Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'Mime' by Will Brown
from Epic Illustrated No. 17, April 1983

I cheer as much as anyone when a mime gets abused....but this little strip comes with a final twist....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

'Heavy Metal' magazine November 1982

November 1982, and the latest issue of Heavy Metal magazine is out, with a front cover illustration by Alan Ayers and a back cover illustration by Clyde Caldwell.

The Dossier section features 'Rok' Critic Lou Stathis anxious to demonstrate how hip he is to the emerging street music scene from NYC, and in particular, 'The Message' by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. 

Since the term 'rap' really isn't in use in 1982, all the hapless Stathis can do is remark on the '......stream of spoke-sung lyrics....' which apparently make 'The Message' :

 ".....the first black disco song for listening ?"

Ahh, how ill-prepared were those urban, white, Jewish, Rok critics as the phenomenon that would become rap began to intrude on their cultural consciousness.

Elsewhere in the Dossier, we have an interview with Michael Moorcock, reviews of works by Ian Watson and Peter Beagle, and reviews of new albums from the Cramps and X.


There are new chapters of Corben's 'Den II', Druillet's 'Yragael', another episode of Jones' and Wrightson's 'Freak Show', and the concluding chapter in 'The Voyage of Those Forgotten' by Christian and Bilal.

New in this issue are an episode of Findley's 'Tex Arcana', and William Michael Kaluta's 'Starstruck'.

As part of the promotional effort for the upcoming National Lampoon film 'Class Reunion', Wrightson contributes an eponymous short strip. 

Since Leonard Mogel, the publisher and president of Heavy Metal, was also the owner - publisher of National Lampoon at the time, the use of the magazines to plug one another was not entirely a surprise. 

Wrightson's 'Class Reunion' comic was in many ways better than the actual movie, which did poorly at the box office, an indication that the tremendous success of Animal House four years earlier could not sustain succeeding Lampoon productions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: 'Ocean On Top' by Hal Clement

2 / 5 Stars 

‘Ocean on Top’ (141 pp.) is DAW Book No. 57, and was published in June 1973. The cover artwork is by Jack Gaughan. The story first appeared as a serial in 1967 in Worlds of If.

‘Ocean’ is the first effort I’ve made since September 1974 to read a Hal Clement novel.

Back in ’74, I purchased the Del Rey paperback edition of 'Cycle of Fire', got about 25 pages into it, and gave up on it, as one of the most boring books I’d ever attempted to read.

I decided to give’ Ocean’ a try mainly because of its brevity.

‘Ocean’ is set not too far in a future in which the Earth is ruled by one government, the result of various crises caused by overpopulation and dwindling energy reserves. The primary agency in this World Government is the Power Board, which is responsible for creating, distributing, and monitoring energy throughout the planet. 

Things are tight, and whenever it appears that someone or something is taking more than their allotted share of electrical power, the Board promptly dispatches an investigative team.

As the novel begins, the un-named first-person narrator (later on, we learn one of his nicknames is ‘Tummy’) is descending the Pacific near Tahiti, in a futuristic bathysphere. Our hero is investigating the previous descents, and disappearances, of three Power Board colleagues. It seems that there are impressive power readings emanating from the ocean floor far below, and the Board wants a closer look.

Tummy’s bathysphere is carefully concealed within the wreckage of a ship, so as not to alert any potential adversaries lurking on the ocean bottom. Once he touches down he is astonished to see fields of lights, hanging suspended from the sea floor, and below the lights, what seems to be an enormous tarp, constructed of some unique, quasi-transparent fabric.

Before long, divers come to view the wreckage. But ‘Tummy’ is astounded, for despite the fact that the sea bed is 5,000 feet down, the divers are wearing simple helmets, coveralls, and no breathing apparatus. By all rights they should have been instantly crushed to pulp by the tremendous pressure of the ocean above them.

What is going on here, in what should be the barren, perpetual darkness of the ocean floor ? Is this mysterious facility tied into the disappearance of the three Power Board members ?

Tummy will need to find out, and soon, because his bathysphere has a limited amount of air…..and the divers are taking a much closer look at the wreckage that camouflages his craft………

I got through 'Ocean' in its entirety. Like most (all ?) of Clement’s novels, the narrative is dominated by hard sf themes. There are extended, rather pedantic, segments in which the narrator elaborates on the mechanics and physics of living and working on the ocean floor. The dialogue can be wooden at times, and the plotting is merely a scaffold upon which the science can be expounded.

Compared to other sf of the era, ‘Ocean’ is devoid of much in the way of real suspense or dramatic tension. Towards the end of the novel the author introduces some interpersonal conflicts, but these seem like very contrived efforts to give the narrative some sort of impetus.

In summary, ‘Ocean On Top’ is a readable, if not particularly exciting, novel. Clement fans will want to have a copy, but others won’t miss much if they decide to pass on it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Father Shandor: Demon Stalker in 'Tower of Death'
from Warrior (UK), Volume 1, Number 2, April, 1982

The second Father Shandor episode, featuring some excellent pen-and-ink work by John Bolton. 

The cross-hatching and shading used to depict the tower's stone walls on pages 4 and 5 must have taken Bolton hours of intricate penmanship to complete....

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: 'Strange Seas and Shores' by Avram Davidson

3 / 5 Stars

‘Strange Seas and Shores’ was first issued in hardcover in 1971 by Doubleday / SF Book Club. This Ace paperback edition (219 pp) was published in August 1981; the cover artist is uncredited.

The 17 stories in this anthology all first saw print in various sf magazines and digests in the interval 1958 – 1967.

In his Introduction to ‘Strange’, Ray Bradbury notes that Davidson (1923 – 1993) crafted his short stories in the mode of the renowned Saki, O. Henry, and Chesterton. That is to say, Davidson employed surprise or trick endings in his short fiction, preferring to withhold the background detail of his plots at the outset, letting these details unfold along with the narrative, with the revelation / punch line coming in the last paragraph or sentence.

Many of the entries in ‘Strange Seas and Shores’ are five or fewer pages in length, so providing synopses of these tales is essentially the same thing as disclosing spoilers. Therefore, I will provide only broad outlines of the contents.

Some tales use quirky or satiric humor for their revelations: ‘Sacheverell’, ‘Take Wooden Indians’, ‘Paramount Ulj’, ‘A Bottle Full of Kismet’, ‘The Goobers’, ‘Dr Morris Goldpepper Returns’, ‘Yo-Ho, and Up’,  ‘Apres Nous’, ‘Climacteric’, ‘The Power of Every Root’, and ‘The Source of the Nile’.

Others take a grimmer tone: ‘The Vat’, ‘The Tail-Tied Kings’, ‘The Certificate’ (the best story in the collection), ‘Ogre in the Vly’, ‘The Sixty-Third Street Station’, and ‘The House the Blakeneys Built’.

Some of these stories have a ‘New York City’ sensibility to them, Davidson’s home throughout most of his life. In this manner they represent a sort of alternate approach to John Cheever’s examinations of NYC life in the postwar period. 

It’s interesting to observe that Davidson steadfastly adhered to the classical, or traditionalist, format for his short fiction, even as the New Wave movement overtook sf publishing. His writing is clear and unambiguous, devoid of stylish affectations, although this being Davidson, readers will need to prepare for an expanded vocabulary: ‘circumambulation’, ‘nostra’, and ‘ratiocination’, among others.

In summary, ‘Strange Seas and Shores’ is dedicated reading for Davidson aficionados; those others, who appreciate short stories in the ‘classical’ mode, may also want to seek it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'Zora and the Hibernauts' by Fernando Fernandez
Catalan Communications, 1984

Fernando Fernandez (1940 – 2010) was a Spanish artist who, starting at age 16, provided artwork for British comic book publishers in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 70s he was among the talented Spanish artists recruited by Warren to illustrate Vampirella.

From 1980 to 1982, he and writer Nicola Cuti produced the comic ‘Zora y los Hibernautas’ (’Zora and the Hibernauts’) for the Spanish magazine 1984.

Throughout 1982 and 1983, an English-language translation of ‘Zora’ was serialized in Heavy Metal magazine in the US.

‘Zora’, featuring copious female nudity (Zora and her fellow female astronauts all prefer to wear g-strings, and not much else), softcore porn, great artwork, and sf themes, was a ‘natural’ for the HM readership.

In 1984 an English-language graphic novel of  ‘Zora’ was published by Catalan Communications. Nowadays, those rare used copies of the ‘Zora’ graphic novel that come up for sale at eBay go for high prices.

Fortunately, the entire contents (as zipped .rar files) of the English language version of ‘Zora and the Hibernauts’ can be found at several file-sharing sites online, but beware of viruses and trojans - have Malwarebytes and Avira at hand.

After obtaining the zipped file, I recommend using the freeware app ComicRack to view the contents: download and install ComicRack, then right-click on the zipped file icon and select Open With → ComicRack; after a minute, ComicRack should open, with the cover page displayed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review: 'Witchfinder General' by Ronald Bassett

4 / 5 Stars
This paperback edition of ‘Witchfinder General’ was published by Pan Books (UK) in 1968, two years after the hardbound version was issued.

Ronald Bassett (b. 1924) served in the British Navy in WW2 and in the Korean War, after which he took positions with several pharmaceutical corporations as a publicist.

In the 1960s and 1970s he wrote a number of historical novels, some of these built upon his wartime experiences. His ‘Dando’ series, about English army officers in the India of the Raj, was written under the pseudonym of William Clive.

‘Witchfinder General’ is of course best known as the inspiration for the 1968 film from British producer Tigon, starring Vincent Price. In the US, AIP released an uncut, uncensored version under the title ‘The Conqueror Worm’.

By the standards of the time the film was explicit in its depiction of nudity and violence, particularly the torture scenes, and this, combined with its downbeat tenor, turned it into a ‘cult classic’.

Despite its very low budget (at least once, Price covered the cost of providing meals for the cast and crew) the film, directed by 24 year-old Michael Reeves, had a genuine visual sense of the 17th century period used as its setting.

In general, the film adheres to the novel, save for some differences that I won’t elaborate on for fear of disclosing spoilers.

Bassett starts his story in 1643, with William Hopkins and John Stearne meeting while serving as conscripts in the Parliamentary army. In due course they join with female accomplice Goody Phillips, and embark on a sustained campaign of witch-finding across the landscape of the English Civil War.

Bassett’s description of the torture and execution of elderly women, the insane, and the mentally disabled as ‘witches’ remains unsettling, even by the more graphic standards of this modern age.

When compared to contemporary historical fiction, and the advent of 500-page tomes crammed with highly descriptive prose, Bassett is economical and to the point, yet still he manages to give his readers a believable sense of time and place:

A spiral of dirty, broken stairs climbed to his landing, the playground of hordes of ragged children who screeched and shuffled, raced streetwards to float paper boats in the puddles, or gathered to listen as a disabled and drunken veteran beat his wife with his crutch each noon-time. The small room boasted a tiny, filthy window, walls patched with damp and mildew, and the barest items of rickety furniture. He was in poorer straits now than he had ever been.

It is depressing to realize that not too long ago, Europe spent sizeable portions of several consecutive centuries in the grip of hysteria, subjecting innocent people to horrible deaths based on ignorance and superstition, deeds more often than not fueled by religious zealotry. This realization explains to some degree how modern groups like the Taliban continue to be embraced and supported by their fellow Muslims, and even illuminates the egregious ‘daycare molestation' trials that the swept the US in the 1980s.

'Witchfinder' has long been out of print, and while even marginal paperback copies are offered for  high prices, if you can find a copy for $10 (or even more), it's still worth picking up.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'Master' by Jean-Michel Nicolett
from the November, 1977 issue of Heavy Metal

November, 1977, and on the radio, 'Love Is (Thicker Than Water)' by Andy Gibb, is in heavy rotation. It's lightweight, but well-crafted, pop, particularly superior to the then-number one hit by Debyy Boone, 'You Light Up My Life'.  And  'Love Is' features a maddeningly catchy 'lah - lah - lah ' segment at its finish. And, believe it or not, apparently two of the members in the video of the live performance at the link, later went on to form 80s band 'Mr. Mister'....?!

Joining 'Love Is' in heavy rotation is 'Here You Come Again', the number one single on the country charts, from emerging star Dolly Parton. Dolly makes for a much more appealing picture than Debby Boone.....

The November issue of Heavy Metal is on the stands, featuring a fine cover illustration by George Proctor, and  a back cover by Tom Barber.

Within the pages of the November issue is another gem from the French artist Jean-Michel Nicollet: 'Master'. 

'Master' has a devastated, post-apocalyptic landscape; flying demons; deadly robot angels; a decadent aristocrat; and a great surprise ending......I've never seen anything quite like it since. 

Perhaps the most rewarding thing about 'Master' is the intensity and crispness of the colors, imparting a unique, surrealistic quality to the story. Print quality of this level, on 'slick' paper stock, simply didn't exist anywhere else in comics, one of the aspects of Heavy Metal's approach to publishing, that made the magazine so innovative.