johnny Quest hair cut, and is extremely cute.

Cat Eyed Boy isn’t a hero but he does sometimes intercede in someone’s favor– motivated by boredom more than a sense of propriety. He’s a little bit like a Crypt Keeper character, observing the action with you and talking to you about it, but he gets in the mix too, and over the course of the book the stories get more and more about him. In general he lives like a ghost but without the shame or misery aspect of western ghosts. He just walks around, sneaking into houses, pissing on temples, and fucking off. The exploits he gets into are spooky, gross, tense, weird, and don’t completely make sense. The stories are neither silly nor self-serious, and Cat Eyed Boy remains wryly amused throughout. As I said, it’s perfect!


(read left to right)

Story and art are by Kazuo Umezu, who is a rockstar cartoonist in Japan, famous for psychedelic horror comics marked by malevolent indifference.

I bought this at full price without knowing anything about it, it was $24.99 and at the time (2006) and I didn’t really have that kind of money to toss around casually. Even at the time I thought “it’s weird that I’m buying this”, but I was really drawn to it. I went back as soon as I could and got volume 2.

I loaned volumes 1 and 2 out a few times and only the first volume returned. I’m not hung up on it but if you read this and you have my copy of vol 2 sitting around, can you send it back to me? I can’t remember who had it last, but when I got vol 1 back it had this picture in it, just a shot of a messy table (or maybe a floor) with fruits and vegetables and sunflowers and piles of clothes. Did Cat Eyed Boy take this picture? If so then I have to assume that vol 1 is well pissed-on by now, so keep it. If you, the reader, borrowed it and it got lost or destroyed somehow just don’t tell me.

Like I said this book was $24.99 in 2006, that’s like $30 in 2017. The print looks ok, not great. It’s probably a little better than it originally looked when these stories ran in Shonen King magazine in 1968, but bad enough to feel a little grimy and mysterious. You can still get this on ebay/amazon but it’s like $70??? Volume 2 you can get for $20. I think you can jump in to vol 2 without missing much exposition– there’s basically no backstory. But also I remember vol 1 being better.


(read right to left)

There’s a recent live-action movie but it doesn’t look very good. An essential part of the character design for Cat Eyed Boy is that his eyes are always glowing out from the shadow of his hair. In 3D settings like a live-action movie or a toy or something, they paint the shadow in and it looks really dumb. It sucks but it’s also kind of nice to know that the comics are the ultimate form– I don’t think Umezu thought this far forward, but if he had self-sabotaged his most likeable character to keep him from being utilized in other formats, that would be a really cool move.

There’s at least one episode of a TV show too, it’s not a cartoon but it is drawings- it’s made up entirely of dioramas that the camera moves around while smoke blows through them. It’s like a shittier Ken Burns Effect. I bring it up not to make fun but to point out that maybe this is a viable way to turn your existing comic into an animation without without making 12 drawings per second or learning flash.

Weird offer: I have a big stack of blank prestamped postcards- for $10 I’ll redraw one of my favorite panels from the book on a postcard and mail it to you. US only. Valid through Tuesday October 24 2017.

Link to trailer for the movie (in Japanese): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMZb3hMeqfE

Link to the weird tv show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvGPqY_doV4

“weird offer” is closed! thanks to all who did it!


(read right to left)

Happy Halloween!!!!

                                                                                                 

2 Halloween zine anthologies

October 10, 2017 3:02 pm by Crocodile

2 Halloween zines by ????

Ok here we have 2 zines made for Halloween, neither have titles. I think I got both of these from CF. the orange one, I remember seeing Christopher at a show or a party at the Dirt Palace, and he had a huge envelope of comics for me and the room was really loud but he was screaming in my ear about this one, “THIS IS JUST SOME COMICS THAT ME AND MY FRIENDS MADE FOR HALLOWEEN.” I had just met him, I can’t remember when that was, let’s say early 2000’s, the decade that cannot be named.

The other one is from a year or two later, I also got at a show, and I think I got it from Christopher but I’m not sure because he was wearing a really nice homemade werewolf mask. But at the time he was always wearing these very distinct patched-up pants, I seem to remember the pants were a tell. But it could’ve been anyone. Anyway it was some show or party around Halloween, I think it was at the Sickle, and everyone’s just hanging out and then a bunch of people in furry masks came in all at once dragging chains and pounding on drums. It was actually kind of scary– no one knew what they wanted or what was going on. One of them grabbed me and just stared at me, and I thought they were saying something that I couldn’t hear, so I kept putting my ear up to the mask, hearing nothing, more staring, still being grabbed, trying to hear again, nothing. I can’t remember how long this went on but it was very menacing, so my sense of time was distorted. After a while the one that grabbed me reached into a bag and pulled this out and gave it to me.

The orange one says “Paper Rad” on the inside first page so I guess this is a paper rad zine, even though the personel overlap with the other book is almost perfect, and the other book is just a book by some people. The cover is a bunch of different spray paint stencils over black and white xerox. The size is “regular paper” or 8.5×11″, but some pages are larger. I used to hate this style of binding- just stapling things together on the side, I thought it was sloppy, or like it didn’t seem sufficiently magazine-like. But the good thing about it is that you can include tons of page variation- size, color, printing method, and have them all appear exactly where you want. Usually for zines you saddle stitch everything- you staple in the center of the paper and fold in half, so the cover and back cover are 1 continuous piece of paper, as are the 1st page and the last page, and the 2nd page and the 2nd to last, etc.. it’s symmetrical- if the 4th page is printed on green paper, the 4th from last also has to be green- it’s the same piece of paper. By stapling on the side, you can make it asymmetrical, and things can surprise you- suddenly a page is large and folds out, or it’s on colored paper. There’s four pages in this (by Jeff Hartford I think) that are not bound in and fall right out, but they’re stapled together at the corner like a homework handout. It’s not connected to the rest of the book, except thematically. Is this even part of the book or is it just something I put there? This supposed Hartford section is two pieces of paper, each photocopied on just one side, with a simple crayon drawing on one of the blank sides. Overall the feeling is weird, confusing, funny, silly, scary, abundant, and rotting- a real and genuine Halloween feeling. Some of the pages are comics, some are just weird drawings of skulls or spooky hats. It’s 46 pages.

The second book is similar in content but less chaotically assembled- cover is a spray paint stencil that is smeared either by accident or on purpose– it might just be a smear of blood from a dying hand. The size is 8.5×7″, 48 pages, xeroxed onto legal-sized paper and saddle stitched.

Both books have comics, drawings, and designs from a variety of people from the extended Paper Rad organization and the Paper Rodeo crew, respectfully, with lots of overlap. Is it worth teasing these crews out or should I just say Post-Millenial Psychedelic New England Noise Drawing Scene? The format and vibe for both books is the same: most if not every page has 1 artist per page, with multiple pages per artist, sometimes distributed throughout the book. Though I doubt this was literally the case, it feels like everyone was hanging out around the same big table making all the drawings at once. Names are listed all in one block with no page numbers, and no one in either book signs their drawings, which gives the whole affair a party vibe, a feeling of selflessness and Just Having Fun.

I got both of these zines as gifts (or maybe a curse?). Neither has any indication of price and there’s a very strong chance they were never sold, only given away.

A smattering of pics to give you a basic idea:

Simpsons story from BJ, well before his inclusion in the Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror comic book, which is in some ways is a continuation of this concept.

one of two or three fold out sections

I was gonna not include any Brinkman pics, just to piss off Brady. But here you go Brady, some little Brinkman dudes.

Back cover, might be a huge stamp, or a linoleum cut or something.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

                                                                                                 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

October 7, 2017 3:43 pm by Crocodile

The Master and Margarita
By Mikhail Bugakov
Translated by Michael Glenny

Translation is tricky, and as a reader it can be daunting to have to choose between translations, knowing you’re really only going to pick one. The Mirra Ginsburg one is the one I read, and I liked it, and it’s the one with the best cover, but Kate and James said this is the one, because on the second page it says “Just then the sultry air coagulated and wove itself into the shape of a man”.

A cursory follow-up seems to indicate that in a toss-up between these two, the scholars agree with Kate and James- if only because the Ginsburg translation is based on a censored text, so it’s incomplete. Maybe recent translations are better? Are recent translations usually better? The wikipedia page offers this one contrast between all current versions:

  • “I ought to drop everything and run down to Kislovodsk.” (Ginsburg)
  • “I think it’s time to chuck everything up and go and take the waters at Kislovodsk.” (Glenny)
  • “It’s time to throw everything to the devil and go to Kislovodsk.” (Burgin and Tiernan O’Connor)
  • “It’s time to send it all to the devil and go to Kislovodsk.” (Pevear and Volokhonsky)
  • “To hell with everything, it’s time to take that Kislovodsk vacation.” (Karpelson)
  • “It’s time to let everything go to the devil and be off to Kislovodsk.” (Aplin)

Maybe if you’re at the bookstore trying to decide on a translation, the way to go is to read one until you find a turn of phrase you like, then use that as a core sample.

The Rolling Stones allegedly wrote “Sympathy For The Devil” based on this book, and say what you will about the Rolling Stones but that song has one of the nastiest guitar solos of all time, one could even say it’s a coagulation of the shape of a man out of sultry air [youtube]. I remember the Godard movie about the making of this song to be pretty incredible, but I can’t remember if it was good. HR Giger made a painting based on this book, which became the cover of Danzig III: How The Gods Kill, although they covered up the dick in the painting with a dagger and a skull. A Danzig III documentary was filmed during recording but it currently remains unreleased.

Anyway, an enjoyable read, concerning the Devil. It’s not particularly spooky, gory, or ghoulish, but it is about evil. Relevant phrases from a synopsis include: mysterious gentleman magician, of uncertain origin, grotesquely dressed valet, fast-talking black cat, fanged hitman, witch, wreak havoc, literary elite, corrupt social climbers, and skeptical unbelievers in the human spirit. A good gift for a smart teen or anyone who enjoys reading and won’t be scandalized by Devil/Jesus stuff. I think this would be a great entry point to Russian novels, too- it’s not too long, and not too maddening, but it’s a little maddening, and long enough. I think I got this as a gift from James, it has his name written in it and some doodles. I really feel like I didn’t steal this but that might be a possibility 🙁

                                                                                                 

2 yokai books by Shigeru Mizuki

October 6, 2017 2:50 pm by Crocodile

2 yokai books (titles in Japanese)
by Shigeru Mizuki

Here’s a great collection of drawings of yokai, the ghouls ghosts goblins and “creatures of the night” of Japanese folklore. Monsters in general tend to crystallize a fear or anxiety, providing something clear and distinct (and fictional) to be afraid of instead of something vague (and real). These monsters are no different except maybe they are more specific? Like rather than a monster being “about” fear of change, or sexual awakening or whatever, they’re more likely “about” why you shouldn’t leave your dishes in the sink overnight. The little red guy on the cover is a baby that makes baby sounds in the woods, and if you pick it up out of concern it turns to stone and pulls you down to the ground and never lets go. Don’t need to be an anthropologist to figure that one out! Not every one is so purposeful though, and some of them are scary but not really interested in destroying humanity so much as just chilling in their zone, or only fucking with you if you fuck with them. Pretty reasonable!


These characters from Japanese folklore were drawn and I think written about and most certainly researched by Shigeru Mizuki, who did a lot to bring the world of the yokai back into popularity, in Japan and in the states. His most famous creation is GeGeGe No Kitaro, a yokai who intercedes when the drama gets too heavy between humans and yokai. The stories are great, D+Q reprinted some of them in English, along with the excellent book “Nononba”, which is an autobiography and sort of “origin story” that talks about Mizuki’s youth and obsession with yokai. His nickname growing up was Gege, a cute reduction of Shigeru that also means “spooky”. It’s the sound of your teeth chattering when you’re scared!

I should scan in every page of these, but I’m not going to, because the point of this blog is that I just shit out an entry whenever I want, without laboring over it. Fa! I can’t read the Japanese, and I wish I could– my Old Take was that I liked not knowing exactly what was going on, and making up my own story for things. The Now Me wants the full story if possible. There’s plenty of stuff on Earth I don’t understand- “I don’t understand it” isn’t a rare quality that needs to be protected. That said, poring over each picture and trying to figure out the narrative is really fun. And I have it on good authority that some of the stories are just like “lantern licker – this freak loves to lick a lantern’s burning wick”. Hell yeah.

These books are 4.25 x 6″, Japanese digest size, about 200 pages, black and white interiors printed on that rough paper they used to print Mad Magazine on (before it shit the bed). The 4-color cover is printed on a separate wrap-around dustjacket, nice style. I bought both of these from a comic book store in Japan for 200 yen each, that’s about $2. originally printed in 1984, original cover price 360 yen. I’m very shaky on the conversion here but I think that’s like $9 in today’s money?


The pictures are dynamite, and, even though I strongly criticized the D+Q books for saying this in their blurbs on the first Kitaro book, I must agree that the style of having a realistic background and a more abstract subject is used to great effect. It seems like the yokai are divided into categories based on where they haunt- forest, town, outskirts, houses, waterways. This is very helpful when you’re trying to ID a spook– it cuts down on the number of pages you have to flip through before you figure out if you should run or hide or simply bow and say “konichiwa”.

There’s a great movie full of yokai called “the Great Yokai War”, it’s very good! There’s an old (60s) one and a new (2000s) one, the new one is easiest to enjoy. Takashi Miike directs and a million Japanese comedians and rock stars have cameos. Gege himself has a great cameo as the most revered yokai of all, it’s very touching. There’s some parts that might be too scary for kids, and there’s a great part about beer and if you drink beer it’s going to make you want a beer, so stock up on beer. If you can get Kirin Beer, that’s ideal. If not, get any stupid watery beer you can drink a few of, and be sure to have one on hand to pound towards the end, when the guy onscreen pounds it. They don’t really do Halloween in Japan, but this is basically the ultimo Japanese Halloween movie, in that it’s about monsters and the world of monsters and some of the monsters are nice and all of the monsters have a party and it’s a graveyard smash. Here’s a link to the trailer (in Japanese) [link]

There are a few episodes of the Gegege No Kitaro TV show online, it’s pretty fun and the theme song is dynamite. There was a recent Kitaro movie too, I really really enjoyed it. Should you get beer for this one too? I mean, why not? Beer, popcorn, candy, have fun.

Happy Halloween!!!!

                                                                                                 

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward

October 3, 2017 9:02 pm by Crocodile

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
By HP Lovecraft

Lovecraft lived in Providence RI, where I am now, and he set a lot of stories here and around here. Living here you sort of hear his name a lot. The first summer I lived here I read this book, and was delighted to find out that the demoniacal experiments of the main character took place in the part of town I was living in (Olneyville). Years later there was a Lovecraft festival in town (the “NecronimiCon”, or course) and they showed a movie version of this story. It was maybe the best movie experience I’ve ever had????

The movie was directed by Dan O’Bannon and O’Bannon’s widow was on hand to present. But what she presented wasn’t the official release (which looks kind of dumb) but a work print that O’Bannon made, a sort of “pre-director’s cut”. The important part here is not that we saw the “true version”- we didn’t. This wasn’t the version before studio hacks re-edited it, nor was this the work of an auteur, or even someone doing something on purpose. What we saw was a work print, a version of the movie made after shooting but before the finishing details. It was a version of the movie that was accidentally perfect but that basically could not exist.

First of all, there was either no music or very limited music. The music had yet to be added. This is a bizarre way to see a movie, and an incredible way to see a horror movie– it was completely lacking in emotional cues. In a normal movie if you’re creeping through a catacomb and a slithering hellbeast is about to lurch out at you with needleteeth glistening, the music lets you know that the mood is one of creepiness and that something sinister is about to happen. In this case, there was just the sound of footsteps and dripping, then suddenly something horrible. At first I didn’t notice that there was no music– it was like when someone gets a haircut and you know something’s weird but you can’t figure it out.

The other thing that was special about this version was that it was put together before most of the special effects had been completed. As a result, almost every instance of a horrible monster or a huge explosion was replaced with a black screen, followed quickly by the aftermath. You’re creeping through a catacomb, the screen goes black, and when the image comes back you’re covered in blood, and someone you were with is missing. It was insane. If memory serves there were some special effects, which seemed all the more special by their rarity.

Again, this was not the planned release, only a work cut- the director’s ideal version would have had music and special effects. But purely by accident, this version was incredible, and perfectly appropriate for the source material. A key element of Lovecraft’s fiction is that the narrators are not trustworthy, or to be specific, the narrators themselves don’t trust their own senses. They are confronted with something so outside of their frame of reference that they absolutely cannot make sense of it- the only thing they can do is try the best they can to refuse to try. By tapping out for the most extraordinary parts of the narrative, the movie (as I saw it) presented the best adaptation possible.

Incidentally, this is why I hate the Lovecraft fandom- the perfect thing about these stories is that they refuse to look closely at the monster. The fandom is mostly about looking directly at the monster. It sucks. Character design was not Lovecraft’s strongpoint, and glimpsing the monster without being able to look right at it is way scarier anyway.

Anyway, that was the movie. The book is also cool and creepy and scary and gross and fun, and takes place in my neighborhood. Parts of it were almost in the building where I lived when I read it, right after I moved to this city. I remember reading it and feeling pulled along with a feeling of mounting excitement and dread. But it also had a feeling of homework. Like, if I had moved to Concord instead of Providence I’d be reading Emerson, or if I had moved to Northhampton I’d be immersing myself in Dinosaur Jr.

The Pinch Of Ginger If Not Salt that all Lovecraft writing requires is: Lovecraft (the guy) was a racist whose racism charted above the baseline of an already racist era and location. I can’t think of an instance where this is the foreground of a story, these beliefs, but it’s not uncommon for a narrator to drop an occational invective against “mongrel races”, and that sort of shit can still sting. Since nearly all Lovecraft narrators are weak weaselly shitbags, that changes the power dynamic a little– you’re already set against sympathizing with them so their shittiness is less destructive and can even convey the opposite, like how a bad Yelp review from clearly a bad person is a positive review to a careful reader. But it isn’t my place to say that such invective is No Big Deal. I feel like many of these instances could easily be translated into strictly class-based hatred with pretty much nothing lost, but doing this translation internally is easier for some people than others and takes energy that not everyone wants to exert.

I think I got this book from the free pile outside the Worcester Public Library. It’s a paperback with that adhesive plastic cover that libraries use, stamped WORCESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY and DISCARD, and the cover is half-detached. The cover is just a pile of skulls and an art noveau font, pretty sick! It looks like that 3 Six Mafia “pile of green skulls” shirt, but not green obviously, and not worn by an Oscar-winning rap group. That shirt was ubiquitous in 2005, I bet if you wore one now thirtysomethings only would yell I HAD THAT SHIRT at you from cars. Can you even get that shirt anymore? This book was published by Ballantine / Del Ray, in 1971, this one is the eighth printing, 1987. $2.95 cover price would be $6.39 today. Read with a pinch of salt and detest the narrator.

Here’s a trailer to the official release of the movie, it stars Chris “Prince Humperdink” Sarandon, the guy you (I) love to hate: [link]. The whole movie’s on YouTube as well but I honestly have no idea if it’s good as it is. It’s probably fun, or it’s fun if you think it seems fun. It’s probably pretty much as it seems.

Happy Halloween!

                                                                                                 

Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith

September 28, 2017 4:26 pm by Crocodile

Norstrilia
By Cordwainer Smith

There’s a few things notable about sci fi novelist Cordwainer Smith- the first is that he helped organize the Army’s first psychological warfare section, and literally wrote the book on psychological warfare (“Psychological Warfare”, 1948). the second is that many of his stories are set in the same universe at different points in the timeline, though not necessarily with overlapping characters. The third and most unusual thing is that he might be the real “Kirk Allen”, a psychiatric patient mentioned in Robert M Lindner’s essay for Harpers, “the Jet-Propelled Couch“. Here’s a summary of the relevant parts of the essay, via wikipedia:

[he] became obsessed with a series of novels, the protagonist of which shared his name.

“Allen” attended University, and became a scientist, working with the United States Military on a classified research project during World War II, which helped to bring about the war’s end. Meanwhile, convinced that the novels were his personal biography, he “filled in” many omitted details from the novels, from his own “recollection”. He was incredibly thorough, creating full-color maps, sketches, a glossary of names and terms, socio-economic data, etcetera. In his own words:

“My first effort, then, was to remember. I started by fixing in my mind, and later on paper in the forms of maps, genealogical tables, and so on, what the author of my biography had put down. When I had this mastered, by remembering I was able to correct his errors, fill in many details, and close gaps between one volume of the biography and the next.”

Eventually, he reached the outer limits of the scope of the novels, and began to “recall” his/the character’s further adventures. He even began to hallucinate being in the various settings of his stories, physically experiencing them. Soon, his employers became aware of his psychotic condition, and demanded that he get psychiatric treatment. Reluctantly, he conceded. His psychoanalyst was Lindner, who would eventually write a popular case-study of Allen. Lindner eventually cured Allen, by immersing himself in the fantasy world, but in the process became himself obsessed.

the argument that Smith is Allen is not perfect but strong (links are at the end of the post). If it’s true, then there’s further speculation as to whether this book, “Norstrilia” is a story he remembered/hallucinated or one he invented willfully. It’s also possible that the world, or some aspect of it, was fully formed in his head, and then he invented a simple character to move through it. Honestly, that’s probably how most genre fiction works.

I didn’t finish this one, and in fact I didn’t get far, because it suffers the fate of too many stories I’m picking up nowadays, in that it relies on one of its characters being extremely rich to advance the plot. I understand why you write a wealthy protagonist- they have the means to support a narrative. They don’t have to work, and they have nearly infinite resources at their disposal. But it’s a pretty lazy move on the writer’s part, and it increases empathy for a set of people who are among the worst on earth. I don’t want to hear about a cool rich person! Rich people are why human life on earth (right now) is miserable for so many people!

Nova by Samuel Delaney had this problem. Batman has this problem. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sort of had that problem but they solved it by making the rich guy an idiotic charismatic psychopath. I’m not going to make an exhaustive list of stories that have this problem, that’s not useful. But I’d like to say to any writers out there reading me: stop doing this! It sucks.

This book is the first press (!) from 1975, although it’s composed of two stories that were previously published, in 1964 and 1968. Cordwainer Smith died in 1966 so there’s no way to fact check the cover- if that’s what the monkey doctor really looked like, we’ll never know. The cover says $1.50, that’s $6.86 in 2017. I don’t really remember where I got this or what I paid, but I think it came from Chris Cooper’s yard sale. Or maybe we just talked about it?

Also, to be clear: even though this novel had what to me is a fatal flaw, I was enjoying it, and I bet I would like some of his other stuff. And although the Kirk Allen stuff is interesting, the rest of Cordwainer Smith’s life is very interesting too! His IRL name (or what I’d call his “walking around name”) was Paul Linebarger, and other AKAs included Lin Bai-lo and Felix C Forrest. Lin Bai-lo is a name he received from his Chinese godfather Sun Yat-Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China (!). Lin Bai-Lo translates as “Forest of Incandescent Bliss”- Felix C Forrest is an approximate translation into American namespace, “felix” being Latin for “happy” (as in “felicity”). “Cordwainer Smith” was his sci-fi name- a cordwainer is a leatherworker, a smith is a blacksmith. A feeling of handiwork, and things made on purpose. For deeper info see the Cordwainer Smith Scholarly Corner.

You can read the original Harper’s essay “the Jet Propelled Couch” here: [link]

For more about the connection between Allen and Smith, see “Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch“.

Here’s a video of Chris Cooper, he’s the best!!!!

                                                                                                 

Ecstasy And Me, by Hedy Lamarr

September 27, 2017 6:56 pm by Crocodile

Ecstasy And Me
By Hedy Lamarr

I’m not sure if this was the very very first tell-all celebrity autobiography, but it’s among the earliest and it has to be the absolute pinnacle of the form. Hedy Lamarr’s life was incredible, her attitude is the very definition of insouciant, and the book is fun, sexy, and indulgent, with just enough melancholy to keep things sweet. It’s great.

Hedy’s life was honestly crazy- a true riches to rags story full of sex, love, intrigue, spy shit, and other famous people. A very strong personality and a fascinating person. I wrote a little about her already, back in the first issue of Mothers News, let that suffice as a synopsis, or at least a teaser:

In 1937, excellent movie star and “most beautiful woman in the world” Hedy Lamarr convinced her Austrofascist husband that it was “a real good idea” for her to wear all her best jewelery at once to a party. Then, with the help of a look-alike maid, she drugged him and ran away to America. By this time she was already famous for a scandalous movie called “ECSTACY”, in which her throes of passion were caused off camera by the director poking her in the butt with a safety pin- Hollywood was a cinch. She was in dozens of big movies by famous directors, up to 1966 which brought us the Andy Warhol film “Hedy”, about her arrest earlier in the year for petty shoplifting. 1967 saw the release of her excellent autobio, full of buckwild stories she later denied as the work of a ghostwriter, and who knows? Who talks behind their own back? Somewhere in there (with the help of avant garde composer George Antheil) she invented the idea of spread spectrum communications technology, a key element in wireless communication. She was arrested again, for shoplifting, in 1991, age 78.

I wrote this before I got the book, and so to follow up: this book is definitely ghostwritten. And not only that but it borrows liberally from a 1965 article in Screen Facts magazine. Also contains personal letters and (almost certainly fabricated) psychiatric transcripts– no one would put that kind of stuff in their autobio, regardless of how insouciant their character. Hedy sued the publisher and lost.

Cy Rice later wrote a WC Fields biography and Leo Guild is the “King of the Hacks”, a paperback garbage slinger from the golden age of such a thing, who later took the admirable and revealing pen name “Arthur N Scram“.

I realize this is dangerous ground, but the lawsuit really energizes and reinforces the book in a strange way. Suing the publisher of your own autobiography, which you never read (!), is something the Hedy of the book would do. Also it makes whoever the real Hedy Lamarr is seem even more romantic and mysterious. Alsoooo I’m pretty sure the facts and situations are mostly real, just the vibe is too prurient or something. If it really bums you out you could think of this book as a dream someone has about her, or like an artifact from her life, but not necessarily the story of her life. Or an attempt at translating the fire of her being into a language spoken mostly by garbage. There’s a better (more well-researched) biography of her, with the less-catchy title “Beautiful: the Life of Hedy Lamarr” but from the reviews it seems just as prurient but also kind of boring? Nobody needs that.

In recent year’s Hedy’s life story has been re-written to focus on the engineering side. Without belittling the point, the feeling I get is that her inventions were just another facet of her fascinating character, but not the center point. It’s sort of like if the world suddenly discovered that Beethoven invented the precursor to ketchup– it would be weird and worth knowing but you wouldn’t come out with a play about him called Hot Dog Daddio or whatever. Or you might but the play wouldn’t be very good. He’s Beethoven, a feverishly hot instance of humanity- whatever else you want to add to the narrative is ultimately just more of the same. Ditto Lamarr. Besides that, “I invented the cell phone” is a depressing narrative.

Sorry I guess I’m not really talking about the book at this point. The book has a perfect cover in black white and yellow, a scheme you may remember from bees, the Pittsburgh Pirates, or a sign for a karate shop in your town. Book has not one but two punchy titles, “Ecstacy and Me” and “My Life as a Woman”. Unattributed cover quote designed to move units: “A Shocker”. 256 pages, paperback. According to the newspaper clip posted above, the hardcover was almost 400 pages, they must’ve double spaced it and added in a bunch of maps or something. The back cover’s a little torn up, which is maybe why this was just $1, from the bins outside the kitchy record store here in Providence (now closed). Original retail price was $.75 in 1967, that’s $5.53 in 2017 money, not bad. This is copyright 1966, and it’s the fifth paperback printing, all of which were in in 1967.

Sorry I’m putting up so much text this time but I have to include this preface, the first of two prefaces written by psychologists. It’s an all-timer.

In conclusion, this book is a fun and I would even say titillating read, and Hedy Lamarr is dynamite. Reading this book did not result in “resultful therapy” or much less “instant emancipation”, but it did make me feel good and I guess sort of less uptight? A little?

If I’ve teased you too much and you want like, “just the facts”, her wikipedia entry (link) is pretty good.

                                                                                                 

Foie Gras #1, by Edie Fake

September 26, 2017 3:06 pm by Crocodile

Foie Gras issue #1

by Edie Fake

Edie Fake is one of those people that you think about every now and again (or maybe often) and you just get a charge thinking they’re out there putting pen to paper and moving big weight. I guess this is a bit dour, but sometimes you have to be reminded that there are people out there who are consistently good, right on, fun, powerful, and in the mix! It’s not all garbage, you know! So, buzz buzz, Edie Fake is still putting it down. He’s got an ongoing series called Gaylord Phoenix, which got collected, or maybe selected, or even adapted, to form a handsome book, published by Secret Acres. Then suddenly last April a new issue came out, with a very “why have you awaken me?” sequel feeling, and last weekend a new one after that. If there’s any character I need to be unfrozen from an iceberg this year, it’s Gaylord Phoenix.

Anyway, this isn’t that, it’s something else.

Foie Gras issue #1 is a 16 page quarter-size portrait format zine, with two color silkscreen wraparound cover, and black and white xerox interiors on different colors of pastel paper. Or it’s 12 internal pages and then a cover. How do you count pages for a zine- is the cover a page or what? Anyway this is great- it’s drawings based on the Joy Of Cooking cookbook, with dirty text. The combination of the pastel pages and the deep red screenprint on the cover draw a nice parallel between the flowery nature of plant sex and the visceral nature of animal sex. Also the decorations of classic mid-century cooking matched with human make-up. Also the cover of the classic Joy Of Cooking book matched with whatever paper was on hand. It’s fun and sexy, I’m not going to belabor the point.

Like Gaylord Phoenix, Foie Gras uses Edie’s trademark font, which appears to be some kind of stamp set. Chippendale used to do a similar trick, hand-stamping all the text in his comics, and for him I think it was to keep the focus on action. For Fake it makes everything sort of feel like it’s a translation, like these aren’t the real words, this is just the gist of it. Anyway it works great in his narrative works where text plays a supporting role, and it works great here where the very different text and images combine to make a vibrant third thing. Also it’s reminiscent of the old EC font, used in comics like Crypt of Terror and Weird Science. I don’t know how intentional this is, but it’s a link back to horror.

In the top corner of Foie Gras is something I love to see in a zine: a $1 price tag. I’m ok with people pricing their zines however they want, but I have no money, so to me a $20 zine is like a $30 pizza– I bet it’s great, and I’m sure the price is reasonable for what it is, but unless it’s a gift, it’s probably not in the cards. And I’m definitely not going to pick up an expensive zine from someone I don’t already have a relationship with. Please please please if you’re reading this, and you’re into self-publishing, have something that’s a dollar, or free. A 16 page quarter size zine is 2 double-sided copies folded twice and stapled, that’s what, $.40 max in print costs? It’s a great move if you’re trying to get your name out there and it’s a wonderful “I’m here to party” feeling if you’re a known quantity. I know it may seem amateurish or not self-respecting, but everyone good, everyone that you like or respect, has or has had at one point something great that you can get for a dollar or two, or trade, or free. Be like the best!

Foie Gras issue #1, self-published in year unknown, $1 🙂

                                                                                                 

Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin

September 25, 2017 9:40 pm by Crocodile

Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin

translated by Charles Johnson

I got this a few years ago, and the reason I picked it up is that when I was in elementary school my hometown of Worcester Massachusetts had a sister city in Russia, Pushkin. Some kids from Pushkin came over and hung out, I guess we probably sent some kids over there too. The fact that Pushkin (town) was named after Pushkin (poet) made an impression on me. Not like I suddenly wanted to become a reknowned poet and have a city named after me, not that kind of impression. More of a “that’s nice” impression. Worcester had a good poetry scene, or, I don’t know if it had a good scene per se but there were a good number of poets that had spent time there in the past- noteable bards include Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, Stanley Kunitz, and Charles Olson, although he hated it. Anyway Pushkin was on the radar with fond associations, and while browsing bookshops I found this at a nice price ($3), so I grabbed it.

It sat on the shelf for a while as most books do, and then, I forget exactly what happened but I got super super stressed out and needed a pleasant escape, so I picked it up and read a few pages, and it was great so I kept going. I might’ve picked it up because the pull quote on the back says “sublimely appropriate”, which was an astoundingly good hook for me at the time.

Long form poetry like this is nice to read when you’re sort of spinning out because you have to both fight and submit to the music of it. You can’t (or I can’t) read the whole thing in a sing-song way, pausing between each line, that’s too distracting, and seems overly-respectful in that way that’s rude. It’s like not wanting to get a shovel dirty, or letting food get cold while you take a picture of it. It’s rude to the food. I try to just plow through as though it has the same linebreaks as prose. Then the music just sneaks up on me, and rather than struggling with the format and trying to master it I find myself just swinging along, floating like a boat on the ocean. This translation is great, the poetry flows beautifully, and each stanza ends with a couplet that serves as a wonderful punchline pulling you across the gap into the next stanza. Pushkin rules, and this is a great (or at least fun) translation.

Anyway I was really enjoying it, really having a great time, and Onegin is a great character who I was enjoying hanging out with. We had laughs and smiles and long sighs looking out the window and regular low-key hanging out drinking tea moments. For your humble narrator it was just what the doctor ordered. Then (and I should’ve seen this coming) the hammer falls and all this bummer shit starts happening! I (and again the fault lies entirely with me) felt betrayed. My bookmark is still there, I got to chapter seven. Not far from the end, but I had to bow out.

Looking back I realize that I do the same thing (unfairly) when I watch a horror movie. It’s different because I know in advance that a horror movie has horrible things happen in it, that’s why they call it that, but the first 20 minutes of a horror movie are oftentimes so nice, just a bunch of people getting ready to go on a camping trip, or having a romantic getaway, or… being a leprechaun (?), and as the music turns dissonant, I always think “I would love it if the whole movie was just the part where everybody’s having fun”. Would I really like this? I don’t know. Let’s take an extreme example– would I like a version of the leprechaun movie where it’s just the end credits and he’s rapping in a hotel room wearing Ringo sunglasses, but for 90 minutes? It’s unclear. But would I invest my $3 and my however amount of time to a book about a funny idler that loafs, pines, bails on a duel, then loafs and pines anew? If it swings, then yes. Or maybe.

I would like to return to this book now that I’m not so adrift, even though I’d have to start from line 1 page 1. It’s good and I was being unreasonable. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially foot freaks, as there’s a nice passage about being a foot freak, which I won’t quote, just go out and get it. The main guy is great and even though he does stupid shit (has a duel), it’s just a stupid thing that happens. Others might disagree but I think the stupid stuff he does is not representative of his character. If there’s a lesson it might be “it’s ok to be a goof but not a goof with a gun”, or just “watch what you’re doing”. I support that.

I bought this for $3 but this 1979 edition is stamped $4.95, that’s $16.79 in 2017 money. Which is worth it! That’s like a movie at the theater in the mall, with popcorn. Or movies for 2 at the shitty theater and a 6 pack of not-even-the-cheapest beer. New Zealanders are advised to seek a cheaper copy- $NZ17.95 in 1975 US money is… $45? Did I do that calculation right? That’s too much. And twice as much as Australia??? There’s gotta be a pirated edition you can get. You’re not taking any food out of Pushkin’s mouth, he’s long dead (1837). Translator Charles Johnston did a great job but he’s also incapable of cashing royalties (1986).

                                                                                                 
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