« Reality is a powerful solvent. » — Tony Judt
I was all set to write about a certain topic… but one hurdle stopped me cold: having recently moved, we are (mostly me, I confess) still somewhat living in boxes. So… where’s that other book? In any one of a hundred or more boxes. Fortunately, I try to always have a backup plan.
This isn’t the first time I draw attention to an offering from DC’s ambitious but ill-fated Wasteland (1987-88) under the Treasured Stories rubric. See also Foo Goo and American Squalor for more details and to (beware!) suffer a case of thematic whiplash. Whatever warts and blemishes Del Close and John Ostrander‘s Wasteland creations may have borne, they weren’t interchangeable.
Today’s yarn is a spot-on homage to author Philip K. Dick (1928-82), down to the name and occupation. The ‘real’ PKD may have been fond of meat loaf as well, for all I know.
PKD had been on my mind lately. Last fall, while rambling around town, I came upon a Little Library housing one of his books, a French-language edition of 1964’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I’d read the original paperback edition in 1992, but wasn’t sure I quite grasped its dénouement, and had no-one to compare notes with.
Somewhere, eons ago, I’d read that Dick’s manuscripts for his 1960s paperback originals were abridged (i.e. gutted) to fit the publishers’ format and predetermined page count. But this might be apocryphal. As it stands, I can find no trace of such a claim. The story went on to say that publishers in Belgium and France, where the author was more of a draw than in North America, based their renditions upon Dick’s unexpurgated manuscripts, leading to, unusually for translations, results hewing closer to the writer’s intent. It helps that Dick, not given to extravagant stylistic flourishes, is relatively easy to translate.
I’m currently halfway through, and so far all is clear; I may have to confer with my younger self to explain the plot to him, poor thing.
I quite like ‘Wasteland’, but I think calling it a horror comic is a little limiting. It’s a bit like a bastard offspring of Bruce Jones’ ‘Twisted Tales’ and Dan Clowes’ ‘Eightball’ or Peter Bagge’s ‘Neat Stuff’… for pre-Vertigo DC. The solo John Ostrander stuff could mostly have found a home in the older Warren comics, but Del Close stuff does have an affinity with the indie comics/alternative comics scene of around that time… as filtered through DC’s editorial offices. The single worst issue is issue twelve, but there are some scattered stories of merit after. I actually like Joe Orlando’s ugly, UGLY artwork on his stories (and I like his Phantom Stranger story with Alan Moore from around the same time, too). The ones I really dislike are those annoying, juvenile ‘Dead Detective’ stories, though William Messner-Loebs did a great job on the art.
Honestly, Eric, I can’t find myself disagreeing with you on much of anything! English doesn’t really have a good word for what French-speakers call ‘fantastique’ which Wikipedia defines thus: “… a French term for a literary and cinematic genre that overlaps with science fiction, horror, and fantasy.” That’s more like it!
I think Wasteland just fell apart when George Freeman left; he was never adequately replaced… the one pinch-hitter used that could have done the job was Ty Templeton, but he demurred, I suppose. Were decent artists so very scarce that they needed to resort to the likes of Rick Magyar or Michael Davis (sorry, guys)? I normally like Bill Wray, but not here. And yes, Orlando’s work had already peaked by 1954 — so that by the late 80s, it was on this side of atrocious.
And yes, the ‘Dead Detective’. That so-called concept had already been run into the ground at the National Lampoon with Henry Beard and Neal Adams’ pointless, unfunny “The Adventures of Deadman”. But then again, the “Weekend at Bernie’s” movies ‘earned’ a lot of money, so someone must find this cretinous nonsense screamingly hilarious.
And thanks for the insightful words, Eric!
I think Rick Magyar’s art in ‘Wasteland’ is OK, but Michael Davis’ is pretentious nonsense and a story-telling mess. Bill Wray’s art here is ugly, but not ugly enough to be interesting.
I think a lot of the drop in quality after issue eleven is due to the drop in output by Del Close and a seeming drop in interest from him as well. I get the feeling DC editorial was nixing a lot of his story ideas and he thought ‘Screw this. I’ve got other irons in the fire elsewhere.’ I’d be interested in finding out if this is true and what stories might have been, but this is such an unimportant issue for comic book fans or people in the comedy/acting community he really belonged to I know I’ll never know.
By the way, about the ‘good’ artists, I like how on the Close stories David Lloyd and William Messner-Loebs midway through shake and exchange their typecasts as the respectively moody artist and the goofy one. I quite like the Messner-Loebs Lovecraft story in this issue for that.