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. »

Excelsior! A Century of Jean Shepherd

« Night after night, Shepherd forged the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a whole generation of fans into an axiom that went something like: ‘The language of our culture no longer describes real life and, pretty soon, something’s gonna blow.‘. » — Donald Fagen

Today’s a very august occasion, for it marks the birth centennial of that sublime storyteller, Jean Shepherd (July 26, 1921 – October 16, 1999), so we’ll celebrate it… in comics!

« Since 2012, cartoonists Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall have been collaborating on an extensive interview project with John Wilcock, an underground publisher of the 1960s. The graphic novel biography… focuses a year-at-a-time on Wilcock’s interesting and largely undocumented life, from co-founding the Village Voice in 1955, to becoming a member of Andy Warhol’s Factory in the early Sixties, establishing the Underground Press Syndicate, and other interesting moments, until Wilcock left NYC in 1972. » This particular entry appeared in the pages of The American Bystander no. 2 (Spring, 2016). For more info on the project (including a generous helping of choice excerpts), now complete and available for purchase, direct your browser here.
The front and back covers of I, Libertine‘s paperback edition (1956, Ballantine). Here’s a full, fascinating account of how this literary hoax unfolded. Take note, fellow Theodore Sturgeon fans!
Shep’s second LP, Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles (1959, Elektra), was abundantly illustrated by his good friend, Renaissance Man (and local favourite) Shel Silverstein, who also authored the liner notes and played washboard and kazoo!
« In addition to the liner notes, Shel drew a veritable parade of characters marching across the front and back album cover of Foibles, incorporating the message, ‘Jean Shepherd is a dirty rotten, one-way sneaky son of a bitch‘, spelling it out backwards to escape the censors. » (from Lisa Rogak’s A Boy Named Shel (2007, St. Martin’s Press)
Another interesting comics connection: In Foibles‘ opening track, [ hear it here ] Shep recalls an old favourite: « How many of you remember ol’ Peter Pain? He used to work in the comic strips, you remember, in those little strips that appeared under Moon Mullins, under The Gumps? He was green, was shaped like a pickle, he had stubble all over, he wore a black derby. He was a tremendous figure… a great American! He was the first Beat Poet. » Here’s one of Peter’s misadventures, circa 1948, illustrated by Jack Betts. You’ll find many more of these entertaining ads on Ger Apeldoorn’s highly-recommended blog, The Fabulous Fifties.
Seldom seen since its publication, this was Shepherd’s collaboration with Wally Wood at the height of his powers. The Night People vs. “Creeping Meatballism appeared in Mad Magazine no. 32 (Apr. 1957, EC).
One gets a sense of Shepherd’s outsize and hopefully abiding significance from the quality of the minds he has helped warp. For example, here’s Underground Comix pioneer and Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith‘s fond tribute to Mr. Shepherd, published soon after Shep’s passing. A grateful tip of the hat to Mr. Griffith, who graciously provided me with a high-quality image of this, his Sunday, January 9, 2000 strip.

Let’s close in highfalutin fashion with a most pertinent bit of Longfellow (1807–1882):

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
      Excelsior!

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
      Excelsior!

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,
      Excelsior!

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! “
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
      Excelsior!

“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,
      Excelsior!

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
      Excelsior!

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,
      Excelsior!

-RG