« Apparently he had never learned that a white man’s foot, though it wabble ever so, is given him wherewith to kick natives out of the road. » — John Russell
Welcome to another installment of Treasured Stories! This one’s a bit of a sequel, or rather a companion piece to an earlier entry, August Heat (from just about a year ago) as we’re featuring two of the same creators, namely scripter E. Nelson Bridwell (1931-1987) and penciller-inker Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000).
In this instance, we can surely witness judicious editorial sense at work, in terms of matching material to talent. While Bridwell likely selected the story, and though they’d worked together before, Alcala was a flawless choice to bring it to full visual bloom. A tale of the Pacific Islands illustrated by a Pacific Islander, and a masterful one at that… on both counts. Alcala’s expertly-paced, limpid, deliberate storytelling is a natural fit.
It’s easy to underestimate how daunting a challenge, in most cases, is the effective transition of material from medium to medium. In this instance, the source is a much-anthologized short story by John Russell, originally published in Collier’s, May 20, 1916. You can judge for yourself after reading the original text here.
Russell’s stories sharply veer from the usual civilisation vs savages colonialist tripe of the era in that the natives are depicted as oft-complex but subtle beings and the whites, as often as not, as pompously delusional savages; one sees the pattern emerge upon reading a few of Russell’s South Pacific tales (collected in Where the Pavement Ends, 1921); in my own case, I found a trio of these in Dennis Wheatley‘s excellent anthology Shafts of Fear (1964), an update and expansion of his earlier A Century of Horror (1935).
Still, I strongly suspect that Bridwell’s exposure to The Price of the Head came not from books, but rather from a radio play, as all three of his DC short story adaptations (TPOTH, August Heat and The Man and the Snake had received that particular treatment. To his credit, Bridwell went back to the source for his version.
You’ll note that the racism so refreshingly absent from Russell’s story has been painstakingly restored for the radio programmes. Now that’s dedication!
Quite recently, I was delighted to hear that Mr. Bridwell has not entirely been forgotten; indeed, he is to be bestowed, though posthumously of course, the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing on Friday, July 19 2019, during the Eisner Awards ceremony at this summer’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA. Bravo!
Read all about it on Mark Evanier’s fine blog. And thank you, Mark!