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.
Since I’d hate to just leave you with such a tease, here it is, so you can be your own judge of the yarn’s merits (or its failings, however the chips may fall).
That poor, fragile, lonely woman! It’s not enough to be trapped in a loveless marriage with the world’s coldest fish, but any sympathy and hope she seems to receive from anyone is mere pretence in the process of gaslighting her. Of course, the plot is redolent of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and other, and much needed, contemporary critiques of the obligations and ambivalences of motherhood — unthinkable in earlier days — but it has its own points to make.
This is, to my knowledge, one of the few horror stories in mainstream comics of that period to be both written and illustrated by women: Maxene Fabe and Ramona Fradon, respectively. While Fradon is justly celebrated for her defining work on Aquaman in the 1950s and on Metamorpho in the 1960s, Ms. Fabe’s is likely a less familiar name to most comics readers. In the 1970s, she wrote around twenty-five scripts for DC comics, almost exclusively short horror and humour pieces for editor Joe Orlando. Of these, four are Fabe and Fradon collaborations: the (almost) equally dark conte cruelLast Voyage of the Lady Luck in House of Secrets no. 136 (Oct. 1975, DC); the more conventional The Swinger in Secrets of Haunted House no. 3 (Aug.-Sept. 1975, DC), working from a plot by Mike Pellowski, and finally, the sardonically humorous Bride of the Pharaoh in House of Mystery no. 251 (Mar.-Apr. 1977, DC).
Another quite slight tale, but I’ve always loved this one for its nocturnal, storm-tossed ambiance. And it takes considerable illustrative skill to bring to life such a compact vignette with clarity and visual interest. Especially while hobbled by pedestrian colouring and hazy printing.
While the scripter goes uncredited (though it’s presumably editor Murray Boltinoff), the artist is Rodolfo “Rudy” Florese (1946-2003) was one of the band of solid Filipino craftsmen that brought extra style and diversity to the US Comics industry in the 1970s. The lion’s share of Florese’s American contribution went to DC’s Tarzan titles. Take it away, boys!
Yeah, that’s right: in such stories, Death always betrays himself by picking an oddball moniker like “Mort Todd” or some such dead giveaway. To be fair, Satan and Dracula also indulge in the corny practice. Dr. Shreck, anyone? Think it never happens in “real” life? Let us consider the case of smarmy Albertan reprobate Pierre Poilièvre, whose name basically translates as Pierre Pea-Hare.
« If you will die for me, I will die for you and our graves will be like two lovers washing their clothes together in a laundromat. If you will bring the soap I will bring the bleach. » — Richard Brautigan
Many, many creators, some pretty high profile, have turned their hand at writing the character of John Constantine. And several were inspired to excellence. I haven’t really been keeping up, but I was quite keen on the plots and portrayals deployed by co-creator (with Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben) Alan Moore, then by the underrated Jamie Delano, but also on brief-but-intriguing turns by Eddie Campbell and… John Smith*. John who? The Grand Comics Database (GCD) lists Mr. Smith as born in 1967 and having been “Managing editor on IPC nursery titles. Editor at IPC. Writer for various titles.” That’s the sum of it.
Flashback to 1992: I had recently quit buying Hellblazer when Garth Ennis, Will Simpson and various hands took over as the art aggregation. By issue 49, the Preacher “Dream Team” of Ennis and Steve Dillon had been assembled: from then on, it would be paper-thin elongated faces and bad teeth all the way. Uh, no thanks.
But ah, there was the briefest of respites for those of us paying close attention: a singular gem of an issue, masterfully scripted, terrifying mood piece in which very little is seen (or even glimpsed) but much is suggested. And the art duties were handled by the very good Sean Phillips, who’s since been squandering his talent on Ed Brubaker‘s derivative “I watch a lot of cable TV” witless fake noir tripe. But hey, people like that stuff, so who am I to criticise?
Anyway, I don’t have it in me to spoil the plot… not that it’s very much about the plot of this very special issue. Here are some choice excerpts, and perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of what I see in it.
« I lived on a houseboat in Amsterdam for a year. It was intense, and it’s possible that I even had a few blackouts. » — Wolfgang Beltracchi
Today’s featured tale is an old favourite illustrated by one of American comics’ perennial mal-aimés, the much-maligned Jack Sparling (1916-1997), a prolific, reliable, distinctive stylist who toiled for just about every publisher on the block. Of course, he’s persona non grata with the superhero set (a compliment in my book!) but his chief strengths lay just about everywhere else, in humour, horror, crime and adventure… you name it.
« Contained in these works were not only all the important philosophical developments of modern society… there were even answers to as yet unposed questions. » — Cypher has an epiphany
This week’s topic reminded me of the crucial role an enlightened comic shop owner, especially pre-internet, could play in one’s edification in the medium. Case in point: while I can’t consider him a mentor, my old comic shop guy, being adventurous and open-minded, made a lot of obscure titles available, without necessarily pushing them on his customers. And in a world of ‘super-heroes or bust’, such availability is crucial.
Which brings us to Mr. Brad Teare (b. 1956, Moscow, Idaho). I’ve always had special fondness for comics that bloomed outside the usual channels, like hardy plant life rising up in cracks and miraculously subsisting on nearly nothing.
From what I can tell, Teare’s first professional comics work appeared in a non-consecutive pair of issues of Heavy Metal magazine, during that blessed but oh-so-brief ‘Tundra‘ period when surprisingly enlightened Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman published, at considerable loss (between 9 and 14 million simoleons), some of the finest comics of the 1990s.
Eastman had purchased Heavy Metal in January, 1992. In the March issue, Brad Teare’s Cypher made its first of two appearances in HM, in marked contrast to the magazine’s prevalent ‘dystopias with titties for arrested adolescents’ aesthetic.
The following year, Teare self-published (under the Crypto Graphica banner, out of Providence, Utah, pop. 7,000 or so) Cypher no. 1, with a cover clamouring that it contained the ‘Complete Cypher Trilogy!’. Teare intended to produce further issues, but the market evidently wasn’t built for it. The book is so obscure that even the Grand Comics Database (GDC) has never heard of it. But my comic shop guy did place an order, and found at least one receptive reader eager to snap up a copy. I waited and waited for a second issue, but in vain.
Then, four years down the road, Gibbs-Smith, “a proud independent publisher and distributor“, founded in 1969, also Utah-based… and still around, assembled and issued a compact (22,5 x 16 cm) hardcover Cypher collection, gathering material that Teare must have intended for at least a couple more issues of his series. Aside from an oddly ‘meh’ cover, overworked and underwhelming, it’s a gorgeous package. It also has managed to fly below the GCD’s radar all these years.
In the meantime, Teare kept his hand in, providing a pair of highlights to DC/Paradox Press’ well-written but frustratingly visually scattershot The Big Book Of series (1994-2000), also finding success as a freelance illustrator (Random House, The New York Times, Sony, Turner Interactive, Flying Buffalo) in all manners of media.
Though he’s nowadays a celebrated and prolific painter of the Utah landscape, he hasn’t altogether turned his back on comics, bless his soul. The final chapter of Cypher (to date?), ‘Sub-Wayward’, introduced, in the story-within-a-story tradition, scientist turned reluctant underground hero The Subterranean. And so, long story short, we find ourselves with a Teare book that’s readily available (for the time being)!
« This comic details the thrilling origin of The Subterranean from his humble beginnings at HyperLabs in New York City to his role as sole defense against a terrible evil perpetrated by the Thanatos twins, former colleagues at HyperLabs. This character of The Subterranean is a spin-off from the critically acclaimed graphic novel Cypher. »
Here’s a seldom-seen 1970’s Wally Wood treat: he concocted this irreverent alphabet for Plop! (1973-76), DC Comics’ surprisingly solid yet nearly forgotten gallows humour anthology — forgotten? oh, it’s the same old recipe: just let the material remain out of print for nearly half a century (and counting)*, fold in gradually the dust and grime of neglect, and let wither, uncovered, until utter oblivion is achieved.
While Plopular Poetry is minor ‘woodwork’, it represents some of the best produced by poor Woody at this late stage in his life.
« Bicycles are pieces of art. You get that combination of kinetic engineering, but then, besides the welds, the paint jobs, the kind of the sculpture of it all is quite beautiful. Bikes have such great lines, and all different styles. » — Robin Williams
I’ve been cycling a lot more of late. I’d been using my bike less frequently in recent years, unnerved by the increasingly frantic (and distracted, not a good combo) vehicular traffic of the city. But with my wife taking an interest in the activity, I found myself with a reason to get back in the saddle. This spring, we found a newly opened bike shop, earthy, grimy and unpretentious, where we got our bikes expertly tuned up.
I’ve always loathed those cliquish hipster joints that, in addition to selling overpriced junk, also seem responsible for the ubiquity of those middle-aged, over-equipped, spandex-clad Sunday cyclists, who feel it their sacred duty to pass you, whatever the pace, weather or road conditions, looking for all the world like overstuffed sausages in their lycra casings. The sporting analogue, if you will, of the rich kid who ‘needs’ the most expensive guitar in the shop… never mind that he can’t play a note.
You hopefully will indulge me in this little exercise in nostalgia. I miss the days when our bikes got us around, granted us greater autonomy and kept us in shape. This lifestyle took a backseat in the 1980s, when the BMX craze began to overstate the extreme and the competitive facets of the sport. Now, it’s all ultimate sport this and boot-camp fitness that. Ah, whatever happened to plain old utilitarian fun?
Through much of the 1960s, Bendix (the corporation, not Bill!) commissioned a long-running series of custom ads featuring the Riverdale Gang, illustrated by resident Archie artist Harry Lucey.
As the 1960s drew to a close, another series of custom comics ads appeared — just under the wire. They spotlight the creations of the famous ‘King of the Kustomizers’, George “Barris” Salapatas (1925-2015), very much in demand thanks to his recent triumph with the Batman tv show’s Batmobile.
I switched to my backup, a hybrid bike I bought in 1987. It’s still running beautifully. In terms of value for money, a well-maintained bicycle is pretty unbeatable.
I leave you with a song, whence comes the title of this article. It’s from a lesser-known but excellent Donovan album, Open Road, from 1970.
« To many people in the mid-19th century, Canuck was merely a casual synonym for French-Canadian — and like the nicknames for people of various other ethnicities or nationalities, it came with unpleasant overtones. The word is“used vulgarly and rather contemptuously” »
A friendly birthday how-do-you-do to mighty Manitoban George Freeman (born May 27, 1951 — that’s seventy-one years ago — in Selkirk, MB). Some of you will remember him for his Jack of Hearts mini-series at Marvel or his collaboration with Michael T. Gilbert on Elric for First; the more adventurous will recall his fine and, ahem, too-brief work on DC’s Wasteland.
To demonstrate, here’s the opening sequence from that issue. Freeman and St. Aubin were evidently pushing hard against the conventions and constraints of the era’s crappy printing standards.
Oddly enough, while Freeman was my favourite among the stable of artists chosen to illustrate John Ostrander and Del Close‘s scripts on Wasteland (Don Simpson and David Lloyd got the best), I feel he was assigned the least interesting ones to work on, with the exception of the excellent Del Close autobiographical two-parter, On the Road (issues 6 and 7). Beyond that, he drew one cover and split, unwittingly triggering the debacle that was the second half of the series’ run.
« Even as a youngster reading 2000 AD from its first issue in 1977, it was clear that Brian’s artwork was special. It was the perfect mixture of American-inspired dynamism, a British sense of the absurd, and avant-garde European SF imagery, rendered in meticulous, almost inhumanly perfect linework. It was a deeply seductive style… » — David Roach
As far as I can tell, everyone loves Brian Bolland‘s (b. 1951) work. It’s sophisticated in design yet direct, highly detailed yet clean as a whistle *and* neat as a pin, technically adept, varied but unfailingly his. As a sequential cartoonist, he can be a bit stiff, but as a cover artist, he’s pretty untouchable. For about a second and a half, I was tempted to spotlight his work in our Hot Streak! category, but that would have been absurd, such is Bolland’s high level of consistency and volume of work. So I’ll “merely” feature an even dozen of his Animal Man covers (out of a total of 64, 1988-1993).
After Alan Moore made an unexpected splash with his work on Swamp Thing, the folks at DC scrambled, in ‘have you got a sister?‘ fashion, to strip-mine the UK’s writerly talent pool. In came Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pete Milligan, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and so on…
For the cockiest of these writers, the typical bravura move was to prove their commercial acumen by revamping the most obscure existing character they could think of* (typically, characters DC’s then-editors had never heard of); in Gaiman’s case, it was Sheldon Mayer’s Black Orchid**, and in Morrison’s, Animal Man. As minor characters (a lesson learned from Alan Moore’s Watchmen), these heroes could be subjected to numberless and unceasing torments and humiliations at the writer’s whim.
*To be fair, their first eighty-five choices likely had proved unavailable.
**Mayer had asked that his 1970s creation, The Black Orchid, never be given an origin or have her mystery dispelled. Gaiman just aped what Mr. Moore had done (but brilliantly) with Swamp Thing… and made her a literal plant. Bah.