The latest books and literature reviews, comment, features and interviews, with extracts from famous texts and neglected gems.
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.
BETWEEN January 1968 to Spring 1971, Ralph Ginzburg (October 28, 1929 – July 6, 2006) published Avant Garde magazine.
Before that he had achieved fame and notoriety with Eros, a magazine for the sexually curious. He had previously published 100 Years of Lynchings, The Housewife’s Handbook on Selective Promiscuity and…
His 1958 book An Unhurried View of Erotica, a collection of risque material plucked from many of the world’s leading libraries, sold more than 125,000 copies in hardback and over 200,000 in print.
ANORAK’s history of controversial children’s books: sex, drugs, sambo’s gay lover and anti-authoritarianism in the classroom.
The Little Red Schoolbook
In 1971 the proprietor of Stage 1 publishers was found guilty of having in his possession obscene books for publication for gain. Richard Handyside was fined £25 on each summons and ordered to pay £110 costs.
The obscene publications were copies of The Little Red Schoolbook written by two Danish schoolteachers, Søren Hansen and Jesper Jensen – and then rewritten by a group of British adults and schoolchildren, including a young Hilary Benn. It urged young readers to question authority and challenge social conventions, and described adults as ‘paper tigers’. Pupils were encouraged to disrupt lessons that they found boring.
The book was widely regarded as an invitation to anarchy, and it was banned in Italy and France. An abridged version was eventually passed for publication in the UK, but it had by this time achieved considerable notoriety. Ironically, the main area of contention was not the political message, but the section giving basic sex education and advice – particularly concerning masturbation – most of which would be on the school curriculum these days. This was of course the convenient pretext chosen the DPP in order to suppress a book that they regarded as socially subversive.
An extraordinary documentary can be heard here.
Enid Blyton is by no means the only venerable authoress to find her books falling out of favour as popular opinion changes over the decades, as Richmal Crompton will have known only too well.
She remains the most high-profile example, however, thanks to her ‘Gollywog’ series, which related the adventures of Golly, Woggy and Nigger, who liked nothing better than to stride along, in Blyton’s own words, ‘arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song – which, as you may guess, was “Ten Little Nigger Boys”.’ These books are not currently available in most children’s libraries
More famous are her Noddy books, in which they feature once again. In one particularly pointed incident, Noddy is attacked by golliwogs, who steal his car and leave him stranded.
Luckily the Toyland police were very efficient, and always at hand.
Not all gollies are bad, though. In Golly Town we find a Mr Golly, who is one of Noddy’s best friends. He owns Toyland’s garage, looks after Noddy’s car, and is an all-round bloody good bloke, as this picture proves…
The Tale of Little Black Sambo
Another former staple of junior school libraries that fell out of favour (though it remains popular in Japan). In 1996, Fred Marcellino produced a set of new pictures, renamed the characters, and republished it under the title The Story of Little Babaji.
One could be charitable and say that Hergé’s most controversial Tintin adventure merely represented the condescending views of Belgian (and British) society at the time.
Post-war, they seemed anachronistic and offensive, portraying as they did a nation of stupid, lazy, infantile savages in need of a clever white master. The book quickly fell out of favour (and out of print).
The Brave Cowboy
A similar trick was pulled with Joan Walsh Anglund’s charming best-seller, in which scary ‘Indians’ were removed and replaced by white bankrobbers and other ne’er-do-wells.
Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin
This otherwise unremarkable tale relates the everyday life of five-year-old Jenn, who lives with her dad and his boyfriend.
In 1986 it was reported that the book was in the library of a school run by the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority, and this was a major factor in the Tory government passing Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which prohibited the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. The full, bizarre story can be found here…
And Tango Makes Three
This modern-day ‘Jenny’, based on a true story about two ‘gay’ penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo has the distinction of having had the most had the most ban requests in the USA in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. In 2009 it came second.
‘It’s regrettable that some parents believe reading a true story about two male penguins hatching an egg will damage their children’s moral development,’ said co-author Justin Richardson. ‘They are entitled to express their beliefs, but not to inflict them on others.’
FAR be it from me to stifle creativity – an author should be able to title their work as he or she likes. However, there is a limit to my tolerance. Sometimes, the title is so terrible that it simply must go; creativity be damned. Here’s a handful of vintage reads which suffer from just such an affliction.
12 Chinks and Woman by James Hadley Chase (1941)
I understand people weren’t as sensitive to racial issues back then, but this is ridiculous. The novel’s title was later changed to The Doll’s Bad News; a wise move, but you can’t undo this level of epic racism. This from the author who gave us these other great titles: The Marijuana Mob (1950), There’s a Hippie on the Highway (1970) and Goldfish Have No Hiding Place (1974).
HERE are a few vintage phallic instances (either real or inferred) which have gained a bit of notoriety over the years. Read on – your inner idiot will thank you.
1. THE RIFLEMAN’S LOG
This Rifleman comic book has experienced a certain degree of notoriety for what can only be described as a horrifically uncomfortable cover. How is it possible that the subtext went unnoticed before printing? Looking through old magazines, comic books, etc. it’s easy to stumble onto accidental phallic imagery. Perhaps it’s because they weren’t as jaded as we are these days, always finding the tawdry in the innocent. Or maybe published adverts and illustrations generally weren’t as polished, edited and re-edited as they are today. Who knows? Yet, the phallic nature of this one seems so extreme, it couldn’t possibly have been missed by even the most obtrusively naive,… right?
2. THREEPIO’S UNIT
This Star Wars trading card has also received some well-earned notoriety. It appears that C-3PO is sporting a golden metallic erection of impressive proportions. The robot was supposed to be a “protocol droid”, but this picture has one wondering if C-3PO had other useful functions not fit for a family movie. According to the official Star Wars site:
It appears that the extra appendage is not the work of an artist, but rather a trick of timing and light…. At the exact instant the photo was snapped, a piece fell off the Threepio costume and just happened to line up in such a way as to suggest a bawdy image.
According to Snopes, whether this was intentional or not remains undetermined.
3. SEARS CATALOG PROTRUSION
This unfortunate event occurred in the 1975 Sears Fall/Winter catalog. Extending below the boxer shorts emerges what appears to be a glimpse of this model’s manhood. A lot of squinting, enlarging, and Photoshop exploration has occurred over the years trying to get this mysterious object into focus. Can it truly be what we think it is? Or is it simply a smudge? We may never really know.
This phallic incident even inspired a novelty song “The Man on Page 602” by Zoot Fenster, released not long after the catalog was published.
“The picture’s got me out of sorts, because I don’t understand,
Are they advertising boxer shorts, or are they trying to sell the man?”
4. THREE’S COMPANY SCROTAL EXPOSURE
God knows, shorts certainly lived up to their name in the 1970s. So, you can hardly fault John Ritter for what took place in episode 161 of Three’s Company. In this now infamous sitcom episode, he takes a seat on a bed and in the process reveals portions of his junk for the camera. If you blink you miss it, and it’s not exactly in high definition either…. But, make no mistake, Ritter’s naughty bits are definitely there. The incident yielded one of my favorite quotes of all time. When asked by The New York Observer whether they should edit the scene for future broadcasts, Ritter responded:
“I’ve requested that Nickelodeon air both versions, edited and unedited, because sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don’t.”
5. POPSICLE OF SHAME
I present to you this highly troubling Evel Knievel Popsicle ad. It hasn’t garnered any notoriety yet, but it’s high time it did. Spread the word.
I Was Julian Assange’s Ghost Writer: The Fantastic Story Of ‘Swedish Whores, Pentagon Bores And Being Hitler
ANDREW O’Hagan’s wonderful essay on ghost writing Julian Assange’s autobiography is better than any book on the Wikileak’s puiblisher.
Highlights from it are:
Assange didn’t want to write the book himself but didn’t want the book’s ghostwriter to be anybody who already knew a lot about him. I told Jamie that I’d seen Assange at the Frontline Club the year before, when the first WikiLeaks stories emerged, and that he was really interesting but odd, maybe even a bit autistic. Jamie agreed, but said it was an amazing story. ‘He wants a kind of manifesto, a book that will reflect this great big generational shift.’
At 5.30 the next day Jamie arrived at my flat with his editorial colleague Nick Davies. (Mental health warning: there are two Nick Davies in this story. This one worked for Canongate; the second is a well-known reporter for the Guardian.) They had just come back on the train from Norfolk. Jamie said that Assange had poked his eye with a log or something, so had sat through three hours of discussion with his eyes closed.
IN 1970 Whitney Darrow created I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl!
THANKS to the digitisation and Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, we can browse scrapbooks owned by the great Harry Houdini (1891-1926). The University has had the archives in its possession since 1958. But only now are they on the web, and free to view.
The scrapbooks are full of adverts, stories, and reviews on Houdini’s twin passions: magic and spiritualism. It’s great to think of Houdini and his peers selecting item for inclusion, then sticking them into place, editing the story of magic and live showbiz in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
Everyone should like collecting and sticking things in books with an artistic flourish. These books create wonderful memories of your life and your view of the world. They reveal what delighted you, what you did and what made you think.
ON this day in photos: February 14 1989: Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini sentences British author Salman Rushdie to death. He also sentenced to death the publishers of Rushdie’s book the Satanic Verses. Khomeni said the book is a blasphemy against Islam. His decree introduced many of us to the word ‘fatwa’.
HOW bad are the storms pummelling the British Isles?
THE point of this colouring book was to teach the youngsters of 1953 good safety lessons via the alphabet. From a perspective of 60 years later, some of these lessons seem, well, I think “distressing” is the best word I can come up with. See for yourself.
IS there anything better than a mid-century men’s action magazine? They were chock full of lurid stories and provocative artwork depicting female biker gangs, nympho pirates, Gestapo dominatrices, etc. If it fulfilled a macho fantasy, it was fair game, and the headlines beckoned men to go along for the ride. Here are ten worthy examples.
THE MAN WHO TOUCHED OFF PHILADELPHIA’S GREAT BOSOM RIOT
Male, Sept. 1959
I’m a mild mannered, peaceful kind of guy – not much into protests and insurrection. That being said, a “bosom riot” is something I could get behind.
HOW do you follow Cop Killer and date night with the well upholstered Coco Austin? If you’re Ice-T you create an audiobook for Dungeons & Dragons.
In Ice T’s Final Level Podcast, the rapper tell how unprepared he was got the job.
“They didn’t tell me this was a motherfu**in’ Dungeons & Dragons book… [it's] some of the most crazy, deep, deep nerd shit.Motherfu**ers talk like Yoda. They were talking about ‘pegasuses’ and ‘pegasi.’ That’s horses with wings. This motherfu**er got a sword that talks to him… Motherfuckers live in places that don’t exist, and it comes with a map. My God.”
VISITORS to 1920s NYC could study the Valentine’s City of New York: A Guide Book. As any reader of P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist will now full well, New York was a dangerous place back then, overrun by gangs, slum landlords and shysters.
WITH so many “important things” going on the world, why spend time looking at forty year old sweaters? Simply put, the brain needs a break from the barrage of jarring images of a world on the brink. A tour of 70s men’s sweaters is exactly what the doctor ordered.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy a cornucopia of magnificent vintage sweaters. And you’re welcome.
Left: I’m not a fashion connoisseur, but I do have a general rule of thumb: Avoid sweater vests with built in belts.
Center: Add a cape and it’s almost superhero-like. Don’t for a minute think that superheroes are somehow above sweaters when they have no problem prancing around in Spandex unitards.
Right: Looks like he just stole Janis Joplin’s belongings. Poor sap. Her sweaty clothes are probably so saturated with drugs, he’ll be dead soon.
IN 1933, German students planned to burn “Un-German” books. Helen Keller wrote this open letter to the students:
“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas…”