Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'Harzak' by Moebius
from the May, 1977 issue of Heavy Metal 

This is probably the quintessential Arzak strip ( although here Moebius uses the name 'Harzak').



Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: 'Mute Evidence' by Daniel Kagan and Ian Summers

2 / 5 Stars

In the early-morning hours of December of 1979, Ian Summers, an editor and ‘packager’ of such illustrated 70s sf and fantasy novels as Urshurak, The Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt, and Tomorrow and Beyond, was in the studio of Denver station KOA.

Summers was the guest on ‘The Tony Larson Show’, a late-night talk radio show devoted to oddball topics such as ghosts, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, etc.

Larson was more or a less a predecessor of the fringe culture’s most successful radio program, Art Bell’s 'Coast to Coast AM'.

Summers was promoting his latest publication, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. In the course of the broadcast, which despite its late hour drew many call-ins, one caller brought up the subject of cattle mutilations, and whether Summers believed that ‘extraterrestrials’ were responsible.

Summers facetiously replied that although he knew something about extraterrestrials, he knew nothing about cattle mutilations.

A month after that radio program, Summers read an article about cattle mutilations by Harry Lebelson in the ‘UFO Update’ page of the January, 1980 issue of Omni magazine.

 Sensing a publishing project in the offing, Summers contacted another New York City –based author and writer, one Daniel Kagan. Together, Summers and Kagan spent most of 1980 researching the mutilation phenomenon.

The result of their investigation is 'Mute Evidence' (Bantam Books, July 1984, cover art by Gary La Sasso). At 504 pages, it’s a thick chunk of a book.

For those who remember, cattle mutilations were one of the more prominent manifestations of 70s fringe culture, particularly in the American West. Expanding reportage of mutilations began in 1973, and quickly became a major topic of local news for the ensuing 7 – 8 years.

The main features of the mutilation phenomenon were the unusual nature of the wounds observed in deceased cattle and other livestock: ‘surgically’ removed genitals, eyes, lips, tongue, or internal organs. Some onlookers remarked that the wounds bore signs of being made by lasers, and that the carcasses were unusually resistant to decay, or had strange glowing lights associated with them. 

Other witnesses reported scorch marks or large indentations in the terrain around the carcass, suggestive of the presence of an enormous, heavy object. Still other witnesses claimed that the animals had broken bones, suggestive of being dropped from a considerable height; some observers even recounted finding dead animals high atop trees.

The high point of the whole mutilation culture probably came with the release of the 1982 low-budget horror film Endangered Species, starring Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams.

After that the whole phenomenon started to die down, and today it remains noteworthy more as a footnote to 70s pop culture, than a high-profile topic in the fringe culture proper.

Summers and Kagan devote the first half of their book to an overview of the cattle mutilation phenomenon, followed by recitations of meetings with prominent members of the mutilation ‘network’, comprised of ‘mutologists’ devoted to discussion and theorizing about ‘mutes’. 

The team also meets with law enforcement and veterinary personnel in a number of Midwestern and western states. They learn that there is no shortage of theories as to what (or who) is behind the mutilations: cultists practicing animal sacrifice; UFOs; and secret government organizations conducting chem-bio warfare.

By the end of 1979, concern about cattle mutilations in New Mexico, and the outcry from residents and cattlemen, had prompted the state to carry out a major investigation, headed by a former FBI agent named Ken Rommel. Kagan and Summers devote an entire chapter to a laborious examination of Rommel’s report, which firmly declares that ‘mutes’ are the result of predator damage to the carcasses of dead cattle.

An entire chapter is also devoted to analyzing a mutilation documentary released in 1980, titled A Strange Harvest, by an indie filmmaker (and UFO Believer) named Linda Howe.

The second half of the book is one lengthy travelogue, and Kagan and Summers journey to Canada and several Midwestern / Southern states, interviewing ‘mutologists’, law enforcement personnel, members of the media, and veterinarians.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, as Kagan and Summers wend through their investigation, they come to the realization that the ‘mutology’ network is peopled by hoaxers and cranks; that the suggestive influence of the media trumps common sense; and that many of the statistics on livestock mutilations are utter fabrications.

At times ‘Mute Evidence’ becomes tedious and dull, as the authors trudge on with their interviews and queries, trying to maintain an attitude of impartiality even as the credibility of the mutilation phenomenon dissipates with ever greater speed.

Perhaps the best parts of the book are those that shine a light on strange little aspects of the popular culture in 1980.

For example, Kagan and Summers have a phone conversation with none other than Beatrice Sparks, who is best known as the ‘editor’ of the classic 70s teen drug memoir, Go Ask Alice. It seems that in 1980 Sparks ‘edited’ yet another lurid teen ‘autobiography’, this one titled Jay’s Journal.

Journal is about an American teenager who becomes involved in a Satanic cult (!) that counts many teenagers among its adherents. ‘Jay’ describes participating in a cow mutilation in Colorado, as part of a cult ritual. Sparks tells Kagan and Summers that, in the course of ‘interviewing’ teen cult members for the book, she witnessed them bending bobby pins and levitating coins as a demonstration of their ‘powers’ (!).

Other chapters of the book introduce all the tried and true manifestations of 70s Paranoia: Black Helicopters, Men in Black, tapped phone lines, secret experiments in biological warfare, media participation in coverups, the collusion of law enforcement and the feds, etc., etc.

In the final chapter Kagan and Summers conclude with the obvious: the mutilations are a manifestation of the same fringe culture that gave us UFO abductions, Bigfoot, ‘cryptozoology’, and The X Files.

The verdict ?  ‘Mute Evidence’ is a slow read at times, but may be interesting to those with a fondness for the more bizarre side of American pop culture of the 70s and 80s.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'The Clash: The Last Gang in Town'
('The Clash: El ultimo gang en la ciudad')
from issue 8 of Metal Hurlant (Spanish language edition), 1982

The European editions of  Metal Hurlant routinely featured content that never made it to the pages of Heavy Metal. One such story, produced by Serge Clerc in 1982, featured the New Wave rockers: the Clash (!)

It's not clear if the band gave Clerc permission to use them in a comic strip. But even if you are not fluent in Spanish, the strip comes across very well, and serves as an interesting look at the influence the band had on music culture and pop culture, back in those days.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Wolfling' by Gordon R. Dickson

2 / 5 Stars

‘Wolfling’ was originally published as a serial in Analog in 1969; this Dell paperback edition (157 pp), with a cover illustration by Maelo Cintron, was released in December, 1980.

Earth has achieved intersteller flight and with it, the realization that not only does there exist a galactic Federation, but it is ruled by a race of 7 feet-tall humanoid aristocrats, labeled the High-Born. 

From their homeworld of the Throne World, the High Born control government, commerce, and travel among all federation planets.

As a means of getting access to the High Born, an apprehensive Terra decides to recruit special agent Jim Keil, a taciturn, introspective man with degrees in anthropology, history, and chemistry. Jim Keil also excels at hand-to-hand fighting, memorizing information, and  understanding cultural nuances and interactions – in short, he is a standard-issue Gordon R. Dickson ‘Superman’.

Keil makes his way to the planet of Alpha Centauri III, and there displays such prowess in a bullfight that an impressed High Born delegation elects to have him join them at the Throne World.

Once on the Throne World, Jim Keil discovers that the High Born are a race of overconfident, self-absorbed decadents, with all manner of schemes and plots underway to overthrow their Emperor.

Jim finds himself in a race to learn as much as he can of the High Born's dysfunctional culture, for only by interposing himself into palace intrigue can he avert a possible disaster for Earth.

But the High Born have little intention of letting a wolfling – a primitive barbarian from a backwater planet – interfere with their machinations……

‘Wolfling’ is another readable, but unremarkable, early-career space opera from Dickson.

The novel’s focus on underlying themes of anthropology and sociology are a nod to the influence of the New Wave movement, but the narrative itself is firmly styled on the sort of traditional sf adventure that was part and parcel of stories and novelettes appearing in Analog during the 50s and 60s.  

The final chapter uses a courtroom setting to provide the reader with various plot revelations; the rationale for these revelations is overly contrived and unconvincing.

Dickson completists will want to have a copy of ‘Wolfling’, but all others may be excused.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'Godfather Death'
by Scott Hampton
from issue 17 (April, 1983) of Epic Illustrated


Monday, April 15, 2013

'Heavy Metal' magazine, April 1983

April, 1983, and on MTV, no can escape seeing Styx's 'Mr. Roboto' video.

On the newsstands is the latest issue of 'Heavy Metal' magazine, with a front cover by Chris Achilleos, and a back cover by Tito Salomoni.

In the Dossier section, there is a decided focus on early 80s hipster material.

We start off with a review of films being made by pretentious NYC indie filmmakers; one of the decade's biggest poseurs, Lydia Lunch, gets prominent mention. 

From there, the Dossier turns to something called 'Classical Modernism', with a spotlight on somebody named Karlheinz Stockhausen. I imagine that even the most ardent hipsters began to get glazed eyes here.

The comics pages cover releases by Jack 'Jaxon' Jackson, and Gil Kane, among others. 'Judge Dredd' and '2000 AD' comics, in the form of 'The Cursed Earth' series, shows up on the HM radar.

Among the better comics appearing in the April issue is 'Power to the People', by Angus McKie, which I've posted below.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: 'The World Next Door' by Brad Ferguson

2 / 5 Stars

‘The World Next Door’ (342 pp) was published by Tor Books in October 1990; the cover artwork is by David Mattingly.

‘World’ is set in an alternate USA in the late 1990s. In this particular USA, World War Three took place in 1962, and most of civilization has been destroyed. In the Adirondack region of upstate New York, the small town of McAndrew is beginning to recover from the decline caused by the War.

The main protagonist of ‘World’ is Jake Garfield, a young guitar player who, along with his friend Prosper Cross, tours the back roads of the Northeast US as a busker, storyteller, and all-purpose laborer.

As the novel opens, Jake and Prosper find a warm welcome in McAndrew, and soon become integrated into the daily life of the community. As the narrative unfolds, it transpires that the townspeople are being troubled by the advent of unusual dreams.

These dreams are not so much nightmares, as they are vivid glimpses into the lives of people in another USA….what turns out to be ‘our’ USA. And as the 20th century comes to a close in Our USA, events in Europe take a dangerous turn, perhaps towards the starting of World War Three. 

Will the dreams of the citizens of McAndrew presage death and destruction for the parallel world ‘next door’ to them ? Will the catastrophe taking place in the parallel world spill into the adjoining world-line and leave McAndrew a charred cinder ?

‘World’ is light on sf content, and light on action. Author Ferguson devotes the bulk of his narrative to a slow-paced, folksy recounting of the domestic intrigues and romantic interactions of his cast of townspeople. 

The backstory behind the collision of the two alternate realities is perfunctory, even contrived, serving mainly as a plot device, rather than an in-depth exploration of 'alternate reality' physics and cosmology.

A subplot, involving the depredations of a team of ruthless militiamen, takes its time unfolding, but it does lend the latter chapters some verve.

Readers looking for a low-key, character-driven drama about managing life in post-Apocalyptia will probably find ‘The World Next Door’ to their liking. But readers looking for an engaging, imaginative exploration of the parallel-world theme likely will find ‘World’ a disappointment.