Of Sneetches and Robots, Orange and Blue

« “Good grief!” yelled the ones that had stars at the first.We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “if which kind is what, or the other way round?” » — Dr. Seuss‘ The Sneetches (1961)

A few days ago, this news item piqued my interest: « The assistant director of communications for Olentangy Local School District abruptly stopped the reading of the Dr. Seuss book “The Sneetches” to a third-grade classroom during an NPR podcast after students asked about race. »

Naturally, since this sorry episode made its way around the world and rightly gave rise to quite the furore, the school district has since thrown its patsy under the bus.

This mention of Dr. Seuss’ timeless classic The Sneetches made me think of another slightly earlier parable of systemic racism, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando‘s Judgment Day (1953), and the similarly telling reaction would-be guardians of bluenose morality had to it.

Initially, I thought posting such an already eminent story as ‘Judgment Day’ was a trifle too obvious. But then again, how famous can a standalone comic book story published seventy years ago be, in the true scale of things? Really, it can never be famous enough.

In the course of an excellent article, CBR.com’s Brian Cronin summed up the skirmish (spoiler alert! you may want to read the story first if you haven’t already):

« The last traditional comic book produced by EC Comics was 1955’s Incredible Science Fiction (a series that had just begun a few months earlier, taking over the numbering from Weird-Science Fantasy) #33.

The last story in the issue, “Eye for an Eye,” had to be pulled at the last minute due to objections by the Comics Code Authority.

So Gaines and editor Al Feldstein decided to reprint “Judgment Day” in its place.

However, Gaines and Feldstein were then told that this replacement story ALSO violated the Comics Code.

Judge Charles Murphy (administrator of the Code) said that they would have to change the astronaut from black to white if they wanted it to be included. This was not part of the Code at the time. Feldstein and Gaines felt that Murphy was just deliberately messing with them.

After being told that, clearly, the color of the astronaut’s skin was practically the whole point of the story, Murphy backed down a bit, but said that they would at least have to get rid of the perspiration on his skin. It could possibly be that Murphy felt that it was exploitative. I do not know, and neither did Feldstein nor Gaines, who only had their suspicions that they were being screwed with.

Feldstein and Gaines both refused to comply (I believe the terms they used included at least one use of the word “fuck“), and Gaines threatened a lawsuit and/or a press conference to shine a light on why exactly the story was objected to.

The story ran as is. »

And so here it is (boasting superior reproduction, thank you, technology):

Originally published in Weird Fantasy no. 18 (Mar.-Apr. 1953, EC). Beautifully understated, it’s easy to understand why its creators considered it a high point of their respective careers.

As is generally the case with such anecdotes, there are other accounts and explanations:

« At least three versions of the story about Gaines’ dispute with the CMAA exist. In an interview, Gaines said a story showing a black astronaut with sweat on his face was rejected because the code forbid ridicule of any religion or race. When he threatened to sue, the code administrator backed down. A second version of the story suggests that Gaines was not able to get approval for the comic, but printed it with the seal anyway. A third account, told by Gaines’ business manager, said the EC story was rejected because it featured robots, which challenged Code Administrator Charles Murphy’s religious beliefs that only man was granted the ability to think. »

I like that, no matter which angle or reality we consider, Judge Murphy never fails to, er… rise to the occasion.

In closing, here’s a scrumptious cartoon anecdote about Messrs. Orlando and Gaines.

« Here’s Sergio Aragones‘ version of one of the many outings Joe Orlando and his publisher/pal Bill Gaines made to the best restaurants in Paris. While on one of the now famous MAD trips, Joe and Bill would eat 4 or 5 times a day! They went from restaurant to restaurant, always ordering the specialty of the house — with appropriate wines, of course! Yep — they’ve been on a very strict diet since (… but it hasn’t helped!) » Originally published in The ‘Special Joe Orlando Issue‘ of Amazing World of DC Comics (no. 6, May-June 1975, DC).

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Life’s Illusion” (1988)

« 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.

Possibly a reference to PKD’s 1966 novel The Crack in Space?
Another cute detail: « From 1948 to 1952, he worked at Art Music Company, a record store on Telegraph Avenue » (in Oakland, CA). Oh, and Robin Williams was a Del Close fan… and vice versa.
Life’s Illusion appeared in the final semi-decent issue of Wasteland, no. 10 (Sept. 1988, DC)… beyond that point, it was a painful slide into the abyss. Anyway, I love how this story is able to deftly juggle its elements of comedy, tragedy and Dickian metaphysics without dropping the ball. Poor Mary.

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.

« This is an illusion ». Here’s the tome in question, published in 1977 by Belgium’s Éditions Marabout, using Guy Abadia’s 1969 translation. Despite the fact that the book’s been retranslated since, I’ve no quibble with this version, save for the lack of credit for the cover illustrator.

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.

-RG

Trust the Man From Cancer!

« I’ve always wanted to be a giant space crab. » — Gabe Newell

We have quite a treat for you this week. One of our very favourite creators, Mr. Glenn Dakin, has genially agreed to shed light on the inception of one of his lesser-known (but nonetheless striking) creations, Mr. Crusht Acean, aka ‘The Man From Cancer’. Take it away, Mr. Dakin!

Glenn Dakin: The phrase The Man From Cancer came to me when I was writing a song, referring to myself as a typical Cancerian.

It gave me the idea for a detective organisation where all its members were Cancerian. Of course it had that Man From U.N.C.L.E. association. As I was discussing this idea with my brother down the pub, I said – as a joke – that in order to get a magazine interested in the idea the character would have to actually BE a crab. As soon as I said this, I knew it could work…

Phil was the obvious choice to draw it, as the superb consistency of his style and great visual imagination would make readers accept the bizarre idea as a reality. Also we worked a lot together.

When I told Phil about it, he said ‘how did you know I was Cancer?‘ (much to my surprise). So it was clearly in the stars!

Marvel UK were just launching STRIP, in which creators could keep the rights to their work, so it was a natural place to send. Dan Abnett was the editor and he really got what we were trying to do with the absurd humour. After the first two-parter, he offered us a regular one-page slot.

This is Strip no. 11 (July 7, 1990, Marvel UK). Cover by Phil Elliott.

Who’s Out There?: Judging from the supplementary materials (Strip no. 11), you seem to have quite fully worked out Mr. Crush Tacean’s universe. Did you have lofty plans for the series?

GD: Not so much lofty plans, but whenever Dan Abnett gave us a chance to expand it, we enjoyed enlarging the madness of the world. These supplementary materials were created for STRIP to remind readers of the story half way through, and get new readers on board, after we had been dropped for a couple of issues.

I remember that as my confidence on it grew, and we had the story where we took the force of gravity to court, I started to think of it as a kind of visual Goon Show, following its own absurd logic.

WOT?: Could you shed some light on the series’ publication history? Were the instalments that didn’t appear in ‘Strip’ published elsewhere before they were collected in ‘The Rockpool Files’? (by Slave Labor in Sept. 2009)

GD: You will have to ask Phil that, they might have appeared somewhere, but I don’t think so. We did have a two-pager in a Channel Tunnel magazine!

WOT?: What brought about the change of title? I was quite fond of ‘The Man From Cancer’, I must say.

GD: We were asked to change the name as ‘Cancer’ – we were told – was not exactly a fun buzzword.

« Sez who? »

I think that was the suggestion of Slave Labor, the publisher. The Rockpool Files was the first thing that came into my head, and Phil liked it. The Rockford Files had just been on TV, of course!

This is the book you have to get. While it’s rather… compact (14 x 21,5 cm), in glorious black and white, and out of print, it’s very nearly comprehensive… and most of all, it exists!

WOT?: What’s the story behind these huge gaps between appearances (issues 2 to 9, then 11 to 16)?

GD: As far as I remember, the second half of the Diukalakadu story appeared the next issue in STRIP [no.2 — RG]. Then Dan asked Phil and I to keep it going as a regular feature. We agreed, but as they were working many issues ahead, it took us a little while to launch the new stories.

The only problem was, as it was an anthology comic with multiple contributors, the page count was hard to level out every issue. As the only one-pager, Man From Cancer was the easiest to drop. I think getting asked to create the supplementary materials mentioned above, was a bit of an apology for us being so bumped around. Also the text story ‘Wallow’ in the Rockpool Files book, was originally created in 24 hours by special request of Dan, to solve a pagination crisis when a strip didn’t turn up in time. But then STRIP was canned before it could appear.

WOT?: You’ve collaborated quite a bit with other cartoonists. I presume that the division of labour varies from project to project. In this case, was there a clear line between the job titles? Did you serve strictly as the writer, or did you provide storyboards, layouts or conceptual sketches? And vice versa on Phil’s part?

GD: I never typed up a script for Phil, I just drew a rough of the strip. In this I visualised a lot of the characters, but it was up to Phil if he followed my suggestions. Sometimes he would create an amazing surprise like a giant octopus answering the phones at Cancer HQ. Phil didn’t write anything but he did loads of visual world-creation as we went along.

This tale, the second Man From Cancer investigation, appeared in Strip nos. 9-11, 16-19 (1990, Marvel UK). The lovely colours are by Steve White.

And since I hinted at the existence of ‘supplementary materials’, it would be callous of me to leave them unseen.

A bit of context from Mr. Dakin: « How nice to see this after all these years!
I read it with great trepidation, wondering what on earth I had said… The upbeat piece on the left ‘
I’m an optimum overview kind of guy…‘ was supposed to be by Mr C Urchin (Crusht’s cheerfully inept assistant), which is why it reads a bit odd, with Crusht at the top. I think the original plan got lost when it was given to the designer at Marvel UK. »

I hope you enjoyed our chat with Mr. Dakin, whom I cannot thank enough for his generosity and charming manner. In the event that your interest has been piqued, take a gander at our earlier post entitled Glenn Dakin’s Alter Ego, Abraham Rat.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Tentacles, Illustrated

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is going to be short and sweet, as the week before Christmas, complicated traveling plans, and pandemic scares do not incite one to write long posts.

Bill Spicer, a then-letterer for Western Publishing, launched Fantasy Illustrated in 1964, after gathering some contributors through a want ad in a science-fiction fanzine. The introduction (with issue 4) of a Spicer-penned column titled ‘Graphic Story Review’ heralded a shift from the initial graphic adaptation of stories to a focus on articles and interviews, and what used to be Fantasy Illustrated continued as Graphic Story Magazine by issue 8 in 1967. GSM may have been somewhat short-lived (it lasted another 9 issues), but thanks to Spicer’s sensitive and literate editorial direction, it had a lasting impact on the minds of astute readers through pioneering in-depth interviews with comics creators (notably Basil Wolverton, Bernard Krigstein, Howard Nostrand…). GSM would later morph into the equally-excellent, but with a broader scope, Fanfare (5 issues, 1977-83).

Fantasy Illustrated no. 1 (Winter 1963). Cover by Landon Chesney.
Fantasy Illustrated no. 6 (Summer/Fall 1966). Cover by future Jack Kirby inker D. Bruce Berry (Kamandi, OMAC, Manhunter).
The back of Fantasy Illustrated no. 6 (also by Douglas Bruce Berry).

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: « Do me up like one of your French girls! »

Tentacular greetings to all! Today’s post finds us with our feet firmly planted in France (well, maybe with one toe dipping into Belgium, as usual). As friend Barney might say, come for the Important & Serious Artist discussion, stay for the ‘naked man/nubile woman’ fringe benefits…

Many are fans of Jean Henri Gaston Giraud, far better known under his nom de plume, Mœbius. Co-admin RG and my humble self do not belong to this category, which is possibly why he has never been mentioned in WOT before. RG thinks he’s ‘the Serge Gainsbourg of French comics‘ (not a compliment); I do not specifically dislike his work… nor am I interested enough in it to investigate. We could argue about Mœbius’ profound influence on science-fiction and cyperpunk and his lasting impact on comics until we’re blue in the face, so I suggest we look at some tentacles instead!

The original art from Il y a un Prince-Charmant sur Phenixon (Pilote, 1973), published in English in Heavy Metal Magazine v. 4 no. 10 (January 1981) as ‘There Is a Prince Charming on Phenixon’.

The Long Tomorrow was written by American screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and illustrated by Mœbius in 1975. Published in Métal hurlant (nos. 7 and 8) in 1976, it was then picked by Heavy Metal in 1977 for the anglophone market. This story is credited with having heavily influenced a number of movies – Blade Runner gets mentioned a lot, for example. Read the full story (and a little interview with O’Bannon) here.

Page from the story published in Heavy Metal no. 5 (August 1977).

Speaking of Métal hurlant, this cover offers some quality tentacles from French comics artist/illustrator Jean Solé:

Métal Hurlant no. 3 (July 1975), cover by Jean Solé.

Solé liked the absurd, the grotesque, and the psychedelic, so naturally he has more tentacles on offer than just one cover!

Illustration painted for publication in Pilote in 1985.

The last offering of today’s TT is this very dramatic action scene by Claude Serre. Is the surgeon trying to stuff these tentacles back in, or extract them? We shall never know.

Scanned from Serre, a best-of collection published by Glénat in 2001. This illustration was an excerpt from Serre’s Humour noir et hommes en blanc (“Black Humour and Men in White”), a collection of sombrely jocular drawings on the topic of medicine.

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “The People vs. Hendricks!” (1964)

« Programmed for love, she can be quite tender
Treat her unkind, nothing offends her
She vacuums the carpet and doesn’t complain
She’ll walk the dog in the pouring rain.
» — Was (Not Was), Robot Girl

Today, on the occasion of his birthday (this would be number 112), we celebrate the great writer and editor Leo Rosenbaum (1909-1974), Potentate of Pseudonyms. If you know of him at all, odds are it’s under his nom de plume of Richard E. Hughes, pioneering chief writer and editor of the American Comics Group (ACG, 1943-67), and then perhaps under one of the numerous colourful aliases he adopted to conceal the fact that he was doing most, if not all, the company’s writing. In alphabetical order, meet Pierre Alonzo, Ace Aquila, Brad Everson, Lafcadio Lee (a salute to the Irish-born writer of Japanese ghost stories of Kwaidan fame, perhaps?), Kermit Lundgren, Shane O’Shea, Greg Olivetti (probably inspired by the brand of his typewriter!), Kurato Osaki, Pierce Rand, Bob Standish and Zev Zimmer.

Early in my comics collecting days, I spent a lot of time consulting Robert Overstreet‘s The Comic Book Price Guide (a practice I’ve utterly abandoned) gleaning random bits of trivia and dreaming about potential acquisitions. One item that greatly piqued my interest was this note:

From the 12th edition of The Comic Book Price Guide (1982, Overstreet Publications).

Well, I did eventually get my hands on a copy, and I must say wasn’t disappointed. And since I was taught to share with the other kids, here’s the story in question.

While “The People…” draws upon familiar elements of The Bride of Frankenstein and say, Inherit the Wind, I daresay that its heart-rending conclusion is its very own.
And here’s the cover. This is Unknown Worlds no. 36 (Dec. 1964 – Jan. 1965, ACG); art by Kurt Schaffenberger.

As for the artist: Johnny Craig (1926-2001) had been absent from the comics field most of the decade that followed EC Comics’ near-total collapse and the advent of the Comics Code, when he suddenly turned up at ACG (he’d been toiling in advertising). He would later do some work with Warren, Marvel and DC until the early 80s, at which point he more or less retired. Craig’s always been near the very top of my favourites at EC. Since he was, artistically-speaking, painstaking (‘slow as mollasses in February‘, my art school drawing teacher was fond of saying) and quite self-critical, Gaines entrusted him, as he did in the case of Harvey Kurtzman, with some editorial and scripting responsibilities to make up the income shortfall and keep him around and happy. And so the Craig-edited-and-led Vault of Horror is easily the finest of the company’s horror trio, largely thanks to Craig’s solid writing skills, not to mention his inspired artwork. Craig’s stories provided a much-needed breather from Gaines and Feldstein’s often powerful, but also formulaic and overwritten tales.

Interestingly, while Craig’s art style is overall understated and full of spit and polish, he created several of the company’s most transgressive images (such as this one and that one). Editor-writer Hughes knew precisely what he was doing (as any editor worth his salt should) when he conceived this story and assigned it to Craig. It plays superbly to the man’s strengths, if you ask me.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 18

« La matière en était gélatineuse et peu consistante; elle se décomposa, au bout de quelques heures, en un liquide rose et gluant, d’une odeur insupportable.* » — Jean Ray, Dans les marais du Fenn

Aw, good old muck monsters…

Perhaps the first to emerge, at least in the English language, was Theodore Sturgeon’s “It”, published in Unknown’s August, 1940 issue, whose title page warned: “IT wasn’t vicious, IT was simply curious — and very horribly deadly!

But IT was preceded, by some years, by Raymond Marie de Kremer alias Jean Ray’s superb Dans les marais du Fenn (« In the Fenn Marshes »), first published in the Belgian literary magazine L’ami du livre’s issue of November 1st, 1923! A handful of Ray stories (often published under his alternate nom de plume, “John Flanders”) were published in US pulps, including the legendary Weird Tales, but “Dans les marais…” appears to have somehow, to this day, remained untranslated to English.

This is Supernatural Thrillers no. 1 (December, 1972, Marvel), an adaptation by Roy Thomas, Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia. Cover by Jimmy “Profa” Steranko.

The opening — and best — page from Marvel’s IT adaptation, which fails, imho, because Rascally Roy, overly attached to the original text, doesn’t let the visuals breathe. The mediocre results, at once too pedantically faithful and well off the mark, are no substitute for Sturgeon’s original.
IT originally saw print in this issue of Street & Smith’s Unknown, which had, just one month earlier, abandoned its striking painted covers for this money-saving but comparatively stodgy, ‘dignified’, Reader’s Digest-style design. It looks like there’s a page missing — the best one!
And they were soon at it again. How did they manage to convince themselves that this was going to succeed as an adaptation? This is Worlds Unknown no. 6 (Apr. 1974, Marvel). Pencils by Gil Kane and inks by Ernie Chan, with extensive alterations by John “Heavy Hand” Romita. This has been bestowed the impressive (if true) honour of being called The Lyingest Cover in Marvel Comics History.

-RG

Its matter was gelatinous and insubstantial; it decomposed, within a few hours, into a viscous pink liquid of unbearable odour. »

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 7

« If someone tries to tell you that the universe is a big, empty place… don’t believe them. » — Kēif Llama

Haunted houses in space? Why not? They’re just about everywhere else!

Matt Howarth‘s heroïne Kēif Llama (pronounced keef yamma) has already been bestowed an exhaustive spotlight by my partner ds, so I shan’t rehash what she said. But since there are no tentacles involved in this case, I feel I’m on safe ground to take a peek at the spookiest bits of one of our favourite Xenotech’s startling interstellar encounters.

This is Keif Llama Xenotech Vol. 2.4 (Jan. 2006, Mu Press/Aeon), and despite what some have claimed, *not* a reprint of the also-recommended Fantagraphics series bearing the same name and logo.
For once, someone was thoughtful enough to provide stairs for those of us still subject to the law of gravity.
… then you will die. Sounds reasonable.
An earlier recorded instance of a Haunted House in Space, from It’s Midnight… the Witching Hour no. 14 (Apr.-May 1971, DC). Layout by Carmine Infantino, pencils and inks by Neal Adams — both presumably drawing closely on Al Williamson‘s opening splash for the cover story (right down to the deer!), which you can read here!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: That Soupçon of the… Unexpected!

DC’s Tales of the Unexpected offer quite a ménagerie of strange looking creatures! Any peculiar combination of animals you can think of, you’ll find somewhere within the pages of this series. This possibly deserves its own post, as it’s quite entertaining to see artists combining, say, an elephant with a tiger. That being said, I tend to get annoyed at artists who can’t visualize anything truly alien-looking, thus resorting to carving up earth animals and stitching different body parts together… but that’s a different conversation.

Art by Lou Cameron.

Occasionally the artists will also add tentacles, a sure shortcut to make something mundane look properly alien, and this is today’s area of interest! For more questionable monsters, have a gander at Tentacle Tuesday: Convoluted Critters.

And now, onto ‘unexpected’ tentacles, even if the result of this ends up looking like badly-made puppet with a tacked-on beak…

The Strangest Show on Earth, illustrated by Jim Mooney, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 10 (February 1957).

Of course one can’t discount the lasting power of classic vine-tentacles.

The Earth Gladiator, illustrated by Nick Cardy, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 20 (December 1957).

Whereas these mini-planets gone bonkers with tentacles-cum-hair bring to mind, but anticipate, something by Junji Ito.

The Alien Earthmen, illustrated by Ruben Moreira, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 62 (June 1961).

The idea of an interplanetary veterinarian makes little sense for its assumption that life on other planets would have similar physiology to ours (even limiting the scope of action to only planet earth would be too ambitious – ask a doctor to treat a sick jellyfish and see how well he would do), but here we have the satisfaction of a sweet little scene of inter-species succor.

Creature Doctor of Space, illustrated by George Roussos, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 63 (July 1961).

Some 30 issues later, we have another case of rabid tree-tentacles… this time composed of rubber (or something that behaves like rubber, at any rate).

Prisoners of Hate Island, illustrated by George Roussos, was published in Tales of the Unexpected no. 93 (Feb-March 1966).

Finally, this tentacled purple gorilla (so his tail is more dinosaur than gorilla, so what?) will no doubt please a regular reader of this blog!

Tales of the Unexpected no. 71 (June-July 1962). Cover by Bob Brown.

~ ds

George Orwell & Abner Dean’s ‘1984’ Preview

« Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. » — George Orwell

For its July 4, 1949 issue, Life Magazine pulled a couple of rather unusual moves: it featured an elaborate preview of George Orwell’s just-published novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and, as if that wasn’t weird enough, it called upon the services of renowned cartoonist Abner Dean to (copiously) illustrate the article.

Typically, given the USA’s usual political temperament and the then-prevailing climate of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Life resorted to some choice bits of disinformation and misdirection to sell Orwell and his book to its decidedly whitebread readership. No irony whatsoever.

« British novelist George Orwell, 46, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, saw firsthand what the Communists were up to and has since devoted all his talents to warning the world of the fate which awaits it if it confuses liberalism with regimentation. His new novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a terrifying forecast of what the world of human beings may be like 35 years hence. It is a July selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and will be condensed in the September Reader’s Digest. It is guaranteed to make the flesh creep on anything except brass monkeys and commissars. »

Dean’s huge (52 cm x 24 cm) spread ushering readers into The Strange World of 1984. It’s hard to do it justice at this reduced size, but open it in a separate tab for a closer look.

Let’s see, now. Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War. Fair enough. Let’s dwell on that detail for a bit. Which side was he on?

« In December 1936, Orwell went to Spain as a fighter for the Republican* side in the Spanish Civil War that was provoked by Francisco Franco’s Fascist uprising. He did not join the International Brigade as most leftist did, but the little known Marxist POUM. In conversation with Philip Mairet, editor of New English Weekly, Orwell said: ‘This fascism… somebody’s got to stop it’. To Orwell, liberty and democracy went together, guaranteeing, among other things, the freedom of the artist; the present capitalist civilization was corrupt, but fascism would be morally calamitous.

He joined the Independent Labour Party contingent, which consisted of some twenty-five Britons who had joined the militia of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM – Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), a revolutionary communist party. The POUM, and the radical wing of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT (Catalonia’s dominant left-wing force), believed General Franco could be defeated only if the Republic’s working class overthrew capitalism — a position at fundamental odds with the Spanish Communist Party, and its allies, which (backed by Soviet arms and aid) argued for a coalition with the bourgeois parties to defeat the fascist Nationalists. » [ source ]

So… Orwell was not merely a communist, but a Marxist advocating the overthrow of capitalism. Just like your average Reader’s Digest subscriber, obviously!

« THE TELESCREEN dominates the lives of Party members; it is a kind of television set which can never be turned off, and which can pick up as well as receive images. Over it the members hear what they are supposed to do and believe — and from the other end the dreaded Thought Police can see everything they do and hear everything they say. » Prophetic? Now don’t be silly.
« TWO MINUTES HATE is a daily institution designed to keep Party members in a frenzy of excitement and rage against the Party’s enemies. »
A LOVE AFFAIR in six panels. Spoilers galore. Protagonist Winston Smith meets Julia.
Julia hands Winston a note, which he drops into the memory hole (basically an incinerator) as a precaution.
They meet in the midst of a crowd in Victory Square, and Julia whispers some instructions to Winston.
« Now, in a trysting place beneath the trees he finds a kindred soul in the rebellious Julia; she removes the hateful sash of the Anti-Sex League and they enter upon one of the most furtive and pathetic little love affairs in all literature. » The anonymous author of the article does not seem to approve.
« Julia is good at smuggling forbidden pleasures; they have real coffee (not the ersatz ‘Victory’ mixture) and chocolate, and Julia adorns herself with cosmetics and perfumes which no Party member is ever supposed to see. »
« But eventually, the Thought Police catch up with them. For the unspeakable crime of indulging in a human emotion they are arrested and hauled away to repent their sins in the horrible confines of the Ministry of Love. » I did warn you about spoilers: indeed, Winston Smith Takes It on the Jaw!

It’s intriguing that LIFE would devote this much space to such a controversial topic, but hardly surprising that it would stack the deck. It’s a regrettable hallmark of blind hubris to believe that only ‘the opposition’ is capable of totalitarian atrocities, when allowed unchecked power. Benevolent dictators have always been very, very scarce. To quote Margaret Atwood, a lady who knows her way around a dystopia, « ‘1984’ is not a wonder tale. Not only could it happen, but it has happened, but under different names. »

On a more general artistic note, if you like the cut of Mr. Dean’s jib, you might be interested by our trio of posts devoted to his fine œuvre: Abner Dean’s Universe: Before…; Abner Dean’s Universe: … After.; and Social Perils and Pitfalls: Abner Dean’s ‘Come As You Are’ (1952). What can I say? I like the guy’s work.

-RG

*pray note that, in that particular conflict, the Fascists and the Republicans weren’t one and the same.