Category Archives: Fred Patten

Fred Patten Reviews Walking Your Octopus

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

wyo_ltd_sm

Walking Your Octopus: A Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephalopod, by Brian Kesinger.  Illustrated.

Los Angeles, CA, Baby Tattoo Books, July 2013, hardcover $29.95 (unpaged [64 pages]).

 

This impishly hilarious book by a veteran Walt Disney artist and writer presents straightfaced advice to the well-bred Victorian lady who would have a pet octopus.  They are not for the average person, the author warns.  The cephalopod, be it an octopus, a squid, a cuttlefish, or a nautilus, is an intelligent and high-maintenance animal which needs considerable space and exercise.  Yet they learn tricks easily, and will reward the attentive mistress with loyalty and hours of entertainment.

Walking Your Octopus is a collection of full-color double-page spreads; the text on the left and the picture on the right, showing Miss Victoria Psismall and her pet land octopus Otto illustrating the text.  There are Victorian-setting drawings for choosing the right cephalopod, getting your octopus a toy that it will like, proper hygiene for your octopus, teaching your octopus tricks, and many more – over thirty of them.  My favorite is:  “Though certain octopuses have been bred to live on land, it is important for them to have a tether to their heritage.  Octopus females can lay upward to 200,000 eggs, so it is suggested that one find a stationery shop that will sell birthday cards in bulk.”

The book is in an unusual format, 13.8 inches long by 6.9 inches high, presenting long rather than high illustrations.  The artwork appears simple, but is full of detail; for example, in a montage of possible octopus toys, there is a Cthulhu jack-in-the-box.  The book features the art style that one might expect considering that the publicity says that Brian Kesinger has worked on Disney animated features for over sixteen years, contributing to Tarzan, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and more.  He has also had paintings in gallery exhibits around the world.

It is clear that Miss Psismall and her octopus love each other.  Nevertheless, reading Walking Your Octopus will make you glad that land-going octopuses are only fictional.  Ask an aquarium employee about the intelligence of octopuses, which are constantly trying to escape, sometimes successfully, despite the fact that they cannot live outside salt water.

Buy where fine art and imaginative illustrated humor books are popular.

 

 

Fred Patten Reviews War Over Lemuria & The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey

WarOverLemuria

War over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction, by Richard Toronto.  Illustrated.  

Jefferson, NC, McFarland & Co., April 2013, trade paperback $45.00 (vi + 256 pages), Kindle $16.19.

Now It Can Be Told!?

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, I read a lot of science fiction – novels and short-story collections by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and many others.  When I was in college in 1960, I discovered the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and s-f fandom.  Many of the LASFS members had been s-f fans since the 1930s, and they told me about the history of s-f literature; personal information about the writers, the s-f magazines, and so on.  Most of this was related casually, yet there was one subject that still stirred high emotions:  editor Raymond A. Palmer and the major s-f magazine Amazing Stories from 1945 through 1949.  Palmer (or RAP and Rap as he was known) claimed that his most lurid s-f yarns were not fiction but were based on fact!  There really were dwarfs in underground caverns beaming evil rays at surface-dwelling humans that caused disease and wars.  Most s-f fans felt that this was just a cynical ploy to increase his magazine’s circulation, which it did; but at the cost of giving all s-f fans a reputation among the general public as credulous simpletons who believed in flying saucers and that Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were real people.  Most s-f fans wrote thundering denunciations of RAP in their fanzines.  The LASFS had sent a letter signed by all the club’s members to the publishers of Amazing Stories threatening to boycott the magazine if RAP was not replaced as editor.  He finally was (actually, he resigned in 1949 when the publisher moved Amazing Stories’ editorial offices from Chicago to NYC), and went on to start his own minor magazines during the 1950s that were insignificant and largely ignored.

RAP and the s-f controversy of the late 1940s were never important beyond s-f circles, and are generally forgotten today – which makes it strange that two books about them have been published almost simultaneously:  War over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction, by Richard Toronto in April, and The Man From Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, by Fred Nadis in June.

Both cover the subject in rich detail, and know it thoroughly.  Both have interviewed Palmer’s closest associates still alive, and have gotten descriptions of RAP ranging from a charlatan and deliberate liar, to a misguided but true believer in what he was promoting.  Both quote from and analyze RAP’s statements in his own autobiography, Martian Diary (in The Secret World, by Ray Palmer and Richard Shaver; Amherst, WI, Amherst Press, 1975).  Toronto’s approach is slightly more scholarly, and his citations include his correspondence with the principals from the 1970s, showing his lifelong interest in the subject.  Nadis’ book is more popularized; it is described in its blurb as “The rollicking true story of the legendary writer and editor who ruled over America’s fantasy and supernatural pulp journals in the mid-twentieth century, and shaped today’s UFO and sci-fi cultures: Ray Palmer.”  Nadis apparently did not become interested in the subject until after RAP’s death, but he also interviewed RAP’s colleagues and his son, and studied RAP’s writings in s-f fan correspondence and fanzines of the 1930s in the collections of the Universities of California at Santa Barbara and Riverside, and numerous other universities and colleges that have extensive specialized holdings.  Both books have pages of notes, bibliographies, and indexes.

Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977) was easy to document because he became an active, enthusiastic s-f fan when he was 16 years old in 1926, and began corresponding with other young fans.  RAP published some of the most widely-read s-f fanzines in the early 1930s, and his editorials, promotions of s-f, and thoughts are on record.  During the 1930s he was a leading s-f fan, and was dubbed “the Son of Science Fiction”.  When he became the editor of Amazing Stories for its new Ziff-Davis publishers in 1938, he was hailed as Fan Turns Professional – S-F Fan Makes Good.  However, by the mid-1940s Palmer had told the fans that one of his main duties as editor was to increase the circulation of Amazing Stories, and that the “educated s-f fan community” was only a small percentage of the pulp adventure magazine’s readership.

In 1943, Amazing Stories got a long letter from a Richard S. Shaver, who claimed that he had found the alphabet of the lost civilization of Atlantis.  Palmer’s assistant threw it in the wastebasket; Palmer fished it out and printed it.  In correspondence, Palmer said that Shaver’s revelations were too dry for the magazine, and urged Shaver to rewrite them as adventure fiction.  Shaver’s first story, heavily revised by Palmer, was “I Remember Lemuria” in the March 1945 issue.  To quote Nadis, “After ‘I Remember Lemuria,’ more than twenty Shaver stories followed in the next four years.  Shaver’s pay increased from one cent a word to one and a half cents, and then to two cents a word.  But it is clear that many of his submissions underwent serious revisions.  In June 1944, a half year after the Mantong alphabet letter had been published, and while the Ziff-Davis crew was still working over Shaver’s raw submissions, he wrote to Rap, ‘Naturally I am overjoyed that you can use my stories and am sorry that they must be rewritten – but believe me I know why – for I have been through much and it is work for me to write.’” (p. 89)

It was later learned that “Shaver had spent up to eight years in a catatonic state in the state hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan” (Nadis, p. 82)  As the Shaver stories progressed, RAP became more editorially emphatic that, while they might be fictionalized and dramatized, they were based upon prehistoric truth.  The s-f fan community became more strident in demanding Palmer’s head.  Fans who visited Amazing’s Chicago editorial offices while Shaver happened to be there reported that he seemed to be a sincere but harmless lunatic, while their kindest description of Palmer was that he was a flimflammer and hoaxer in the tradition of P.T. Barnum and 19th century medicine show barkers.

In June 1947, the first claim of a flying saucer sighting was made by Kenneth Arnold, a civilian pilot with no association with science fiction.  Further claims of U.S. government cover-ups soon built up a public conspiracy theory that was much more widespread than what was called “the Shaver Mystery” in Amazing Stories ever was.  In early July 1947 Palmer wrote to Arnold suggesting that they collaborate on an article or articles.  In Spring 1948 Palmer started his own magazine, Fate, devoted to examining “unexplained mysteries”.  When Ziff-Davis consolidated all its magazines in NYC in 1949, it was no hardship for Palmer to leave Amazing Stories and concentrate on his other interests, which focused increasingly on the occult such as the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, Theosophy, and Hollow-Earthism.  Since these bore no connection to science fiction, the wrath of the s-f community died away.  In 1960 Julius Schwartz, a leading s-f fan of the 1930s and now an editor at DC Comics, named the secret identity of a new superhero, The Atom, Ray Palmer.  RAP was not amused, partially because The Atom’s superpower was to shrink to miniature size, and the real Ray Palmer, because of a childhood almost-fatal accident, was a hunchbacked 4’8” dwarf.

Both books continue the biographies of RAP and Richard Shaver to their deaths.  The two became close friends, and when the Palmers bought a large farm in rural Wisconsin, Palmer persuaded Shaver and his wife to come from Pennsylvania and become their neighbors.  Shaver took to listening to rocks and painting surrealistic canvases of his visions.  The art world didn’t care about his beliefs but liked his artistry.  Shaver became despondent over being appreciated for what he felt was the wrong reasons.  He allowed Palmer to publish his paintings as the covers on Palmer’s new magazines, edited from Palmer’s farmhouse.  Shaver died in November 1975, and Palmer in August 1977.

I always felt that the story of Ray Palmer and the Shaver Mystery deserved a larger and more permanent documentation than the gossip of now-elderly s-f fans; and here it is. Buy where there is any interest in the history of s-f literature, of popular fiction during the 1940s, or of the beginnings of flying saucer cultdom.

 manfrommars

The Man From Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, by Fred Nadis.  Illustrated.

NYC, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, June 2013, hardcover $28.95 (xiii + 289 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $11.99.

The rollicking true story of the legendary writer and editor who ruled over America’s fantasy and supernatural pulp journals in the mid-twentieth century, and shaped today’s UFO and sci-fi cultures: Ray Palmer.

 Meet Ray Palmer. A hustler, a trickster, and a visionary. The hunchbacked Palmer, who stood at just over four feet tall, was nevertheless an indomitable force, the ruler of his own bizarre sector of the universe. Armed with only his typewriter, Palmer changed the world as we know it –  jumpstarting the flying saucer craze; frightening hundreds of thousands of Americans with “true” stories of evil denizens of inner earth; and reporting on cover-ups involving extraterrestrials, the paranormal, and secret government agencies.??As editor for the ground-breaking sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories and creator of publications such as Other Worlds, Imagination, Fate, Mystic, Search, Flying Saucers, Hidden World, and Space Age, Palmer pushed the limits and broke new ground in science fiction publishing in the 1940s and 1950s—and was reviled for it by purists who called him “the man who killed science fiction.”??In the first-ever biography devoted to the figure who molded modern geek culture, pulp scholar Fred Nadis paints a vivid portrait of Palmer—a brilliant, charming, and wildly willful iconoclast who helped ignite the UFO craze, convinced Americans of hidden worlds and government cover ups, and championed the occult and paranormal.??Palmer overcame serious physical handicaps to become the most significant editor during the “golden age” of pulp magazines; he rebelled in his own inimitable way against the bland suburban vision of the American Dream; he concocted new literary genres; and he molded our current conspiracy culture decades before The X-Files claimed that the truth was out there.

War over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction Paperback

by Richard Toronto

McFarland, April 25, 2013

 

Shaverology: A Shaver Mystery Home Companion Paperback

by Mr. Richard Toronto

Shavetron Press, August 29, 2013

 

 

 

Fred Patten Reviews The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

 51erRKDpyqL._SY346_

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art

Authors:  Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock

Publisher:  Vanguard Productions

ISBN-10:  1-9343-3150-3

ISBN-13:  978-1-9343-3150-7

 

From about the 1910s through the 1940s, one of the main forms of popular entertainment was the pulp fiction magazines, so-called because they were printed on cheap pulp paper with gaudy, lurid covers.  There were adventure-fiction pulps, Western pulps, jungle-adventure pulps, historical-adventure pulps, science-fiction pulps, air-ace pulps, pirate-adventure pulps, detective pulps, horror pulps, women’s romance pulps, and many others.  There were artists who specialized in painting pulp magazine covers, such as J. Allen St. John for the Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

During the 1930s, one of the standout pulps on the newsstand was Weird Tales, “The Unique Magazine”.  Weird Tales specialized in publishing science-fiction and horror with a fantasy bent, such as the exploits of psychic detective Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn.  Most of Weird Tales’ stories are forgotten today, but the magazine was notable for publishing most of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, and the early short stories of Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Bloch (one of whose stories, “A Sorcerer Runs for Sheriff”, WT September 1941, pretty well sums up Weird Tales’ editorial policy).

But what made Weird Tales stand out among all the other pulps were its covers by Margaret Brundage.  From September 1932 through October 1938, almost every monthly issue of Weird Tales featured a Brundage pastel chalk painting of a scantily-clad or completely nude damsel in distress being menaced by slavering werewolves, sinister Oriental master criminals, or a cruelly gloating whip- or knout-wielding dominatrix.  Sometimes the nude damsel was offering love to a statue of a pagan god.  At a time when pulp covers often came under cries for censorship for lewdness, Brundage seemed to have an instinct for just how far she could go and keep within the borders of good taste.  I started collecting pulp magazines in the 1960s when they were long-gone except for the used-magazine shops, but fans of the pulps were still talking about the issues of Weird Tales with Margaret Brundage’s covers.  She is one of the few artists whose cover on a magazine alone could raise that magazine’s price.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art is an “everything you want to know” book about Brundage and her work.  What makes this a must-have for most connoisseurs of fantasy art is the life-sized (9” x 12”) reproductions in full color on glossy paper of all of her magazine covers.  Most pulp and s-f fans did not realize that she also painted covers for other magazines.  This book includes them, plus several of Brundage’s non-cover paintings, some from long after her magazine period.

But wait!  There’s more!  This book also includes two complete biographies of Brundage, including interviews given to fans who tracked her down in the 1960s shortly before her death.  There is a biography emphasizing her life and art (she was a high-school classmate of Walt Disney, and they remained on good albeit distant terms throughout their lives), and a biography emphasizing her participation and leadership in Chicago’s radical left-wing movement in the late 1920s, including her activism for the Industrial Workers of the World and other labor and bohemian movements, and her unsatisfactory marriage to labor activist “Slim” Brundage.  It was her determination to stay in Chicago that was responsible, after her husband’s desertion of her and their infant son, for her to look for commercial art work in that city.  Weird Tales was one of the few magazines whose editorial offices were in Chicago.  It was Weird Tales’ sale to a New York publisher in 1938 and the relocation of its editorial offices to NYC that was responsible for Brundage leaving WT.  The new publisher wanted a cover artist who lived in NYC, and Brundage refused to leave Chicago.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art is a 164-page book containing 74 magazine cover reproductions in full-size of mint-condition copies, plus ten reproductions of cover paintings from the original art (without the cover lettering) – the only cover originals that still exist after eighty years, because pastel chalk art smears easily.  The book also includes a plethora of posters, photographs, business cards, handbills, and other ephemera from the 1920s I.W.W. and the Dill Pickle Club, a bohemian social group in which Brundage was a leader.

Buy where there is any interest in lavish art books, in popular art or fantasy magazine art of the 1930s, in Margaret Brundage in particular, or the radical left-wing social movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

This book is reviewed from the $24.95 trade paperback edition.  There are also a $39.95 hardcover edition with a different cover; and a $69.95 de luxe slipcased edition with a third cover and a 16-page art folio that is not included in the other editions.

 

Fred Patten Reviews The Best of Alter Ego, Volume 2

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

AE49 Trial Cover.qxd

The Best of Alter Ego, volume 2

Editors:  Roy Thomas and Bill Schelly

Publisher:  TwoMorrows Publishing

ISBN-10:  1-6054-9048-2

ISBN-13:  978-1-6054-9048-9

 

“This sequel to Alter Ego: The Best of the Legendary Comics Fanzine presents more fantastic features from the fabled mag begun in 1961 by Jerry Bails & Roy Thomas-covering undiscovered gems from all 11 original issues published between 1961 and 1978!” (back-cover blurb)

 

Comic book fandom was invented in the early 1960s.  There had been sporadic articles on one or another science-fiction newspaper comic strip like “Buck Rogers” or on individual comic books like “Captain Marvel” in s-f fanzines during the 1940s and 1950s, but they were limited to what the fan-author – usually an enthusiastic teenager — could deduce from the issues in his collection.  Starting with Dick and Pat Lupoff’s fanzine “Xero” in 1960-1963, some of the most knowledgeable comic-book enthusiasts at the time were asked to write, not just nostalgia pieces on their favorite comic books, but well-researched articles on their publication history.  This was to have been a dignified epitaph to a colorful but short-lived portion of popular culture.

 

Nobody realized it at the time, but this was just the period when what is now called “the Silver Age of comic books” was starting.  DC Comics reinvented costumed superheroes with the revived “The Flash” in 1959, and Marvel started “the Marvel Age of Superheroes” in 1961.  “Xero” became the new model for comic-book scholarship.  Suddenly every young fan who could get access to a mimeograph or a spirit duplicator was starting a fanzine that was not only devoted to his favorite costumed hero, but that included reports of visits to the DC or Marvel publication office, interviews with comic-book writers and artists, and the fan’s (and his friends’) amateur comic-book stories.  Most of these fanzines lasted less than a dozen issues and were very amateurish, but, boy, were they enthusiastic!

 

“Alter Ego”, started in 1961, was one of the first and best of these, and after fifty years it is still going, as a professional full-color magazine today.  Where other fanzines were discontinued when their teenaged editors grew tired of them, “Alter Ego” was passed along to new editors, ending up with issue #7 in 1964 in the hands of Roy Thomas.  Thomas, a fresh college graduate and beginning high-school English teacher, parlayed his editorship of “Alter Ego” into a professional job at Marvel Comics a year later as editor Stan Lee’s assistant.  Full-time work in the comic-book industry left Thomas with no time to continue his hobby, so “Alter Ego” became more and more erratic and finally went on hiatus in 1978.  He revived it over twenty years later in 1999, and it has been published bi-monthly ever since.

 

“The Best of Alter Ego, volume 2” is a $19.95 160-page trade paperback collection from the original 1961-1978 issues of the magazine, combined with Thomas’ detailed history of its start up to its long hiatus.  Frankly, the book is most worthwhile as a piece of fannish nostalgia, and as an inspiration to today’s teens of what can be done as an amateur in a given field.  Thomas and co-editor Schelly have produced a scrapbook of photographs of the leading comic-book fans of the 1960s; some complete, amateurishly written & drawn superhero adventures; and documentation of the activities of comic-book fandom in the 1960s, like “The Academy of Comic-Book Arts and Sciences presents:  The Alley Awards for 1962.”  (The Alley Awards, named for the comic-strip character Alley Oop, were a short-lived award voted on by comics fans and given to the professional creators.)  Most of the “fact” articles herein, such as “‘Merciful Minerva’: The Story of Wonder Woman” by Jerry Bails (1961) have long ago been supplanted by better-written articles by other writers; in many cases during the last twenty years by whole books by professional authors with the publisher’s complete archives to draw upon.

 

But, as they say, This Is Where It All Started.  It is arguable that if it were not for the pioneering fanzines of the 1960s, there would not be a scholarly historiography of the comic-book industry today.  The fans of the 1960s onward interviewed many of the professional editors, writers, and artists while they were still alive; and when those publishers were clearing out old files, they gave them to fans whom they knew wanted them instead of throwing them in the trash.  Among the book’s contents are an unsold “Tor” newspaper strip proposal by professional Joe Kubert, and a 1977 interview with French artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud.  Some of the new material in this book includes friendly letters from those editors in reply to their fans, showing that the wise editors of the 1960s encouraged their fan base instead of brushing them off; and articles for the 2010s reader to explain what a mimeograph or a spirit duplicator was.

 

Full disclosure:  I am one of the fans included in this book, with an article on the Mexican s-f comic books of the mid-1960s that was my first “professional” writing credit.

 

Buy where there is interest in comic books, or the beginnings of comic-book/costumed superhero fandom, or in the popular culture of the 1960s.

 

Phantasmagoria; Collected Essays on the Nature of Fantasy and Horror Literature

phantasmagoria-collected-essays-on-nature-fantasy-horror-literature-roger-c-schlobin-paperback-cover-art

Phantasmagoria; Collected Essays on the Nature of Fantasy and Horror Literature
Author Roger C. Schlobin
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN-10: 1-4819-4608-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-4819-4608-7

Dr. Roger C. Schlobin is a retired Professor Emeritus of Purdue Universty, among other credits. He has written six scholarly works and edited over fifty, including “The Literature of Fantasy: a Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Modern Fantasy Fiction” (1979). The essays in this self-published collection span over thirty years of his career. “The original purpose of this collection”, he says in the Preface, “was to publish it with a prestigious university press as a study of the invaluable place that secondary, archetypal characters hold in literature. However, teaching four classes of first-year writing a semester stalled my research in 2006. The working bibliography is published here in an appendix for someone, hopefully, to build upon. Then, retirement and back surgery made the tedious steps of publishing with a university press superfluous.”

These essays have been published previously in such scholarly reviews and books as “Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature”, “J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth”, and “The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts”. Sample titles are “The Irrelevancy of Setting”, “Prototypic Horror: The Book of Job”, and “In Search of Solitude: The Fascination with Evil”.

Continue reading

Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About the World’s Oddest Profession

comicscartoonists

 

Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About the World’s Oddest Profession
Editor:  Craig Yoe
Publisher:  IDW Publishing
Language:  English
ISBN-10:  1-613-77346-3
ISBN-13:  978-1-613-77346-8

This is indeed an odd tome.  It is a 229-page anthology of newspaper and comic book cartoonists drawing about their profession.  Not “how to draw” lessons, either.  Editor Yoe has combed the archives of old newspapers and comic books from roughly 1910 to 1960 and found “funny drawings” in which the cartoonists (sometimes working with scripts by others) have depicted stories about the cartooning profession.  The reprinted newspaper strips are usually in black-&-white as they were published; the comic-book reprints are in full, garish color.

Many of the comic-book stories are about cartoonists who draw themselves into their own stories.  These range from realistic art – the “Inky” Wells cartoonist who falls in love with his model, from a 1955 romance comic, looks just like comic-book artist Jack Kirby, whose photograph is well-known – to the fanciful – surely funny-animal cartoonist Al Stahl (1958), who draws himself falling asleep at his drawing board and falls into his world of talking rabbits and policeman lions, did not really look like something out of a carnival funhouse’s distorted mirror.  Most of the comic-book stories are six or eight pages.  Famous newspaper cartoonists Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates”; “Steve Canyon”) and Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”) are present in one-page promo autobiographies in which they have drawn themselves in the style of their heroes.  Bud Fisher (“Mutt and Jeff, 1919) draws himself getting contradictory demands from his editors for six panels (“More Republican jokes; No, more Democratic jokes; Ridicule the Bolsheviks; Lay off the Russians); in the seventh panel he commits suicide. Continue reading

Fred Patten Reviews Illustrating Modern Life

Illustrating-Modern-Life-cover

Illustrating Modern Life: the Golden Age of American Illustration from the Kelly Collection
Authors: Michael Zakian – Richard Kelly – David Apatoff
Publisher: Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University
ISBN-10: 1-882705-10-
ISBN-13: 978-1-882705-10-8

Illustrating Modern Life is the 112-page hardbound full color catalogue of the exhibit, “Illustrating Modern Life: the Golden Age of American Illustration from the Kelly Collection” at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art located on the Pepperdine University campus in Malibu, California, from January 15 through March 31, 2013. Michael Zakian, the Museum’s art director, says that the exhibit is also a double commemoration: of Pepperdine University’s 75th anniversary, and of the Weisman Museum of Art’s 20th anniversary.

The exhibit presents 75 original paintings by 31 artists, including both well-known names like J. C. Leydendecker, Maxfield Parrish, and Norman Rockwell, and now-obscure popular painters like Harvey Dunn, Coles Phillips, and Sarah Stillwell Weber. Most of the paintings were intended as covers for the most popular magazines of this period such as Collier’s Weekly, Ladies’ Home Journal, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post, although some are fine-art paintings, novel dust jacket paintings or plates, full color advertising art such as J C. Leydendecker’s portrait of a well-dressed man wearing a Kuppenheimer Suit for The Saturday Evening Post issue of October 11, 1930, and a few black-&-white story interior illustrations. There are also several full paintings paired with an enlarged portion to better display its detail.

Zakian says in his Introduction, “American Illustration and the Adventure of Modern Life”, that the four decades from the 1890s through the 1930s, encompassing the Second Industrial Revolution through the Gilded Age, were the Golden Age of American Illustration. The rapid rise of popular magazines during this period of enthusiasm for the future, created a new audience for art—the American public—and a new demand for illustrations. This exhibit, chosen from the original art collection of Richard Kelly, showcases this thesis.

“The best of these artists captured the spirit of the era with infectious enthusiasm, as seen in J. C. Leydendecker’s ‘First Airplane Ride’. This painting, which appeared on the cover of the August 28, 1909, issue of Collier’s, portrays the visceral ecstasy of the bold new experience of flight. A young man and woman engage in the timeless activity of courting while flying in a startlingly new invention: an airplane. Although it was painted just six years after the Wright Brothers’ first successful manned flight, Leydendecker does not convey any fear or trepidation in his painting. Instead he emphasizes the pair’s appealing self-confidence, casting this quintessentially American couple as sophisticated and worldly bon vivants. […]” (p. 8)

Zakian notes that this period also saw the introduction of new artistic and printing techniques, and that the most popular artists adopted to these easily. Whether depicting the latest social styles (Harrison Fisher’s “Graduation, 1903”), modern labor (Edmund F. Ward’s “The Miracle: Men in the Quarry”, showing 1924 stonecutters), historical adventure (Howard Pyle’s “Dead Men Tell No Tales” and N. C. Wyeth’s “The Boy’s King Arthur), or romantic fantasy (Sarah Stilwell Weber’s “Lady With Leopards”), these pictures are dynamic and gaudy, standing out dramatically from the style of popular illustrations before the 1890s.

Zakian’s Introduction is followed by a long interview of Richard Kelly by “illustration scholar” David Apatoff on “Building a Collection”. Kelly started out as a science-fiction fan, and it was many of his favorite s-f artists like Michael Whelan, Tom Kidd, and James Gurney telling him that their inspirations were the popular artists of this “Golden Age of American Illustration” that got him collecting their art.

The Introduction and “Building a Collection” take up pages 7 to 25. The exhibition art fills pages 26 to 106. Brief biographies of the 31 artists plus Zakian, Kelly and Apatoff close the catalogue.

This $40.00 catalogue is bound in hard covers as a sturdy book. John Fleskes, the catalogue’s printer, says in a separate blog that, “All of the works hung in the museum are inside, plus a handful of extra pieces.” The exhibit will end on March 31, but the catalogue “is forever”; an excellent addition to any collection of American fine art or commercial art of the 1890-1940 period.

Fred Patten Reviews Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons

51s5nGUSRxL._SS500_

Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons
Author: Christopher Hart
Publisher: Watson-Guptill Publications
ISBN-10: 0-8230-0714-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8230-0714-1

Christopher Hart has been writing best-selling “how to draw” books since the 1980s. Wikipedia says, “His [2001] book, ‘Manga Mania: How to Draw Japanese Comics,’ was the number one art book in the country for an entire year, according to Nielsen Bookscan.” During that time, drawing styles have been getting further and further from the classic Disney style of “cute” cartoons. Consider the popular looks of John Kricfalusi (“Ren & Stimpy”), Genndy Tartakovsky (“Dexter’s Laboratory”, “Samurai Jack”), and Butch Hartman (“The Fairly OddParents”).

Hart’s Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons (160 pages) emphasizes how to draw in the exaggeratedly individualistic styles that are “in” at the moment. Like most of Hart’s books, he starts with a classic how-to-draw tutorial in ‘Basic Head Shape’ and ‘Facial Features’. It is an old maxim for humorous cartoonists that you have to know the basic art rules to know how to break them effectively.

It is with ‘Moving Beyond the Basic Head Shape’ (page 41) that Hart starts to concentrate on what the modern public, and the modern art editors and animation directors, are looking for. Samples of Hart’s cheery advice: “Give her a ridiculously thin neck.” “Leaving the circle [the basic head shape] behind, take this same character and fit her with an oval-shaped head. Immediately she becomes quirkier – and funnier, too.” “Make the hair defy gravity.” “Place the ears below the eye line, as if somehow they never grew as the teen grew. I think this is often funnier.” “Do the earrings attach to the earlobes? Nope! They defy physics. Antigravity earrings are great for day wear.” “Notice how the arms of the eyeglass frames don’t even touch the ears. Why even use them? BECAUSE they’re useless – which is funny!” “This [head] shape is based on a modified square. Or maybe a rectangle. Although, it could be a rhomboid. But I don’t know what a rhomboid is. The point is – it doesn’t have to be an established geometric form. Any funny shape will work!”

Contrariwise, Hart warns to avoid excess complexity. “I used to think that you could only create cool cartoons if you used a lot of different angles for the head. […] Actually, I soon found out that […] too many angles detract from the look of a cartoon.” “With eight planes to his head, this version of the same guy is unnecessarily complicated without adding much ban to your buck.”

Hart presents head shots alone from pages 41 to 63. Then he moves on to “Medium Shots: The Best, Most Overlooked Angle”. Other chapters cover “The Universal Body Type”, “Putting Your Characters Together”, “Different Body Types”, “Adding Important Details”, and “Saving the Best for Last: Stuff You Won’t Learn in Art School”. Whimsical examples include the “Dorky Dad”, “1950s Mom”, “Trailer Mom”, “Funny Senior”, and “Mr. Bench Press”.

Each final example is preceded by several increasingly detailed outlines showing how to start with a simple sketch and gradually add to it without making missteps. Hart does not omit appropriate backgrounds. “A finished dresser: very symmetrical, very correct, very boring. […] Here, the drawers are uneven sizes and, yes, they’re also somewhat slanted. Plus, the vertical lines of the bureau expand as they rise. Even the verticals of the drawers are slanted.” A handy Index completes the book.

Hart has written dozens of these how-to-draw books over more than three decades. There is a lot of overlap. But with some exceptions, each of them is aimed at beginning cartoonists who have become fixated on a particular popular cartoon style of the moment – maybe in newspaper comic strips, maybe in increasingly detailed comic books, maybe in TV or theatrical animation, maybe in Japanese cartoon styles – and say, “Wow! I want to draw like that!” Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons is a relatively inexpensive ($21.99) basic primer on how to draw in THIS particular style; a first step for the aspiring cartoonist.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews Men Into Space

mis_cover

Men Into Space
Author: John C. Fredriksen
Publisher: BearManor Media
ISBN-10: 1-5939-3231-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-5939-3231-2

The 1950s were, practically speaking, the first decade of television. Popular “everybody knows” knowledge is that the first serious science fiction TV program was Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, from October 1959 to June 1964. Earlier TV science fiction programs like Captain Video, Space Patrol, and Tom Corbett: Space Cadet were for children. Fredriksen, the author of thirty other reference books such as The United States Air Force: A Chronology, points out that earlier TV s-f for adults did exist, such as Science Fiction Theatre (1955-1957). One important but now-forgotten program was Men Into Space, 38 episodes, September 1959 to September 1960.

A major factor that sets Men Into Space apart from all other TV science fiction, then or later, was that it was “hard science” science fiction. Presenting the fictional adventures of astronaut Col. Edward McCauley (played by William Lundigan) in the near future (the 1970s were implied), the program closely forecast the real U.S. space program of the 1960s. Men Into Space built upon the popularization of Lunar and Martian space exploration in the 1950s through books and magazine articles by such experts as Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley, and the “Tomorrowland” episodes of Walt Disney’s TV series. The program consulted closely with the U.S. Air Force as an advisor, and “The Air Force retained supervisory control of scripting and insisted that all episodes depict the American space effort in a strictly realistic vein. No bug-eyed monsters or mad scientists were permissible, so story lines invariably turned on conflict arising from faulty equipment or personality clashes among crewmen.” (pgs. 7-8) Chesley Bonestell, the noted astronautical and astronomical artist who illustrated many popular 1950s articles on space exploration for magazines like Collier’s, designed the space and Lunar sets and the spacecraft for Men Into Space. Guest stars in the 38 episodes, appearing in one episode each, included Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Werner Klemperer, Whit Bissell, James Drury, Gavin MacLeod, and many others who became better-known actors during the 1960s and 1970s.

Fredriksen first presents a general history and overview of the program and its production company, ZIV (Ziv Productions), followed by profiles of the “Cast and Crew”: a lengthy biography of Lundigan, shorter biographies of the actors who played his wife and son, the program’s producer, set designer (Bonestell), and composer, and the real Convair Atlas rocket that was the model for the program’s fictional spaceships. Each profile includes one or more publicity photographs and its own bibliography.

All the foregoing are on pages 1 to 36 of this 314-page book. “Episodes” are the main feature, from page 39 to 291. Each of the 38 episodes is given a usually-seven page profile that includes a still, the episode title, air date, list of actors and their characters, script author, director, technical advisor (a U.S.A.F. officer), and a long (usually five pages) plot synopsis. There are two appendices; a July 2012 interview by Fredriksen of William Lundigan’s daughter, and a photogallery of the program’s few children’s merchandising items. There are six pages of Endnotes and a Name Index.

This is one of those “all you want to know” books about its subject. Men Into Space was a minor program on the list of all the TV science fiction programs there have ever been. But it will always be known for its presentation of “real” or “hard” science astronautics, as distinct from the other programs that featured robots, Earth-conquering aliens, fanciful views of the far future and other planets, cinematic adaptations of prominent literary s-f stories, and the like; including today’s TV s-f which mixes s-f elements with werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Buy wherever there is any interest in Men Into Space itself, in TV science fiction, in TV productions of the late 1950s-early 1960s, or in American history of the 1950s Space Race period.

Fred Patten Reviews Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons

Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons
Author: Fiona Deans Halloran
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
ISBN-10: 0-8078-3587-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8078-3587-6

Today Thomas Nast is known vaguely as the 19th century political cartoonist who created the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant; whose cartoons brought down a notoriously corrupt New York politician; and who updated the many ages-old symbols of Father Christmas into our modern Santa Claus. Fiona Deans Halloran’s lively and excellently illustrated 366-page biography shows in detail that Nast did – or has been credited – for all of these. This first modern in-depth biography of a major American historical figure will be an important addition to libraries of American history.

Up to now, libraries have depended on Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures, a lengthy biography by Albert Bigelow Paine first published in 1904, shortly after Nast’s death in 1902; or on other biographies largely dependent upon it. Paine was a close friend of Nast for many years, and Nast had not only authorized him to write his biography but had supplied much of the information in it. Yet Halloran argues that both Nast and Paine were interested in presenting a whitewashed biography that ignored or misrepresented the true details of Nast’s life. Her new biography claims convincingly to be not only in-depth, but the first accurate biography of 19th century America’s most popular political cartoonist.

Nast was born on September 27, 1840 in Bavaria. His father took part in the revolutionary unrest that shook Europe in 1848, and as a result fled with his family to America, setting into the great immigrant melting pot of New York City. Halloran says, “Virtually the only information available regarding Nast’s first fifteen years appears in the 1904 biography. Nast’s voice emerges through Paine’s text, and the Paine book represents Nast’s life story as Nast chose to tell it.” (pgs. 1-2) Halloran supports some of Paine’s stories of Nast’s childhood and early adolescence and disputes others. Ultimately, however, what is important in Nast’s career is in his adult life, and Halloran has no trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction there.

Nast’s first public notice came when he was hired in early 1856, when he was only 15, as an artist by Frank Leslie, who was just starting Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News (within a mile of Nast’s home). Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News was one of the most popular newspapers from the late 1850s to the 1880s, both for its profuse illustrations and for its sensationalistic reporting, often campaigning against unsafe business practices by wealthy magnates or political corruption on the civic, statewide, and national level. Nast migrated from one newspaper to another, but “He remained employed full time from 1856 until he left Harper’s Weekly in 1887.” (p. 5) During this period he both learned and became a master of newspaper and newsmagazine muckraking through political cartooning.

Nast’s early assignments were to illustrate fires, disasters, and his newspapers’ sensationalistic stories. In 1860, when he was 19, Nast was assigned to go to England to sketch a major boxing match, one so important that Parliament was adjourned so the members could watch it. The drawings and commentary that Nast sent back to New York filled a special edition, but Nast found himself fired without his back payment so his newspaper could avoid the expense of bringing him home. Nast solved the problem by selling a note for what the newspaper owed him to one of the boxers, who went to New York and had no trouble collecting. Nast, meanwhile, talked the London Illustrated News into sending him to Italy to cover the wars of reunification there. Nast returned to America in February 186l, just in time to become a notable Civil War war artist.

Nast’s first really famous drawing was not a sketch of battlefields or soldiers, but a political cartoon. “Compromise With the South”, published in the issue of Harper’s Weekly for September 3, 1864, showed a crippled Union soldier shaking hands with an arrogant Confederate soldier over a grave labeled “In memory of the Union Heroes who died in a Useless War”. It was a biting attack on the Democratic Party’s platform for the 1864 presidential elections calling for a cessation of the war and a negotiated peace, which everyone knew would mean a Confederate victory since the South refused to negotiate unless its independence was recognized. Nast’s cartoon was officially adopted by the Republican Party and circulated widely by them. He became a prolific portrayer of Republican ideals just after the Civil War, and a political cartoonist for the Republicans in the 1868 election. Nast’s long relationship with Harper’s Weekly’s political editor, George William Curtis, is described. In 1871 the newspaper that Nast worked for opened a campaign to expose the New York City corruption led by the local Democratic social club, Tammany Hall, and its leader, the head of New York’s Board of Supervisors William “Boss” Tweed. Nast’s cartoons of the bloated, diamond-pin-wearing Tweed set the model for cartoons of fat, corrupt politicians. During the 1872 presidential elections, Nast’s cartoons for the Republicans and Grant’s reelection vs. the Democratic candidate, Horace Greely, were so savage that when Greely died just after the election, some believed that Nast’s ridiculing of him had destroyed his will to live.

The cartoons of the 1872 elections marked Nast’s high point in political cartooning. Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons covers the rest of his life: some notable cartoons through the 1884 national elections; Nast’s declining health and financial problems beginning in 1884; and finally his requesting a consular post from a Republican administration in 1901 and being appointed the U.S. consul to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he promptly contracted yellow fever and died in 1902.

Halloran shows that “what everyone knows” about Nast’s attacks against the corruption of Tammany Hall and “Boss” Tweed in 1871 is true. Also, Nast did draw pictures of Santa Claus, prominently named, for Harper’s Weekly every Christmastime from 1863 for the next three decades. Popular portraits of Santa Claus during the 20th century, notably the long-running Coca-Cola advertisements since 1931, can be directly traced back to Nast’s seasonal portraits. But as for inventing the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey, Nast did draw the Republican Party caricatured as an elephant twice, in 1874 and 1884; but he also drew them caricatured as other animals, and he never drew the Democrats as donkeys. (Amusingly, this book’s dust jacket publicity cites Nast’s fame “for his cartoons portraying political parties as the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.”) So this honor – which he never claimed – is a posthumous exaggeration. Halloran also analyzes Nast’s apparent anti-Catholic prejudice, and other traits shown in his work.

This book contains dozens of Nast’s political cartoons, sharply reproduced. There are 47 pages of Notes, a 15-page Bibliography, and a 10-page Index. If you have any interest in Thomas Nast, or in late 19th century American politics or political cartoons, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons is definitely an important purchase.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.