« Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea. » — Guy Debord
Well, after our brush with Surrealism, let’s hazard a brief detour amidst the Letterists. As we all surely know, The Letterist International was « a Paris-based collective of radical artists and cultural theorists between 1952 and 1957. » I’ll spare you a dry discourse about schools of thought, art and politics and their numerous and acrimonious (perhaps not so dry after all!) schisms.
The main point of interest, in this case, is the Letterists’ pioneering of the rousingly subversive artistic technique of détournement, which involves “taking preexisting images and mixing them together to highlight the underlying ideology of the original image.”
This brings us to the storied career of Providence, Rhode Island’s finest son, John Peck (b. 1942), alias The Mad Peck.
In his 1987 retrospective, Peck recalls « Yeah, Comix was good. Maybe a little too good. It’s been stolen from every public library I’ve ever been in. »
Fast-forward to 1978, and Peck’s much-improved comix-style capsule reviews are appearing regularly in Creem and The Village Voice.
Then ahead to the mid-80s and Bob Guccione Jr.’s Spin (est. 1985), and a short run with a new title, Tales From the Bogusphere. Meanwhile, The Masked Marvel had been sidelined by legal hassles. As the heroine recalls:
I took an extended vacation in 1980 when Marvel Comics threatened to sue Peck after reading ‘Ms. Marvel’ in the Eagles cartoon that led off Creem’s review section in February. I hightailed it before the corporation had me roped into a team-up book with She-Hulk, but Peck had to stick it out while they tried to stick it to him. What really teed me off was that Ms. Marvel, who had oozed out of Marvel’s bullpen in the early ’70s, was such a dynamic concept that her book died almost instantly.
Peck’s experience as a critic left him with an encyclopedic knowledge of doo-wop and early R&B. When financing from rock publications got thin, Peck practiced the art of rock ‘n’ roll arbitrage: buying records at flea markets and “backwater Woolworths” and trading them at statewide record collectors’ conventions that he organized himself.
Peck spun his best finds on his popular WBRU radio show, “Dr. Oldie’s University of Musical Perversity.” Wary of semi-fame, Peck still makes an occasional public appearances in disguise as Dr. Oldie, complete with lab coat and head mirror. [ source ]
As a bonus, here’s The Mad Peck’s greatest commercial success, a piece first commissioned by Providence’s The Humbox Press for the inaugural issue of its poetry journal Loose Art. A fluke hit, it spawned postcards and posters “and is still keeping the Mad Peck in Camels.”
Channeling a credo he gleaned from a chance encounter with comic book artist Wally Wood — “Don’t draw what you can trace, and don’t trace what you can paste” — Peck made his name as a comic book artist despite an inability to draw anything more complex than psychedelic hand lettering. Most of his characters are swiped from the works of an obscure Golden Age comic artist, Matt Baker.
« … there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. » ― Clement C. Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas (1823)
Not too long ago, we glanced at the interesting case of Tower’s teen line, another instance of works insufficiently popular to be properly reprinted, yet still sought after by collectors and aficionados and consequently on the pricey side. And so it is within this limbo that Tippy Teen and Go-Go and Animal find themselves consigned, in the rather fine company of Sugar and Spike and Angel and the Ape. Let’s not strand them there for the duration, please.
So why do I consider Tippy Teen superior to Archie? For one thing, while there’s some underwhelming artwork to be found here and there (sorry, Doug Crane), there’s nothing dismal (no Al Hartley, no Dick Malmgren, no Gus Lemoine, no Stan Goldberg…), and the writing is generally superior, thanks to, among uncredited others, the great Jack Mendelsohn (recycling and updating his old scripts, but that’s not the end of the world).
Here’s a little seasonal piece I find quite witty and charming. The well-paced work of an anonymous scripter and my beloved Samm Schwartz, it appeared in Tippy Teen no. 18. The whole issue’s quite solid, and since it’s in the public domain, you can enjoy it right here.
« Slap him up and down upon the floor Tickle his feet and hear him giggle Then unzip him down the middle Give that gibbon what he’s hollerin’ for! » — Stuff That Gibbon (words and music by Bill Oddie)
Back in the late 1970s, before I had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nor even of Benny Hill, for that matter… I discovered The Goodies, thanks to the CBC’s belated programming of their exploits*. While The Goodies do share a *lot* of DNA with the Monty Python gang (they were school chums, close friends, collaborators and friendly competitors practically all along the way), this trio’s comedic format veers sharply away from the Pythons’ methods: Graeme, Bill and Tim play ‘amplified’ versions of themselves, and use the skit format sparingly, reserving it for mid-show intermission ‘blackouts‘.
While the trio was formed in 1970, it only made its comic strip début (and bow) in 1973**, where they held a weekly feature in the pages of Cor!!, also making an appearance in the magazine’s 1974 annual and The Goodies Annual, the whole lot hitting kiosks in ’73.
« Apparently licensed for just the one year, The Goodies were unique in the fact they were the only adapted characters featured with the comic’s pages with copyright credit being given to Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke Taylor (sans hyphen) and Graeme Garden. According to Robert Ross’ book The Complete Goodies, the strips were all authorised and approved by The Goodies prior to publication and Tim still displays an original Cor!! strip in his study. »
Scans (and detailed synopses!) of The Goodies’ Cor!! shenanigans are helpfully provided by their fan site, goodiesruleok.com.
And now, some introductions from the aforementioned The Goodies Annual 1974 (the only one of its kind, poor thing):
Take a little good advice, try a trip to paradise It’s not hard to find, you’ve got it on your mind Can’t pretend it wouldn’t be nice It’s whatever turns you on, Goodies
A circus or a seaside pier, a sausage or a can of beer A stripper or a clown, prices going down You can make it happen here Fun for all the family, Goodies
*« In Canada, the series was shown in on the CBC national broadcast network during the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the traditional “after school” time slot, later a Friday night 10 pm slot, and occasionally in a midnight slot. Several episodes were also shown on the CTV Television Network. In the mid-1970s it was shown on TVOntario on Saturday evenings, repeated on Thursday evenings, until being replaced by Doctor Who in 1976. » [ source ]
**I hear they’ve turned up in The Beano, circa 1994.
« I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited. » — Charles Bronson
Welcome to our 400th post! I suppose a Steve Ditko birthday post would have been more momentous, but I did that already a couple of years ago, while he still drew breath.
Today, our man Charles Dennis Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson (1921 – 2003… he would have turned 98 today — picture that!) squeezes in a rather routine bit part (merely credited as « The Pilot ») in Joe Molloy and Mike Zeck’s nonsensical hijacking melodrama Only a Toy. Heck, read it here if you don’t believe me.
Oddly enough, this expanded cameo came about just a year after Bronson’s megahit Death Wish, as Bronson reached the pinnacle of his earning power (in inverse proportion to the quality of his output, thanks to his long association with the shady Cannon Group). Presumably, he was just doing a favour for his old pal Zeck.
Ah, but this wasn’t the first time cartoonists had paid such tribute to Bronson: in 1971, writer Jean-Marie Brouyère and artist William Tai (aka Malik) created the South-America set Archie Cash series for Belgian bédé weekly Spirou. The series had a healthy run of 15 albums (what one would call a graphic novel over in North America) between 1973 and 1988.
Anyway, back to our birthday boy: if you want to see Bronson at his finest, I recommend his early, pre-moustache TV showcase Man With a Camera (1958)… the 29-episode boxed set’ll cost you peanuts and it’s great value. Then, from his European period, you can’t go wrong with 1968’s Adieu l’ami (Farewell, Friend), co-starring the aforementioned Mr. Delon; 1970’s gloriously weird Le passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain), 1971 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and co-starring creepy Eva Green‘s mom (or should that be “mum”?) Marlène Jobert. And of course 1971’s Soleil rouge (Red Sun), co-starring, this time not only Delon, but none other than Toshirô Mifune!
« You know, the dog food that Billy Jack loves! » — The Firesign Theatre
Ah, September the 18th. Today’s the birthday of the staggeringly accomplished William Stout (born in 1949), master of ancient reptiles, bootleg record covers, friend of The Firesign Theatre, former Russ Manning assistant (none but the best would do!), and I’ll spare you the illustrious details of his career in cinema. Still, let’s look around a bit, shall we?
Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?
And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?
Death Race 2020 managed to be a pretty good series… for three issues (read ’em here!) The original creative combo was aces, three veterans from Brit SF institution 2000 AD, namely Pat Mills and Tony Skinner hatching the plots and Kevin O’Neill conveying them to visual glory. O’Neill scampered off after three issues (returning only to craft the series’ final cover), and things just weren’t the same without his sordid, madcap touch. It takes a special talent to depict compellingly *and* with a finely-tuned, subversive tone, this level of carnage and mayhem. Such talent, obviously, is ever in short, and possibly dwindling, supply.
But… we’re not here for the main feature. Buried in the back pages amidst the ads (mostly touting the alt-rock of the day) was a regular one-page hi-concept feature crafted by a succession of young (or young-ish) artistic iconoclasts. I suspect it was the fevered brainchild of former The Comics Journal managing editor Robert Boyd (1989-1990), also the editor of Death Race 2020. If this were Facebook, I’d show you my favourite example and move on to the next pretty shiny bauble. But through the pixie magic of blogging, I can afford to be utterly profligate and fling the whole delirious jumble your way. And so…
Drive safe, folks, and keep your eyes and mind on the road. The rest of us will appreciate it.
« Technology is constantly improving our lives. Look at the cellular telephone. Just ten years ago, virtually nobody was able to get into a car crash caused by trying to steer and dial at the same time; today, people do this all the time. » — Dave Barry
« You’ve got his likeness emblazoned onto
the top of a tin box Perfect big heart
perfect blue eyes
perfect teeth and
perfectly flowing locks » — The Motorz, ‘Bobby Sherman Lunchbox’
It’s birthday number seventy-six for singer, actor, songwriter, Charlton comics star and all-around swell guy Robert Cabot “Bobby” Sherman, Jr. (born July 22, 1943).
His Getting Together co-star, Wes Stern, also celebrates his birthday this Thursday, July 25. He’ll be seventy-two. You may remember Wes from his recurring rôle as Brenda Morgenstern’s shy, foot-fetishist beau Lenny Fiedler on Rhoda (early on, before the show utterly went South).
Bobby and Wes had the singular honour of starring in seven issues of their own Charlton comic book (February to October 1972). Our excerpt is number 2’s « A Guide to TV? », written and illustrated by Tony Tallarico and shot from the original art. Good-natured fun, especially when the Getting Together cast of characters is around. In the 1971 Fall season, the snappy little show was off to a promising start, but found itself, in the eleventh hour, scheduled against the powerhouse tv hit of 1971, Norman Lear’s abrasive All in the Family, and that was all she wrote.
But that’s all water under the bridge. By the mid-70s, Bobby basically walked away from the grind of public life, and the odd tour or charity event aside, he’s been volunteering with the LAPD, training recruits in first aid, CPR, and so forth. A solid citizen, no irony or sarcasm intended.
Once again, we wish the most joyous of birthdays to Bobby and Wes!
« Everybody thinks that this civilization has lasted a very long time but it really does take very few grandfathers’ granddaughters to take us back to the dark ages. » — Gertrude Stein
Several years ago, while browsing in the comics section of a rather lousy bookstore (by which I mean a book shop in which none of the employees know a thing about books, let alone are actual readers… I suspect that this is becoming more common, with predictable results), I stumbled upon an oddball item, a faded-looking, obscure comic strip collection lost amidst the monotonous stacks of DC ‘n’ Marvel superhero fare and the perennial dusty Garfield and Doonesbury paperbacks.
This was Fun City (1985), the second recueilof Tom Hachtman‘s newspaper strip Gertrude’s Follies, which at the peak of its circulation appeared in… well, one paper, but a good one, at least. That was the SoHo Weekly News (1973-82). After the weekly’s demise, a handful of episodes appeared in the fast-fading National Lampoon. Much, much later (which is to say currently) the strip lives on within the pages of American Bystander, an astonishingly well-staffed humour magazine. I smell doom.
Anyway, here’s Hachtman’s recollection of the strip’s genesis, from a 1980 interview conducted by Maxine Fisher for Funnyworld no. 22 (”The world of Animated Films and Comic Art”):
TH: I knew of them, but I didn’t know much about them. And then I saw a photograph of them [by none other than Man Ray] sitting in a room at the home on the rue de Fleurus in Paris. I looked at this famous lesbian couple sitting across from one another — so far apart– and I thought: ”Look at that! One of them is fat, and the other one’s skinny. That’s funny. They’re just like a comedy routine. I wonder if they had any fun.” It didn’t look like they were having any fun in that picture; they just looked like they were posing for a picture. But I thought: ”maybe they ran around and had lots of fun.” So I started drawing pictures of them, and drawing pictures of their friend Pabs, and looking at pictures of them, and looking at pictures of Picasso.
Anyway, I started drawing Gertrude and Alice and Pabs and Hemingway and putting them into situations in my sketchbook.
I knew if would make a nice comic strip in a newspaper. And that narrowed it down. Here was a comic strip about a lesbian couple and all their artist friends. There weren’t too many newspapers that were going to publish this. In fact, I thought, there’s only one. And I started to watch the SoHo News, wondering where it would fit. Where would they put this thing? Would they give me a whole page to do a comic strip?
More juicy details from another interview, this one conducted in 2018 by Martin Kozlowski:
MK: One of the unique features of the strip is the blending of Jazz Age Paris and Punk Rock New York. Was that a deliberate strategy or did it naturally evolve?
TH: I was living in NYC in the 1970s. I only know Paris from movies and books. That’s right; I have never been to Paris. So, when I draw a mailbox I am too lazy to research what a mailbox looks like in Jazz Age Paris. I just draw a mailbox as I know it. I have been told that my readers in Paris find this very amusing. So, the blending happens — naturally.
If you like what you see, you may rejoice in the fact that Gertrude’s Follies has lately become more widely available (whilst retaining its elusive cachet) thanks to the efforts of Now What Media. Amble over to their website, where they provide a generous sampling of strips and biographical information, not to mention the possibility of acquiring the collections.
« Be silent in that solitude which is not loneliness — for then the spirits of the dead who stood in life before thee are again in death around thee — and their will shall then overshadow thee: be still. »
— Edgar Allan Poe (1829)
It was on this day, two hundred and ten years ago, that the great writer, poet and posthumous master of all media Edgar Poe (Jan. 19, 1809 – Oct. 7, 1849) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ll spare you the usual biographical details, widely available elsewhere, and we’ll concentrate on his unflagging ubiquity in the medium of comics.
Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton was first out of the gate with Poe adaptations, at first tentatively with a pair of poems (Annabel Lee, then The Bells)**, then more substantially with The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in Classic Comicsno. 21 – 3 Famous Mysteries (July, 1944), sharing the stage with Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy de Maupassant. Read it here. Pictured below is Classics Illustratedno. 84 (June 1951, Gilberton), cover by Alex A. Blum. Read the issue here.