Saturday, December 21, 2013

New York World FUN Section Scans / Birth of the Crossword

OK, scanlovers, Old Man Winter makes a habit of toying with my holiday travel, and this year is no different. I thought I'd make use of the extra down time and get a quick post up of some New York World FUN sections to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle. Today, Google has even honored the puzzling pastime with a special logo:

Wikipedia has an image of the first word-cross ever, invented by Arthur Wynne, a journo from Liverpool, and published in the New York World on December 21, 1913.

I've seen a good number of press pieces on the anniversary. Here's just a couple of examples:

From NPR, a piece on the puzzle and a reworking of the first crossword ever. Snarky commentary in the comments section included. If reading the average comments section on any given news article on the internet doesn't destroy your faith in humanity and the life-changing potential of the internet, then you're reading better webpages than I am, nyuk nyuk

An article from the Express in the UK that gives a little more information. The author points out that we Americans didn't appreciate the puzzle but that it blossomed in the UK and that English crosswords are just so much better than American crosswords. Those limeys are a hilarious breed, I swear.

Anyways, I don't actually have the FUN section with the first crossword, but I do have scans of some sections from the approximate time period and want to dispel the notion that the Fun section can exactly be equated with what we know as the comics section (per that Express article and others I've seen) because it is a different bird altogether that mixed jokes, cartoons, various types of puzzles and advertising in something very different from what we think of as the comics today.

The New York World was published by Joseph Pulitzer from 1883 until his death in 1911 (control passed to his sons). Pulitzer pushed progressive causes like tenement reform and sought to engage readers from the lower classes. This push to increase his readership base led Pulitzer in 1895 to purchase a four color press and launch a color supplement featuring Richard Oucalt's Yellow Kid whose adventures took place in and appealed to the dwellers of New York's mean streets. The Yellow Kid is where we get the term yellow journalism wherein sensationalism and profits take precedence over proper journalism. And yet the Yellow Kid was simply an appreciated slice of life for many New Yorkers. Modern critics might levy charges of caricature, racism, classism, yada yada at the Yellow Kid, but I suspect that the little urchins of New York might have liked seeing characters they recognized and could sympathize with.

Anyways, let's jump to 1912 and take a look at a couple of these FUN sections which are almost completely devoid of what we today recognize as a comic strip. FUN sections appealed to all readers,as many of the jokes and puzzles certainly don't seem to be aimed at children. Big thanks to McCoy (brother, where art thou?) who did these edits for me back in 2010. As per usual, he makes fragile, yellow, and tattered paper look newsstand fresh. Let me also get the mandatory PC apologies out of the way and say that these papers in places perpetrate the racial stereotypes of the day as do almost all humor publications of the era. It is what it is. Every vintage periodical is a little time machine that takes us to what can be disorienting environs. The past is a strange place that makes us richer for having visited. Try and enjoy these sections in spite of any offended sensibilities, eh?

I've got two sections from 1912 to share that were in a 16 page format and then one section from 1914 by which point the section had moved to an 8 page format. I didn't know anything about these when I picked them up to scan except for the fact that newsprint erodes and that they looked like a worthwhile project. The 1914 issue is about 6 months after the first crossword and shows the solution to crossword #22.

On to the samples! Grab the full scans for the entire experience...

Fun Section 1912-03-31 (N.Y. World)(D&M)

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Get the full hi-res scan here.

The cover is by Herb Roth. 15 years after the Yellow Kid and the street scamps are still clowning on the dandies. April Fool's issue.

I must be getting old because these days I'm cheering for the old man over the pranksters. Get off my lawn!

"A Cruel Revenge" by William Stennigans. That'll learn 'im!

One of the puzzle pages that would spawn the crossword. Note also the classified ads, one for a predecessor to viagra. One day, they'll cure baldness. One day.

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The FUN section also had a focus on baseball. I wonder if there are any alive that could still solve this puzzle. Probably not.

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Faces from faces, man. A doodling experiment.

Our next issue. Fun Section 1912-04-28 (N.Y. World)(D&M). Again a cover from Herb Roth.

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Get the full hi-res scan here.

I'm not exactly sure what this cartoon means, between the devil and the deep blue sea? By Jack Callahan. Sometimes it's hard to "get" the jokes in vintage pubs, as we don't connect with a joke's context.

Scamps + baseball. Whatever happened to pick-up neighborhood sports? The X-Box? We still get some nice pick-up games at the Y. No baseball, though. Herb Roth's take on a pick-up game and neighborhood slang.

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Again, the a puzzle page. Ads, too, stop smoking tobacco now, circa 1912.

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And the cue to doodle. I like these.

Lastly the 1914 issue. Since it's only 8 pages, I'll put the whole thing up for the websurfers. I also want to show all this stuff in a total context, as I haven't really included any text gags yet, and I'd like to emphasize that these aren't your daddy's funny pages. Note the answer to the previous week's crossword (#22) on page 7. It looks like they've moved away from some of the larger cartoons along with the loss in pages. Love the cover. From Gus Mager.

Fun Section 1914-06-07 (N.Y. World)(D&M)
Get the full hi-res scan here.

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There you have it, the publication that brought the world the crossword...

Merry Christmas, everybody. I'll catch you on the flipside, hopefully still sane after a sojourn in the holiday looney bin, perhaps around New Year's...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ec'h-Pi-El Speaks (1972)

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Get the full scan here.

I feel a wee bit of remorse for teasing H.P. Lovecraft in my last post about his prudish attitude toward Brundage, so I thought I'd make a quick post tonight of one of my earliest scans, Ec'h-Pi-El Speaks - An Autobiographical Sketch by H.P. Lovecraft, the longest autobiographical piece that Lovecraft ever wrote.

Of all the weird fiction authors, Lovecraft has had the most influence on his peers as well as upon myriad popular and fringe cultures. There's the direct influence upon other Weird Tales authors of his circle as well as his influence on future weird writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. There's his influence on film directors like Sam Raimi and Guillermo Del Toro as well as his influence on F/X design in artists like H.R. Giger (Alien, Aliens) and John Carpenter. His movies are difficult to adapt, but many have tried - I like Dagon (2001) the best of those I've seen so far. There have been countless comics adaptations including the recent Alan Moore interpretation Neonomicon/The Courtyard which plays reverently and irreverently with the Lovecraft Mythos while simultaneously teasing at the man's peculiarities (I think it's great comix. Be warned, though, it's not everyone's cup of tea. Lovecraft himself would be aghast). Classic metal musicians like Black Sabbath or the band that took his name, H.P. Lovecraft, based music on his work, just as current metal bands continue to do so like Electric Wizard or Blood Ceremony who released one of my favorite albums of this year, with a very Lovecraftian title, The Eldritch Dark. Some have even gone so far as to attribute the whole manga obsession with tentacles to Lovecraft, but I don't think he'd want credit for that :D

Since reading Joyce Carol Oates' selection of Lovecraft stories (a good place to start), I've been slowly working through his complete works. In some ways, I think HPL succeeds in spite of his prose which can be at times rigid, unpoetic, and repetitive (and at other times brilliant) because of the manic dread he almost never fails to instill in the reader. Most of the time I have no idea what I'm to be scared of (anticipation and atmosphere is 95% of good horror), yet I'm scared nonetheless. Lovecraft liked to write at night and suffered night horrors, and I think it is his uncanny ability to transmit his own anxiety to his characters and the reader that makes his stories so disturbing. He has an intense interest in modern science that exists alongside a determinedly old-fashioned sensibility. Any student of American Literature will quickly see obvious ties to Poe as well as Hawthorne and Charles Brockden Brown in terms of ancestral guilt and cursed bloodlines along with a concern with the supernatural.

Ec'h-Pi-El Speaks was published by Gerry de la Ree in an effort to separate Lovecraft's original self-examination of 1929 from August Derleth's 1933 work "Some Notes on a Nonentity" in which Derleth expands some of Lovecraft's original thoughts. The book was printed in a small pressing of 500 and has some interesting qualities. The first is the strange parchment paper it is printed on. I'm not sure I own any other books printed on this stuff. A second interesting characteristic to note is the strange singe mark at the right side of the title page. This page is about a half inch skinnier than the rest and seems to have been exposed to some sort of flame for the charred effect. Spooky, very spooky. And lest I forget to mention, Ec'h-Pi-El Speaks is accompanied by unpublished illustrations from Virgil Finlay, who I believe is the best of the Weird Tales illustrators (followed by Hannes Bok and Lee Brown Coye) and more than worthy of his own entry at some later date.

Since it's a short pamphlet (16 pages, I must not have scanned the inside front cover when I scanned this more than 6 years ago - these days I would scan the blank page to fully represent the publication), I'll go ahead and post it all here for web surfers who do not care to download the full scan (though I always recommended grabbing the actual scan for higher resolution images). I've typed about the man enough. It's time to let him speak for himself!

A Winter snowstorm is messing with my holiday plans, so perhaps I'll eke in another post tomorrow regarding the 100th birthday of the crossword which has been getting much mention in the press. I'd like my readers to be able to see what the publication that started it all actually looked like...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Weird Tales, October 1935 / Margaret Brundage and The Six Sleepers

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Get the full hi-res scan here.

Aooooooo, pulp lovers, I've got a fresh scan for you all tonight of a great issue of perhaps the most famous of all pulps, the unique magazine, Weird Tales. Best known for publishing many works from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Weird Tales is absolutely the most sought after pulp by the largest number of pulp collectors. The number of issues that have been held on to by collectors and the prices they command on eBay are testament to the cult of devoted followers the magazine has even after all these years. Indeed, though the magazine has changed publishers many times, the newest incarnation is alive and kicking, and you can find out about what's happening now at Weird Tales here.

Beyond Lovecraft and Howard, the magazine published many other writers. Weird Tales featured articles from Houdini in the early issues. Tennessee Williams published his first story in Weird Tales in 1928. More frequent contributors include Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Burks, Ray Cummings, August Derleth, Paul Ernst, Edmund Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, Murray Leinster, C.L. Moore, Margaret St. Clair, Wade Wellman, and many, many others. You can find a basic history of the magazine at the Pulp Magazines Project here. Also, the Project hosts a number of scans of issues from this same classic period as tonight's issue which can be viewed or downloaded in .pdf format here. If you join the yahoo pulp scans group which I've mentioned on my blog before, you can find links to the approximately 80 issues scanned thus far (of which yours truly has done a handful). And while I'm doling out links, here's a helpful page (in French, though even one as Franco-impaired as myself can use it) that indexes every Weird Tales issue.

I'll get to the contents of the issue in a moment, but first I'd like to share some thoughts on the cover artist, the one and only Margaret Brundage. The original pastels of the cover for this issue recently sold at Heritage for near $20,000, a considerable sum for a pulp painting (a number of recent auctions show new records being set for prices of pulp art). Here's the original: :

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It's always interesting to see how colors are affected in the printing process. I'd also note that physical copies of this particular issue don't age very well, as even on well preserved copies the yellow background tends to adopt a grimy or reddish tint.

Whenever I see this cover, in my mind I pair it with another famous issue, March 1933, The Thing in the Fog:

The original painting image from Heritage:

The original of this painting sold in the same auction as The Six Sleepers in which a number of her paintings were sold from what I assume is Charles Wooley's collection which he describes his acquisition of in a short article in the excellent new book by Stephen Korshak and J. David Spurlock, The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage - Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art. The book is very well done, reprinting excellent restorations of all of Brundage's covers for Weird Tales and includes interview material as well as a nice biographical essay on the Chicago bohemian scene of the 20s and 30s of which she was a part.

I like the title of the book in that it identifies Brundage as a pin-up artist and also the use of the word alluring, as I find her use of color absolutely seductive. I knew I was going to enjoy the book instantly upon reading the perfectly-selected quotes on the back which speak to the ongoing debate regarding Brundage's art. I'll scan and crop out part of the back cover here to show what I mean:

So here's the NYT and Sprague de Camp (the author of the persistent but false rumor that Brundage used her daughters - of which she had none - as models) speaking to to the exploitative nature of the covers. He-Man Robert Howard praises her covers for his stories, while his friend H.P. Lovecraft (truly a repressed fellow) is so irked by her work he would supposedly tear off the covers so he did not have to look at Brundage's naked ladies. Playboy states she may have been some sort of genius and John Petty at Heritage calls her a huge talent and one of the most important artists in pop culture History, while writer Clarke Ashton Smith wrote "The current W.T. design, though pleasing enough in color, is curiously suggestive of a Christmas card! [...] Mrs. Brundage [...] has about as much genuine feeling for the weird as a Jersey cow is likely to possess." and "Query: why does Brundage try to make all her women look like wet-nurses? It's a funny, not to say tiresome, complex" (from Brundage's wiki page, letters to HPL and R.H. Barlow). Indeed, a couple of friends from the blogosphere here (I'm not calling out any names, heh heh) have disparaged to me her technical talents as an artist and wonder at the prices her paintings are fetching.

For my part, I think her art is wonderful - sumptuous, beautiful and terrible, sexy and weird, and totally unapologetic in its fetishism. Brundage no doubt moved a lot of magazines off of the racks. The strong reaction her covers provoked in the authors of the magazine are mirrored in the magazine's letter columns. I'll clip out a few reader letters from this very issue to show what I mean.

C.L. Moore (who has a story in the issue) praises a recent cover:

she means this one, not really a great Brundage imho

while another reader seems to teeter between praise and condemnation. Just the right amount of salaciousness, please!

A third letter from this same issue is all for the nekkid girls and perhaps gives Lovecraft an idea that might ease his discomfort, LOL!

Love it or hate it, her art stirs a reaction. Sex sells. So does controversy. So do bright colors...

As for the charges of sadism and exploitation, I'll point out that Brundage's females aren't always the victim of the lash, they are also the perpetrator and sometimes it seems a willing participant. I read somewhere (maybe in the Alluring book and please never take anything I write as fact) that the WT readership was 25% female. I daresay, I suspect that Brundage's paintings attracted female readers. Whether a woman brandishing the whip is empowering, I have no idea, but I'll go with yes (look at her redheaded wolf-woman above!). Some examples of women with the lash - also in a couple of these you can see there's no wonder that some see homoerotic overtones in her paintings:

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Here, I'd note that the later shudder pulps would far, far outdo anything Brundage ever did in the cruelty to women department. Perhaps some time in the future I'll do a post on Weird Menace. They don't tend to be my cup of tea and are not really an area I collect, but they are absolutely mind-boggling in that they were published in the 30s and were clear predecessors to modern slasher films. Blake Bell and Doctor V.'s great new book on Martin Goodman's publishing empire even goes so far to label them "torture porn" which might be going a little overboard. But I digress...

I'll put up a couple more Brundages while I'm at it. The most famous Brundage? often referred to as "Batwoman," kinky:

And my favorite (if not the "Black God" cover I posted back when I wrote about La Vie Parisienne):

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Finally, one last Brundage link, Weird Tales has a chronological gallery of all her covers up here.

Oof, I've been typing a while and am flagging, I better get on to the stories! A cool issue, not solid front to back, though that's what you can expect from most pulps, even during this excellent period of Weird Tales.


I won't get into too much as far as story content. I seek only to entice, as I'd hate to spoil any stories. The mag opens with probably the strongest story which Brundage's painting illustrates (though I'm not sure she got the wolf right), Edmund Hamilton's The Six Sleepers in which adventurers from different time periods find themselves united in the future. I'll go for a movie style pitch ala The Player (1992) and say this one is Time Bandits meets At the Mountains of Madness.

The splash from artist Vincent Napoli:

Next up is a Doctor Satan tale, "Hollywood Horror." Doctor Satan is a strange hero in that he is in fact not a hero but a rather sinister villain. In our tale he visits Hollywood, sowing terror on a beloved starlet as well as upon Hollywood studio execs. I think we're supposed to be cheering for the bad guy. Napoli's rendition:

Followed by a C.L. Moore Northwest Smith story in which Smith is lured into a bad situation by a siren that is not what she seems.

Followed by a tale of Seabury Quinn's witty and temperamental French detective, Jules de Grandin. I always laugh reading these. Quinn was actually more popular than Lovecraft or Howard in his day. I, for one, certainly enjoy his stories. The best of the Napoli illustrations in the issue, I like the wandering hieroglyphics...

Followed by The Mystery of the Last Guest which wasn't great but reminded me in setting at least of the recent film by Ti West, The Innkeepers (2011), which I wholly recommend to lovers of ghost stories. I didn't read the serial, "The Carnival of Death (part 2)" because I don't have the first part which is one reason I don't tend to collect some pulps that have a lot of serials. The splash for the serial illustrated by Jack Binder:

The serial is followed by the Binder Brothers' "In a Graveyard" which reminded me of a comic book script in its brevity and ending.

The Binders' tale is followed by a short ditty on vampyrism, "The Amulet of Hell," which is a reminder never to go into a curio store which those who grew up with Gremlins (1984) already know.

Lastly, there's a reprint story by Arthur Machen who was featured in a recent issue of Rue Morgue that piqued my interest about his work. I didn't quite "get" this story but mean to read some of his longer works that were so influential.

A fun issue!

a c2c moment. Brundage must have attracted this advertiser for Spanking Stories. Also, pulp author and REH agent seeks writers to represent:

And a picture a friend sent me. See, women did in fact read Weird Tales, proof! Sadly, I've no clue as to the context of the photo...The issue looks oft-handled.

A link to the Canadian edition of that issue which was one of my early scans here.

OK, I'll bite:

I hope to get another post in before all the holiday hubbub. If not, see you for another periodical installment in the new year.