Thursday, February 28, 2019

Comix: The Underground Revolution

Comix: The Underground Revolution
by Dez Skinn
Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004

Although I pride myself on having a pretty good knowledge of books devoted to underground comix, I only became (belatedly) aware of this history of underground comix a few months ago. 

'Comix' is a rather unusual book in that it uses a 8 x 8 inches landscape format. That said, the print quality is very good.

Dez Skinn (b. 1951) is of course a major figure in the history of UK comics, both as editor and publisher, and thus would seem to be well-qualified to write a history of comix. 

However, if essays published in 2004 and 2005 in the pages of The Comics Journal are any indication, 'Comix' has quite a bit of controversy surrounding it.

Patrick Rosenkranz accused Skinn of plagiarism by lifting text and illustrations from Rosenkranz's 2003 book Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963 - 1975 and placing them in 'Comix' without attribution. Skinn issued an apology and payment to Rosenkranz, and blamed the ghostwriters he hired to contribute content to 'Comix' for the transgression.

In another essay in The Comics Journal, well-known comix artist and writer Trina Robbins also expressed dissatisfaction with not being given what she felt was appropriate credit for contributing a chapter to 'Comix'. Skinn's defended himself by stating that he told Robbins beforehand that the book would not provide co-authorship credit to sub-contractors.

So with 'Comix: The Underground Revolution' we have a book to which a number of contractors contributed, which was assembled under Skinn's direction

'Comix' features 9 chapters, arranged in chronological order, that cover comix from the days of the 'Tijuana Bibles', on up to the early 2000s and the advent of 'indie' titles that can be seen (arguably) as the descendents of the comix of the 60s and 70s.

Skinn also provides a chapter on the underground comix scene in the UK, starting with the 1970 title 'Cyclops'. Most histories of comix are written by Americans and thus don't give much emphasis to the underground movement in Britain. Skinn's overview of the UK scene is informative and enlightening; I didn't realize that so many of the British artists that would become house names for DC and Marvel in the 90s got their start in the comix of the 70s.

The book's format mingles text passages with copious illustrations in a way that makes 'Comix' easy to pick up and difficult to put down. For the most part Skinn's prose (or rather, that of his contributors) is clear and straightforward, and often incorporates some sarcastic editorial comments that give it an opinionated tenor not usually seen in treatments of the topic authored by Americans.

Most of the titles and artists profiled in the book's early chapters will be quite familiar to anyone who follows the comix scene; after all, there are only just so many obscure comix still left to discover and discuss. 

Where 'Comix' breaks a bit of new ground is in Skinn's decision to devote a chapter ('Beyond the Page') to recounting how the San Francisco poster art movement, and its adherents Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and Greg Irons, made the transition from advertising rock concerts to doing comix. This then segues into an overview of the contributions of comix artists to album cover art, all the way up to Robert Williams's fatefull decision to let Guns and Roses use his illustration for their debut album, 1987's Appetite for Destruction.

Skinn also earns kudos for providing coverage of the underground comix scene that emerged in the UK in the mid 1970s. Inspired by the American comix that were reprinted for the UK market, many artists began to write and draw their own creations and published them in Cyclops and Near Myths, to name a few UK outlets.

I didn't know that many of the superstars of the UK comics scene, who later would go on to fame and fortune for publishers like Fleetway, IPC, Marvel, and DC, got their start in the British comix of the 1970's.

'Comix: The Underground Revolution' concludes with a chapter devoted to the inheritors of the comix movement: the writers and artists of the 'indie' comics boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Not being much of a fan of the Hernandez Brothers, Peter Bagge, Dan Clowes, or Chris Ware, I wasn't all that captivated by this chapter. But that's not to say others won't be.

The verdict ? While an argument could be made that more than a little bit of the book is content recycled from Rebel Visions, the presence of the chapters on the poster art intersection with comix, the birth of the movement in the UK, and the high quality of the reproductions of the covers and contents of comix gems and obscurities, combine to give the book sufficient redemption to make it a worthy addition to Rebel Visions and Mark James Estren's A History of Underground Comics as accessible overviews of the topic.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Blockbuster by Sweet

by Sweet
Top of the Pops, 1973

You can't get much more Glammed Up than this lip-synched performance by Sweet from Top of the Pops from 1973. 

The song (which borrowed its major riff more than a little bit from Bowie's Jean Genie, released the previous year) went to number one in the UK. It only reached number 73 in the U.S. 

Bassist Steve Priest was fond of performing dressed as a woman, in true Glam Rock tradition. For this video, the BBC apparently censored his mustache, and the Nazi insignia on his clothing. 

That's how it was, back in the early 70s !

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: The Gorgon Festival

Book Review: 'The Gorgon Festival' by John Boyd

2 / 5 Stars

John Boyd (the pseudonym of Boyd Bradfield Upchurch, 1919 - 2013) authored a number of science fiction novels during the late 60s and early 70s, including The Last Starship from Earth (1968), The Rakehells of Heaven (1969), The Organ Bank Farm (1970), and Barnard's Planet (1975), among others.

'The Gorgon Festival' first was published in hardcover in May 1972. This Bantam Books paperback (184 pp) was published in November 1974 and features a striking cover illustration by Fred Pfeiffer.

The novel is set in California in the early 70s. Alexander Ward is a middle-aged biochemist at Stanford University who discovers a simple formula with radical implications: bathing in the formula can instantaneously reverse the aging process, and return the bather to the physical and mental state of his or her twenties. 

Ward barely has time to ponder the import of this discovery when the elderly Ruth Gordon, his scientific mentor and the object of his boyhood erotic fantasies, steeps herself in the formula and finds herself transformed into a beautiful young woman. 

Gordon promptly goes underground in the Mecca for Youth, Los Angeles. Ward finds himself compelled to follow her.

But as Ward investigates the 'freak' hangouts of downtown L.A., he rapidly discovers that he has all the street smarts of a middle-aged man from a sheltered background.......which is to say, no street smarts at all. And his naivety is going to bring with it a price........

I found 'The Gorgon Festival' to be disappointing. Its sci-fi theme is perfunctory, serving as a plot device by which the author can satirize the swingin' Southern California lifestyles of the burgeoning Sexual Revolution, as well as the desire by so many of the middle-aged men of that era to somehow regain their youth in time to enjoy the lubricious bounty of the Counterculture seething outside their well-maintained suburban homes.

The novel is too overwritten to be a very effective satire (Alexander Ward frequently indulges in monologues containing allusions to Shakespeare, Olde English Poets, and Greek philosophers), and some of its efforts - such as having Ward disguise himself as a 'Negro' for a period of time in order to acquire Soul and Hipness- are quite awkward by modern-day standards.

The novel does slightly redeem the effort I put into reading it with a surprisingly violent segment in its closing chapter, but I finished thinking that 'The Gorgon Festival' tried to do too much at once and wound up doing nothing very well. This is a 70s sci-fi novel that can be skipped.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


by Robert Sheckley
A & W Visual Library

'Futuropolis' was published in November, 1978. It's a 10 x 10 " trade paperback book.

It's another of those rather obscure 'sf-plus-art' books that emerged during the 70s; it bears resemblance to titles like The Immortals of Science Fiction, Spacecraft in Fact and Fiction, and Planet Stories.

Its four chapters loosely are grouped around the concepts of the city as a dystopia; the city in space; the city as a mobile construct; and the utopian city of the future.

The book provides color and black and white illustrations, many drawn from sci-fi art for UK paperbacks of the 70s. There's also a surprising amount of material taken from issues of Metal Hurlant, which at the time was known primarily to U.S. readers as the French magazine from which Heavy Metal had spawned.

These illustrations are accompanied by text from well-known sf author Sheckley. It's fair to say that Sheckley didn't put much effort into this project; his entries have a facetious quality that makes clear he saw this project as a chance to make a little extra income, nothing more. 

The chapter about cities in space devotes considerable attention to a topic that was quite trendy in the late 70s and early 80s: Gerald K. O'Neill's The High Frontier and its wishful  imaginings of space stations designed to accommodate Earth's surplus population, as well as 'beaming' solar energy to the mother planet in order to solve the Energy Crisis. 

Predictably, Sheckley pays homage to James Blish's Cities in Flight sf series.
I usually look to books of this type to provide some insights into 70s sc-fi novels, comics, or even films, that I have not previously noticed. But, with the exception of some excerpts that remind us how well-written and illustrated European sci-fi comics of the postwar era were, 'Futuropolis' never really fulfills its promise to provide a detailed overview of science fiction's treatment of the city. 

Too much space is devoted to filling out the page count with tangential material; for example, attention is paid to concepts coming from an obscure, London-based, avant-garde association of architects, called 'Archigram'. During the 60s, Archigram released designs for 'futuristic' constructs such as the 'cushicle':

Other designs from Archigram get coverage, such as a city constructed to be movable in the manner of a giant insect. These 'whimsical' topics really belong more in the pop-art realm rather than the sci-fi realm. 

Elsewhere in the pages of 'Futuropolis', Sheckley discusses Disney World's idealized version of the future city, as well as Disney World in Orlando and the Epcot center, which in the late 70s was being hyped as the 9th wonder of the world. If you're like me and you'd rather vacation in Newark or Detroit than any Disney theme park, then you're obviously not going to be too impressed.

The verdict ? 'Futuropolis' is something of a dud. Unless you're a particularly ardent collector of 70s sci-fi picture books, you are going to want to pass this one by.  

Monday, February 18, 2019

Sticking it pre-order

Sticking it to the Man
now available for pre-order

Via a February 11 post at the Pulp Curry blog, I've learned that the latest illustrated overview of pulp fiction and pop culture from Australian writer and critic Andrew Nette, Sticking it to the Man, is now available for pre-order at amazon.

The book is scheduled for an August 1, 2019 sales date.

It's a 'massively expanded' version of a book Nette first published in Australia in 2012 (which was, of course, next to impossible to get here in the States - a sad reality for just about any book published in Australia).

Given how much I enjoyed Nette's 2017 volume Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats, Sticking it to the Man definitely will be on my Summer of 2019 acquisitions list......

Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: Maynard's House

Book Review: 'Maynard's House' by Herman Raucher

2 / 5 Stars

‘Maynard’s House’ ( 262 pp) was published by Berkley Books in September 1981. The cover artist is uncredited.

As the novel opens, it’s the Winter of 1972/1973, and a young Vietnam War veteran named Austin Fletcher is travelling to Belden, Maine, where he has inherited the home of a deceased fellow soldier: Maynard Whittier.

Fletcher is a callow and self-centered individual who is completely unprepared for life in the snows and cold of the Maine wilderness, but trapped in a kind of existential anomie, he nonetheless proceeds to take occupancy of Maynard’s House. Fletcher gradually arrives at a kind of stumbling familiarity with living a 19th century existence, one requiring the use of an outhouse, a dependence on a stockpile of canned goods, and the absence of both telephone and electricity.

The locals believe the house to be haunted, and there are rumors of long-ago atrocities  linked to witchcraft. Fletcher gradually becomes aware that some of the bumps and creaks he hears in the house in the still depths of the Winter nights may have a supernatural origin.

As the season wears on, strange things begin to happen…………things that will culminate in a confrontation that Austin Fletcher is poorly equipped to survive………..

At the time ‘Maynard’s House’ was published, author Herman Raucher was a well-known and successful novelist (The Summer of '42). However, basing a 262 page novel on a plot involving a man and his haunted house is a formidable task for even a skilled author, and the book suffers from a surplus of padding in the form of internal monologues, the reading of Maynard's personal diary, encounters with Maine eccentrics, etc.

It’s also clear that Raucher took the easy path to lending momentum to the narrative, via the expedient of inserting plot developments that may be ‘real’ scares, or, just as likely, phantasms derived from the increasingly poor mental state of Austin Fletcher.

Having labored to create an atmosphere of growing tension and menace through the first 20 of the novel’s 24 chapters, Raucher necessarily was obliged to craft a denouement that justified this elaborate narrative scaffolding. But in my opinion, the final chapters of ‘House’ are the weakest. Raucher piles on one horror cliché after another, leaving the reader with a mess of possible interpretations (none of which I found very convincing) for the spooky goings-on.

The verdict ? Only the most avid collectors of Paperbacks from Hell are going to want a copy of ‘Maynard’s House’. All others can leave this one on the shelf.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Warriors February 1979

The Warriors
released February 9, 1979

On September 13, 2015 some of the cast members of The Warriors convened at a fan fest on Coney Island, and were filmed riding the subway and greeting fans on the boardwalk.

Video footage of The Warriors: Last Subway Ride Home is available here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

'Thoughts of Movin On' by Brad Johanssen

'Thoughts of Movin' On'
Album cover art by Brad Johannsen
For the album by 'Lighthouse'

This is another of the album covers for the Canadian rock band 'Lighthouse' for which Brad Johanssen did the artwork.

(My posts for Johanssen's other works are here and here.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Book Review: The Dream Millennium

Book Review: 'The Dream Millennium' by James White

2 / 5 Stars

'The Dream MIllennium' first appeared in serial form in Galaxy magazine in 1973. This Ballantine Books paperback version (217 pp) was released in June 1974. The cover artwork is by John Berkey.

John Devlin is the captain of a un-named colony ship, dispatched at one-quarter lightspeed from a 21st century Earth afflicted with overcrowding, pollution, and rampant violence. While most of the two hundred people aboard are destined to spend the one-way voyage in cryosleep, Devlin is awakened at periodic intervals in order to assure the ship's AI that prolonged freezing hasn't converted him - and by extension the other passengers - into a Corpsicle.

Devlin also is awakened in order to make decisions about the potentially habitable worlds the ship is passing on its predetermined course. With each system that is rejected for one reason or another, the passing centuries bring closer the year - the Millennium of the novel's title - when the ship's infrastructure will fail from age and use, so Devlins' decisions are not lightly made.

But as the novel opens, Devlin is increasingly troubled by a phenomenon he has never encountered. For his stints in cryosleep are filled with vivid dreams, dreams of his days as nonhuman organisms at the lower end of the evolutionary scale. 

With each passing century spent in cryosleep, the dreams are becoming more and more disturbing............and Devlin is left wondering: is he being manipulated by some devious psychological programming emplaced in his subconscious prior to departure ? Or has the ship's AI decided, for its own purposes, to infect its human cargo with a creeping derangement ? Or is the entire experience simply a vivid hallucination.........and the ship has never even left the ground ? 

As the one-thousandth year of the voyage draws closer, time is running out for Devlin and his mission.............

For me, 'Dream Millenium' is an unsuccessful mixture of hard sf and soft sf. 

The portions of the novel that describe the technological and physiological challenges inherent in a lengthy interstellar journey are certainly believable, and reflect well on White's status as a specialist in the sub-genre of 'medical' sf.

However, the plot tends to devote most of its length to laboriously recounting the dreams that John Devlin experiences while in cryosleep...........and reading about someone else's dreams is not something I find all that exciting. 

Unfortunately White compounds the problem by having Devlin's waking hours preoccupied with recollections of his life on the dystopian Earth he has left behind. The impact of burdening the plot with exposition both about dreams, and about recollections, gives the narrative an overwhelmingly passive quality that lost its appeal with each successive chapter.

I actually came close to giving up on the book when a 'flashback' conversation between Devlin and one of the ship's designers, about the criteria by which the crew were selected for the mission, went on for 8 pages............!

The closing chapter provides a 'scientific' explanation for the 'dream millennium'. I won't reveal any spoilers, save to say that the rationale struck me as less than convincing.

The verdict ? Although 'The Dream Millennium' tries to meld the humanistic stylings of the New Wave Movement within a hard sf subtext, the effort never really comes together in a satisfactory manner. My recommendation is to pass this one by.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Teddy Choppermitz

Judge Dredd in 'Teddy Choppermitz'
from 2000 AD prog 760 (December 7, 1991)

I thought 1990's Edward Scissorhands was one of the most overrated movies of the decade. The whole 'tormented but saintly Goth' presentation was tedious and cheesy.

Leave it to the staff of 2000 AD to come up with a great satire, as they always do. No touchstone of American pop culture is safe around those guys. They simply have no reverence for Art !

I give you: 'Teddy Choppermitz' !

Monday, February 4, 2019

Real Deal Comix

Celebrating Black History Month 2019

Real Deal Comix 
by Lawrence Hubbard and H. P. McElwee
Fantagraphics, 2016

Here at the PorPor Books Blog we like to celebrate Black History Month by reading and reviewing a fiction or nonfiction book that illuminates the experience of Black America.

For Black History Month 2019, we showcase Real Deal comics. Be warned, though: some people may find this book offensive. 

In the late 1980s, two young black men who worked together at the California Savings and Loan building in Los Angeles discovered a mutual love for comics.  Lawrence 'Raw Dawg' Hubbard and Harold 'H. P.' McElwee decided to team up and produce their own comic book, one that depicted characters drawn from their observations of street life in L.A.

According to Hubbard, they submitted their prototype first issue to Marvel comics, and got back not a standard-issue rejection letter, but a typed letter that stated that their comic book was 'fucking insane', and 'we loved it', but also, 'Sorry, we can't use it'.

Hubbard and McElwee decided to take advantage of the boom in Indie Comics then taking place and wound up paying out of pocket for the print run of their first issue, which hit the stands in 1990. The reception was favorable enough for the duo to publish another 4 issues of Real Deal by 1996. 

In May, 1998 H. R. McElwee, only 43 years old, died of a heart attack. Using scripts written by McElwee before his death, Hubbard went on to publish Real Deal numbers 6 and 7 over the ensuing 19 years. Issue 8 was published in 2018 by Fantagraphics.  

I remember seeing issue 2 of Real Deal on the shelves of my indie comics dealer in the early 90s and eagerly reading it cover to cover. Those 1990s issues of the comic offered a lead story featuring 'G.C', a middle-aged black man who dressed in 70s style and had a habit of provoking bloody mayhem at the drop of a pin. The backup stories included 'The R Team', about an all-black commando team that took no prisoners, and 'Planet Dregs', a sci-fi strip. 

Hubbard has said that Real Deal is about 'Urban Terror' : 

Each story depicts the everyday struggles of the urban dwellers who strike out at each other out of the futility poverty and illiteracy brings them…………..These people live on the edge of a precipice with a kill or be killed foundation.

With the early issues of Real Deal long out of print and fetching steep prices, this Fantagraphics compilation of the first seven issues is a great way to get acquainted with one of the most provocative comics of the 90s. Like everything from Fantagraphics, it's a well-made hardcover book with the comics printed on glossy paper. Along with the contents of each issue of Real Deal, this compilation features reproductions of the color covers; color pinups; and a history of the comic, written by Hubbard.

In keeping with the concept of the 'Real Deal', these are comics that offer no excuses in their depiction of ghetto mayhem. Hubbard and McElwee infuse their tales with graphic violence and the darkest of humor. One panel will have you wincing, the next, laughing out loud.

Accompanying G.C. in his assaults on all comers are D.J. 'Rappin' Sammy; ex-con Chino Bill; G.C.'s homeboy, 'Ace'; and the mysterious 'Hooded Mack'. Providing comic relief is G.C.'s long-suffering wife, 'Poot-Butt'.

Used copies of 'Real Deal Comix' can be found at your usual online retailers for under $20, and brand-new editions for $26. 

If you want to see a comic that brings the urban violence of early 1990s L.A. as much to life as the Gangsta Rap of NWA, then you'll want to order a copy.