Monday, January 30, 2012

Jean-Michel Nicollett: Book covers

One of the most memorable and accomplished of the French artists contributing to Heavy Metal / Metal Hurlant in the late 70s and early 80s was Jean Michel Nicollett. 

His distinctive style is showcased at this website, 'Neo' (the acronym for 'Nouvelles Editions Oswald'), which provides images of French paperbacks for which Nicollett did the cover art.

I'm not fluent in French, but I gather that Neo is a specialty publisher in the 'fantastique' genre. The paperbacks, all of which were issued in the 70s and 80s, reprint famous works of fantasy, sf, and mystery genres. Represented are well-known authors like Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson, and Brian Lumley, among others. 

Also receiving cover artwork from Nicollett are some of the 'Harry Dickson' ('The American Sherlock Holmes') novels by the Belgian author Jean Ray. 

[Nicollett is apparently a big fan of the Harry Dickson stories, which remain tremendously popular in Europe but sadly, have never been widely translated into English, and given the wide dispersion for US consumption that they deserve.]

Needless to say, Nicollett's illustrations for these classics are equal (if not superior) to those of Frazetta, Vallejo, and other well-known artists. 

Unfortunately, what few Neo editions that are available from US vendors are prohibitively expensive.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review: 'The Road to Corlay' by Richard Cowper

 3 / 5 Stars

'The Road to Corlay' was first published in 1975; this Pocket Books edition was released in September 1979. The striking cover painting is by Don Maitz; it seems safe to conclude that it was inspired in some part by John William Waterhouse's famous oil painting 'The Lady of Shallot' (1888).

Richard Cowper was the pen name used by the British author John Middleton Murray, aka Colin Murray (1926 - 2002). 'Road' was the first volume in what eventually became a trilogy; the other two volumes are 'A Dream of Kinship' (1981) and 'A Tapestry of Time' (1982).

'Road' is set in a future UK, circa 3000 AD, some one thousand years after global warming has left a large percentage of the planet's lower-lying terrain submerged under the oceans. Civilization has regressed to a medieval level, and what used to be the UK is divided into a set of seven islands, or 'kingdoms'.

This future UK is ruled by a Church Militant and its harsh theology. The people instinctively yearn for some alternative, some signs of a renewal of technology and its progressions; there are rumors and whispers of the advent of 'The White Bird', a sort of Jungian archetype of the Holy Spirit. However, the theology associated with The White Bird is resolutely humanistic in its character, something viewed with considerable disfavor by the Church.

The novel opens with a prologue, 'The Piper At the Gates of Dawn' a title borrowed of course from a chapter of Kenneth Graham's 'The Wind in the Willows'. 

The Piper of Cowper's story is Tom of Cartmel, a thirteen year-old lad raised by the wizard Morfedd, and bestowed by that worthy with a forked tongue and a magic pair of pipes. We learn that Tom's musicianship has an eerie effect on its listeners, evoking a temporary, transcendent state of consciousness. When it passes, the listener is dazed, sees his or her world in a new light, and adopts the fervor associated with the coming of The White Bird.

I won't disclose any spoilers, but I will disclose that the succeeding chapters focus on the adventures of a White Bird acolyte named Thomas of Norwich, who seeks to evade the forces of the Church Militant in his efforts to reach the citadel of Corlay, in Brittany, where the nascent religion is headquartered.

The novel's sf element is contained in a parallel sub-plot; this sub-plot is set in the mid-80s and revolves around the efforts of a team of English researchers to characterize an esp-link with the people of the British Isles of 3000 AD.

'Road' shows clear signs of being influenced by Keith Robert's seminal novel 'Pavane', but this is not a bad thing. Like Roberts did with his Catholic incarnation of England in  'Pavane', Cowper's future UK under the thumb of a stifling theocracy is presented with some degree of ambiguity. 

Cowper regularly inserts passages into his narrative depicting this world with a highly descriptive, quasi-poetic prose style designed to highlight its pastoral beauty. The reader is informed that however heavy may lie the influences of the Church Militant, life in this future UK may not necessarily be as dire as the torments and terrors attendant to our modern civilization.

'Road' also does a good job of communicating the fragile lives of the White Bird devotees, and the suspense that accompanies their underdog efforts to overthrow the Church Militant.

Readers who enjoy  'Pavane' and similarly-themed material will be interested in 'The Road to Corlay'.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Sand Man by Loustal

'The Sand Man' by Loustal
from the January 1982 issue of Heavy Metal

Jacques de Loustal (b. 1956) provides a downbeat, existential tale, with even mixtures of dark humor and creepiness.....

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Review: The Crystals of Mida

Book Review: 'The Crystals of Mida' by Sharon Green

Gor Fanboy Score: 4 / 5 Stars

‘The Crystals of Mida’ is DAW Book No. 484, released in June 1982. The cover artwork is by Ken Kelly. It’s the first of five volumes of the ‘Jalav: Amazon Warrior’ series that author Green published from ’82 to ’96.

Somewhat surprisingly, despite the tremendous financial success of the ‘Gor’ novels by John Norman (the pen name of John Eric Lange), it took until 1982 before DAW Books realized that if the fanboys were ready to snap up each installment of the Gor novels, they might also snap up imitators. As the back cover blurb of ‘Crystals’ states, “If you like John Norman, you will like Sharon Green.”

It’s unclear if ‘Sharon Green’ is an actual person or a pseudonym, but she has the prose style of Norman’s novels down pat. As with the Gor books, ‘Crystals’ uses a deadpan first-person narrative on the part of our heroine Jalav to relate various escapades and intrigues on a planet in the grip of barbarism.

Adding spice to the mix is a peculiar habit of the beautiful Jalav and her equally alluring amazonian tribeswomen: they have a habit of abducting studly males and drugging them with a potion that renders their bound captives quite responsive to erotic stimulation (!)  That's right, helpless male captives forced (wink-wink) to serve the insatiable, lust-filled desires of stunning warrior chicks …!

Yes, it’s something to make every Gor fanboy’s palms sweaty, his brow wet, his vision blurred..…

It’s easy to laugh at this picture of fanboy manipulation, but remember, this is 1982. There is no Internet, and there is no such thing as a cornucopia of free porn delivered to you with a mouse click. So the 'Jalav' novels were heady stuff for the fanboys in those long-lost days.

To her credit, Green infuses “Crystals’ with subtle humor that satirizes the whole Gor Concept.

At 352 pp. this is a thick chunk of a book, and at times the action drags and it’s a chore to continue reading. However, the last few pages deliver a satisfactory, even offbeat, ending.

‘Crystals’ isn’t for everyone; any argument that it represents a progenitor sci-fi ‘feminist’ novel is stretching the book’s simple intentions. And, I suspect readers who have since grown out of the Gor books will not find ‘Crystals’ capable of fueling more than a bit of nostalgia. 

But readers of the ever-expanding genre of sci-fi and fantasy romances, which now dominate DAW’s release lists, may want to investigate the Jalav series for a take on how things were done…. back ‘In The Day.’

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mates by Moench and Maroto

'Mates' by Doug Moench and Esteban Maroto
from Comics International No. 3, Warren publishing, 1975

Some alluring Amazons turn out to have a sinister secret......

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review: Science Fiction: What It's All About

Book Review: 'Science Fiction: What It's All About', by Sam J. Lundwall

 3 / 5 Stars

Sam J. Lundwall (b. 1941) is one of Sweden’s most influential SF fans, authors, editors, and publishers. His novels ‘Bernhard the Conqueror’ (1973) and ‘2018 AD, or the King Kong Blues’ (1975) were published in the US by DAW Books.

Lundwall published ‘Science Fiction: What It’s All About’ in Sweden in 1969. Having met Lundwall during a world SF convention in London, Donald A. Wolheim, then the editor of Ace Books, offered to publish the book in the US (Lundwall is fluent in English).

‘SF:WIAA’ (256 pp., black and white illustrations) was released in 1971, with cover art by Dean Ellis.

As Wolheim points out in his Introduction, SF has primarily been viewed as a manifestation of American popular culture, with the genre’s standing in non-American countries being something of an afterthought among fans and publishers.

Thus, Lundwall’s overview of the genre provides a useful ‘Eurocentric’ perspective; more so when one considers that in the early 70s, there was no Internet or World Wide Web, and cross-cultural communications more laborious and cumbersome than today.

‘SF:WIAA’ is divided into chapters dealing with the early history of SF; early Utopian ideals in the genre; contemporary SF and its rather pessimistic view of the world; and the advent of fantasy / sword and sorcery literature as a cultural phenomenon. 

Successive chapters focus on traditional SF, and major writers such as Asimov and Heinlein; the field’s treatment of robots, women, and aliens; mass culture approaches to SF, such as comic books, television, and feature films; and SF fandom. The final chapter predicts where the genre would be headed as the 70s unfolded.

It goes without saying that SF:WIAA is outdated, as such books inevitably become within a few years of their release. Not surprisingly, a book of this length can only skim certain aspects of the genre, and gaps in coverage exist. For example, Lundwall rarely acknowledges that SF is a business, and that marketing and profitability play salient roles in determining what is, or is not, published. As well, Lundwall rarely passes up opportunities to remind his Anglophone readers that (arguably) seminal works of SF were produced in Scandinavia and Europe, an aspect of SF history that, in his opinion, has been given short shrift by the US component of SF fandom.

However, fans interested in a readable overview of the genre as the New Wave era became more prominent, and some degree of turmoil accompanied its advent, may find SF:WIAA worth a look. Lundwall himself is rather skeptical of the New Wave movement, seeing it as too fixated with the negative, but he also criticizes traditional SF for its conservatism and stodginess about social mores and attitudes (remember, in the late 60s – early 70s Sweden was the hallmark of a progressive country, what with its release of ‘explicit’ films such as ‘I Am Curious / Yellow’). 

'SF: WIAA' stands as an interesting snapshot of the genre when it was on the cusp of growing into the massive cultural phenomenon of the later 70s.

Heavy Metal magazine January 1982

'Heavy Metal' magazine January 1982

The January 1982 issue of 'Heavy Metal' features a front cover by Ron Walotsky titled ’Clone o’ My Heart’, while Michael Gross provides the back cover, ‘Heavy Metal Man’.

The ‘Dossier’ section provides some humorous insight into the tech toy of the day, the Sony Walkman. With iPods and smart phones so ubiquitous nowadays, it’s difficult to realize how revolutionary the Walkman was Back In The Day, when the idea of bringing your music with you had a hi-tech edge.

Also in the Dossier are the (expectedly pretentious) music column by Lou Stathis; book reviews by Brad Balfour and Norman Spinrad; and a review of ‘Time Bandits’ by Timothy Lucas.

Among the comic-related material appearing in the January issue are continuing installments of Segrelle’s ‘The Mercenary’, Corben’s ‘Den II’, and the conclusion of Steranko’s ‘Outland’, which I’ve posted below. 

This issue is noteworthy for the large number of one-shot pieces, some of which I will be posting as the month proceeds.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: 'Last Summer' by Evan Hunter

3 / 5 Stars

‘Last Summer’ was written by Salvatore Lombino using the pen name ‘Evan Hunter’, which he reserved for his mainstream fiction pieces ('Ed McBain’ was the pseudonym Lombino used for his detective novels and police procedurals). 

The hardcover edition was published in 1968; this Signet paperback was published in April 1969. [Hunter published a sequel, ‘Come Winter’, in 1973. ]

Needless to say, a paperback like ‘Last Summer’ isn’t complete without a great James Bama cover; unfortunately, Bama worked for Bantam Books, so Signet made do with a rather underwhelming photo-collage cover.

And, needless to say, ‘Summer’ is a lot milder than the lurid cover blurbs would have you believe.

It’s the late 60s, and high school sophomores Sandy, Peter, and David are longtime Summer Friends, spending their days all season long on Greenwood Island (a fictional location on the Atlantic Coast; perhaps a stand-in for Martha’s Vineyard). 

David is a self-confident athlete; Peter a self-effacing intellectual; and Sandy, with her long blonde hair, bikini collection, and great tan, is easily the grooviest chick on the island.

In between lounging on the beach, sneaking beers from their parent’s refrigerators, and sailing around the island, our sunkissed trio take the time to tame a seagull, take in racy Art House films, and help out with the chores at adult parties (whose ‘Mad Men’ –era attendees drink and smoke to excess, clumsily try the latest dances meant for kids half their age, and tipsily grope Sandy).

Rhoda is also summering on the island…..except she’s short, Jewish, pale, dark-haired, wears braces, clumsy, neurotic, deeply insecure, and periodically depressed.

With the sort of amused, slightly mocking attitude WASPs display to those Born Less Fortunate, our trio decide to take Rhoda under their wing. Rhoda is thrilled to be hanging out with the coolest teens on the island. But there may be a price to pay when you hang out with the Beautiful People….

‘Summer’ is best described as ‘A Separate Peace’, set on the beach.

Author Hunter employs the same prose structure as John Knowles: the first-person narrative is a flashback coming from an older, sadder, and wiser Peter. There are lengthy monologues in which Peter offers a accurate dissection of adult foibles, as well as the emotional upheavals of adolescence.

Extended sections of dialogue, occupying several pages, make a regular appearance in the narrative; and there are frequent descriptive passages, saturated with a deliberately poetic and contemplative atmosphere, that evoke those carefree Golden Times of  Youth.

The novel’s denouement will seem rather underwhelming to modern audiences. Indeed, the adolescent explorations that surface in ‘Summer’ likely will draw amused titters from modern readers aware of the antics of the ‘Sandy’ who stars in Paul Ruditis’s 2005 schlock novel about wayward teen girls, ‘Rainbow Party’.

Even so, if you’re in the mood for a contemplative novel that melds the wistful tenor of ‘A Separate Peace’, the Sandpiper's song 'Come Saturday Morning', and Spanky and Our Gang's 'Like To Get To Know You', and transplants them to a beach filled with groovy 60s vibes, then ‘Summer’ is worth a look.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Deathlok the Demolisher origin

'Deathlok the Demolisher' origin
Astonishing Tales No. 25, August 1974

One of the more offbeat sci-fi - based comic characters of the mid-70s, and a forerunner to the Cyberpunk heroes of the following decade, was Marvel's 'Deathlok the Demolisher', created by Rich Buckler. Deathlok debuted in the August 1974 issue of Astonishing Tales

Deathlok was inspired to some degree by 'The Six Million Dollar Man', which originated as a made-for-television movie in March 1973, and became a weekly series in January 1974. ('Man' was of course adapted from Martin Caidin's 1972 sf novel 'Cyborg').

Unlike the Six Million Dollar Man, Deathlok operated in a dystopian near-future US marked by decayed cities and a dictatorial government. As well, Deathlok was by no means a hero in the traditional meaning of the word. He was a government-trained super-assassin who had few compunctions about killing his adversaries; even with the relaxed Comics Code standards that were in place by 1974, this was something novel and different from the way things were usually portrayed in Marvel comic books.

Deathlok was one of those strips that the very busy Buckler fitted in when he had the time and energy. While never given his own series during this era at Marvel, the character appeared in a number of different comics, such as Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Spotlight, Marvel Two-In-One, and even issues of Captain America, before going on extended hiatus in late1983.

Since that time, the character has resurfaced in several limited-run series, with middling success. The most recent run, a seven-issue production released in 2010, featured fine artwork by Lan Medina, but uninspired plotting by Charles Huston.

Here is the first episode of the Deathlok saga, from 1974. (Since original issues of the Deathlok comics are very expensive, these scans are taken from the Marvel masterworks compilation published in 2009).