This short, rare and informative article about publisher/bookseller Robert M. De Witt (1827-1877) from the 1936-7 Ralph “Reckless Ralph” Cummings catalogue was written by Ralph Adimari. I would substitute the word “pirated” where Adimari uses the word “imported,” since all the publishers mentioned plundered a vast amount of their material from British novels and penny bloods.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Bill Blackbeard, who passed away 10 March 2011, is rightly remembered as the man who saved the comics, but he was also a writer of no mean ability who wrote articles incessantly for pulps, fanzines and hardcover books. His prose language drew on Victorianisms, army slang, atrocious puns, beat prosody, the poetry of George Herriman and the wild imagineerings of Elzie Segar. He often took off on wild flights of fancy, image stumbling over image in wild endless exuberant sentences. In his correspondence he would use archaic phrases like “more anon,” “prithee,” and “ninnavent.” One letter to me began with “A good, loud Jack Benny “Yike”!” Even his titles reflected his reading, such as: “The Doom that Whirled toward Minnie; or, Mickey Mouse and the Phantom Artist,” from The Riverside Quarterly Vol. 6 No. 1, 1973, evocative of the Victorian penny dreadful.
The following list isn’t meant as an exhaustive listing of all Bill Blackbeard’s works. I imagine a complete list would be huge. Leaving aside most of his introductory articles for hard-cover book collections I’ll just talk about a few articles I do know of.
I don’t know when Bill B. (born 28 April 1926) started his writing career but it may have been with the November 1943 Dorothy McIlwraith edited Weird Tales story “Hammer of Cain,” collaboration with a regular contributor, James Causey. I lose sight of his writing at this period although he seems to have been directly involved with “first fandom” at the time. “Pipsqueak Prometheus,” a “devastating dissection” of L. Ron Hubbard appeared in Shangri La, # 20. Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, 236 ½ North New Hampshire, Los Angeles 4, Calif., at 15¢ each. The article was reprinted in 1962 (see below). A review can be found HERE.
Bill can be found in 1956 with “Famed Los Angeles fan centre close's doors forever,” in Fantasy Times no. 249:FTM3-FTM4, June (2) 1956, and “SF and Fantasy,1941-1956,”in Fantasy Times No. 254:25-27, September (1) 1956.
He next appears as a contributing editor to The Riverside Quarterly, begun on August 1964 (Vol. 1, No. 1). The sf/fantasy zine was edited by Leland Sapiro, associate editor was Jon White, and Red Boggs and Arthur Jean Cox were also contributing editors. Drawings were by Charles Schneeman and layout by Bjo Trimble. I didn’t find any articles by Bill in the first or second issues but there is a note in no. 2: “…finally to Gus Wilmorth, originator of our ancestral Fantasy Advertiser...” It is possible that Bill wrote for the Fantasy Advertiser which ran in its original form from April 1946-June 1963. The editors were Norman E. “Gus” Wilmorth, Roy Squires, Ron Smith and Jon White. This second issue of RQ the address moved from Los Angeles to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Tipped by Huib van Opstal about his Riverside Quarterly contributions I wrote Bill and asked him a few questions.
“The editor of RQ was Leland Sapiro, an old sf fan friend and math professor who was in Thatsacatchyone seeking tenure; I had written some articles (in CA) for books I had edited that he wanted for his zine. Leland was not Canadian: he hailed from LA, where he grew up as a nephew of Igor Stravinsky and the grandson of the Aaron Sapiro who took on Henry Ford for a series of anti-Semitic articles in the Ford Co magazine, and won: a landmark case in law.”
Bill began writing a regular column about comic strips and popular culture in Vol. 4, No. 4, Mar 1971 beginning with a negative article about Woody Gelman’s Krazy Kat hard cover collection (1969). The article in Vol. 5 No. 1, July 1971, “From a Corner Table at Rough-House’s,” is one of his most personal, opening with a statement quoted from Jim Harmon’s The Great Radio Heroes which is then used as launching point to ramble on with childhood reminiscences and experiences with “the arts,” a critique of current comic strips, magazines, pulps and comic books. A reading of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes brought out a protest that “every last one of the ill-drawn, ill-written colour pages… makes my gorge rise in revulsion precisely as it did in those otherwise wonderful childhood days when I first looked at the early Detective Comics and Action Comics, or even their odder, cruder predecessor More Fun Comics. I didn’t think they were worth a dime then… I still don’t. Yet I continually took them down off those dawn age comic racks with ever-fresh (but always shafted) interest and hope.”
In Vol. 5 No. 3 he wrote for the first time about “The Bungle Family,” Vol. 5 No. 4 was about “Krazy Kat” and Gilbert Seldes. A substantial 12 page article appeared in Vol. 6, No. 1, 1973, it was the aforementioned “The Doom that Whirled toward Minnie; or, Mickey Mouse and the Phantom Artist,” which would later appear in All in Color for a Dime (Arlington House 1970). In Vol. 6, No. 3 there was an excerpt from his ‘work in progress’ (possibly the introduction to the unfinished work) “The Endless Art Warped with Fancy, Woofed with Dreams: the Literature of the Comic Strip.” He cites Krazy Kat, Thimble Theatre, Polly and The Bungle Family as “easily equal to the work of Chaplin and Keaton in the cinema, or to that of Waugh and Lardner in fiction (certain of the characters swaggering and rambling through the epic poetry of E. C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre are, in fact, so stunningly realized that they can be measured without embarrassment against the best of Dickens’ figures)…”
As far as I can tell Bill Blackbeard wrote 9 articles for The Riverside Quarterly, some short pieces, some long pieces and a few book reviews. “The Eighty Year Shaft; the Grand Scam of Comic Book Reprints since the Turn of the Century,” started in Vol. 7 No. 2, March 1982, and was continued in Vol. 7 No. 3 as “The Eighty Year Shaft Part II: Grab-Bag Packages.” His last contribution (last I know of, publishing was irregular) was “A Saga for Sagendorf’s Sake,” to Vol. 7 No. 4, a negative review of Popeye: the First Fifty Years (1979).
I think The Riverside Quarterly ended with volume 8, No. 4, August 1991. During this period, judging by the list of address changes, Sapiro published the zine from 1964-1991 from Los Angeles, Saskatoon, Sask., Lake Charles, La., Gainesville, Florida, Garden City, N.Y., Hartzville, S.C., Plano, Texas, Waco, Texas, Lake Charles again, and finally Regina, Saskatchewan.
Bill Blackbeard wrote a science fiction story called “The Recruits” for Winter (not sure if that's the title of a magazine or a zine) in 1963. Another classic title is “Pipsqueak Prometheus: some remarks on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard,” from Inside No. 1: 23-31. October 1962. Inside may have been a tabloid or a zine.
One book that has been attributed to Bill Blackbeard is Kiss, Screw, Pleasure and Sex which was published by Greenleaf Classics in San Diego, 23 December 1969. It was advertised in Ramparts magazine in 1969 for $1. It is listed in the University of California’s Catalogue of banned publications, cinematograph pictures, and records from 1st August, 1968 to 30th June, 1980. Greenleaf Classics published a number of “scholarly” books about s-e-x, but so far there is no proof that William Teach was a pseudonym used by Bill Blackbeard. You can find some discussion of the matter HERE.
Much of the early criticism and discussion of comic strips that appeared in hard-cover books earned Bill’s scorn for slipshod research but he did find hope in many of the “competent strip researchers” like Mike Barrier, Denis Gifford, Maurice Horn, Jim Ivey, Dick Lupoff, Donald Phelps, Martin Williams, and Don and Maggie Thompson “some of whom have been forced to write, for lack of editorial imagination elsewhere, in an exuberant weedpatch of amateur publications devoted to the excessive celebration of comic book superheroes…”
Undoubtedly further Bill Blackbeard articles filled the pages of numerous other fanzines (comment below if you have any titles to add.) In June 1985 Bill B. was a contributing editor of Fantagraphics late, great NEMO: the Classic Comics Library edited by Richard Marschall. That first issue had a marvelous BB article on “The Forgotten Years of George Herriman,” introducing an early Kat-like fantasy to the world in the form of “Gooseberry Sprig.” No. 2 featured “Another Origin: the Comic Strip,” tracing the history of young Randolph Hearst. In Volume 3 Bill B. wrote about what must have been his favorite comic character in “E.C. Segar’s Knockouts of 1925 (and low blows before and after): The Unknown Thimble Theatre Period.” NEMO no. 10 had “Bill of Fare: Mutton Jeff -- Mutt and Jeff’s Family Album.” There was a long stretch with no Blackbeard until NEMO 22 where Bill reviewed Harold G. Davidson’s Jimmy Swinnerton: the Artist and his Work as “The Man who Grew up with the Comics.” Unless I missed something this was his last contribution to NEMO.
In later years Bill was writing for Hogan’s Alley, one of his last articles was about Harry Tuthill’s “The Bungle Family”. I tried ordering that number online but unfortunately they don’t ship into Canada so I missed it. (*Note: the previous sentence would seem to be a false memory on my part -- they do ship to Canada -- see comments.) A list of Bill’s many introductory articles to various book collections would fill a book. I’ll just mention a few of my favorites. “Desperate Measures: How Harry Hershfield Hung a Cliff a Day in 1913” appeared in Dauntless Durham of the U.S.A.: the complete strip, 1913-1914 (Hyperion Press 1977).
Flying Buttress Classics Library's Tarzan in Color series Vol. 1 featured one of those long titles Bill loved so much “Artist of the Absurd a Pained and Amused Look at Rex Maxon’s Six-Month Stint on the First Twenty Eight Tarzan Sunday Pages (Which are Not to be Found in this Book), and Other Crucial Matters.” I recall writing Bill B. an email twitting him about wasting so many pages on an artist he professed to despise, which he took with great good humor. In Vol. 2 it was “Tarzan’s Foster Father; Notes on an artist and an Era.” Vol. 7 had “Burnished Bronze: Tarzan a la Mode De Hogarth.” There were probably more but these are the only copies I have.
Fantagraphics published Popeye Vol. I “I Yam What I Yam!” in 2006, Bill contributing “Black Laughter Comments on the Grimly Comic Development of a Major American Epic of Witchcraft and Fisticuffs as Refereed by J. Wellington Wimpy.”
Outside of the realm of comic strips Bill also wrote “Pulps and Dime Novels” in The Handbook of American Popular Literature (Edited by Thomas Inge, Greenwood Press, 1988.) Bill informed me that his extensive revision, “Pulps, Penny Dreadfuls, and Dime Novels” would be included in a new Greenwood volume due out in 2002. I have never found the revision and am not really sure if it ever saw print. Bill contributed “That Nonpareil All-American Boy reaches age 80,” to the Smithsonian Magazine, June 1976. The All-American Boy was, of course Gilbert Patten’s Frank Merriwell.
When Bill Blackbeard began chronicling the comic strip there was no appreciation of comic strips by academics and institutions. Comics were still an untouchable subject for adults. The study of comic strips was considered to be the domain of morons and illiterates. Most critical articles on the comics, as Bill noted more than once, appeared in the lowly form of the zine, with low distribution and a small readership. Bill Blackbeard considered the best of the comic strips to be the equal of great art, cinema and literature, and spent his highly productive life trying to convince the world that the subject was worthy of their attention.
I’ll let Bill have the last word, to take us back to the beginning, from “Mickey Mouse and the Phantom Artist.”
“Flat against the cold, mossy stones above the green-jawed depths of the crocodile pit, arms outstretched to either side of his wall-clinging body, edging cautiously along a narrow ledge away from the trapdoor entrance, the little guy calculated his chances of making it to the distant end of the ledge before one of the lunging saurians just below snapped its hungry jaws about an ankle and jerked him down into the black, threshing waters. It was 1933, and a hundred thousand readers had turned to the comic page to find out what would happen next…”
Photos top to bottom:
“Comics, cartoons win favor in collection” Montana Standard 13 Dec 1970
“12-Room House is Crowded Comic Museum” Capital Times 21 Jan 1972
“He sets up academy for laughs” Evening Capital, 16 Feb 1981
***Bill Blackbeard, disguised as Popeye, in his own strip HERE.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Edwin J. Brett’s story paper Rovers of the Sea was published 11 March 1872. The same day his chief rival, George Emmett, published no. 1 of Rover's Log featuring Charles Stevens serial Rupert the Rover on the cover. It ran for 57 weekly numbers. Frank Jay, in Peeps into the Past, had very little to say about Brett’s Rovers of the Sea except to say that he believed it ran to 72 numbers. Both items are extremely rare but thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra, military historian, archivist and contributor to Dime Novel Round Up and The Henty Society Bulletin (UK), here’s a rare glimpse of Brett’s Rovers of the Sea, which had some of the nicest artwork to ever appear in a Brett story paper.
Mike Saavedra writes that “Rovers of the Sea switched its emphasis from sea stories to American frontier serials beginning with No. 30, but resumed nautical stories in No. 48. My volume ends with No. 60, April 21, 1873. Following E.J. Brett's editorial practice, none of the stories has a by-line. Brett seems to have made an exception for Capt. Mayne Reid and James Greenwood, the “Amateur Casual.” Reid had parallel contracts with Brett and Beadle and Adams for his frontier tales, in addition to the “yellowback” publishers.”
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Both Bob Schoenke’s Jack Armstrong and its successor Laredo Crockett were extremely violent comic strips. The two strips ran a total of 21 years from 26 May 1947 to January 27 1968. Laredo Crockett was a bit more adult than Jack Armstrong with the added spice of sex to the plots. It’s a wonder the strips survived so long since they flourished during the period when the crusade against comic books was at its height. The comic strips enlisted the aid of Milt Caniff and Al Capp to defend and distance the strips from the comic books. As Caniff pointed out the comics already had their censors in syndicates, editors, advertisers and readers, anyone of which could reject anything they found offensive. Somehow, perhaps because it was a western, Laredo Crockett avoided censorship, even when he introduced what looked like a cat-house into the background. These selections are from various times in 1950, 1951, and 1952.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Jack Armstrong, the globetrotting “All American Boy”, as played by Don Ameche, was a hero of radio serials for 14 years. Bob Schoenke wrote and drew the comic strip from 26 May 1947 (in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette at least). Jack Armstrong was joined by his sidekick Billy Fairfield and Vic Hardy, from the radio program. There were 13 issues of the Jack Armstrong comic book drawn by Bob Schoenke. The strip Jack Armstrong ended with a neat sidestep into a new title, “Laredo Crockett”, on 12 June 1950.
A sequence of Jack Armstrong strips in a storyline about uranium thieves and the ghost of Billy the Kid appear below. Dates are, June 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26 and 27 of 1947.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
In January 1821 William Hone published a new satire, The Political Showman – At Home! In it he reflects on the role which the press had played in undermining the government’s attempts to subvert the constitution since 1819. The satire shows a printing press anthropomorphized into a circus ringmaster who is conducting the viewer through a menagerie of fantastical beasts which sport the heads of various members of the cabinet and the royal family. The ministers have now been tamed by the press and the power of the press will also finally bring about the downfall of ‘The Legitimate Vampire’, a huge man-eating monster which embodies the spirit of despotism.
Despite being the most well-considered and carefully executed of all the pamphlets Hone had produced, The Political Showman was also far less successful than his earlier publications. The sense of outrage and frustration which had engulfed Britain between Peterloo and the Queen’s trial was abating and with it went the public’s appetite for the kind of venomous radical satire which had been found in works such as The Political House.., Man in the Moon and The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder. By early 1821 Hone’s own motivation had also moved beyond purely political concerns and it likely that his decision to return to political satire was also motivated by his growing financial problems.
The success of Hone’s pamphlets made him a considerable amount of money but Hone, who throughout his life repeatedly demonstrated a positive talent for fiscal incontinence, contrived to spend all the money he could muster on feeding his passion for collecting books and prints. He recalled that “I used to go to my cashier for £5 or £10 at a time generally to buy old prints and curious books; at last, asking for money, he said there were no funds. I insisted; ‘I must have the books I have been looking at’”. By the end of 1820, Hone’s most successful year as a publisher, he was forced to pledge his book collection for a loan. When he defaulted on the repayments of the loan the following year his entire library of 1,171 books was hurried into auction.
Hone’s workload from the winter of 1820 onwards seems to have been increasingly dictated by these financial pressures and despite the fact that there was a notable cooling off in the numbers of political pamphlets being produced by other radical publishers during this period, Hone kept up a grueling schedule of work. As well as writing new satires, he was also still publishing new editions of his most successful pamphlets, revising and reissuing updated versions of some of his works from the 1810s and conducting exhaustive research for a planned multi-volume history of parody.
Two months later he published another pamphlet; The Right Divine of Kings to Govern Wrong! This partial revision of Daniel Defoe’s Jure Divino launched an attack on concept of autocratic monarchy and an established church which earned Hone critical applause from the pages of the Examiner and other liberally-minded journals but was even less commercially successful than its predecessor. That it is remembered at all today is probably thanks only to the two stunning woodcuts which Cruikshank was able to produce for the cover and back page of the pamphlet.
By this point Hone’s relationship with Cruikshank was reaching a crisis point. In January 1821 Hone, whose patience was no doubt shortened by fatigue, was becoming increasingly irked by his young friend’s hedonistic lifestyle. Initially Hone tried pleading with Cruikshank to “foreswear late hours, blue ruin and dollies” and become “a man of business” but the 28 year old artist responded bluntly by telling Hone to “go to hell” and to “go teach my Granny to suck eggs”. He would later write an exasperated letter in which he recalled that Cruikshank had turned up at his house late one evening to request that Hone use his influence with the city Alderman to secure the dismissal of a watchman with whom Cruikshank had fought a drunken brawl during the previous night’s carousing. When the request was refused Cruikshank obnoxiously sat blowing “clouds of smoke over me and my books... for a couple of hours, demanded entrance to my wife’s bedroom to shave and smarten himself for an evening party, took possession of my best Brandenburg pumps, damned me... [and]... otherwise decomposed the wanted order of my mind and household and manifested what I had long suspected, that he is by no means friendly to Reform!”
Hone and Cruikshank’s professional relationship would endure for long enough to produce one more illustrated pamphlet in August 1821 but their friendship has run its course. The subject of Hone’s final pamphlet was to be Dr John Stoddart and the members of the Constitutional Association – A group which had been founded in December 1820 by wealthy Tories who were disgruntled by the government’s failure to crack down on the radical press and who pledged to provide funds for private prosecutions against reformist publications. In Hone’s eyes the Constitutional Association had the resources and the backing to emerge as a successor to the Crown prosecutors which had almost succeeded in silencing London’s radical satirists in the 1810s.
A Slap At Slop and the Bridge-Street Gang rendered the Constitutional Association, whose headquarters were located on Bridge Street in Blackfriars, a laughing stock just as effectively as Hone’s earlier pamphlets had undermined Sidmouth’s gagging acts and the dignity of the King. Hone revels in pointing out the hypocrisy of loyalist journalists who demanded that their political opponents be prosecuted for publishing libels which were no different from those they themselves were using to attack the reformists and slander the Queen. They were, Hone wrote, “like the hacknied procuress who, to effect her designs upon innocence, pretends an extraordinary affection for virtue... What an insolent appeal from the minions of power, and the overgorged feeders upon the public wealth, to their fellow parasites and gluttons!” Hone then goes on to point out that both Stoddart and Robert Southey, the ultra-conservative poet laureate and Constitutional Association member, had published pro-Jacobin material in their youth which would be considered libelous and that they too risked transportation to Botany Bay.
After failing to indict Hone on a charge of seditious libel the Constitutional Association would go on to waste large amounts of time and money harassing other radical publishers in an attempt to use private wealth to silence the popular press. In the end their efforts were a costly failure -- The Association secured just four convictions and only one sentence at a time when print shops and publishers were still carrying on a healthy trade in anti-government material.
As the recession and political upheaval of the post-war years gradually gave way to the prosperity of the 1820s public interest in radical satire rapidly began to wane. The violence which erupted at the funeral of Queen Caroline in September 1821 was the last incident to really capture the imaginations of the satirists and the remarkable single plate prints which George Cruikshank produced on this subject were amongst the last anti-government satires he produced before government bribes finally convinced him to pursue a more lucrative career producing humorous social satires and book illustrations. The political landscape also changed significantly after 1821, as many of the villains of the Regency-era retired from politics or was able to demonstrate their liberal credentials by offering support to republican revolutionaries in Latin America and Greece. Even the King, who increasingly confined himself to the seclusion of Windsor castle, ceased to be a figure of public mockery.
By the summer of 1821 William Hone, who had worked tirelessly and without rest since 1819, had reached the point of physical and mental breakdown. Out walking one day in September 1821 Hone claimed that he saw the disembodied upper half of his own body floating down the opposite side of Fleet Street and on a number of occasions he refused to enter his own house as he believed it to be surrounded by a huge wall of fire. Suffering from hallucinations, feelings of intense agoraphobia and paranoia, Hone spent more and more time confined to his study and to his books until one night, on hearing the clock of St Paul’s strike 2am, he looked up to his window and saw a “haggard” and “ferocious” face glaring through at the writing on his desk “as though it chiefly desired to be acquainted with the books that lay upon it”. Hone later recalled that in this, the final and most terrifying of his visions, it seemed as though an incubus had been summoned up to steal away his life's work.
Although Hone’s health gradually began to improve as the pressures upon him eased in the early 1820s, he would never again return to the world of political satire. Writing in 1824 he opined that he was “weary of strife” and that he believed that his once famous sense of humour had now left him. He became a successful auctioneer for a while before returning to antiquarian research and popular literature in a series of highly successful books on the origins and oddities of British culture. It is however for his political satires for which Hone is rightly remembered today.