Thursday, August 30, 2012

Before Marvel

In late 1959 and early 1960, at least a year before Jack Kirby talked Lee into allowing Kirby to create a new line of superhero titles for Marvel Comics, Steve Ditko was already doing that for the folk at Charlton Comics.

Charlton was a strange outfit. They did lots of comics, but I've never been able to figure if comic book publishing was ever profitable for them. They were mainly a printing company who churned out magazines. And they did comics to keep the presses running between jobs of producing the magazines which made them the real money. From what I hear it was easier to maintain the presses if they were constantly working.

The reputation at Charlton among creators was not wholly positive. They paid very low rates to creators and it was company policy not only to not return the artwork to the artists, but to destroy that very artwork once its purpose had been served in the printing process. But apparently there were some small advantages to working with them. They paid on time (even if the rates were low), they created a lot of work for writers and artists, and they didn't interfere much editorially with the folk making the comics. This would have been key for a guy like Steve Ditko.

Ditko seemed to be all about working. He was a creator who was being paid to illustrate. He had bills to pay and family to support. From everything I've read, he enjoyed the relative freedom of working for Charlton, and he did work for them right up until they closed up shop forever.

One of the characters Ditko created (or co-created) for Charlton was Captain Atom. The official history is that Joe Gill and Ditko created it together. But I've never read either of these guys opinions and history of Captain Atom. The character ran for a long time in various incarnations and was one of the superhero properties bought up by DC when they glommed all of Charlton's copyrighted intellectual property at auction. Captain Atom also was the source of Doctor Manhattan in the Alan Moore graphic novel, THE WATCHMEN.

So even before Kirby had succeeded in talking Goodman and Lee into allowing him to revamp Marvel into a superhero publisher, Ditko was already doing the same (to a lesser extent) over at Charlton.

My copy of SPACE ADVENTURES #36, with Captain Atom!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One-question Interviews at Zombie Horrors!

Over at my other blog, Zombie Horrors, I've been posting one-question interviews with authors of zombie and paranoid fantasy apocalyptic horror. Check 'em out!

Today's is with the great David Moody!


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Searching for the Lightning

After Steve Ditko left Marvel for points elsewhere, it is obvious to anyone who has observed his career and his work that he was going to do his best to top what he had done with The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Both of those characters had been works of near-genius and he was out to prove to the world (and especially to Martin Goodman and Stanley Lieber) that he could do it again.

When you look at the power of the work he was creating for Warren Publications you can see that Ditko was spreading his creative wings and trying new things. When you see the art he was putting down on the page for Charlton it was obvious he was doing his damndest to duplicate the magic of Spider-Man within a different world and with similar characters.

But it was with the things he created at DC that one tosses aside any idea that he wasn't out for blood, so to speak. Ditko was going to prove to everyone that lightning does strike twice, and he was the man to cast that thunderbolt down.

Alas, it wasn't to be. With The Creeper, he was doing his best to recapture what he had done with Spider-Man. It ultimately failed, not just for reasons of content and not having the right voice, but due to Ditko's health problems at the time, which were apparently severe.

One project that held a lot of promise for both Ditko and his fans was THE HAWK and THE DOVE. This was a heavy-handed attempt at political commentary by Ditko. On philosophical and political lines it failed because Ditko held ideas and expressed philosophies that I can only describe as neo-Fascist. There's really no other way to term them. His intent was to try to give voice to both sides of the war/anti-war struggle then running through America's collective psyche. But because Ditko was such an adamant right wing extremist, he could not adequately do justice to what was otherwise a creative and honorable attempt. His readers, the base to whom he was aiming the book, were more than likely to be leftists, and Ditko's fascistic rants just rubbed them the wrong way.

And so, the book being a failure on so many other levels, it failed on the level that mattered most: the bottom freaking line. The book lingered for six issues, most of them under the draftsmanship of Gil Kane, but it was finally cancelled. And so, what had begun with so much fanfare and so much optimism--Ditko's move from Marvel to DC--ended up as a bit of a whimper.

Ironically, though, all of the characters that Ditko either created or reimagined for Charlton and DC have had extended lives for the corporation that ended up owning them. The Hawk and the Dove still flit through the pages at DC. The Creeper rises now and again to lay claim to the copyright and thrill the modern fans. Ditko's Blue Beetle has enjoyed many great runs under the authorship of other artists and scripters. And The Question reigns supreme of his post-Marvel creations. It not only has the Question enjoyed great status and sales on its own, but was copied by Alan Moore and became the most popular part of DC's THE WATCHMEN as the thinly veiled analog, Rorschach.

The lightning finally did strike again for Ditko. Unfortunately those thunderbolts landed decades later than intended and exposed gold for those other than the man for whom they were meant.

My copy of THE HAWK AND THE DOVE #2.

Monday, August 27, 2012

OCCUPATION: WRITER

Yesterday while going through my shelves of books, I stumbled upon a volume that I had thought was lost to me. Years ago, when I used to give some of my books away to friends I thought would be educated by them, I had recalled passing this one on as a gift. But I must have only considered doing this and thought better of it. I'm so happy that I didn't act on the impulse, but kept it.

One of the most influential points in my world as a writer came when I read OCCUPATION: WRITER by the great author, Robert Graves. Graves is best known today for his novels, I, CLAUDIUS and CLAUDIUS THE GOD AND HIS WIFE, MESSILINA, and his memoir GOODBYE TO ALL THAT. I had read a number of his novels and was casting around for more of his work. In a used bookshop in Roanoke VA I stumbled upon an old paperback copy of OCCUPATION: WRITER.

My copy of OCCUPATION: WRITER. Pure literary gold.


This book is a collection of various pieces of his shorter works. Short stories, essays, articles, and plays. It was Graves' intention to showcase the fact that he was a professional writer and to indicate the breadth and reach of his abilities in various forms. I was attracted, of course, to the short stories. Two of the stories within this book hooked me like nothing I had ever read. From that moment on I looked at the creation of a short story in a different light and I don't recall ever allowing the influence of those two tales to fade away.

The stories were probably published as mainstream fiction in the 1920s when they first found the light of print, but they are both very definitely horror yarns of the first order. When I read "The Shout" I was impressed at the power of the work, and if there's a better lesson in how to slowly build tension and terror, I've yet to encounter it. In "Old Papa Johnson" he introduces the reader to a pair of soldiers recovering from severe wounds in a hospital. One--the Old Papa Johnson of the tale recounts an Antarctic adventure to the much younger soldier, referred to as Graveyspoons by the older man and who is obviously supposed to be Graves himself. I assume the yarn was inspired by something similar that happened when he really was in hospital during the First World War. As the story progresses as one of mainly historical interest and character humor, it slowly degrades into a very dark incident ending, at last, in an act of pure, cold-blooded monstrosity. I've yet to see any author equal it for power.

It's sad to think that in today's world of self-published garbage, sub-normal TV scripts, and the degradation we experience as the ebook fad, that we may now be looking upon the end of the days of the true professional writers. Gone are the skills and the powers of writers such as Robert Graves. Now we have a new normal of bad writing, self-publishing, and circle-jerks parading as literature. Alas.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Self-Published Psychology:

Just when you thought that the world of self-published books couldn't get any slimier or more disgusting, you read this.

And on a light note, this is what happens when the same psychology that gives us the self-published novelist is transferred to the world of fresco restoration:


The world is awash in retarded amateurs who think they're creating something worthwhile. Alas!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Melvin the Monster

One of the greatest of John Stanley's creations was the humor comic book MELVIN MONSTER. I don't know if Dell Comics called upon Stanley to create something to capitalize off of the TV monster craze of the mid-60s, or if the creator approached Dell with the project first. However it came about, he ended up penning one of the funniest kid's comics I read as a youth.

Melvin chronicled the adventures of the title character, a little monster boy who lived in Monsterville with his Baddy and Mummy and their pet crocodile,  Cleopatra (who was forever trying to eat Melvin).

Here was Stanley at his finest. He could capture with a few deft lines what so many cartoonists could not duplicate with the most detailed effort. Here was humor that a little kid could understand and enjoy. The book enjoyed modest success and the title ran for ten issues as a quarterly publication. Of course the tenth and final issue was just a reprinting of the first issue, so that there were only nine full issues of original stories of Melvin and his cohorts.

When I started reading these books at the age of nine I found them slightly familiar. That was because I had read and adored Stanley's Witch Hazel yarns that appeared as backups in the Little Lulu titles he was creating for Dell in the older 1950s-era books that I was gathering up from my dad's vast collection. I'd already encountered Stanley's wry take on misfit horrors, but this was something new and benefited from his growing skill as a writer and artist.

I've been trying to complete a full set of MELVIN for some years and have yet to do so. I'm still missing issue numbers 3, 6, and 7. I'll keep searching for them.

MELVIN MONSTER #5.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Final Creation from A Comics Great

In 1971 a comic book appeared from the fading publisher Gold Key. O.G. WHIZ, created, written, and illustrated by John Stanley was the swan-song for that creator. He had earned a living for a couple of decades in the comic book industry by parceling out charming and witty and very funny stories for children. Alas, his work had been for the children of earlier times and his was an old-fashioned style for a more innocent time.

Stanley's great days had been when there were lots of comic books being produced from many publishers. In those days there were all kinds of comics; this was the era when comic book did not automatically mean: superheroes. He flourished in a milieu of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Donald Duck, Porky Pig, Hot Stuff the Little Devil, The Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy, Tarzan, Little Lulu...

Little Lulu was Stanley's great work. For many years he created amazing stories of the adventures of the old magazine character created by Marjorie Henderson Buell, but brought out of the pages of Saturday Evening Post to millions of children as the comic book character published by Dell Comics and then Gold Key. John Stanley became one of the most influential comic creators during the years when he was doing his various Little Lulu stories, spinning off title after title as the sales ballooned.

Alas, this kind of thing fell by the wayside as the years progressed. TV killed off the comic book industry as surely as it did the fiction pulps of the day. Little Lulu faded away. But every so often Stanley would be called upon to put his magic id to work creating something new, something possibly successful for the shrinking market of children's comics.

And the last thing that he did was the title O.G. WHIZ, the stories of a child placed in charge (as President and Chariman of the Board) to Tikkletoy Company. The first issue is all John Stanley, awash with his fantastic and very funny renderings. However, the following issues of the book were merely written by Stanley, with a few of the stories blessed with his layouts but finished by someone else. While the stories are entertaining in those latter issues, the magic of Stanley's brush was gone.

With the cancellation of O.G. WHIZ, Stanley faded from the comic book marketplace. He ended his days working for a silk screen printing firm. Apparently he was bitter toward the comic book industry in his latter days because he never received any royalties for the many stories that were created by Stanley. It is a common and sad story in the industry.

O.G. WHIZ #1, from the fading days of Gold Key Comics.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"The Call"

Early in my career I tried to write a Lovecraftian short story that was so over-the-top grammatically that it would be laughable. (I wanted to sell it to a comedy market.) Upon seeing it, the late Janet Fox suggested that I pull it back a bare notch and see if I could sell it. I did as she suggested and sold it almost immediately to Mark Rainey at Deathrealm. Thus did I write "The Call", a well-received tale of Lovecraftian fiction.


The Call
by James Robert Smith
copyright 2012



When I was a young child, my family and I lived on the Atlantic coast, moving, at various times, from the Carolinas to Georgia to Florida as my father felt so inclined. Always, we lived on the edge of the sea where he had easy access to the marine creatures that he studied. It was here that I first felt the call that became such a passion to me.
As a youngster of only eight years, I would often travel the wide swatch of sand that made up the beaches with which I had become so familiar. Barefooted, I would climb the high, bleached dunes and observe the waves' constant crush against the shore. And always I would hear the subtle call and feel the gentle tug that seemed to draw me toward the depths. Had my innocent mind been able to interpret these sensations, I might have raced away from the beach, away from the beckoning sea where I could be sucked down amidst the swirling waves. But I could not fathom these alien desires, and so I merely watched, listened, and waited.
Often, my mother would ask me, "Why do you sit and watch the sea for so long?" I would merely shrug in my child's way, expressing ignorance of the cause of my actions. In truth, I 'was' ignorant of the reason for my infatuation with this ocean. The call had not reached the intensity it would achieve in later years nor the clarity it finally attained.
My father, seeing the strained concern of my mother's face, would explain: "Anne, it's only natural for the boy to be interested in the sea. After all, it's the source of his father's livelihood. I, for one, am more than delighted in the interest he's showing." Afterwards, my mother would seem satisfied with his words, though I know now that she only feigned acceptance of his reasoning.
As the seasons passed, my obsession grew. Even on those rare days when the icy wind blew in with some northern-birthed storm, I would leave the warmth of our home to be close to that endless, frothing horizon. On such occasions I think that even my father wondered if my actions were those of a sane mind. Still, I did not let this obscure urge interfere with either my schoolwork or my social life. These facts alone allayed my parents' fears.
By the time I was fifteen, the call had reached a frightful power. No longer did I venture into the salty breakers. I feared some ancient and eldritch force waited just beneath the surface to draw me screaming to some awful place. As great as my fear was, it was not enough to outweigh the morbid curiosity I felt toward whatever was the source of this magnetism between the limitless waves and myself.
*****
One month before my sixteenth birthday, I was visited on a lonely beach by a lean, dark-skinned woman. I watched her as she made her way up the tide-sodden stretch of sand. She moved deliberately in my direction, never hesitating, using the same careful pace. When she was parallel to where I reclined atop a dune, she turned and faced me. The wind plucked at her black hair, and the whipping strands obscured her face.
When her eyes fell upon me, I knew that I was as she was. In the instant I realized this, I held my body rigid in the foolish hope that I would be unnoticed by her. I was afraid.
As the woman stood between the sea and me, the strange calling fairly screamed within my skull. I writhed there upon the sand, strange thoughts rattling my brain. It was as if this woman were a transmitter beaming these monstrous titterings. For the first time, I was able to comprehend some of it.
Gradually, this great orchestration ebbed and I was left exhausted. I lay where I had rolled, at the base of the dune, wind-blown sand sticking to my sweating skin. Through closed eyes and ringing ears, I 'felt' the dark lady approach me. She knelt beside me and, placing one hand upon my heaving chest, she spoke.
"Do you know?" she asked. Her voice was like an echo—hollow and unreal.
I opened my eyes and beheld her face. Her features were small, delicate, but those familiar eyes at once induced a kind of terror in me. Her pupils were depthless things and I feared they would draw up my soul from my body. I must have gazed at her for quite some time for she brushed my face lightly and asked once more, "Do you know?"
I shook my head from side to side, unable to speak.
"Soon," she breathed. She rose and continued down the beach. In a few minutes, she had disappeared.
During the nights that followed, I began to dream vividly of the dark woman. In my dreams we floated weightlessly together as vague shapes and slithering shadows danced about us, staying just on the periphery of my vision. Each dawn I would awaken, my knowledge of what I knew must come a little greater every day. Soon (as she had said), I could comprehend what was expected of me and prepared myself to return to the place where I had met her.
*****
And so, one morning I arose very early; I crept silently from the house. Once away from my home, I flung off my shoes and raced over the low dunes toward the sloping beach. I topped the last of those sandy hills and beheld the sea as only a damned few had ever seen it.
In the blue semi-darkness, the waves leapt and towered and bubbled with a strange, almost life-like animation. Just beneath the surface, amorphous shapes billowed, glowing with phosphorescence that lighted the depths, banished the shadows. There, my sanity receded farther than it ever had, relinquishing control to the single command that now droned unceasingly. As one totally possessed, I made my way to where I knew the woman waited.
Naked in the pre-dawn cool, she stood; the waves lapped anxiously at her ankles and sucked hungrily at her feet. She raised her arms and offered her hands in invitation. I shed my clothes and followed her into the breakers where she turned and grasped my hands in hers. We swam to where the sea floor dropped away from our bobbing forms. She drew me to her, and the glowing surf closed over us.
In the instant our bodies sank beneath the surface, shimmering tentacles of something living entwined about us: tangling ropes of pliant substance that enwrapped our limbs and tugged gently upon our torsos. At once the ocean was a colorless void where something seemed to call from below, something that even then was rising to greet us.
I became aware of a presence beneath, and the dark woman pulled me tighter to her and tried to avert my questing eyes. More of the sentinels swam to us, their arm-thick bodies tugging urgently. Pulling my shoulders free of the clinging things, I gazed downward at that which approached. My scream sounded in the depths.
My eyes fell upon a nigh-forgotten god who had heaved its bloated bulk up from the dark liquid chasms where it lived. Great questing feelers of mucilaginous texture sped toward the woman and me, spreading, shaping themselves into massive blankets of flesh in which to enwrap new converts. Behind those boneless arms floated the god's hideous face, a compounded mass of eyes and of tooth-filled maws, a pulsating corruption that appeared (after that first, mind-numbing glance) to bear an expression of strange hunger.
I seemed also to be suddenly seized by an aura of ancient and consuming evil I had never (even vaguely) suspected during my association with those unknown forces. I sensed this evil and I fought to be free, to be quit of this alien horror.
The dark woman knew what I attempted and made fast her hands about my wrists. Her grip was far stronger than I would have suspected and only after a vicious struggle did I free my arms. Even then, she attempted to refasten her body to mine; her fingers clamped repeatedly; her nails dug painfully into my flesh. Finally, I managed to free myself with a savage kick and made frantically for the surface.
For an instant, my way was clear. But all the while I had battled the woman, the attendant amoeboids had gathered in response to some silent command, and they swarmed about me. Their ropy bodies whipped against my own, and some of them wrapped tightly about my arms and legs to drag me downward toward their approaching master. Still, I was able to struggle upward, away from my doom.
At last, the shimmering waves seemed to be within my reach. There was a sudden and mammoth surge from below as one massive godhand raised up to block my way. The huge thing spread about me, and I at last resigned myself to the inevitable. I watched in relieved amazement as those constricting tendrils passed wraithlike through my body. My stubborn resistance had broken the spell, and I was returned to my own plane of existence.
I looked back once more and watched as the dark woman was pulled down toward unknown fathoms. Her eyes seemed to reflect the horror of the coming eternity she would spend alone among the mindless minions of a patient and vengeful evil.
 I found myself floundering in the real sea, beneath stifling and cloudy waves, swimming with river trash and detritus. My head broke the surface; I gulped in great amounts of salty air. The water stung my eyes, blinded me for a short time. Weakly, I made my way shoreward and found myself not far from where I had entered the ocean. I climbed back into my clothes, there to pass into oblivion. My father found me later that morning, unconscious upon the beach.

*****
Even though the polychaetes my father found adhered to my chest and back were of a type never before identified, and even though there were numerous puncture wounds upon my arms and legs as those made by long nails, my father forever remained silent of the event. He seemed only relieved that I went no more to gaze mindlessly at the unending waves. I do not know what he suspects of the incident, for he never mentions it nor inquires as to how I should have been found soaking and insensible at the ocean's edge.
And while they found her clothes as if shed upon the beach there, my mother's body never did wash ashore.

Tales of Suspense #44

Here's an interesting book from my collection. For a while, after superheroes became the obvious way to go at Marvel (thanks to Jack Kirby's vision and Steve Ditko's help), the company allowed the super-folk to take over all of the monster and science fiction titles. However, there was apparently still quite a backlog of the monster and alien tales that Lee had been using to keep his uncle's comic book publishing ship afloat. The work had already been paid for, of course, and it was just gathering dust. So...to fill out what had been the various anthology titles Lee and Goodman parsed out the inventories of genre tales written and illustrated by Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Reinman, Ayers, Larry Lieber, and company.

This issue of TALES OF SUSPENSE is pretty much what the fans could expect early on in Kirby's superhero revival at Marvel Comics. The reader got a cool new Iron Man tale (with the massive, clunky Kirby armor before Steve Ditko altered it in a stroke of pure genius), followed by a Larry Lieber story (Marvel in those days was nothing if not nepotistic) and a great Ditko yarn. The Ditko story art is credited completely to him, but I suspect someone else (or several someones) had a hand in the finishes. While some of the panels look like Ditko's inks, others do not. I suspect Dick Ayers may have been recruited to complete the inks, but I could be wrong.

My copy of Tales of Suspense #44.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Furniture Formerly Known as Gun Cabinet

I'm not a fan of guns, to put it mildly. Having been caught in cross-fire on my job, I have negative opinions of the things.

When my father-in-law (great guy, Frank!) was alive, he was an avid hunter. He had quite a lot of guns for various types of hunting. Most of his guns (but not all) were on display in a gun cabinet. When Frank died the guns were eliminated. But the gun cabinet was still there.

One day his widow (Faye) got the idea of having a carpenter come in to modify the gun cabinet. He did so, and now it's a china cabinet. Recreating a thing meant for the repose of guns into something of peace. Appropriate work for a carpenter...

Formerly a gun cabinet. Now a china cabinet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

MARVEL TALES #1

Fairly early on in the game Martin Goodman and Stan Lee realized that they could make a heapin' helpin' of extra cash by reprinting the superhero stories that Kirby and Ditko had made so popular. Fans were pouring into the Marvel Universe by the truckload every hour. Many of them had no access to back issues and were hungry for the earlier books that they had missed.

Therefore, the publisher decided to begin reprinting those early appearances. It didn't take long for them to start doing this, recognizing that there was an untapped income stream in doing so. Enter MARVEL TALES ANNUAL #1. This book reprinted the origin stories from the very earliest appearances of the following characters:

The Amazing Spider-Man, created, written, and illustrated by Steve Ditko (from Amazing Fantasy #15).

The Incredible Hulk, created, written, and illustrated by Jack Kirby (from The Incredible Hulk #1).

Ant Man, created, written, and illustrated by Jack Kirby (from Tales to Astonish #35).

Giant Man and the Wasp, created, written, and illustrated by Jack Kirby (finishes by Dick Ayers) from Tales to Astonish #49.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, created, written, and illustrated by Jack Kirby (from Sgt. Fury #1).

Iron Man created and written by Jack Kirby with art over Jack Kirby layouts by Don Heck (from Tales of Suspense #39).

Iron Man's new armor created, written, and illustrated by Steve Ditko (from Tales of Suspense #48).

The Mighty Thor created, written, and illustrated by Jack Kirby (from Journey Into Mystery #83). 

That was a heck of a package of great Kirby and Ditko superhero stories to be collected into one square bound 72-page comic book. A real treasure for the fans who had missed the initial boat.

My copy of Marvel Tales Annual #1.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Andy Kunkle's Birthday Party

Carole and I went to my friend Andy Kunkle's birthday party last week. It was a lot of fun, of course. I got to see Andy and finally meet his wife Christy. And we saw Jack and Amy Thyen for the first time in a while.

The funniest and--to any man--coolest gift Andy got came from Jack and Amy. It was two crates of craft beer. Forty of them, in fact. "Forty beers for forty years".

Damn!

Damn straight.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

WITCH


Here's a story I sold many years ago. Since I sold it, this one earned a decent amount in royalties. A surprising amount. I think the anthology finally went out of print (one of Marty Greenberg's many books, I think?). At any rate, this version has never seen print, but is essentially the story accepted those many years ago.

"WITCH"
By
James Robert Smith
Copyright 2012 

 
     In spite of the hatred, he kissed Rebecca, her lips pliant against his own. Damn. Her spells were kicking in.
     It was a nasty surprise when he tasted the rot of her decaying tongue, felt juices that were not saliva flow into his mouth. Gagging, he fell back.
     He froze, feeling the urge to vomit. "You bitch!"
     Rebecca placed fingers over her mouth, hurt that she had let it happen, stung by his words. "I'm sorry, Ted!" She was sincere, though Ted had killed her.
     Ted looked up from gagging, saw that she appeared as tan and healthy as usual. At least the visual illusion hadn't faltered. He backed away, no longer feeling anything approaching affection for her, no longer doubting why he'd strangled the life out of her weeks ago. She came toward him, the way she always did when she upset him. Why did she have to do that when what he needed was space?
     "You keep away!" He pointed, index finger a straight line. "You...you witch!" How stupid. Of course she was a witch, an avowed witch; it was the thing about her that caused him the most embarrassment.
     Because she loved him, or because there was nothing more he could do to her, Rebecca didn't listen to his implied threat. She went to him, taking him in her arms, chanting a new spell.
     "There, there, Teddy. Everything is okay. You know I'd never hurt you." He could feel her arms drawing him closer than he wanted to be.
     'Oh, god,' he thought. 'Just six feet of earth between us, please.' But nothing was there save the fabric of their clothes, not even that where their cheeks met. Her flesh felt soft, smooth; he knew that it wasn't, that it was swollen, stinking. He didn't know how she was keeping herself in this seeming state of life, only that it was through the witchcraft that had embarrassed him whenever they'd mingled with others. He recalled how he could've killed her, and her spells couldn't make him think of love. Not for an instant.
     "Let me go. Just for a minute. Please?" He waited, taking little breaths through clenched teeth, arms dangling.
     She gave him a pat, then backed away. "Of course, Ted. If that's what you want."
     He gazed at her, flanneled forearm across his lips. "Why didn't you stay dead?"
     She stared.
     "Why don't you go away?"
     She stood; looking healthy, pretty in her way, brown hair making parallel lines aside her face. Her hair actually shone in the sunlight that beamed through the window. Ted wondered if it was really that full, that clean; perhaps it'd begun to fleck from her head; perhaps her scalp had peeled from her running-sore-of-a-skull. There was no way to know, except during instants when her concentration faltered. Ted thought that one of the neighborhood kids suspected, or had caught a glimpse. The fat Wyler boy used to hang around, waiting for Rebecca to give him those cupcakes she was forever baking. Maybe she'd invited him into the kitchen for a snack and had handed the lard-ass one of her treats, and as she'd handed it to him, he'd seen, catching a flash: her face purple, dripping, skin splitting where rot was starting. Ted would've laughed if he wasn't trapped there.
     "Let me go."
     "Don't talk like that." There was an edge of anger in her voice. Running was suddenly the furthest thing from his mind.
     Afterwards, Ted seemed to forget what was bothering him. Certainly not living in his house, with his wife. Not even if he'd beaten her to death with his bare hands and she just wouldn't lie down and die. Not even that bothered him. So he looked out the window, saw that the lawn needed mowing; and he went out and, by god, he mowed that lawn, working up such a good appetite that he was able to keep his meal down that afternoon, even knowing what sat across from him chewing. And he didn't scream when she insisted on making love that night.

     He'd tried to run. He'd tried to kill her again. But every time he'd frozen or she had risen. Had she won? He didn't want to admit it.
     Maybe she hated him, and didn't love him. Perhaps her fawning, servile attitude was merely another way of reviling him, a further embarrassment before others. She had so succeeded in embarrassing: her very appearance--she dressed in the worst, most outrageous fashions. Her voice, too: that whining, Boston accent had driven him bats, was the joke among his southern buddies.
     But the witchcraft had been the worst of it. After their marriage, what had been an interest became obsession. The books had filled shelves. It was bullshit that insulted his intelligence and the sensibilities of everyone they knew. They could not sit with anyone and have a conversation in which she did not bring it up. Her obsession had stymied his career. His superiors hadn't fired him, but promotions had passed him by. He knew. It was her goddamned witchcraft.
     When he finally realized that she hated him, did not love him so much that she wouldn't die, he knew what to do. He decided to make the best of it. He would. The weeks passed.
 **
     The new account was his. The client had flown in, spending the day with Ted. He bragged of his ability to get the job done, flattering the big man. He'd told him how outrageous Rebecca could be. When Ted got through, the guy was dying to meet her. "Yeah, she's really something," Ted told him. Both of them, drunk after martinis, had roared.
     Ted got that account, the next, and the next.
     His commissions grew from five per cent to seven-and-a-half, then to ten or he would've left the firm and gone elsewhere. He was changed; jovial and loquacious, the perfect host when a new account came calling. The district manager invited him to lunch, to visit at Ted's home. And he wasn't put off by that awful stench when he'd first stepped through the door. That had passed and he'd enjoyed himself, meeting Rebecca, finding that she was the trip Ted had boasted: quite interesting in small doses. Ted got a promotion.
 **
     "Oh! I'm so happy!" She gave him a hug.
     The glint in his eyes was of expectation. He never knew what he'd get--firm breasts pressing against him, or perhaps she'd dissolve to liquid in his arms. He grinned, hiding madness.
     "I can't believe it, myself!" He tossed his briefcase, pretending to be happy. He knew he had her fooled, hoping that she would give in soon. It had been four months, now. How much could there still be?
     "Let's celebrate," she said, grasping Ted's face, forcing him to look.
     For a bare moment, his eyes clenched as she pulled his head down. When he opened them he could see: the look that could pass for love if he didn't know. "What do you have in mind?"
     "I don't know. A night on the town. Something!" She was good. But Ted knew, now, how to beat her.
     "Well, I've got an idea." In his mind, he smiled. "We'll have a party. Here."
     "When?"
     "Tomorrow."
     "So soon?"
     "It's arranged. Everyone's coming. Even Mr. Jameson."
     Her eyes widened in surprise. "The president?"
     "The very man." He grinned. He'd beaten her. "And you won't lift a finger. I've catered the whole thing. All you do is be yourself."
 **
     At eight, the guests began to arrive. First, Edwards, stuffed into his coat, ushering a girl too young for him. Then Gardner, talking sharp. After that, McGregor swaggered in, followed by Sam, Batten, Whisenant, Crowley, and Baker with portfolio under arm, Hoffman, and Poston, trying to suck his way to the top. Then Ted lost track, leaving greetings up to Rebecca because he wasn't worried anymore.
     Around nine, Jameson showed, coming with his wife, not his secretary as Poston had sneeringly suggested. All was right with the world. Ted had accepted things, as he should've done all along, as he would from now on.
     At nine twenty, they ran out of hors d'oeuvres and Ted sent Rebecca into the kitchen for more. Keeping her busy was the best way to get her to shut up. Even those who knew what to expect were beginning to find her tedious. Ted slid a word in and she went for another tray.

     Perhaps it was too many people. Perhaps she had grown too tired to continue the ruse. Perhaps she really did hate Ted, had been punishing him.
     It was Poston who smelled it. As the kitchen door swung wide, he crinkled his protruding nose and announced his displeasure. "What died?" he said.
     Then Ted saw saw the expression upon his wife's face, her squinted eyes as she tried to concentrate.
     The tray clattered to the floor.
     Not because she had dropped it.
     But because her arms had broken off at the elbows. She looked, surprised at the blackened things as they dissolved. The crowd froze in disbelief. Then she, too, toppled, flowing to rest. And that last expression upon her face had not been of hatred, but of hurt, failure.
     Ted screamed, stalking across to lash at her with glinting leather shoes. Dark liquid spattered some of his guests. "Do you see?" He screamed as some began to race for the doors. "She always embarasses me!"


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

VALOR #3

I picked up this low-grade copy of VALOR #3. This was during the abbreviated attempt by EC to conform to the Comics Code Authority, which effectively killed off the company. Without being able to create the visually and intellectually dangerous comics that had defined the company their sales suffered. They escaped the Comics Code by transforming MAD into a magazine and that kept the company afloat for decades, although they published nothing else but MAD.

Great cover by Joe Orlando.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Self-Publishing Plague

If you're self-published, you're not an author. You're part of a disease that's running through the world of publishing. It could be that you're the plague, in which case you'll run your course and subside. It could be that you're terminal cancer, in which case the industry and literature itself is doomed. Or you could be HIV and we'll have to find a way to subdue the effects and just live with you. Hopefully, though, you're more something like diarrhea and a healthy flushing will finish you off.

Rattus Self-Publishus.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

TWO-FISTED TALES #37

I added another couple of EC comics to my collection this week. This is the better of the pair, TWO-FISTED TALES #37. This book is John Severin from start to finish. The cover art is by Severin and all three stories in the book are his, too. This was John Severin territory, after all, adventure and gun-play.

My copy of Two-Fisted Tales #37. My EC collection is growing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

FIN FANG FOOM!

Well, I finally landed a copy of STRANGE TALES #89 for my collection. Back in the day it was just another issue in the long run of this book during the pre-hero days of early Marvel Comics. But the Jack Kirby-created monster in this issue ended up having a new lease on life when he was dusted off and used again in more recent years.

One thing that was definitely going on with the stories and characters created by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is that Stan Lee was naming them after the completed stories were turned in for editing. Lee had a thing for alliteration and the character of Fin Fang Foom is a classic example of this. If you go back and look at Lee's history of naming characters you will see this illustrated time and again: Reed Richards, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Susan Storm, Bruce Banner, etc. It's something that I liked--it stuck in your mind and made the characters a little more solid.

And, of course, there was Fin Fang Foom.

My copy of STRANGE TALES #89. Classic stuff! When I was a kid, this cover gave me nightmares!




Friday, August 10, 2012

HISSMELINA

The Severed Press edition of HISSMELINA is now out in ebook format. The paperback will follow soon:


Thursday, August 09, 2012

STRANGE TALES #102

This has always been one of my favorite early Marvel Comics covers. It's not a very spectacular cover--not the typical dynamism of your average Jack Kirby cover art. However, there's something in its archaic charm that has always appealed to me. It was one of the earlier comics I picked up when I first realized that my parents owned a bookstore and that I could take home as many comics as I wanted to read.

One thing that I've always wondered about with these multi-panel covers is whether they were requested by the editor, Stan Lee, or if they were just an anomaly from the egos of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, both of whom produced them from time to time.

In my experience as a back-issue comics dealer, this is one of the early superhero books that turns up quite often. I seemed to always have at least one of these in stock at any given time, so I know it sold well when it first hit the stands. I will assume that the cover art appealed to other kids as much as it appealed to me. I didn't have to search very long for this copy to my collection when I decided to add this title to my want list.

I'm not sure who inked this cover. Whoever it was did a really good job. I like the heavy inks over Kirby's pencils.

I've always wondered how Carl Burgos felt about seeing his creation (the Human Torch) re-launched without his input or approval. It had to be painful. I seem to recall reading that he did start with a lawsuit to regain control of his intellectual property but that he had to abandon the attempt for lack of funds. (Interior art by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Gene Colan.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Dynamo #4

Tower Comics was a company that tried to enter the comic book marketplace in the 1960s. Encouraged by the success of DC and Marvel with their revived superhero lines, the publishers thought it was a risk worth taking. To that end, they hired some of the finest creators around to write and illustrate the new books they were going to introduce.

Aboard for the the project were folk such as Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Roger Brand, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Len Brown...and in charge of most of the projects, Wally Wood.

Wally Wood was already a comics legend when he was tapped by the owner of Tower Books to create the new line of comics. Because of Wood's reputation, it was no trouble for the company to attract other top talent. It didn't hurt that Wood knew many of the greats from his days at EC Comics.

The flagship title for the new company was T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. It was a clever combination of superheroes, James Bond, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.. It should have been quite the success, and in in many ways. But neither DC nor Marvel were going to stand around and allow an upstart comics company to intrude on their newly realized resurgence in comics. What followed was one of the earliest uses of flooding the market with product in an effort to squeeze out a new publisher by denying it space on the newsstands and within the very weird and monopolistic world of newsstand distribution. Thus, the project was all but killed off before it could set up a solid foundation.

One of my favorite characters from the company was Dynamo. For a brief time, he had his own comic title, illustrated by Wally Wood. Wood's covers for this book were amazing. I'm not sure they'd have passed unobstructed through the offices at Marvel, but they were effective works and stand the test of time.

My copy of DYNAMO #4. Cover by co-creator Wally Wood, one of the best comic artists ever.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Things

I generally don't get excited about the things I have bought and the things that I own. I've known folk who get really choked up when they lose or sell something like an automobile that they've had for a while. This rarely  happens with me.

I have a hiking staff that I cut from the 120-acre property that my mom and dad once owned in the mountains of north Georgia. I've had that staff since I was 16 years old. Somehow, I've kept it close over the decades (almost four decades and counting). I have a statue of a bear carved from a piece of cedar that I bought in a shop when I was eight years old on a visit to the mountains of my native state. Again, somehow I've kept it close at hand for 47 years.

But I don't get upset about things like vehicles. However, today we sold our canoe. We've had it for a while. Ten years or more. I can't recall exactly when we bought it, but we've used it to paddle rivers and streams all over the southeastern USA. Everywhere from Tennessee to Virginia to North Carolina to South Carolina to Florida. We had a great time using that canoe.

Well, today we sold it to a very sweet couple from Asheville. I think they're going to have as much fun with it as Carole and Andy and I did. After they purchased the canoe, and before they headed back home to Asheville, we drove them over to Mountain Island Lake (five-minute drive) so that they could take the canoe on a test run. Watching them paddle away, I did get a bit of a pang seeing our canoe go angling away from us forever.

The sweet couple who bought our canoe.

Their little boy, Zane.

Goodbye, canoe! I think you're with a great family!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

LORD OF THE LIVING

Robert Mathis Kurtz' latest chapter of the COALITION zombie trilogy is out!

 
From Severed Press, home of fine horror fiction!

Pulp Fiction

I enjoy many aspects of pop culture. Not music so much, because for some reason I cannot delineate, I stopped listening to pop music when I hit my mid-20s. I still listen to the stuff that came out during that time (and before), but anything since is largely foreign to me and does nothing for me.

But I do enjoy a lot of the more vulgar forms of pop culture. Books, comics, movies, some TV shows. I also don't muck about with video games, the appeal of which is totally lost on me. But if it floats yer boat, then fine.

My main interest in popular fiction and film is what I would term "pulp fiction". This originated as a largely derogatory term to describe the output of the fiction magazines that were quite widespread and profitable from the late 1800s until around the mid-1950s when TV killed them off. Today, there are only a bare minimum of pulp magazines remaining on the marketplace--ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, ISAAC ASIMOV'S MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION, ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION & FACT...and that's about it. I can't think of any other pulp fiction magazines on the shelves of modern newsstands, bookstores, and convenience shops.

Pulp fiction has generally gotten bad press from the critical community. And to be sure it's pretty basic stuff. You aren't going to get much in the way of deep meaning or thinly-veiled philosophy from the likes of Robert E. Howard, John D. McDonald, Mickey Spillane, or their contemporaries. And as the pulps faded the practitioners of that kind of fiction had to migrate like an animal fleeing the effects of global warming. They had to move higher up the slopes or farther toward the poles. In the case of the pulp writers they transitioned to film, or to paperback originals, or to teleplays. There were so few markets for the kinds of modern fiction-speak they were creating that they had to do something.

One thing that I have always liked about pulp fiction, whether it's in comic books, or magazines, or paperback books, or on a TV or theater screen is the simplicity of it. The genius of pulp fiction is that everything is boiled right down to its essence. In this case, conflict. That's what pulp fiction is all about: conflict. You don't have to wonder about anything or dig around trying to figure out what it's all about. It's about a bad guy versus a good guy, or a bad guy against an even badder dude. There are slight variations, but that's basically the theme.

And it's there in all sorts of pulp fiction. Westerns, crime, suspense, science-fiction, fantasy, horror...you mention it, and the name of the game is conflict--the more violent, the better.


That's where, I suppose, the bad rep came in. Pulp fiction was about the basics. Violence and vulgar language and hot sex. As the years progressed, the hotter the sex became and the more bloody the violence, the more crude the language. I've enjoyed the whole sorry lot of it.

The old pulp venues are long-gone, it seems. Those pitiful few volumes on the newsstands, the dwindling bookstores with their paperback books...all going or soon to be extinct. This is sad to me. I am left to find it in film and TV, I suppose. Even the comic books are fading slowly away, supported, I reckon, because it seems for the moment to be fertile ground for the entertainment industries to grow their crops.

Here's to the pulp fiction of old, though! Raise yer glass high for the guys and gals who wrote the great old stuff and the ones who are still with us writing the great new stuff. They'll be gone too soon.

Jove help me, I loved it so.