Thursday, June 28, 2018

Soldier of Fortune: The Liberators

Soldier of Fortune
'The Liberators'
by Alfredo Grassi (story) and Enrique Breccia (art)
from Merchants of Death No. 1, July 1988
Eclipse Comics

In 1988 indie comics publisher Eclipse decided to try out something new: a 40 page, magazine-sized comic book, printed on higher quality paper in color and black and white, that featured adventure tales written and illustrated by well-known Argentinian and North American talent.

Merchants of Death wasn't a major success, and the title folded after four issues. It does deserve mention as an effort to showcase South American comics to an American audience in a era when such an idea was not seen as overly marketable.

Issue one of Merchants of Death featured a story from two Argentinian comics figures: writer Alfredo Grassi and artist Enrique Breccia, with colors provided by Don Gidley. 

Set in what is apparently Bolivia, 'Soldier of Fortune: The Liberators' opening pages use some well-rendered scenes of desert terrain to lend an existential atmosphere to its cynical, and very much South American, treatment of the politics of the Right and Left. As well as some sharply drawn scenes of violence - definitely not Comics Code material ! 

Grassi and Breccia did additional episodes of 'Soldier of Fortune' for Merchants of Death. I'll be posting those if there is interest.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Susan George

Susan George
still from the 1974 movie Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Friday, June 22, 2018

Book Review: Staying Alive

Book Review: 'Staying Alive: The Disco Inferno of the Bee Gees'
by Simon Spence

4 / 5 Stars

Maurice had been drinking since breakfast and was unsteady on his feet during rehearsal in Batley. By show time he could barely stand. The crowd predictably responded badly to the group's newer material. The club was only half-full. From the stage, the band could hear the sound of the audience eating, chewing, broad Yorkshire accents chatting loudly and drink glasses chinking. All sense of hope began to drain from Barry. "It was the most horrible sinking feeling" he said.

As the above excerpt from Staying Alive shows, for the Bee Gees, April 1974 was the group's nadir. Badly needing income, they had been booked on a tour on the cabaret club circuit of Northern England. 

By 1974 the glory days of this circuit had long since passed; many (if not all) of the clubs were well into decline, their exteriors and interiors showing signs of wear and delayed maintenance. England was in the midst of another of the decade's myriad economic crises, and few people in the North Country had the disposable income for any cabaret-style entertainment. 

The fighting outside the Golden Garter stopped. Maurice was retching. He groaned, vomited, and sank to his knees before rolling onto the floor. It was dark and drunks staggered past, ignoring the once famous Bee Gee brothers.

While Maurice drank himself into oblivion to cope with the ignominy of the band's descent into the 'pop wilderness', and Robin, steeped in depression, stayed alone in his room between shows, older brother Barry tried imagine better times to come. The group was set to release a new album, titled Mr. Natural, later that Summer, and Barry hoped that by working with renowned producer Arif Marden, the band could undergo a musical revival and return to the charts.

Unfortunately for the band, upon its release in July 1974, Mr. Natural was a flop. The head of Atlantic Records (which distributed the Bee Gees records), Ahmet Ertegun, considered the band's career to be over, but their manager, Robert Stigwood, was willing to give the band one more chance to mount a comeback. 

During January and February 1975 the band recorded the album Main Course at Criteria Studios in Miami. The first single from the album, Jive Talkin', was released in May and became a hit...........and the rest is history...........

Staying Alive (286 pp., Jawbone Books, 2017) primarily focuses on the Bee Gees from 1974 - 1981: the years they emerged from the 'pop wilderness' to dominate the Top 10 charts in a way not seen since, before suffering from the fervid backlash against disco music that came with the beginning of the 80s. 

Also profiled in the pages of the book are the Gibbs' younger brother Andy; the Bee Gees manager, Robert Stigwood; actor John Travolta; and Nik Cohn, the Irish writer whose fictional account of dancers at the '2001 Odyssey' disco in Brooklyn, published in 1976 in New York magazine, kicked off the disco craze.

Author Spence fills the book with plenty of insider viewpoints, many of which subvert the carefully manicured history of the band presented in their 1979 'authorized' biography. 

The revelations of Andy Gibb's descent into self-destruction are particularly depressing, as are Spence's blunt dissections of the infighting among the three brothers.

I would give Staying Alive five stars but for the presence of numerous typos and factual errors throughout the book, errors that could have been easily corrected with a bit of googling (for example, Robin Gibb's solo single Boys Do Fall in Love charted in the US in 1984, not 1985). 

The verdict ? Despite its faults, Staying Alive is an engrossing read and anyone with an interest in the pop culture of the 70s and 80s, the Bee Gees, rock music, or disco, will likely want to sit down with a copy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Untitled Story

'Untitled Story'
(Historia sin Titulo)
by Giovanni Degli Esposti Venturi
from Zona 84 issue 10, 1985

Spanish artist Giovanni Degli Esposti Venturi (1954 - 2016) mainly illustrated porno comics during his career, with a specialization in fetish and bondage themes. Very little of his work has been translated into English.

The contents page for issue 10 of Zona 84 describes this story as: pasión a sangre y fuego en las autopistas americanas una historia rescatada por su belleza plástica

This beautifully illustrated amalgamation of bikers, motorcycle cops, fetish gear, and highway violence is bets regarded as a sort of imaginative homage to the 1973 cult movie Electra Glide in Blue (poster appended). 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Review: Nova 2

Book Review: 'Nova 2' edited by Harry Harrison

3 / 5 Stars

‘Nova 2’ first was published in hardback in 1972; this Dell Books paperback (235 pp) was issued in April, 1974. The cover artist is uncredited.

All of the stories in ‘Nova 2’ were written specifically for the anthology.

The New Wave movement was firmly entrenched in 1972, although Harry Harrison was somewhat less enamored of ‘speculative fiction’ as compared to, say, Damon Knight. Thus, I was hoping that the entries in ‘Nova 2’ would avoid the worst excesses of the Movement. 

In his Introduction Harrison focuses primarily on the growth of the genre in non-Anglophone countries, growth which, according to Harrison, justifies the inclusion of a novelette by the Brazilian author Andre Carneiro in ‘Nova 2’.

Harrison also reveals that satirical treatments of classic sf tropes and themes have become very much in style, hence his decision to include seven stories ‘....sparked with wit’.

My capsule summaries of the contents of ‘Nova 2’:

Zirn Left Unguarded, the Jenghik Palace in Flames, Jon Westerly Dead, by Robert Sheckley: by 1972 the repackaging of Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘Mars’ and ‘Venus’ novels into paperbacks had become big business; accordingly, Sheckley seeks to satirize this genre. Why Harrison saw a story this lame as deserving of being included in ‘Nova 2’ is mystifying.

East Wind, West Wind, by Frank M. Robinson: a detective story set amidst a near-future Los Angeles in the grip of devastating air pollution. One of the more effective stories in the anthology, and a classic of the early seventies Eco-Disaster genre.

The Sumerian Oath, by Philip Jose Farmer: humorous tale of an oath all physicians take – in secret, of course.

Now + n Now – n, by Robert Silverberg: nothing screams ‘New Wave’ like this title. It’s actually the rather pedestrian tale of Aram Kevorkian, who is in regular, telepathic contact with his selves both 48 hours into the future, and 48 hours into the past (48 hours being the ‘n’ of the title). Kevorkian earns a comfortable living playing the stock market; that is, until the arrival of a Swell Dame brings complications.

Two Odysseys into the Center, by Barry M. Malzburg: Malzburg satirizes traditional sf tropes. Another ho-hum entry whose inclusion seems to have revolved more around editor Harrison’s whims than any quality intrinsic to the story.

Darkness, by Andre Carneiro: Brazilian sf author Carneiro contributed this tale of what happens to the world when all light and illumination gradually vanish, leaving everyone in darkness. It’s the best story in the anthology, using a straightforward narrative and carefully placed philosophical musings in a very capable manner; made all the more impressive when one considers that this is a translation from the original Portuguese.

On the Wheel, by Damon Knight: another satire of traditional sf, although better written, and more insightful, than the other examples in ‘Nova 2’.

Miss Omega Raven, by Naomi Mitchison: a female raven is a participant in an experiment designed to upset the pecking order. Mitchison’s prose is too overwritten to make the story effective.

The Poet in the Hologram in the Middle of Prime Time, by Edward Bryant: by 1972 the writings of Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan had a prominent place among intellectuals, and not surprisingly, more than a few sf writers used the themes of ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘the global village’ in their works.

In this story from Edward Bryant, a new form of 3D television, marketed by the UniComp corporation, threatens to debase Art. A poet named Ransom, who supports himself by writing scripts for UniComp, contemplates taking drastic action to subvert the process. 

This story is a textbook example of a New wave tale: it features ALL CAPS narration designed to mimic the camera instructions for a TV script; snippets of blank verse poetry; and a narrative that moves in time and space in a nonlinear manner. All of which are reasons why it’s not a very good story..............

The Old Folks, by James Gunn: a young couple with children make a fateful decision to visit grandma and grandpa in their Seniors-Only Florida subdivision. The creepy tenor of this story gives it a ‘Twilight Zone’ flavor, and makes it another of the better entries in ‘Nova 2’.

The Steam-Driven Boy, by John Sladek: an android is sent back in time to change the politics of the United States. Sladek intends the story to be a comic one, but I found it to be unimpressive.

I Tell You, It’s True, by Poul Anderson: what if the U.S. developed a device capable of covertly influencing the thoughts and attitudes of foreign leaders ? Why, the only consequence can be World Peace, of course ! Although, is a World Peace on the basis of what is best for the U.S. truly a World Peace.……? A competent tale from veteran author Anderson.

And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways, by James Tiptree, Jr: in 1972 Harrison and other editors still believed the subterfuge that James Tiptree, Jr was a man (Tiptree, of course, was the pseudonym of Virginia writer Alice Sheldon). This tale is set in the far future, when scientists are a self-satisfied, princely caste who observe, but do not interact, with the world; it’s up to a lowly technician to investigate the mystery associated with the summit of a vast mountain on an alien planet. The story’s theme is certainly worthwhile, but unfortunately, Tiptree’s use of overly figurative prose make reading this entry cumbersome.

The Ergot Show, by Brian Aldiss: in the near future, reality TV merges with heightened consciousness to create a new kind of immersive media experience. Like Edward Bryant’s story above, this entry also tries to channel McLuhan-esque concepts. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Aldiss tries yet again to imitate his hero, J. G. Ballard, and as a result, writes a story that is incoherent.

The verdict ? Like just about every other New Wave era sf anthology I have ever reviewed (after a while they all start to blur together), there are several worthwhile entries that struggle to overcome their placement among material of lesser quality. I can’t call this volume a must-have, but those dedicated to early 70s sf may want to get a copy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dessert by Spain

'Dessert' by Spain
from Young Lust No. 5, 1977
celebrating Pride Month 2018

Its content meant that this strip was not included in Spain's 2012 compilation Cruisin' with the Hound:The Life and Times of Fred Toote

In an interview published in that book, Spain alludes to violent encounters with closeted gays when he roamed the streets of Buffalo, New York as a teenaged hoodlum in the 50s. While only 14 years old at the time, Spain was a willing participant in the antics of his fellow gangsters, as depicted below.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Bee Gees in Central Park, 1975

The Bee Gees 
Central Park, New York City
June 1975
Robin, Maurice, and Barry Gibb
Photo shoot prior to their concert at the park on June 17, 1975, as part of that year's 'Main Course' tour 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Grit newspaper advertisement parody

Grit newspaper advertisement parody
by Jay Kinney
from Young Lust No. 2, 1971

Grit was a weekly newspaper that began publishing in 1882 and is still in circulation - as a magazine - today (you can find a one-year subscription at amazon). Grit was designed for a rural readership, and from the 40s to the 70s it promoted 'paperboy' distribution by routinely featuring full-color advertisements on the back covers and interiors of comic books.

Underground comix legend Jay Kinney showed particular genius in putting together this loud-out-loud-funny parody for issue 2 of Young Lust.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: The Pastel City

Book Review: 'The Pastel City' by M. John Harrison
5 / 5 Stars

I remember picking up the Avon Books 1976 paperback edition of The Pastel City back when it first was published. It stood out from the other paperbacks on the shelves of Gordon's Cigar Store due to its unusual green color scheme (historically US paperback publishers shied from using green as they considered it a 'slow selling' color) and the outstanding cover illustration by the well-known artist Grey Morrow.

At 157 pp, The Pastel City was a quick, but very rewarding, read. At the time I thought it was one of the best sf novel's I'd ever read.

In 1976 there was no such thing as the internet, nor Google, so I had no real idea of who Michael John Harrison was, or that The Pastel City was his first novel, released in the UK in 1971 by the New English Library with yet another fine cover illustration, this one by Bruce Pennington. 

Over the years I've read additional works by Harrison, including the other volumes in the 'Viriconium' series, as well as his short stories (of which Running Down and The New Rays are among the best).

But upon re-reading The Pastel City several times over the intervening years, and most recently just a few days ago, I remain firm in my belief that this novel is one of the best sf novels ever, and a good candidate for the best sf novel of the 1970s.

The plot and setting of the novel also have well stood the test of time. Harrison used a straightforward plot for The Pastel City: when an army of barbarians descend into the Southlands on a mission of conquest, a group of aristocrats, known as the Methven, and led by swordsman and poet Lord tegeus-Cromis, band together and fight for the existence of their Queen and the fate of the Pastel City, Viriconium.

Their efforts are complicated by a sinister development: the barbarians have resurrected a long-buried technology and pressed it into their service. But such weapons have the unpleasant habit of eventually turning on their owners...........

There are any number of things that make The Pastel City stand out. One is its inventive use of metaphors, similes, and poetic phrases. At the time the book first was published such things were becoming part and parcel of the New Wave movement, and their appearance in sf novels was by no means unusual.

However, unlike so many instances when metaphor and simile and 'purple' prose came across as obtuse and self-indulgent for too many authors, Harrison employs them with care and deliberation, and the result is that the prose in The Pastel City stands as a fine example of how the stylistic ideologies of the New Wave era could be used in rewarding manner.

The concept of Entropy in its broadest sense was very much in fashion during the early years of the New Wave movement and unsurprisingly Harrison incorporates it into The Pastel City

But again, where many sf authors, like Brian Aldiss, sought to mimic J. G. Ballard in their treatment of entropy, often with underwhelming results, Harrison is much more thoughtful in evoking the theme within the pages of his novel, using descriptive passages to imbue The Pastel City with sensibility that recalls, but does not copy, Ballard.

Summing up, The Pastel City showcases the best aspects of the New Wave movement and stands the test of time as a great sf novel. This is a book that belongs on everyone's shelf.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Rick Griffin

Rick Griffin
by Gordon McClellan
Last Gasp, 2002

'Rick Griffin' (100 pp), an overview of the renowned graphic artists' work, was published by Last Gasp in 2002. It's an authorized reprint of the volume first released by Paper Tiger in 1980.

Copies of the book, from either publisher, start in the low $20s and go on up; I was fortunate to find this copy for only $5.
Rick Griffin (1953 - 1991) was the most gifted of all the artists participating in the underground comix and 'psychedelic' art movements of the late 60s and early 70s. Griffin grew up in Southern California and embraced its surfer culture, learning to surf at age 14 and contributing the comic strip 'Murphy' to Surfer magazine while still in high school. After graduating, Griffin was a staffer for the magazine before embarking on a peripatetic lifestyle that saw him traveling and surfing to one memorable destination after another.
By the mid-60s Griffin had moved to San Francisco and established himself as the most sought-after artist for the burgeoning rock concert poster scene. A number of his more famous posters are reproduced here in this volume.

Also represented in 'Rick Griffin' are some of the stories Griffin did for underground comix, as well as examples of his typography, including his famous logo for the magazine Rolling Stone

What makes Griffin's work all the more impressive is the fact that in 1964, a car he had hitch-hiked a ride in wound up crashing due to the erratic state of the driver. Griffin was thrown from the vehicle, and his face struck the ground, leaving him with a detached eyeball and facial injuries that took two years of plastic surgery to repair. So all of his meticulous artwork was done with only one eye (!).
During the late 70s and 80s, Griffin's reputation earned him commissions for record album covers, movie posters, and other advertisements, some of which are reproduced in the pages of 'Rick Griffin'.

As a result of his conversion to Christianity in 1970, Griffin also created impressive graphic art, based on the Bible, for a book / tract titled The Gospel of St John.

Griffin's tragic death in August, 1991 in a motorcycle accident in Petaluma cut short his career just as he was making significant inroads into the world of gallery-based fine art.

Summing up, if you come across a copy of 'Rick Griffin' for an affordable price, by all means grab it. It's something that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone devoted to the art of the psychedelic era, underground comix, and the pop culture of the 60s.