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August, 2011

  1. Look Mickey!

    August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     The above painting is widely recognized as Roy Lichtenstein‘s first work to employ cartoon or comic book imagery. Painted in 1961, Look Mickey was adapted from the 1960 children’s book Donald Duck Lost and Found. In Lichtenstein’s transformation of the storybook illustration by artists Bob Grant and Bob Totten, the composition is simplified and rendered in the bold outlines and primary colors of a mass-produced image, making it appear even more “pop” than the original picture. It’s interesting to note that the source material wasn’t a comic book and that the inclusion of a speech balloon was, perhaps, Lichtenstein’s way of making the image appear even more crassly mass-market by associating it with the cheap and prolific comic book industry of the early Sixties.

    The original image (most of it, at least) can be seen here. There appears to be some sort of pissing contest over who discovered the source material for Look Mickey and it’s impossible to find an unadulterated scan from the original Little Golden Book that it was based on. Also, never underestimate the perils of displaying Disney artwork without the proper permissions and fees.

    Happily, Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey was donated to the National Gallery of Art by the artist and his wife in 1990 in recognition of the Gallery’s 50th birthday. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Walt Disney Company commemorated the 50th birthday of Lichtenstein’s first work of cartoon/comic pop art by releasing the source image into the public domain?

     


  2. What do Ghosts Eat for Breakfast?

    August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Spook Stories was a series of trading cards sold in packs with some stale chewing gum by Leaf Candy Company. Leaf had taken a beating a few years earlier in the baseball card biz and apparently decided to forego sports cards completely in 1961 and instead exploit a resurgence in the popularity of old Universal horror films. Merely licensing the images from Universal wasn’t enough, though. Taking a page (several pages, in fact) from Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, each monster card was given a witty caption. But the humor didn’t stop there! On the back of each card was a humourous (I use that word lightly) monster-related riddle.

     


  3. Yes Jane, There is a Paradise Island

    August 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     From the letters page of Wonder Woman #125 (1961):

    Dear Wonder Woman:

         I am the president of our Wonder Woman Fan Club and we would like to know if it would be possible to visit Paradise Island during summer vacation.

    Jane Hanis, Oakland, Cal.

    Dear Jane:

         Paradise Island, the secret home of the Amazons, is fictitious. If it weren’t, and were open to the public, it would no longer be a secret, would it?

    Wonder Woman

     

     

    Dear Jane:

    My name is the Belated Nerd and I would first like to apologize for not writing you sooner to correct a lie told to you fifty years ago. Second, I want to assure you that the reply to your letter above was NOT written by Wonder Woman. As I’m sure you are aware, Wonder Woman and the other superheroes you used to read about when you were a kid (and perhaps still do) are kept very busy protecting us from the forces of evil. Because of this they are unable to respond to letters like yours personally. Even though they often write as if they are the heroes themselves, it is the comic book editors who actually write the replies found on “Wonder Woman’s Clubhouse” page and other comic book letter columns. The name of the editor who answered your letter back in 1961 was a guy named Bob Kanigher.

    Jane, Bob Kanigher is wrong! He has been affected by the skepticism that often comes with age. Which is a scary thing for a man who writes and edits comic books. Yes, Jane,  there is a Paradise Island. It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

    Now that we have settled that, I’ll refrain from further plagiarizing Francis P. Church and give you an example of how an editor more sensitive than cranky old Bob might have responded to your letter.

    Dear Jane:

    I spoke to Wonder Woman about your request and she said that as much as she’d like to give you a tour of her homeland, it would simply be too dangerous for a young mortal like yourself. You see, the women who live there are very fond of a sport called “bullets and bracelets”. This means there is almost a constant rain of ricocheting projectiles on Paradise Island. Any visitor lacking Wonder Woman’s bracelet skills would soon be reduced to swiss cheese.  ‘Nuff said. 

     


  4. Have you Been Tuned in on the Noise?

    August 18, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Fifty years ago today, Timothy Leary, a lecturer in Psychology at Harvard University, delivered a paper in Copenhagen at the 14th International Congress of Applied Psychology.  Entitled “How to Change Behavior” Leary championed the use of LSD as the most efficient means of expanding consciousness.

    All through 1961 Leary had been busy recruiting “distinguished creative people; artists, poets, writers, scholars” to experiment with the new drug and report back to him their experiences. The following is a recruitment letter sent to Hungarian scholar, Arthur Koestler:

     

    Dear Arthur,

    Things are happening here which I think will interest you. The big, new, hot issue these days in many American circles is DRUGS. Have you been tuned in on the noise?

    I stumbled on the scene in a most holy manner. Spent last summer in Mexico. Anthropologist friend arrived one weekend with a bag of mushrooms. Magic mushrooms. I had never heard of them, but being a good host joined the crowd who ate them. Wow! Learned more in six hours than in the past sixteen years. Visual transformations. Gone the perceptual machinery which clutters up our view of reality. Intuitive transformations. Gone the mental machinery which slices the world up into abstractions and concepts. Emotional transformations. Gone the emotional machinery that causes us to load life with our own role-ambitions and petty desires.

    Came back to the USA and have spent last six months pursuing these matters. Working with Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg the poet. We believe that the synthetics of peyote (mescalin) and the mushrooms (psilocybin) offer possibilities for expanding consciousness, changing perceptions, removing abstractions.

    For the person who is prepared, they provide a soul-wrenching mystical experience. Remember your enlightenments in the Franco prison? Very similar to what we are producing. We have had cases of housewives understanding, experiencing satori describing it –who have never heard of Zen.

    There are inevitable political-sociological complications. The expected groups are competing to see who should control the new drugs. Medicine and psychiatry are in the forefront. Psychiatric investigators (hung up as they are on their own abstractions) interpret the experience as PSYCHOTIC- and think they are producing model-psychosis. Then too, the cops and robbers game has started. Organized bohemia (and don’t tell me it ain’t organized, with rituals as rigid as those of the Masoic order) is moving in. There is the danger that mescalin and psilocybin will go the way of marijuana ( a perfectly mild, harmless, slightly mind-opening substance, as you know). And of course the narcotics bureau hopes that it will go the same way–so they can play out their side of the control game.

    We are working to keep these drugs free and uncontrolled. Two tactics. We are offering the experience to distinguished creative people. Artists, poets, writers, scholars. We’ve learned a tremendous amount by listening to them tell us what they have learned from the experience.

    We are also trying to build these experiences in a holy and serious way into university curricula. I’ve got approval to run a seminar here–graduate students will take the mushrooms regularly and spend a semester working through, organizing and systematizing the results. It’s hard for me to see how anyone can consider himself a theologian, psychologist, behavioral scientist if he had not had this experience.

    So how does it sound? If you are interested I’ll send some mushrooms over to you. Or if you’ve already been involved I’d like to hear about your reaction. I’ll be in London around June 8th and would like to tell you more about the cosmic crusade.

    The memory of our weekend last winter remains as an intellectual and emotional highspot.

    Best Regards to you,
    T.L.

     

    As it turned out Koestler had, indeed, ”already been involved”. In early 1960, on his way back from a conference in San Francisco, Koestler stopped at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where experimental research was going on with hallucinogens. He tried psilocybin and had a “bad trip”. Later, in 1961, Koestler would give the drugs another try under the direct supervision of  Leary at Harvard but  he would later write that he “wasn’t enthusiastic about that experience” either.

    Leary’s whole approach strikes me as offensively elitist. If I was given the task of recruiting subjects for these experiments in 1961 I would have gone to people like Stan Lee, Chuck Jones, and Ernie Kovacs. Then again, one has to wonder if those particular consciousnesses really needed any additional expansion.

     


  5. Pick a New Hair Style for Linda (Supergirl) Lee

    August 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     

    In the summer of 1961, readers of Action Comics #273 were asked to help choose a new hair style for Supergirl‘s secret identity, Linda Lee Danvers. Although the new hairstyle only meant that the golden-haired Kryptonian would be wearing a different brunette wig, readers took their mission seriously and over 20,000 votes were cast!

    The results of the reader poll were finally revealed in Action Comics #281 with “campus cuddle-bun” as the winner. I may be belated in many things, but I was rooting for the last place “contempo cut”.

     


  6. Perry Rhodan for Beginners

    August 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Today’s post had best begin with a disclaimer: This writer’s knowledge of the topic at hand is entirely informed by a Wikipedia article, three fan websites, and a half-dozen Ace reprints published and read well over three decades ago. Sure, you could probably find a more expert description of the Perry Rhodan universe, however those experts all seem to assume everybody is already familiar with the Psionic web and knows  the difference between a Cosmocrat and a Chaotarch.

    First published in 1961, Perry Rhodan is the title of a peculiarly German medium called a heftroman. Thematically, the novella-sized  heftroman is similar to early 20th Century American pulps like Doc Savage and The Shadow, however the German booklets are published weekly and  story arcs (called “cycles” by fans)  are extended over the space of several dozens of issues. Some Perry Rhodan cycles have extended to 100 issues. Many of the early adventures were written by  K. H. Scheer and Clark Darlton, but the title has had numerous authors since the early Sixties. There have been over 2600 installments published so far and on its 50th anniversary, the continuing epic is rapidly approaching 200 million words in length. Sales of Perry Rhodan books total nearly one-quarter of a billion!

    English-speaking fans are frustrated by the fact that a large portion of the Rhodan opus has never been translated from German. Spurred on by Forrest Ackerman and his German translator wife, Wendayne, Ace Books printed about 120 English translations through the Sixties and Seventies in mass market paperback format until poor sales forced them to give up. Several other publishers have made a go at English translations but none have had as much success with the series as German publishers.

    So, alright already! What’s it about?

    In the Rhodan universe (as opposed to the Neil Armstrong universe you and I live in) U.S. Space Force Major Perry Rhodan is the first man to walk on the moon. On the moon, he and his crew discover a crashed alien spaceship. Perry returns to Earth and uses the alien technology garnered from the ship to end the Cold War, take over Earth’s financial and political institutions and unify the world behind a massive leap forward in space exploration.

    Using the alien ship’s computers (positronic brains) and FTL engine ( hyperspatial translator) the cosmos is Perry’s oyster. If that wasn’t advantage enough, he and other major characters acquire an immunity to aging and decease. With that device established, story arcs often span millennia.

    As you would expect, Perry and his friends encounter all variety of extraterrestrial beings. In addition to other starfaring meatbags like themselves, we are introduced to numerous bodiless entities and collective minds. Many of the stories are driven by conflict between these “superintelligences”.  A superintelligence is a stage of evolution where a species collectively gives up its bodies and unites their spirits.  In the Rhodan universe, these “SI” nourish themselves by feeding on the thoughts of the species that live within their territory. There are good SI who give sparks of insight in exchange for their nourishment and bad SI who are merely parasites. When an SI has successfully fused with all matter and life within its territory it becomes a sort of black hole called a “matter-sink”

    Another bodiless, collective intelligence are the “high powers” called Cosmocrats and Chaotarchs who basically control everything. They live in an alternate dimension and  take the form of mere mortals when they wish to manipulate the course of cosmic history (which they seem to do all the time.)  Even in their mortal form, they don’t do the dirty work themselves; they enlist others like Perry to do it for them. As you may have guessed, the Cosmocrats and Chaotarchs are working at cross-purposes. The Cosmocrats want to transform everything into a state of absolute order, and  the Chaotarchs want to transform everything into a state of absolute chaos.  Now, don’t go thinking that the Cosmocrats are necessarily the good guys. They have come to the conclusion that most of the chaos in the universe is caused by intelligent life and have taken steps to suppress it. The Chaotarchs, on the other hand, just like to start galactic wars and generally screw things up.

    Well, that about does it…Oh, yeah. I kinda promised at the start of this post to explain the  ”Psionic Web” . The Psyonic Web is a sort of invisible force that extends across the whole universe emitting “vital and psionic energy”, insuring the well-being and development of  life and higher entities as well as… You know what? It’s the Force from Star Wars! Easy peasy!

     


  7. Monster Pants

    August 16, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     

    I’m not sure how Jack Kirby went about creating the monsters he drew for Marvel (nee Atlas) comics in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Did he start with a naked monster and then draw short pants on it or did each new creation start with an empty pair of patented Kirby Speedos? Kirby Speedos date back to the early 1940s when they were sported by Captain America and Bucky over pairs of long pants. The long pants were dispensed with when Jack started drawing monsters. I mean, who ever heard of a giant monster wearing long pants?

    So, crowd around the catwalk for the fashion show and try not to get stepped on by the models!

     

     

     

     

      

     


  8. “O Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench…”

    August 15, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

      

     

     

    I post the following  poem not so much as a tribute to culinary legend Julia Child but to her complete nerd of a husband, Paul Child who presented it to his wife on her 49th Birthday, August 15, 1961:

     

     

     

    O Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench,
    Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot souffles,
    Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,
    Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise –
    Whose sweetly rounded bottom and whose legs,
    Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,
    Are only equalled by her scrambled eggs:

    Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,
    This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines
    Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;
    For never were there foods, nor were there wines
    Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.
    O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
    You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.


  9. Alfred E. Newman’s Poor Relations

    August 15, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Three very popular (and some would argue, similar) humor magazines were found on magazine racks in 1961. Even the publishers of SICK and CRACKED magazines would have privately admitted that they never stood much of a chance against MAD Magazine in terms of sales but the market was large enough to support all three magazines for at least the next twenty years. Because of MAD‘s sales success and endurance, the magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Newman has secured an iconic place in American popular culture. His counterparts at SICK (The Little Physician) and CRACKED (Sylvester P. Smythe) haven’t fared as well.

    Despite his carefree demeanor, Alfred E. Newman had to persevere to secure his permanent place on the cover of MAD magazine. His first cover appearance didn’t occur until  issue 21, and then as just a tiny part of a mock ad. A rubber mask bearing his likeness with “idiot” written underneath was on sale for $1.29. His next appearance was three issues later when the magazine briefly adopted a complex border of images which included Alfred and his trademark tagline, “What? Me Worry?” Finally, with issue 30, Alfred appeared on the cover as a write-in candidate for president and has appeared on nearly every MAD cover since.

    Unlike his counterpart at MAD, CRACKED magazine’s Sylvester P. Smythe was born at the same time as the magazine he appears on. CRACKED‘s little janitor has no tagline, in fact, as far as anybody can tell he is mute. He often appeared inside the magazine but never played any role more important than cleaning up somebody’s mess. Despite his relative industriousness, he never achieved the fame of the lay-about Newman and has even been proclaimed the least appealing character in comicdom by cartoonist Dan Clowes. Although I, like most everyone else, considered CRACKED to be what you read when MAD was sold out, I’ve always been able to relate better to the dim Sylvester than to the smartass Newman.

    If you think Sylvester P. Smythe didn’t get any respect, consider the first mascot for Joe Simon’s SICK magazine. Known only as The Little Physician, this round-headed, four-eyed goofball with three tufts of curly hair would survive a mere twenty issues before being replaced by an Alfred E. Newman knockoff called Huckleberry Fink.  Although he was only depicted as a doctor on a handful of covers, his occupation, at least, tied in with the magazine title.  Besides delivering baby New Year from an egg with a rip saw, other covers show him performing surgery on a Thanksgiving turkey and assisting Ben Casey by handing him a monkey wrench to work on Frankenstein’s monster. Perhaps his most memorable cover appearance was on the cover of SICK #6 where he portrays every person in a busy city scene save one:

     


  10. Coffee Break

    August 13, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Even monsters deserve a break between scenes of horror and mayhem. Vincent Price in 1961 sucked back an iced coffee a la Nancy Botwin during shooting for Tales of Terror. Boris Karloff took numerous coffee breaks as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. Bela Lugosi as Igor joins Karloff and Basil Rathbone for coffee on the set of Son of Frankenstein. (If anybody knows of a photograph showing Dracula sipping a cup, send it my way.) Lon Chaney Jr. takes a nap while awaiting his next scene in one of his Wolf Man movies. And finally, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre take time out to roast marshmallows.