My love for King Kong stems back to the 1950′s when the RKO Pictures catalog first came to television. That group of films was relentlessly screened by WWOR Channel 9 in New York as part of their “Million Dollar Movie” format. It offered proto “monster kids” like myself an opportunity to see the great gorilla trilogy of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young as many as 7 times in one week! What a wonderful way to imprint young brain cells forever.
My early 1970’s film writing professor’s cringed at my glowing critiques of Kong, a film they clearly considered high camp but the ensuing years have looked on it with a kinder skew. The world at large seems now more likely to agree with my view that it is as an elemental example of cinema where unfettered imagination and technical talent converges.
Alternately, I became a fan of Doc Savage fiction back in the 1960’s when Bantam Books revived the series in paperback format adorned with spectacular James Bama cover paintings. At the time I had no idea they were reprints of pulp books from thirty years earlier. Much like the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars and Earth’s Core novels I was devouring concurrently, they were exciting and timeless stories aimed pretty squarely at a boy my age.
Two On An Island…
To celebrate these fortuitous 1933 births Altus Press will publish a pulp inspired tale bringing the two titans of American pop culture together. Scheduled for release in March Doc Savage: Skull Island will be the fifth installment of the company’s Wild Adventures of Doc Savage series and will be penned by neo-pulp and comics author Will Murray (aka Kenneth Robeson). Murray has been the leading legacy author of Doc Savage stories since he completed several of Lester Dent’s outlines for Bantam books.
Cover art will be rendered by Joe DeVito who is no stranger to the octogenarian characters. DeVito previously illustrated Kong:King of Skull Island, which is available for your iPad or Nook tablet, and has supplied art for Altus Press’s previous Doc Savage extrapolations.
The new story will take place in flashback after Kong’s fall from the Empire State building which also serves as Doc’s NY headquarters. Doc relates his first encounter with the outsized gorilla in the 1920’s which Murray notes will interconnect with Savage’s familial backstory. “I knew it had to be written with reverence for both of these immortal characters. So I used the locale of Skull Island to tell a larger story, an untold origin for Doc Savage. It all started back on Skull Island….”
Bama – Lama – King – Kong…
It’s interesting to note that Bama also illustrated the cover of Bantam’s first paperback edition of the Kong novelization. I still treasure my well worn first printing, purchased off the local newsstand back in 1965.
Should you not already own it, Brian M. Kane’s book James Bama – American Realist pulls the artist’s key works (including his art for the classic Aurora monster model kits) under one cover. It’s beautifully printed and offers a look at some of the photographic model poses Bama worked from for the Doc Savage paintings. I was fortunate enough to grab a signed and numbered deluxe slip-cased edition (with DVD) when it was first published in 2007, but hardcovers are still out there for a reasonable price. Highly recommended to say the least.
This mash-up of two of my favorite adventure characters is an irresistible lure and I’m personally hoping it’s a grand slam rather than an offbeat footnote in their histories. I will admit to a bit of wariness based on the need to keep the power and mystique of these archetypes unmarred. Nonetheless this is one of the few books in recent memory I can say I’m eagerly awaiting.
1. Oorutaichi – Futurelina (EYE Remix)
2. Bang On A Can All-Stars – Sunray
3. Vijay Iyer – Forgotten System
4. Somei Satoh – Ruika
5. Hiromitsu Agatsuma – Tsugaru Jongara-bushi (Kyu-bushi)
6. Yosuke Yamashita – J. G. Bird
7. Nobukazu Takemura – Assembler Mix
8. Aoki Takamasa – mnd-sng01
9. Sachiko M – Detect
10. Hikashu – Nikoseron
11. Yamantaka Eye – Anarchy Way
12. Keiji Haino – Aria I
13. Mike Patton – Inconsolable Widows In Search Of Distraction
14. Ken Ueno – Kaze-no-Oka
15. Bill Laswell – Improvised Music #2
16. John Zorn – You Rang?
17. Afrirampo – Afrirampo
18. Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury: The Pilgrimage
19. Akiko Yano – Omoide No Sampo-michi
20. Ikue Mori – Ghostlake
21. Teiji Ito – Quetzalcoatl I: Opening Chant/Gemstones
22. Ryoji Ikeda – Test Pattern #0100
23. Yu Sakai – Kiss Of Life (Live From Tokyo)
24. Asobi Seksu – Strawberries
25. Otomo Yoshihide – 2*10′
26. Christian Marclay – One Thousand Cycles
Love Yu Live…
I had the pleasure of covering Cibo Matto’s performance as part of last season’s offerings. Their opening act, keyboardist/vocalist Yu Sakai, performed an engaging blend of pop and soul with great skill and instantly became a favorite of mine. His set slyly opened with a beautiful rendition of “Sukiyaki”, to this day the only Japanese language song to reach number one on the U.S. pop charts.
Sakai went on to use his synth workstations and loopers to build rhythm tracks and shimmering layers of vocal harmonies live on stage. Step by step he constructed a sonic cathedral over which he floated his lead vocal. His cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” using this method must be experienced live. With his mellifluous voice, knowledge of the past and eye to the future, Sakai is a contender for international pop supremacy. I hope he will return to New York as a headliner sometime in the near future.
Catch an exclusive interview and a bit of Yu’s Japan Society performance here.
Get It On, Bang A Can…
The late 2012 program includes a November 16 booking of xeno-noise architect Taichi Moriguchi, musically known as Oorutaichi. Moriguchi has been experimenting since the 90’s and his kitchen sink grooves sound like everything from 8-bit tweaking to Raymond Scott and Spike Jones fighting their way out of your broom closet.
Scheduled for December 8 is Bang On A Can’s performance of a newly commissioned work by jazz artist Vijay Iyer. Iyer’s piece is inspired by traditional Japanese art of the Rimpa School . To expand the experience Art Director Shioya reports, “An exhibition of priceless Rimpa works will run concurrently at Japan Society…providing audiences with a rare opportunity to see both the product and the inspiration.”
The complete line-up for fall through spring 2012/2013, including performances and workshops, can be found here. Tickets and Memberships can be purchased at Japan Society’s website.
DC’s Dynamic Duo, The Other One…
Graciously on hand for the charitable event were writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams who discussed their early 1970’s revitalization of Batman and Green Arrow. Though the popularity of the 1960’s Batman TV series boosted the caped crusader’s profile in popular culture the “Biff, Bang, Pow” campiness and commensurate decline in quality of the actual comic books soon left the DC editors with a less than compelling character.
In 1971 Editor Julius Schwartz brought the writer and artist together with an intention to “avoid the crap.” O’Neil created a set of guidelines harking back to the stealthy crime fighter of the earliest Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson stories. Noting Science Fiction author Alfred Bester’s “obessed” characters as inspiration O’Neil outlined a psychological key to the Dark Knight persona. This consistency of personality was a giant leap beyond the “anything goes” loopy spin of DC scripts at the time. As O’Neil said during the panel talk “Batman doesn’t fight dinosaurs… doesn’t time travel.” He deliberately avoided using outre villains like The Joker, Riddler and Two-Face. Adams’ sinewy depictions perfectly complimented the reality driven stories and a real life DC dynamic duo was born.
Publisher Powerhouse Books donated copies of Leaping Tall Buildings which quickly sold out as attendees took the opportunity to have them inscribed by Adams, O’Neil and the authors. All proceeds from the event went to the benefit of Housing Works.
How It Works, How You Help…
Housing Works is a not-for-profit organization the mission of which is “to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.” The Cafe offers a regular series of talks on an eclectic number of subjects and serves to draw attention to the charity, which is exactly what it did for me. All proceeds from the cafe and the various satellite thrift shops throughout NYC’s boroughs go directly for support. Please consider a donation to Housing Works whether it be monetary, volunteer work or salable items, or drop by the cafe to have a brew and buy a book, CD or DVD.
The event was a great introduction to the programs at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and the organization’s cause. It was also a wonderful opportunity to hear the anecdotes and opinions of two respected graphics professionals, catch up with Chris Irving and share some personal remeniscences with like-minded folks. It was a sweet reminder of the spirit of early 70′s NY ComiCons and a perfect example of how fandom can come together for a good cause. Simple but effective everyday heroism. Thanks to Amanda, Director of Public Programming at the Bookstore Cafe, for the warm welcome on my first visit.
Ken Pierce of the PiercingMetal website was also on board to cover the event. He’s a long time comics fan and collector and you can read his coverage here.
Dark Horse Archives
Full Color, Hardcover, 216 Pages
Release Date: June 6, 2012
What a treat and it’s not even Halloween. On June 5, 2012 Dark Horse Comics will add the first volume of reprints of American Comics Group’s Adventures Into the Unknown to its long list of awesome archive editions. This full color hardcover tome will offer up the first four issues of this before – the – comics – code title that predates the earliest E.C. ventures in horror. Geez, it even predate me!
Let’s Get Corrupted…
Writer/Artist Bruce Jones’ in-depth foreword (“Under Forbidden Covers”) sets the stage for those unaware of the historical beginnings and unfortunate ending of the horror and crime comics genres. Adventures Into The Unknown shrewdly survived the reactionary social speculations of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the ensuing comics code for an unbroken 174 issue run. The tales offered in Volume 1 come from a time (1948-49) when you could blissfully enjoy a creepy tale rendered in lurid detail without being labeled a “commie”, a pervert, or run the risk of being issued a legendary “JD” (juvenile delinquent) card.
Each issue is replete with several graphic stories, a text piece, a “True Ghosts of History” strip. The “Strange Spirits” page gives capsule commentary on the “many terrifying beliefs in all parts of the world” including Voodoo and Celtic Superstitions. Issues 1 & 2 introduce a recurring villain, the seemingly unstoppable “Living Ghost.” His scary countenance is not unlike the creature in director Eddie Romero’s 1970’s Filipino “Blood Island” film series with his missing proboscis and long pin-like (Pinoy?) fangs.
Gothic Ground Zero…
A unique treat in issue 1 is the graphic novelization of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Broadly influential in its time and beyond the 1764 “first” gothic novel presupposes Poe, Stoker, du Maurier and others to follow. It’s a story examined more for its influence then its quality by H. P. Lovecraft in his 1927 treatise on gothicism “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Panel for panel the art could pass as storyboards for Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, while the saturated color palette is reminiscent of Mario Bava’s set design.
In their original printing the stories and most artwork is uncredited but Darkhorse gives us the creator’s identities. Edvard Moritz, Fred Guardineer and Al Feldstein are among them. There’s a great Leonard Starr (On Stage) story in issue number 4 that has the feel of a AlfredHitchcock/Daphne du Maurier collaboration.
What? No X-Ray Specs!
Advertisements are lovingly reproduced exhorting readers to learn to play piano in one day or harmonica in 15 minutes, in the midst of brilliantly cheesy novelty classics like the “dribble glass”, “squirt ring” and “joy buzzer”.
Though low on the “grue-meter” the strips offer enough depictions of supernatural creatures, spectral and skeletal presences to keep the fantasy fan entertained. Overall, Adventures Into The Unknown: Volume 1 is a fun taste of Golden Age horror that whets the appetite for more and fits in perfectly with Dark Horse’s Creepy, Eerie, and Boris Karloff’s Thriller archives.
New York City has so many wonderful art and cultural institutions of international note that, even as a life long New Yorker, it is difficult to see beyond the “majors”. MOMA, The MET, Natural History, Guggenheim and my Brooklyn Museum all vie in a very high profile way for your attention, membership and donations. Every once in a while through some serendipity you get introduced to a hidden gem in that cultural landscape and wonder “how did this escape me” for so long. My recent visit to the Nicholas Roerich Museum was just such a case.
Ascending Mount Analogue
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that my first introduction to the personage of Nicholas Roerich was only a few weeks back and sparked in a very unexpected way. I’ve recently started to reread the works of writer H. P. Lovecraft; stories I had not visited since I was a teenager. Lovecraft is the horror genre writer whose Cthulhu & Old Ones mythos is intertwined through many of his short stories. I read the “Case of Charles Dexter Ward” with great enthusiasm; “The Colour Out Of Space” which was the inspiration for the latter day Boris Karloff film “Die, Monster, Die” that I saw on my 12th birthday. I next settled on digesting the novella length “At The Mountains of Madness”, a story which recently failed to be green-lighted by both Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures for production under Guillermo Del Toro and James Cameron.
Along with the cosmic creatures at the heart of Lovecraft’s mythology there are serial allusions to fictional characters and texts such as the “mad arab” Abdul Alhazred and the evil tome called The Necronimicon. So when the narrator of ATMoM mentions the Antarctic landscapes remind him of the paintings of Roerich I believed the artist to be an equally fictional character of Lovecraft’s design. Days later a bit of curiosity and a quick hop onto Wikipedia proved me wrong. I was thrilled to learn that a short subway ride to uptown Manhattan would put me face to face with a large sampling of his works at The Roerich Museum, a lovely townhouse setting near Riverside Drive.
Roerich was a prodigious painter, a stage set and costume designer, a writer and scientist. He was also an advocate for the sanctity of the cultural arts throughout the world. The “peace through culture” symbol of three red dots set in a circle has come to be adopted as the “Red Cross” banner of the arts and in the 1930’s came to represent the proposed Roerich Pact. The Pact, a set of guidelines formulated to foster the preservation of cultural heritage over military necessity has been ratified by many countries over several decades, though not universally accepted at this time. In order to promote the expansion of these values Roerich was inevitably embroiled in the world of politics and to this day two distinct camps view him as either a forward thinking aesthete or a mystical mountebank.
I will leave you to do your own research on the life of Nicholas Roerich. There is plenty to be gleaned online and many books both by and about him available. While his visions of Alpinism are what initiated my serendipitous discovery of his work, it is his pantheistic symbolist pieces I find most interesting. What I will stress is the beauty of the painted works outside their political times and the impossibility of experiencing their depth anything but first hand. There are several nicely illustrated books of his art but what the page renders flat and cartoon like I found to be imbued with a vibrancy of color beyond what I thought could be achieved in tempera paint. “Pink Mountains”, “Burning The Dark”, “Elijah, the Prophet” and “Saint Sophia, the Almighty Wisdom”, all on view at the museum, are particularly stunning in their luminance. A sweet surprise of seeing the original “Glory to the Hero” is that its cloister arches are actually incorporated into its wooden frame.
Posthumous thanks to Mr. Howard Phillips Lovecraft for this enlightenment. Hope this posting sparks your interest as well.
Addendum: Sept. 5. 2011
Thanks to David Haden for historical context on the Roerich and Lovecraft connection in his comment below. His insights into the arcana of HPL can be gleaned in several books he’s written on the subject. They can be found here, in physical and ethereal (eReader) formats.
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