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!

                                                                                                 

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!

                                                                                                 
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