« No wonder psychedelics are threatening to an authoritarian religious hierarchy. You don’t need faith to benefit from a psychedelic experience, let alone a priest or even a shaman to interpret it. What you need is courage to drink the brew, eat the mushroom, or whatever it is, and then to pay attention, and make of it what you will. Suddenly, the tools for direct contact with the transcendent other (whether you call it God or something else) is taken from the hands of an anointed elite and given to the individual seeker. » — Dennis McKenna
Sensing that I’ve been neglecting Underground Comix in our coverage, I thought I’d close out the year with a thematic pairing of a favourite comestible with a beloved cartoonist (and his collaborators).
Did you hear the joke about fungus? You won’t like it, but it will grow on you.
As promised – though you folks may by far prefer tentacles to mushrooms – I am delighted to present this post about mushrooms both real and imaginary.
First of all why mushrooms? Those who know me are aware of my passion for fungus – it’s a gastronomic interest, as both co-admin RG and I love to cook with them, and also a platonic one, an admiration for their beauty and adaptability. In terms of aliens-on-earth, fungus is surely up there with the extraterrestrial octopus. We are currently on vacation, so this is the perfect moment to both admire some of our finds, and rediscover mushrooms in comics.
Usually people react in one of two ways to mentions of gathering wild mushrooms – ‘but how do you know you won’t poison yourself?‘ or ‘magic mushrooms! yeah!‘ The first question is pertinent, although there’s no need to take that horrified tone, and the second reaction is more than slightly one-track-minded.
Just like in real life, comics fungi come in all shapes and sizes: from cute appearances in the background of a cartoony comic, to psychedelic manifestations of the underground, to horror stories peppered with a slice or two of the deadly toadstool, and everything in between! I’ve tried to go for maximum contrast in this post, and include a little bit of everything. Dive in, like we dove in yesterday into our hedgehog-and-honey-mushrooms-pasta yesterday 😉
Speaking of Mercier, I love this anecdote: « One day, Claude McKay, the editor-in-chief of Smith’s Weekly, took a dim view of an X Emile Mercier had drawn under the upwardly extended tail on a cat. After a few stern words about “dirty gimmicks in cartoons”, the grim-faced McKay instructed Mercier to get rid of the cross.This presented Mercier with a challenge. He was someone who used to say you “have to think funny as well as draw funny” and he was not keen to let McKay’s prudish approach to his cat go unchallenged. Mercier’s solution was to draw a miniature roller blind under the cat’s perpendicular tail. He was in no doubt the blind would draw more attention to the cat’s anus than the X had. Fortunately for him, McKay saw the funny side of the addition and let the cartoon run. Not a man to push his luck too far, Mercier drew all future cats without an X at the base of their tails. »
« I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us. » — Dorothy Dix
Menace was a short-lived (11 issues, 1953-54, Atlas) horror anthology title that’s mostly remembered*, if at all, for its one-shot introduction of a zombi by the name of Simon Garth. Because Atlas never really played the gore card, its successor Marvel was able to mine most of its Pre-code material as cheap filler in their 1970s bid to flood the market. Don’t get me wrong, though; these titles were still a lot of primitive fun, and in most cases, I’d pick an issue of Weird Wonder Tales, Where Monsters Dwell or Uncanny Tales From the Grave over the latest Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.
The writing was by no means daring or even coherent, but the artwork was frequently rather fine, with none quite finer than Bill Everett‘s, particularly his covers, which elegantly straddled the line between fearsome and goofy.
I’d be tempted to say that Everett (1917-1973) was at his peak when he created these, but the bittersweet fact of it is that Everett was still at the height of his artistic powers, even as he was slowly dying in the early 1970s.
This particular hot streak ends not because Everett turned in a lesser job, but because other hands provided covers for the rest of the run. Talented hands, at that (Carl Burgos, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Harry Anderson), but none of the other Menace covers are a patch on Everett’s mighty half-dozen.
That strange compulsion that’s creeping over you, that ungodly craving for more Bill Everett, cannot quite be slaked without incurring a terrible cost, be it in human lives, the forfeiting of your immortal soul, or both. But do check out my co-admin ds’ earlier tribute to Mr. Everett’s nightmares, Bill Everett’s Restless Nights of Dread, it might tide you over until dawn.