Classic Crime Comics Covers

Another covers gallery. I love this one–plenty of weirdness!

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Zombie kisses…mmm. The taboo pleasures of necrophilia in four-color glory!

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William Burroughs wasn’t the only one addressing the horrors of drug addiction. These touchy themes led to constant censorship battles for EC Comics.

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The horrors of love. I like this guy’s beard.

EC Comics, MAD Magazine, Censorship, and the Comics Code Authority

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When I was a kid, I loved loved loved MAD Magazine: I loved Alfred E. Neuman’s gap-toothed grin on the cover, I loved Don Martin’s wacky comic strips, I loved the fake ads, I loved the movie and TV show parodies that I didn’t understand (to this day there are certain movies that I only know about via MAD), I loved the Sergio Aragonés doodles that hid in the margins, I loved “Spy vs. Spy,” I loved the endless recycling of strips and parodies that were older than I was by a longshot,  I loved Al Jaffee’s “fold-ins” (even though they quickly wore down to unfunny illegibility within minutes), I even loved the perennially unfunny “Lighter Side of Strip.” I think most of all I loved the bizarre guttural language of MAD–the unpronounceable explosions of fricatives and glottals, the joyful and rude “smrzzps!” and “schlups!” and “putzes” that provided the perfect soundtrack for my pre-adolescent pre-angst. Surely, this was the special argot of the adult world, the perfect onomatopoeia of grown-up comedy. Even as a young kid, I knew that MAD was in some way offensive, that it somehow tested the bounds of decency. Of course, I mistook what was essentially puerile for something more urbane.

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So I was initially disappointed when I received Maria Reidelbach’s Completely Mad for Christmas one year. I guess I was expecting it to be a special all-color glossy hardback anthology. Eventually, I got around to reading it, and thus I learned the history of EC Comics and the censorship trials that the brand–and comics in general–had to endure. To this day, again and again, comic books come under the fire of those who wish to censor (check out the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s short history of censorship in comics to learn more). 

Under the editorial direction of William Gaines, EC Comics in the early 1950s specialized in horror, sci-fi, and true crime comics, publishing classic titles such as Tales from the Crypt and Weird Fantasy. These comics featured twisting and twisted plots, boldly illustrated with strong lines and graphic images. In a repressed and fearful age, EC Comics openly addressed problems of racial segregation and arms proliferation. The lurid artwork and progressive themes finally proved too much for Dr. Fredric Wertham, who addressed the supposed threat comics proved to the youth of America in Sedcution of the Innocent. Fitting right in to the McCarthyism of the era, Wertham’s book led to a Congressional hearing on comic books. In an attempt to regulate and control his own product, Gaines banded with other publishers to form the Comics Code Authority. This pre-emptive strike backfired, however–the CCA decided that they needed to censor every comic that came out, and give it this stamp of approval (still seen on mainstream comics today!)–

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If you’re interested in reading the full (and necessarily vague) code, check out Once Upon a Dime’s article here.

A disappointed Gaines quickly left the CCA but the damage was done. They ruled that comics couldn’t be published with words like “horror” or “weird” in the title, effectively blacklisting EC’s major titles.

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Check out this review of Psychoanalysis #1 at Polite Dissent.

Gaines continued to publish new comics like MD, and Psychoanalysis, but the CCA had poisoned the well. EC Comics went under, plagued by censorship battles and distribution  problems. Gaines focused all of his efforts on MAD, turning it into a full-sized magazine in 1955. MAD Magazine has been in continuous publication for over 50 years–although today the magazine prints paid ads. Yeah. That sucks, doesn’t it? So MAD has succumbed to commercialism–no wonder, considering that it’s the commodity name for such a crappy TV show. Even so, I’ll always recall gleefully devouring “Special Editions” of MAD, reprint digests chock full of references I didn’t get, thinking that I was gaining some forbidden knowledge. Maybe I was. 

Lydia Cabrera–Afro-Cuban Tales

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In a sublime synthesis of traditional folklore and imagistic surrealism, Lydia Cabrera’s Afro-Cuban Tales questions the normative spaces occupied by bodies. Deriving from animist tradition, her characters exist in an impossible multiplicity of spaces, being at once animals and plants, humans and gods. Cabrera’s characters endure trials of biological identity and social co-existence, and through these problems they internalize authority, evince taboos, and create a social code. Cabrera’s trickster characters provoke, challenge, or otherwise disrupt the symbolic order of this code. In “Bregantino Bregantín,” a story that recalls Freud’s primal horde theory, as well as the work of more contemporary theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler,  narcissist Bull kills all the males of his kingdom and takes all the women for himself.  The sadistic titular turtle of “Papa Turtle and Papa Tiger” uses the power of his dead friend’s antlers to shame, torment, and torture the other animals of his community. And in the magical realism of “Los Compadres,” Capinche seeks to put the horns on his best friend Evaristo by sleeping with his wife–a transgression that ends in necrophilia. This union of sex and death, creation and destruction is the norm in Cabrera’s green and fecund world; the trickster’s displacements of order invariably result in reanimation, transformation, and regeneration—the drawing, stepping-over, and re-drawing of boundaries. A couple of days, Bob hipped me to this really cool Run Wrake short film called Rabbit. While not directly related to Afro-Cuban Tales, this film nonetheless captures the book’s key themes and motifs of death and resurrection, transformation and language, and the trickster’s power to disrupt social and familial codes. Highly recommended.

William Burroughs Cover Gallery

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Burroughs appears on a large number of his covers, whether as a photograph, or something more iconic:

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I like this early, lurid pulp edition of Junky. Note the spelling of the title, as well as Burroughs’ pseudonym, William Lee:

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The Wild Boys: One of my faves.

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This Spanish edition of Naked Lunch really captures the squeamish quality of all things Burroughs:

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Check out the full gallery here.

The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick

Want to learn about PK Dick’s bizarre apocalypse visions? Sure you do–and who better to tell a bizarre story than underground comix avatar Robert Crumb, whose accoutnt is available here in full.  Dick’s revelations led him to believe that he was coexisting in a Roman Empire that never fell, and that the spirit of the prophet Elijah lived within him. Highly recommended. 

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Scary Stories: Scary Books–Part III

When was the last time you read Poe? Stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” explore the ebb and flow of manic identity and the horror of displacement. These are rich texts. While you’re revisiting Poe, check out the lesser-known but masterful “Descent into the Maelstrom.”

I always read “The Raven” with my students on Halloween, and then we watch The Simpsons version of “The Raven” from one of the first “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.

Check it out!

 

This edition makes a great introduction to Kafka. “In the Penal Colony,” the horrific tale of a machine that kills you by inscribing your sentence on you, is pretty scary.

From Hell: Scary Books–Part II

 Alan Moore (writer), Eddie Campbell (artist).

Alan Moore’s well-researched, 500+ page graphic novel theorizes that the Jack the Ripper murders were in fact a conspiracy to get rid of a royal’s illegitimate child who posed a threat to the Victorian lineage. I can’t say enough good things about this book. I am a huge fan of graphic novels, and this is one of the best, right up there with Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Dave Sim’s Cerebus and Joe Sacco’s Palestine. The intricate plot involves Masonic conspiracy, Victorian sexual mores, 19th century surgery, insanity, and a blood ritual resulting in transcendental time travel. Eddie Campbell’s art does a wonderful tight-rope act in putting order to chaos. His scratchy inks burst with emotion–I can’t imagine a better artist for this story. I actually wonder if some of Moore’s other work (V for Vendetta, Watchmen) would resonate deeper with me had an artist of Campbell’s caliber (Bill Sienkiewicz or Mike Mignola, possibly) worked on those books. I doubt it though. I always recommend this book to persons who don’t think graphic novels are literary. I won’t loan it out though. I don’t want it to go MIA.

(By the way, the Hughes brothers-directed movie adaptation of this novel, starring Johnny Depp, IS NOT the same story at all. I know, hard to believe that Hollywood could screw up great source material, but nonetheless true).

Scary Books–Part I

I love Halloween.

Some favorite scary books:

The monster’s point of view.

One of my classes is reading this version of Macbeth right now. I know–the cover sucks (the cauldron look’s like a latte), but I think it makes a fantastic introduction to Shakespeare; great for highschool students.

 We’re also watching Roman Polanski’s 1971 film version.

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 And who can deny this old chestnut?

Fun links, methinks

Ricotta Park is stealing my gig. Fair enough, considering my gig is stealing. RP does a few mini book reviews today, including a review of The Psychic Soviet by ex-Nation of Uylsses frontman Ian Svenonious. Some consider Ulysses by James Joyce to be the best book ever written in English. Not me though! (It’s Moby Dick, hands down).

Go hit up Troglogyte Mignon to see some art (you need it kid!) Her watercolors are humorous and often affecting. A sample below (reproduced with permission of the artist).

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I found BibliOdyssey when looking for other “biblio” blogs. I was crushed, green to the gills with envy. This blog is fantastic! Go get some knowledge.

Shelfari is MySpace for book nerds. Go set up a shelf and meet some people. Argue about books. Posit Hemmingway as way overrated, or find that certain somebody who also trucked their way through Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night.

If you live in Jacksonville, no doubt you already travel daily to The Urban Core and Urban Jacksonville. What’s that you say? You haven’t visited yet? Go get some awareness (local, son!) Urban Jax has a great post today on artist Dan May. Urban Core was kind enough to include this blog in his write-up of Top 10 Jacksonville Blogs (the ‘klept came in lucky number 7! woo!) Urban Core was voted the best blog in Jacksonville by local indie paper Folio Weekly.

More fun links and hi-jinks next week.

Abominable Fallout by Dan May. Copyright Dan May, 2006.

Riddley Walker–Russell Hoban

I never gave Riddley Walker back to Patrick Tilford (aka TLFRD). A few years ago I loaned it to a student who never returned it. Said student never returned Dune, or The Left Hand of Darkness, or several Jules Verne novels either. Doesn’t matter, I know that he read them.

This book is a favorite. Russell Hoban’s coming-of-age story takes place in a future that has regressed to the iron age due to a catastrophic war. Hoban writes in his own language, a mutated English, full of fragments of the 20th century.

I couldn’t find an image of the edition I stole/lost. This edtion from 2000 features an introduction by Will Self, whose latest book, The Book of Dave, apparently was directly influenced by Riddley Walker. Will Self’s book Great Apes deeply, deeply disturbed me. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans; Great Apes is the literary equivalent.

Great Apes was an airport bookstore buy; I suppose at some point on this blog I will address the “airport bookstore buy.”

The Unknown

The Unknown is a sprawling hypertext novel. It’s basically a postmodern choose your own adventure written in a ludic, recursive style. It’s a jumble of ideas, authors (their faves–The Unknown are a collective of sorts–include Thomas Pynchon, Wm Burroughs and Michel Foucault), and half-cooked philosophies. 

The Crucible/Bohemian Grove

My 11th graders just finished The Crucible. Here are a few images that we looked at in class.

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These images remind me of a video I saw a couple of years ago, Inside the Bohemian Grove. This video claims to expose the bizarre rituals of the Bohemian Club, a secret society of world leaders, industrialists, and so on. The important people. To get a relatively mainstream take on the Bohemian Grove meetings go here; of course the internet hordes an abundance of (mis?)information on the BG. Just google it. File under Illuminati/conspiracy/paranoia.

 Here’s an image of a Bohemian Grove ritual from a 1915 issue of National Geographic.

 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

I procured this from my cousin’s closet. My cousin Tripp is ten years older than me; he was in college at the time and I was staying with my aunt and uncle over the summer, in his old bedroom. I’m pretty sure both he and my uncle recommended that I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The edition (not pictured above–I couldn’t find the one I snagged, but it had a similar cover–more on the cover below) could have belonged to Tripp, but it may have belonged to my uncle.  

Reading Fear and Loathing was an initiation into some kind of new literature for me. It opened the way to authors like Vonnegut, Wm Burroughs, Herman Hesse, JD Salinger (admittedly, I read some Tom Robbins in this period as well. Ugh). Before HST I was reading lots and lots of science fiction and fantasy books, both classic and trash. I had also read lots of the “adventure classics,” stuff like Robinson Crusoe and Dracula and Great Expectations and the Tarzan novels. And comic books. Always comic books. But Fear and Loathing was something new for me; it combined the fantasy and adventure and weirdness I’d been reading with a political ethos and a sense of social-reality-via-unreality. Surreality. Fear and Loathing contained a whole new set of reading rules for me, chief among them: irony and paradox. All of a sudden, the verity of all past narrators was cast into doubt. I was savvy now. I was ironized. I was, y’know, hip to what may be under a text now, whereas before I was just scanning the text. Or at least it seemed that way. Looking back, I don’t know for sure. 

Of course I lent this book out to anyone who seemed vaguely interested. I did this for years, and amazingly, the book kept coming back to me. Must be some mystical sign when I think about it. Who returns books? I loaned it out all the way through college before it finally escaped me for ever. I’m not sure who has it now. At the point this particular edition left me forever, it had a duck-tape cover with title and author in Sharpie-font, courtesy of one innovative reader. I like to think others were initiated by it, but I know that most of the readers I lent it to had already read their revelation-text, whether it was that Kerouac book or Slaughterhouse Five or Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. And I haven’t read this book in years, although I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s movie. Still, it’ll always have a special place in my trunk full of drugs–er, heart.