The Mad Peck Strikes!

« 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.

Les Daniels and The Mad Peck Studios’ 1971 Comix was a pretty fair early crack at recounting the history of the comic book up to the peak of the Undergrounds.
A-ha! On the back cover, The Mad Peck indulged his penchant for détournement, repurposing an early 1950’s ad for hair loss reversal scammers Ward Laboratories in a fashion that is in no way relevant to our current, media-savvy, ethically-enlightened world.

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. »

By then, he was working steadily for Boston-based music magazine Fusion (1967-74), “doing short reviews of the records nobody else wanted to do.” This one liberally swipes from DC’s long-running Fox and the Crow series (which of course borrows its premise from dear old Aesop’s immortal fable), with a smidgen of Fritz the Cat for the frisky finale.

Fast-forward to 1978, and Peck’s much-improved comix-style capsule reviews are appearing regularly in Creem and The Village Voice.

Ah, but she wasn’t a comic book semistar of the *late* 40s… she arrived on the scene in 1941, four months before Wonder Woman, even! Who dat? Why, The Masked Marvel is none other than Golden Age heroine The Black Cat, whose repurposing surely constitutes The Mad Peck’s most brazen act of détournement!
This is Black Cat Comics no. 3 (Dec. 45 – Jan. 46, Harvey); cover art by the lady’s creator, Al Gabriele. ‘Action that’ll make you pop your monocle!
The Mad Peck really stood out in the landscape of rock criticism in that he wasn’t a rockist snob (“It’s not rock, therefore it’s crap!“), and that his taste was wide-ranging and often surprising, evidence of a true music lover well-versed in all its strata and permutations.
And still, these Jefferson Airplane alumni had yet to hit bottom (knee-deep in the hoopla, so to speak)!
The Slickee BoysManganese Android Puppies; MadnessThe Prince; Prince BusterMadness.
The EaglesHeartache Tonight; The Sugarhill GangRapper’s Delight; The EaglesThe Disco Strangler.
HansiAutomobile; The Flying LizardsMoney; Sid Vicious(I’m not Your) Stepping Stone.
Joe “King” CarrascoParty Weekend; QueenCrazy Little Thing Called Love; ChicGood Times.

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.

Words to live and listen by: « Forget all that image stuff and check what’s in the grooves » WhamWake Me Up Before You Go-Go; New EditionCool It Now; Hank Williams Jr.All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.

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.”

« In 1978, Peck designed the famous Providence Poster, a composite of witty one-liners that he and Daniels had uttered over the years about their beloved city. » I must confess I could not resist the urge to recolour it.

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.

I can buy that most of his characters were swiped from Baker (hello there, Canteen Kate!), but he also begs, steals and borrows from, namely… Al Feldstein, George Carlson, Phil Davis, Jim Davis (no relation to Phil, and not the Garfield guy either), Bob Oksner, Don Flowers, and a gazillion anonymous advertising and animation toilers. And it works!

As a trailblazer of this particular approach, you might say he was Yesterday’s Tom Tomorrow.

-RG

Tippy Teen in “The Fright Before Xmas” (1967)

« … 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.

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This is Tippy Teen no. 18 (March 1968, Tower). Cover artwork by Samm Schwartz.

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What kind of a grinch would I be if I failed to include the Monkees pin-up promised on the cover? I shudder to even entertain the notion. In the usual order, Messrs. Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith.

-RG

A Sausage or a Can of Beer? The Goodies in Comics

« 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):

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The Goodies’ brainbox, Graeme Garden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Feb. 18, 1943. « He lists his hobbies as painting, drawing, playing the guitar and banjo, apologising for playing the guitar and banjo, trying not to travel in cars and, of course, being a Goodie. »

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The Goodies’ resident singer-songwriter and ornithologist, Bill Oddie, born in Rochdale, Lancashire, on July 7, 1941.

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« Tim Brooke-Taylor was born very suddenly in Buxton on July 17th, 1940, among those dark, satanic hills of Derbyshire. » I like the sound of that… very Luke Haines. He was The Goodies’ conservative type, and the one who greatly relishes essaying the cross-dressing roles. And he was, after all, the fair one without any of that pesky, telltale facial hair.

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Among other, er, goodies, the annual contains a whopping 33 pages of comics. However, as it was fairly typical for UK comics of the period, no creator credits appear anywhere.

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« The comic strips form a large part of the official Goodies Annual, although “none of us had anything to do with the design or stories”, explains Graeme, “but we were very happy with the results.” »

Goodies, Goodies

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

Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum

Goodies are coming for you and you and you and you
It’s anything you want it to be, a record or an OBE
A four minute mile, a policeman with a smile
I know you won’t believe what you see.

(The first Goodies Theme; words and music by Bill Oddie.)

-RG

*« 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.

Charles Bronson’s Paper Doppelgängers

« 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.

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« Like an unpalatable salad » indeed; a word salad. Published in Charlton’s Scary Tales no. 2 (October, 1975). Edited by George Wildman.

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.

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Front and back covers of Archie’s début, Le maître de l’épouvante (1973).

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And to give you a sense of the series’ narrative texture, page five from Le maître de l’épouvante; when it debuted in the fall of 1971, the series brought a welcome griminess and ethno-social realism to the squeaky-pristine pages of Spirou.

The Italians would then follow suit, “borrowing” Jean-Paul Belmondo‘s likeness for their Goldrake series around 1972, followed by Alain Delon‘s looks for Playcolt, and more exploitively, Ornella Muti‘s charms for Sukia. Mind you, all these liberties with celebrity likenesses don’t make Brian Hitch‘s laziness and lack of imagination any less reprehensible.

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!

Happy birthday, Mr. Buchinsky!

– RG

The Prodigious William Stout

« 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?

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Here’s an unforgettable cover from Alien Worlds no. 3 (July, 1983, Pacific Comics). This scene gave me nightmares, and still raises a shudder. These critters look like a hybrid of a platypus and a piranha. Happy landings!

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Stout’s wonderful original logo for Rhino Records, circa 1974.

Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?

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This is the back cover (the recto is equally sumptuous) for The Firesign Theatre‘s 1975 opus, In the Next World, You’re On Your Own, featuring a pair of classic sidelong suites, Police Street and We’ve Lost Our Big Kabloona.

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A clutch of underground classics? Sure. Here’s Cocaine Comix no. 1 (Feb. 1976, Last Gasp).

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Another number one (with a bullet, of course): 50’s Funnies no. 1 (1980, Kitchen Sink). More lies inside!

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A favourite page from Stout’s masterpiece (or certainly his great labour of love, at the very least): The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era (1981, edited by Byron Preiss). This piece (the first he drew for the book) is entitled Hot Weather. « After lifting his head for air, he drank more and then wallowed his whole length and breadth into the ooze, vocalizing for the first time that day, and loudly. »

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Say hello to friendly Ed Gein. Weird Trips no. 2 (1978, Kitchen Sink). Please note the sinisterly-customized Kitchen Sink Enterprises logo, Wrightsonbrand coffee, and EC Comics narrator The Old Witch impishly peeking from a lower-right shelf. And yes, can’t go disemboweling your fellow man and woman without a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. Preparation is everything!

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Well, there never was any doubt that Mr. Stout was an EC Comics überfan. The Comics Journal no. 81 (May, 1983, Fantagraphics).

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I did bring up his Hollywood work, so here’s a sample. I wasn’t going to go with his the far-too-familiar Rock ‘n’ Roll High School poster… you all know it already, so where’s the fun in that? Of course, Joe Dante’s Amazon Women on the Moon again (1987) raises the eternal question: « Who made Steve Guttenberg a Star? »

And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?

-RG

Celebrity Car Crash Corner!

« You gave me so many problems
You made me crash in my car
I’ll have a martini cocktail
And then we’ll see where we are… » — OMD, Bloc Bloc Bloc

In the year 1995, crafty budget movie maven Roger Corman somehow wound up with a comics line bearing his name, Roger Corman’s Cosmic Comics. Around 20 issues of various titles saw print, consisting of graphic adaptations of current (Caged Heat 3000, Bram Stoker’s Burial of the Rats) or classic (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Little Shop of Horrors) Corman-directed-or-produced films… and one sequel (Death Race 2020, after Death Race 2000), which is the one that concerns us today, after a fashion.

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…

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Story and art by Dave Cooper, from Death Race 2020 no. 1 (April, 1995).

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Story and art by Pat Moriarty, from Death Race 2020 no. 2 (May, 1995).

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Story and art by Bob Fingerman, from Death Race 2020 no. 3 (June, 1995).

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Story and art by Shane Oakley, from Death Race 2020 no. 4 (July, 1995). As everyone… used to know, the Girl Can’t Help It.

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Story and art by Jay Stephens, from Death Race 2020 no. 5 (August, 1995).

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Story and art by Fábio Zimbres, from Death Race 2020 no. 6 (September, 1995). In these troubled days, I imagine many a Brazilian pines for the halcyon days of JK, faced with the reality of JB.

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Story and art by Jaca Weiss and Robert Weiss, from Death Race 2020 no. 7 (October, 1995). For a look at some actual Rick Griffin art, look no further than here.

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Story and art by Matthew Guest, from Death Race 2020 no. 8 (November, 1995).

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To wit… a prime example of the aforementioned. By now, I’d like to think that most people have come to realize that the gendered driver question is a complex and fraught one. Here are some relevant statistics, if that’s your thing. You guessed it, things aren’t fair.

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

-RG

Let’s Hear It for Bobby Sherman!

« 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).

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This is Bobby Sherman no. 1 (Feb. 1972). Story and art by the much-maligned Tony Tallarico. You know what, though: he’s alright in our book. One of these days, we’ll make our case.

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).

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This is Bobby Sherman no. 2 (Mar. 1972). Story and art by Mr. Tallarico.

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.

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Ah, back in those innocent days when watching seven hours of TV was the stuff of humorous exaggeration. Now (depending on how it’s defined and whom you ask) it’s *below* the daily average.

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Inside joke alert: “Honest Ed Justin” alludes to one of Bobby’s songwriting partners, Ed Justin. Here’s one of their musical collaborations. And, hey, two posts in a row featuring Tricky Dick cameos… I’m on a roll! Incidentally, ‘Amateurs Tonight” predates The Gong Show by nearly half a decade. Was Chuck Barris perchance a Charlton reader?

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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.

One more?

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This is Bobby Sherman no. 4 (June, 1972). M. Tallarico strikes again!

Once again, we wish the most joyous of birthdays to Bobby and Wes! 

-RG

A Garrulous Dilettante and Her Pals: Tom Hachtman’s Gertrude’s Follies

« 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 recueil of 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”):

MF: What was your inspiration for a strip about Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas?

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.

Basically, I was doing Abbott and Costello or I Love Lucy starring Gertrude, Alice, and their friends.

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.

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However, something that Stephen King does mind

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Oh, I’ll bet dear old Dr. Pretorius would be right chuffed with this Alice Bride. « To a new world of gods and monsters! », as the good doc famously exclaimed.

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Our heroines in a more (or less) realistic vein. In the usual order: Gertrude, Bucket, Alice.

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Despite, or perhaps because of the liberties he takes with these semi-sacred historical figures, Hachtman’s Gertrude appears to be rather beloved of the keepers of Gert and Alice’s mad flame. For example: « I look at the cover of the soon-to-be-reborn Follies several times a day and have a laugh each time. Too funny, Hemingway’s teeth, silly Picasso avec crayon, Basket’s slobbering excitement and Alice’s cigarette charm!! And Gert, yes sir, she is fierce!!! Rose flying like arrow ready to hit Alice’s nose. This can’t get any better! I hear the brooch ringing… Bravo! » –– Stein scholar Renate Stendahl

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The auteur, circa the late 70s. Say, what’s that he’s sporting?

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Un mini-parasol, une ombrelle. For shade, not protection from the rain. Hachtman was fond of road-testing some of the props employed by his players. Gives the strip that je ne sais quoi of authenticity, don’t you know.

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.

Oh, and do check out Alice’s unusual, lasting contribution to popular culture.

« I love you, Alice B. Toklas, and so does Gertrude Stein… »

-RG

Edgar Allan Poe: Immortality Is but Ubiquity in Time*

« 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.

Poe’s literary reputation was in tatters in America, thanks to a rash of hatchet jobs and dismissals, some of the most vicious from the pen of one Rufus Griswold, the very worm he’d named his literary executor (!), as well as such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot… while his renown was undimmed in Europe, particularly in France (in no small part owing to Charles Beaudelaire’s legendary translations), rehabilitation at home slowly came as the 20th century crept along, but it was likely the publication of Arthur Hobson Quinn’s definitive Poe biography, in 1941, that sealed the deal and opened the floodgates.

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Top two tiers from page 2 of The Spirit‘s August 22, 1948 episode. Layout by Will Eisner, pencils and inks by Jerry Grandenetti. As Dave Schreiner puts it: « Grandenetti captures the asthenic look of Roderick Usher that Poe described. The man is a decadent waif; insular, fragile, high-strung, possibly in-bred. »

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 Comics no. 21 3 Famous Mysteries (July, 1944), sharing the stage with Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy de Maupassant. Read it here. Pictured below is Classics Illustrated no. 84 (June 1951, Gilberton), cover by Alex A. Blum. Read the issue here.

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A relevant passage from Simon Singh‘s fascinating (if you’re into that sort of thing… and I hope you are) The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking (1999): « On the other side of the Atlantic, Edgar Allan Poe was also developing an interest in cryptanalysis. Writing for Philadelphia’s Alexander Weekly Messenger, he issued a challenge to readers, claiming that he could decipher any monoalphabetic substitution cipher. Hundreds of readers sent in their ciphertexts, and he successfully deciphered them all. Although this required nothing more than frequency analysis, Poe’s readers were astonished by his achievements. One adoring fan proclaimed him ‘the most profound and skilful cryptographer who ever lived’. In 1843, keen to exploit the interest he had generated, Poe wrote a short story about ciphers, which is widely acknowledged by professional cryptographers to be the finest piece of fictional literature on the subject. The Gold Bug tells the story of William Legrand, who discovers an unusual beetle, the gold bug, and collects it using a scrap of paper lying nearby. That evening he sketches the gold bug upon the same piece of paper, and then holds his drawing up to the light of the fire to check its accuracy. However, his sketch is obliterated by an invisible ink, which has been developed by the heat of the flames. Legrand examines the characters that have emerged and becomes convinced that he has in his hands the encrypted directions for finding Captain Kidd’s treasure. »

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A page from EC Comics great Reed Crandall‘s exemplary adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, from Creepy no. 3 (June, 1965). While Crandall’s work is outstanding, scripter-editor Archie Goodwin tried to ‘improve’ upon Poe by tacking on a tacky ending, a nasty habit he would indulge in again on subsequent adaptations, notably issue 6’s The Cask of Amontillado!. Read The Tell-Tale Heart. And don’t miss The Cask…, if only for the artwork.

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In the mid-70s, Warren would devote two full issues of Creepy to Poe adaptations; issue 69 (Feb. 1975), featured The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Premature BurialThe Oval Portrait, MS Found in a Bottle!, Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar; issue 70 (Apr. 1975) comprised The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Man of the Crowd, The Cask of Amontillado!, Shadow, A Descent into the Maelstrom! and Berenice
All stories were adapted, with far greater respect than Mr. Goodwin seemed capable of, by Rich Margopoulos, and illustrated by a host of artists. The project was edited by Bill DuBay, and the cover painting is by Ken Kelly.

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Isidre Monés‘ fabulous opening splash from Creepy no. 70‘s Berenice. Read the story in full here.

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« The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Musselmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. » In 1976, a peak-form Berni Wrightson got out his brushes and paint tubes for a heartfelt portfolio of Poe-inspired oils. A sensitive and subtle sense of colour was among Wrightson’s chief assets; it’s a shame we didn’t see more of it. I opted to feature my favourite piece from the lot, A Descent Into the Maelström, but by all means feast your eyes on the whole shebang.

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In 1976, Marvel Comics set out to make their mark on the classics… with dubious, but predictable results. It wasn’t what their zombie readership had clamoured for. Here’s the best page (art by Rudy Mesina) from Marvel Classics Comics no. 28, The Pit and the Pendulum (1977), featuring three tales adapted by scripter Don McGregor, and including future superstar Michael Golden‘s abysmal professional début on yet another helping from The Cask of Amontillado, where he demonstrates how he believes wine is to be drunk just like Pepsi. See what I’m griping about here.

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Think Poe’s all about the horror? Think again! You don’t become a household name by putting all your eggs in the same basket. Meet Edgar ‘Eddie’ Allan Poe, romantic leading man. “Based on actual records…” and sanitized beyond recognition. Given that Virginia and Edgar were first cousins and that they married when she was thirteen, you can see how absurd this strip is. Read the full tale of romance and pathos right here. The Beautiful Annabel Lee appeared in Enchanting Love no. 2 (Nov. 1949, Kirby Publishing). Writer unknown, art by Bill Draut and Bruno Premiani.

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Kubert School alum Skot Olsen‘s cover illustration for the revised and expanded second edition (July, 2004) of Graphic Classics‘ Poe compendium.

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As with, say, Elvis or H.P. Lovecraft, when both legend and œuvre reach a certain tipping point of iconic fame, one can bend and twist the concepts any which way and they’ll still be recognizable. Here’s a panel from Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s faithful-in-its-fashion take on The Raven, from Mad no. 9 (Feb.-Mar. 1954, EC).

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Michael Kupperman strikes again. From Snake ‘n Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret ( 2000, HarperCollins)

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Hot off the presses! It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror no. 2 (Nov. 2018, Ahoy), featuring a collaboration between Rachel Pollack and the fabulous Rick Geary. Don’t miss it! Oh, and if the pose looks familiar, you’re thinking of this.

Whew — that’s it for now. In closing, I must bow and salute before the gargantuan endeavour accomplished by Mr. Henry R. Kujawa on his truly indispensable blog, Professor H’s Wayback Machine. Thanks for all the heavy lifting, Henry. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Tintinabulate on, Mr. Poe — wherever you are!

-RG

*my thanks to Herman Melville for those words of wisdom.
**and thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Kujawa for that precious scrap of arcane lore.

Just a Humble Boy From Tupelo, Mississippi

« When I was a boy, I always saw myself as a hero in comic books and in movies. I grew up believing this dream. » – Elvis Aaron Presley (1935 — ?)

Today, somewhere, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll celebrates his eighty-fourth birthday, be he alive, dead or undead, he lives on. And never forget: Elvis is everywhere!

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A most salty salute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll on his birthday! Compared to earlier decades, the 1980’s (and on!) were not kind to the anthology comic book. Thankfully, the meagre rewards and resounding indifference weren’t enough to quite dissuade some foolhardy souls from giving the format a go. But the fanboys wanted spandex, they wanted continuity and they soon wanted their « decompressed storytelling ». Bah. 
In 1981, Kitchen Sink Comix published the lone issue of Terry Beatty‘s labour of irradiated passion, Tales Mutated for the Mod. (June, 1981). Unlike John Byrne and others’ unceasing and pointless ‘tributes’ to Fantastic Four No. 1, this cover version of Harvey Kurtzman‘s Mad No. 1 is fiendishly clever. Kudos, Mr. Beatty!

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Gary Panter crafted this loving tribute in 1984, a one-shot published by RAW. Such heady stuff was well ahead of its time!

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The back cover… this beats Power Records‘ meek offerings flat!

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The oft-inaccurate Grand Comics Database really fumbles it this time: the instantly-recognizable icon on the right is, according to them… Fabian. Dopes. Hamilton, Ontario’s Win Mortimer (1919-1998), inducted into the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame in 2006, drew this cover for DC’s Heart Throbs no. 95 (April-May 1965); given the time period and The Pelvis’ shirt, he would presumably be shooting the dire Paradise, Hawaiian Style. If you’re of a mind to commemorate the King’s anniversary with one of his mid-60s cinematic offerings, better opt for the far finer Tickle Me (1965).

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His (alleged) paper boy claims, and I do want to believe him, that the Big E has peacefully decamped to the quietude of Eerie, Indiana. Looking good, Big E!

-RG