Treasured Stories: “American Squalor” (1988)

« People think the show gave Letterman an opportunity, but they don’t see the table with 10 guys in shorts wearing baseball caps pitching jokes for things for him to say. They don’t see the index cards that say: ‘Ask this first.’ It’s all spelled out for him, and everything is pre-interviews. He’s basically had to be this hand puppet, with everybody’s hands up his butt to tell him what to say and do. » — Joyce Brabner on David Letterman

We already snuck a peek at the darker side of DC Comics’ short-lived ’80 mirage Wasteland (18 issues, 1987-89), but the title’s modus operandi was variety… within a set format. Here’s another highlight from one of the earliest and strongest issues, before its co-authors The Second City comedy legend Del Close and Grimjack co-creator John Ostrander lost the plot, interest, or both. This is American Squalor (Wasteland no. 3, Feb. 1988, DC Comics). The underrated Don Simpson, the Wasteland bullpen’s utility player, its most versatile and loyal member, gets to strut his stuff, albeit in a lovely Crumb ersatz, down to the lettering.

« Our next guest works as a file clerk at a Cleveland hospital… »

AmSqualor01AAmSqualor02AAmSqualor03AAmSqualor04AAmSqualor05AAmSqualor06AAmSqualor07AAmSqualor08AAmSqualor09A

What I find so impressive about this story is the scope of its ambition, fulfilled on several unlikely levels: it achieves success as a parody, a pastiche, a tribute, and as its own, standalone bit of workaday folk philosophy. Clearly, calling upon the trappings and rhythms of Crumb and Pekar’s American Splendor was just the starting point.

I’d love to track down (Close’s old Second City colleague) the Severn Darden monologue Close claims to have used as a springboard, but not everything was dutifully recorded for “posterity” in those days…

« I loved Harvey. He was a wonderful guest. The kind you don’t see anymore. The only real problem with Harvey was my immaturity. » — David Letterman

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Foo Goo” (1987)

« But observers say it is unlikely to slow down the consumption of fugu* »

DC’s Wasteland** (1987-89) was, to my mind, the publisher’s finest-ever horror anthology… for a handful of issues. While the experiment lasted but a couple of years, and it was mercifully, if a little late, put out to pasture.

To compensate for the usually uneven, often random nature of anthologies, the book was to be scripted by just two writers (John Ostrander and the fascinating Del Close) and illustrated by a carefully-picked skeleton crew of artists, namely George Freeman, David Lloyd, William Messner-Loebs and Don Simpson. Perhaps the vetting process wasn’t sufficiently thorough, though, because Freeman dropped out after a mere seven issues and one more cover, and Lloyd followed suit before the year was through. With proper bullpen substitutions, things might have run smoothly, but of all the ringers brought in, only Ty Templeton rose to the challenge, his sneakily clean-cut style providing ideal contrast and tension to issue 11’s nasty tale of Dissecting Mister Fleming, sadly the series’ final flash of brilliance… with seven dead horse issues left to flog.

But those early issues were, for the most part, quite glorious. Simpson and Lloyd landed the lion’s share of the very best tales, Simpson because he was most versatile, and Lloyd since he excelled at instilling the bleakest, most unsettling ambiances.

Today, we present Wasteland’s opening salvo, Foo Goo (Wasteland no.1, Dec. 1987, DC), by Ostrander, Close and Lloyd. Bon appétit!

FooGoo01AFooGoo02AFooGoo03AFooGoo04AFooGoo05AFooGoo06AFooGoo07AFooGoo08AFooGoo09A

The title, despite denoting a fictive species of fungus, is clearly a reference to the virulently-toxic liver of the globefish, pufferfish, or fugu… which is also, of course, a costly delicacy. It merely needs to be expertly prepared.

I first came upon this intriguing factoid in 1975, when a famous Kabuki performer, Bandō Mitsugorō VIII, presumed he could beat the odds. « In January 1975, Bandō visited a Kyoto restaurant with friends and ordered four portions of fugu kimo, the liver of the fugu fish, a dish whose sale was prohibited by local ordinances at the time. Claiming that he could survive the fish’s poison, he ate the livers and died after returning to his hotel room, after seven hours of paralysis and convulsions. »

-RG

*”Japanese Actor Poisoned“, The Leader-Post (Regina, SK), Jan. 20, 1975
**Not to be confused with the national capital of the United States of America