The latest books and literature reviews, comment, features and interviews, with extracts from famous texts and neglected gems.
RIP Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014:
IN 1940, the pamphlet A potato that wasn’t a Christian hit the streets.
Now read on:
Mummy. Who makes potatoes..?
AT last, a welcome repeat of Michael Palin and Terry Jones’s Ripping Yarns – post-Python parodies of all things public school and derring-do.
The series is reflected upon, and its inspiration investigated, in this highly enjoyable BBC documentary…
FLASHBACK to 1978: Spiderman’s Celebrity Party
January 1978 cover of Marvel’s Pizzazz magazine. The magazine only lasted 16 issues.
Can you name them all?
THEY say not to judge a book by its cover, but I think it’s pretty safe to say all of these books are horrible without ever turning a page. That being said, it’s sometimes fun to check out some good old fashioned paperback trash – so let’s have a look.
Perhaps this is a prequel to the William Burrough’s classic, Naked Lunch. I suggest, then, a third volume called Naked Supper and make it a trilogy.
THE MAN WHO SAID NO
You mean they actually found the guy who said no to sex? I thought it was just an urban legend……. Oh, wait…. I’ve just been informed it’s a false alarm. He didn’t say “no”; he was merely clearing his throat. It’s all been a big mistake. False alarm.
RONALD REAGAN: A MAN TRUE TO HIS WORD
My favorite part of Ronald Reagan: A Man True To His Word is when the president sells arms to Iran then uses the cash to fund the Nicaraguan rebels. Don’t miss the exciting climax when he completely denies it.
“Suspecting Linnie’s affairs with the others, Chris’ vanity couldn’t accept the thought of being included out because of his age.”
I think the word they’re looking for is “excluded”. Somebody get Mary S. Gooch a dictionary pronto.
I WAS A TEEN-AGE DWARF
No offense to those short of stature, but this title puts the vertically challenged on par with being a werewolf or Frankenstein. (Note: This is a Dobie Gillis novel, so it was actually pretty popular in its day.)
KISS MY FIST!
Damn! Those hardboiled pulp fiction novels could get to be pretty brutal, but this is extreme. Just be glad I didn’t show you the back cover where he karate chops a kitten.
SWEET DADDY: THE STORY OF A PIMP
I think there’s been a mistake. The title should read something like: Sweet Daddy: The Story of a Tax Attorney. I’m no authority on pimps, but I think they could have chosen a guy who looks a lot more “pimp like”.
BURT REYNOLDS HOT LINE: THE LETTERS I GET AND WRITE!
I doubt Burt even noticed the naked woman attached to his backside. In the 1970s, nude females collected on Burt’s body like barnacles. Lucky bastard.
COUCH OF DESIRE
Forget 50 Shades of Grey, I recommend Couch of Desire (truthfully, it’s probably written better). But if the eroticism is just too extreme for your tastes, I suggest the much lighter read, Beanbag Chair of Friendship.
GOOD NIGHT SWEET DYKE
A perfect end to our reading list of shame. Good night, dear reader.
IN South Korea, The Diary of Anne Frank is a story of seduction, romance, 1980s fashions and a model who looks like Brian Eno.
WE get to see the face of God in Robert Crumb’s Book Of Genesis. But was the representation of the Creator accurate? In 1974, Crumb gave us another image of God, one based on Philip K. Dick’s memory.
Dick’s Divine vision was triggered by seeing a delivery girl,who was wearing a Jesus fish on a chain about her neck. Dick had taken LSD:
In that instant, as I stared at the gleaming fish sign and heard her words, I suddenly experienced what I later learned is called anamnesis—a Greek word meaning, literally, “loss of forgetfulness.” I remembered who I was and where I was. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it all came back to me. And not only could I remember it but I could see it. The girl was a secret Christian and so was I. We lived in fear of detection by the Romans. We had to communicate with cryptic signs. She had just told me all this, and it was true.
For a short time, as hard as this is to believe or explain, I saw fading into view the black, prisonlike contours of hateful Rome. But, of much more importance, I remembered Jesus, who had just recently been with us, and had gone temporarily away, and would very soon return. My emotion was one of joy. We were secretly preparing to welcome Him back. It would not be long. And the Romans did not know. They thought He was dead, forever dead. That was our great secret, our joyous knowledge. Despite all appearances, Christ was going to return, and our delight and anticipation were boundless.
DR Christian Jessen is the star of the Channel 4 documentary Undercover Doctor: Cure Me, I’m Gay.
Can you be “cured” of your homosexuality? Some want to change. They sign up to schemes to become healthy and straight and good.
He tells viewers:
“Reparative’ techniques used across the world, primarily by some extreme right-wing organisations, have included electric shock therapy, exorcism, hypnosis, and even sessions with prostitutes.”
Because this is Channel 4, the main premise of the show will be to portray the curing community as freaks and nutjobs. But you needn’t tune in to know that, although the penile plethysmograph to measure Jessen’s post-cure arousal is an interesting reworking of TV clap-ometer.
You see all Channel 4 need do is show viewers pages from Richard Cohen’s Coming Out Straight, Gay Children Straight Parents, Let’s Talk About Sex, and Alfie’s Home, published in 1993 by Cohen’s International Healing Foundation (IHF).
The IHF website states:
Our goal is to promote healthy individuals and relationships, while assisting in the healing of families, communities, and places of worship.
In this film, Cohen, an ex-gay who is now married with 3 children and president of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays), is seen playing with magnets. He says opposites attract, like magnets. Same things repel, like magnets. D’ yer see the point he’s making? Richard does.
This is book for children:
It’s all batshit mental. And it’s being promoted in Uganda:
IN the 1990s, Satanic child abuse was a hot topic. Most recently, the news of Devil worship and children was resurrected with the Jimmy Savile scandal. Do read it all. It’s a story of a moral panic and crackpot, agenda-driven science. In the US, there were many lurid reports of Satanic abuse, such as at the The Martin preschool in Manhattan Beach, the Little Rascals daycare centre in North Carolina in 1989, and the Oak Hill daycare centre in Texas in 1991. No-one was ever found guilty of abusing children in the name of Satan.
But there many arrests both in the US and in the UK. There were case of child abuse proven. But none featured Ritual Satanic Abuse.
THE 1970s saw a proliferation of ultra-macho fiction. I’m not sure the sociological reason for it, but the bookshelves were literally bursting with testosterone during this decade. Just as the cinema was ablaze with car chases, kung fu, and unprecedented levels of violence, so too were the bookstores. Whatever the reason for this surge in pop culture testosterone, it subsided by the end of the ‘80s. Thankfully, we still have relics of this manlier time; paperback explosions of badasses, boobs and body counts from decades past. Here are a dozen or so worthy examples.
THE EXECUTIONER: TENNESSEE SMASH
12 Ways 2000AD Is Zarjaz
IT GAVE THE WORLD JUDGE BLEEDIN’ DREDD
Arguably better known than the comic itself is its main star, leather- suited, permanently-behelmeted Judge Dredd, tough-ass humorless moo and saviour of the streets of Mega-City One. His catchphrase (“I am the law”) and iconography are huge, and impressively, his story has happened in ‘real time’ – it’s been permanently 122 years ahead of the Earth year, so he and his supporting cast have aged appropriately. Sort of. “It’s a debatable point exactly how old he is now, but he’s in his 60s at least,” says editor Matt Smith. “Where it becomes a grey area is that Mega-City One has face-change and rejuve facilities, so you never know, he may have had a bit of help. He’s certainly as sprightly as he ever was”.
…AND THE REST
While Judge Dredd remains the best-known character, a lot of 2000AD’s other stories have become firm fan favourites…
SLÅINE: A Celtic barbarian who battles everyone from demons to aliens to real-life historical figures, Sláine is like a multi- weaponed Irish Conan.
STRONTIUM DOG: The story of Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic world (yeah, fun). He was killed off in the 80s but he’s back now.
NEMESIS THE WARLOCK: Created by the fiercely left-wing Pat Mills, Nemesis is a fire-breathing demonic alien anti-hero who does battle with the KKK-looking Torquemada.
ZOMBO: A newer creation, Zombo debuted in 2008 and is a human-zombie hybrid, top- secret government project and wannabe pop star all in one.
ROGUE TROOPER: A blue-skinned genetically- engineered soldier on a war-torn future planet, co-created by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. He’s potentially set to become a movie star, with Sam Worthington from Avatar set to play him.
DREDD BEAT HOLLYWOOD
The 1995 Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie is appalling – he barely wears the helmet, he gets off with Judge Hershey (which in the comic he’s totally not allowed to do) and Rob Schneider keeps showing up being all Rob Schneidery. Howevs, 2012′s Dredd, directed by Pete Travis, written by Alex Garland and starring Karl Urban, is awesome, and despite non-amazing box office takings, there might be a sequel because fans just dug it so much.
IT LONG OUTLASTED ITS FUTURISTIC TITLE
Something that often dates sci-fi is when real life goes past the far-off date it’s set in (even in Terminator 2, Judgment Day was in 1997). When the comic started in February 1977, the year 2000 seemed impossibly futuristic, but it’s ended up going on long past that date without changing anything, delivering a two-fingered salute to the passage of time. In your face, temporal causality. “I queried it at the time” says writer Pat Mills. “I said, ‘What happens when we reach the millennium?’ The publisher didn’t think we would, but I knew we would.”
IT’S PRETTY MUCH PUNK
“On the surface, we were aiming to sell a lot of copies” says Mills. “This meant not appealing to fanboys who would have been into Gerry Anderson or Marvel or Warrior, but to mainstream readers, who are usually the last people comic buffs think about. But beneath the surface, we aimed to subvert. We weren’t punks, but that’s a quick way of saying it.” Mills’s strip Nemesis The Warlock essentially had the Devil as the hero, battling the fascistic efforts of the vaguely Pope-like Torquemada.
IT’S EDITED BY AN ALIEN
2000AD has always been fronted by Tharg The Mighty, a green-skinned alien from Betelgeuse who refers to humans as “Earthlets” and speaks in a dementedly wordy manner. “It seems slightly anachronistic now to have a green alien as the face of 2000AD, but I think the readers would be up in arms if we got rid of him,” says editor Matt Smith. “He’s good fun to hide behind – if any readers ask awkward questions you can just have Tharg come out with spiel about how everything’s going to plan.” Tharg also starred in his own series of photo-stories back in the day, which haven’ really aged incredibly well (they starred a dude in a pretty bad suit).
IT MADE THE WORLD SCROTNIG
Tharg introduced a lot of his own ridiculous slang, including “Zarjaz” (meaning excellent), “Grexnix” (an idiot), “Scrotnig” (also excellent), “Nonscrot” (a non-reader of 2000AD) and “Splundig vur thrigg” (goodbye). Yeah, why not, right?
IT’S BRITISH, GOD DAMN IT
The comics industry is almost totally dominated by U.S. companies – DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, IDW… But 2000AD is part of Rebellion, a British company run by two brothers who grew up reading it. While talent tends to end up where the money is on the other side of the Atlantic, 2000AD’s open submissions policy (which very few U.S companies have) means it’s still the first place most up-and-comers get published.
IT INVENTED FUTURE SHOCKS
One of 2000AD’s acest features is the Future Shocks – self-contained one-off stories that usually end on a mind-twatting twist. They’re like the most economical pieces of storytelling ever, like mini episodes of The Twilight Zone. Mega-bearded comics supremo Alan Moore (creator of Watchmen and V For Vendetta) did 50 or so, and basically, if you name a big-shot British comics creator, that dude started off doing Future Shocks. Grant Morrison (The Filth), Mark Millar (Kick-Ass), Garth Ennis (Preacher,) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman) have all done them, and those bastards are RIIIICH.
EVERYONE WHO’S ANYONE’S WORKED WITH THEM
The world of comics would be a much more barren place without the writers and artists that have come through 2000AD’s pages. As well as everyone already named, there’s Alan Davis (X-Men), Alan Grant (Batman), Simon Bisley (Lobo), Peter Milligan (Unwritten), Steve Dillon (Preacher), Andy Diggle (The Losers), Kevin O’Neill (League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Rufus Dayglo (Tank Girl)… tons of ’em. “Going to seek work in America, having worked for 2000AD is seen as something of an academy to have earned your chops at,” says Matt Smith.
SHAUN AND TIM DIG IT
When Shaun Of The Dead came out in 2004, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright filled in some of the backstory with There’s Something About Mary, a strip in 2000AD, co-written by Wright’s brother Oscar and illustrated by Frazer Irving. Pegg’s character in Spaced was named after 2000AD artist Simon Bisley, and was said to have cried when Johnny Alpha died in the comic.
IT MADE THOUSANDS CRY
The Ballad Of Halo Jones, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Ian Gibson, is one of the high points of 2000AD’s history. It’s a sweeping, epic tale that goes from farcical comedy to being absolutely heartbreaking. If you’re at all skeptical about comics, pick up the collected edition, it’s brilliant and you’ll sob like a tiny baby at the end.
FLASHBACK to 1982, and the go-ahead new ZX Spectrum is making waves in the Jackie magazine classroom:
Debbie Harry’s Decapitated Head Rests In A Box Of Chocolates On The Cover Of Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair
For those of you not keen to read the book, you can watch the 1980s TV dramatisation below.
* Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang. It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise. It appeared that she was in some serious trouble: Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Miss Kane’s claims seemed highly unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison — the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks — which sounded remarkably like The Franchise. Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month! Not believing Betty Kane’s story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant
Spotter: Kenneth in the 212
WE’VE heard enough about The Avengers, it’s time for another group of superheroes to get some recognition. The Legion of Regrettable Comic Book Superheroes is a motley group consisting of the lamest and oddest heroes ever put to print. You can keep your Iron Man and Captain America; I like my heroes with a touch of stupidity. So, bring on Aqua Melvin, Matter Eater Lad, and the rest of the gang – The Legion of Regrettable Comic Book Superheroes has come to save the day! (or embarrass themselves trying.)
Origin: Adventure Comics #242 – Nov. 1957
Aquaman responds to a distress call from a ship and discovers an unconscious Vaudeville clown onboard. If that wasn’t strange enough, the only way to save him is for Aquaman to give him a blood transfusion. Naturally, this imbues him with Aquaman’s powers for 24 hours and insanity ensues.
EVER read Little Nemo, the comic strip about the lad’s fabulous dreams?
The strip ran from October 15, 1905 to April 23, 1911 in the New York Herald.
YOU’RE looking at an illustration from a 1530s manual on warfare. The advice is to “set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise”.
One way of achieving this is with a flaming rocket cat. You can also surprise the enemy by using doves as instruments of death.
MAD Magazine is an American institution. It’s been going since 1952 and is still funny, but it’s given the world more than just gags…
THE FREEDOM TO TAKE THE PISS
In 1961, a group of composers including Irving Berlin (writer of White Christmas) tried to sue MAD following a series of parody songs they’d published, to be sung to the tunes of the originals. The case ended up in the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in MAD’s favour – they basically ruled that it was clear these songs were jokes, that they weren’t intended to be mistaken for the originals, and that they weren’t damaging. This was seen as a landmark case in terms of making parodies legit, and is still regularly cited in courts.
ULTRAVIOLENCE WITH A SUBTEXT
Antonio Prohias’s Spy Vs Spy strip was a wordless ongoing saga of a black-clad spy and a white-clad spy trapping, bombing, shooting and blowing each other up in contrived-but-amazing ways using good old-fashioned big round bombs with “BOMB” written on them. As well as needless violence, though, it’s an allegory of the Cold War, the thirty-year period of general global tenseness that led to the revolution in Prohias’s native Cuba. So it’s well clever, innit, with its explosions. Prohias died in 1998, but the strip continues in airbrush-and-stencil form by Peter Kuper, still bearing the credit “By Prohias” in spy-esque Morse Code every time.
A GAP-TOOTHED CHAMPION
The grinning, gap-toothed idiot on nearly every cover of MAD, Alfred E Neuman has become a beloved American icon despite rarely if ever showing up in the magazine itself – his appearances are limited to the cover and a quote on the contents page. On the covers, though, he’s been everyone from King Kong to Justin Bieber to Jabba The Hutt to the baby from the Nevermind album. He and his catchphrase (“What, me worry?”) have still become enormous – Jimi Hendrix introduced his Woodstock set with “What, me worry?”. Barack Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, once described himself as having “the politics of [former Presidential candidate] Alfred E Smith and the ears of Alfred E Neuman”.
NEW FERSCHLUGGINER WORDS
You know that impossible-to-colour-in optical illusion of a trident that might be a bident? MAD named it – it’s called a poiuyt (which is a very satisfying word to type). They also enjoyed popularising obscure German or Yiddish words, like potrzebie, veeblefetzer and furshlugginer, which became ingrained enough in American culture to recently pop up in Boardwalk Empire.
One of the trademark features of any issue of MAD is Al Jaffee’s Fold-In, an image on the inside back cover that starts off as one thing and, by folding a section of the page into another, reveals a hidden message – like the one Marge’s cellmate has tattooed on her back when she goes to prison in The Simpsons. They’re ridiculously clever, and the now 91-year-old Jaffee does them with no help from Photoshop or computers at all, preferring to paint on a stiff wooden board and only seeing the folded-in image when he’s sent the magazine. Try making one. You can’t. It’s just too HARD.
MARGINS BETTER THAN WHAT THEY SURROUNDED
Most magazines feature loads of dead space in the margins. At MAD they decided to make them a bit more interesting, by getting Sergio Aragones (owner of a badass moustache and known as the fastest cartoonist in the world) to doodle in them. He’s been doing this since 1963, only missing one issue when the Post Office lost his mail.
THE BEST PUBLISHER EVER
MAD founder Bill Gaines was the son of Max Gaines, who had been instrumental in the success of Action Comics in the 1930s before setting up his own company, Educational Comics (EC). After Max’s death, Bill took over and started publishing first romance, then horror comics. These comics – including Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science – were really successful but led to the Comics Code Authority, essentially a censorship board. Gaines responded by transforming the two-year-old MAD from a comic into a magazine. When MAD became successful, Gaines became known for his eccentricities and simultaneous cheapness and generosity. Every year he would take the whole staff on an overseas trip – one year, he found out MAD had one subscriber in Haiti, whose subscription was about to run out, so he took the whole staff to visit him and persuade him to renew it. He also once paid twice the market value of really low-grade paper because he felt MAD shouldn’t be printed on nice stock. Until his death in 1992, he was greeted by staff members with a cheery “Fuck you, Bill”.
A BUNCH OF SHORT-LIVED IMITATORS
A lot of pretenders to MAD’s throne stepped up over the years, of varying degrees of quality. Cracked (which survives as the genuinely excellent Cracked.com) was an unabashed poor-man’s version of it that nonetheless lasted forty years, while Crazy, Sick, Flip, Whack, Nuts (not that one), Wild, Riot, Bughouse, Eh, Unsane, Get Lost and Panic all bit the dust pretty quick.
THE WORST MOVIE EVER
After the success of the amazing 1978 film Animal House, produced in association with the magazine National Lampoon, MAD became attached to a similar college-set film called Up The Academy, starring former Bond girl (and later wife of Ringo Starr) Barbara Bach. It was by all accounts a complete dog-egg, leading MAD to disown it, and Bill Gaines to pay $30,000 to remove MAD’s name from it and offer handwritten apologies and refunds to anyone who’d sat through it.
THE USUAL GANG OF IDIOTS
Before the switch to magazine format, founding editor Harvey Kurtzman created the majority of the magazine, but after the switch, freelancers known as “the usual gang of idiots” came in and made the magazine their own. Regular readers of MAD learned to look out for certain names on features – if Dick DeBartolo had written a Mort Drucker-illustrated film spoof, you knew it was going to be good. One of their strangest but best-loved contributors was Don Martin, known for his incredibly unusual way of drawing feet and ridiculous sound effects – like Wonder Woman undoing her bra being soundtracked with “Snap ploobadoof”. Both loved and hated was Dave Berg’s The Lighter Side Of…, a long-running, severely inoffensive feature which featured probably the worst-dressed characters ever drawn.
BIG, BIG ART NAMES
As well as influencing a ton of big names (there’d be no Daniel Clowes without MAD, Robert Crumb cites it as a huge influence, and Alan Moore has claimed that MAD’s Superduperman spoof was a direct influence on Watchmen) some properly big deals have passed through the doors of MAD. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, of Maus fame, was a regular contributor, Drew Struzan and Frank Frazetta both did covers, and one issue a few years ago contained contributions from no less than ten Pulitzer-winning cartoonists. Plus “Weird Al” Yankovic once wrote for them.
A BETTER VIZ
Viz editor Graham Dury, creator of the Fat Slags, tells us “MAD magazine had a massive influence on me when I was little. The two blokes on earth I would most like to get stuck in a lift with are Don Martin and Sergio Aragones, so long as they had a big stack of paper and some pens with them. I loved the way everybody Martin drew had that fantastic self-confident strut and shoes that flopped over at the end. And Aragones’s scribblings were probably the best bit of the magazine. They showed that the editors really cared about it and wanted to just pack it with stuff. But I doubt I’ll end up in a lift with either of them. Well certainly not Don Martin anyway, as he’s dead. If any of your readers see Sergio Aragones getting into a dodgy looking lift, could they let me know?”
Much in the same way that Nirvana only really felt like they’d made it when they got a call from “Weird Al” Yankovic, being spoofed in MAD is kind of like a badge of honour. MAD’s letters page regularly features notes from celebrities proudly holding up magazines taking the piss out of them. When asked about big moments in his career, Slash from Guns N’Roses said “The magazine cover that has meant the most to me was probably when I appeared in MAD magazine, as a caricature of Alfred E. Neuman. That was when I felt I’d arrived.”
AMERICA IN A NUTSHELL
If there was an alien race out there that had only ever been exposed to MAD, they’d have a pretty decent grasp of modern American history. You can trace wars, leaders, politics and technology through it, as well as the history of entertainment, from issue #4’s Superduperman to last issue’s Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus cover. MAD’s first cover after 9/11 nearly didn’t happen – the initial cover story was on the New York Marathon, and showed corpse-laden NY streets. They wisely decided to pull it, and replaced it with an image that was simultaneously funny, respectful, patriotic and… excuse us, there must be dust in here.
Comics in the 50s didn’t encourage people to question anything – everything was more about being pleasant and not rocking the boat. MAD came along and started picking holes in the American Dream, suggesting the products Americans were buying were crap, their leaders were clueless and that the people were being treated like dicks. These days everyone’s a cynical bastard, but MAD invented it.
THIS photo is from an actual Irish school textbook in the 70s. Readers are invited to identify God’s pecking order:
Draw a circle around the one God loves most
God can’t draw his own circle because he’s using his right hand as a clue and the left hand only does the Devil’s work.
Spotter: Rubber Bandits @Rubberbandits
HIGHLIGHTS from Striking For Soccer, Jimmy Hill’s 1963 book on his part in the end of the maximum wage. In 1961, Hill, the then Professional Football Association chairman, led footballers to victor in the abolition of the maximum wage with the threat of a players’ strike. The top wage a player could legally earn was…£20 a week. Hill’s Fulham teammate Johnny Haynes soon became the first £100-a-week player.
The book was published by The Sportmans Book Club, a members-only, mail-order publisher based in London and Letchworth Garden City.