G A N Z E E R . T O D A Y

Reads

There was one day in London I had designated as the comicbook day, whereby I'd get a crew together and we'd do a bit of pub and comicshop hopping. Due to scheduling difficulties, the crew however was narrowed down to Ahmed Raafat, James Harvey, and Isteshhad and the day became a couple hours. Nevertheless, it was still a highlight!

Got one pub in and two comix joints; Notting Hill Comics Exchange and Gosh!. Also made a little trade with James Harvey and got his latest, LUIGI MODE, which—judging by the first issue—is so very good in true James Harvey fashion. Nobody makes comix likes James, not visually, in tone, story, or anything. Such a unique, masterful, and most of all odd voice he is.

Only other thing I managed to read is one of those SPEAKEASYs, a British rag about the comicbook industry from the 80's and one that I'd never heard of before. The one I read, dated June 88, is evidently an important one! It reports the formation of the Eisner and Harvey awards after the dissolution of the Kirby Awards, the establishment of Alan Moore's Mad Love publishing outfit, and even newcomer Rob Liefeld's HAWK & DOVE debut (Rob Liefeld who within less than 10 years would be paying Alan Moore $10k a script for his stellar yet seldomly talked about work on SUPREME and others). The way history unfolds will never cease to amaze me.

Plenty of other gems in the issue, including an interview with even then obnoxious Howard Chaykin and a review of Bryan Talbot's ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT which I haven't seen in a good 20 years and probably need to restock on and reread but I have too many books as it is and need to remedy the situation by either unloading books first or moving into a bigger space but I'll be damned if I move anywhere else ever again goddammit.

#journal #reads

Just arrived. My first order from directly from Fantagraphics who produce some of the finest made books in existence. They've certainly come a long way since publishing their very first comic in 1982: LOVE AND ROCKETS #1 by the Hernandez brothers. Certainly the best and—dare I say it—least likely success story in comix and independent book publishing in general.

I'm a great admirer of Barry Windsor-Smith's artistry and storytelling and have forever been saddened that his STORYTELLER magazine was so short lived. I have all those issues except two (#4 and #7).

Excited to sink my teeth in this beautiful tome, although... I won't really get a chance to do so until June when I return from my travels.

Just about finished penciling a page of THE SOLAR GRID, but will have to end there because today I am half dead and delirious.

#Journal #Reads

Reading the original SPIDER-MAN run by Steve Ditko in black and white, a few things stand out to me:

  1. It's astonishing how you can really see the influences Ditko would later have on Frank Miller, something that isn't so so obvious on the outset, especially if you read Ditko in color, which obscures Ditko's play with light and shadow and some of his graphic solutions (stark patterns, etc.).

  2. Block out Stan Lee's copy, and the comix “read” infinitely better! The flow is smoother, and SPIDER-MAN suddenly becomes a far more “adult” comicbook.

  3. Peter Parker is so unlikeable. In a funny kind of way, it's almost as if his character is an amalgamation of the most unlikeable aspects of his creators; Lee and Ditko themselves.

  4. The tone of it is so different to Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR, so much that it's beyond obvious that Lee's only involvement was slapping copy on stories (and characters) he had little involvement in creating. Not very good copy at that. I mean, if there is one atrocious and terribly outdated thing about any of these comix, it's the dialogue and captions.

  5. Calling these “comix” is pretty accurate. They are so weird and off-beat in comparison to the far more sterile output of DC around the the same time, which at that point had already taken on a far more corporate approach to its output. Rewind 20 years earlier, and you find that at its onset, DC's comix had weird and oddball written all over them (when the actual creators of the characters were making the comix), sharing qualities with what we'd later identify with zines and very indy comix.

  6. All corporate comix today are essentially fanfiction. Not only that, but it's fanfiction at its worst: assembly-line productions, overseen by editors and catered to fit company policy.

#journal #reads

Finally got my copy of Amy Austin Holmes' handsome looking COUPS AND REVOLUTIONS, for which a photograph of one of my works from Cairo circa 2011 was used. I also had the pleasure of consulting on the type treatment and overall design of the dust jacket, which the team at Oxford University Press handled superbly.

Looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one together with Elizabeth Nugent's AFTER REPRESSION, which I've been slow-reading, contemplating, and digesting.

As I often discuss with my peers (10 years after the, ahem, inciting incident), fervor alone is not enough. It's high time we educated ourselves, which backed with our experience(s) should serve us well if we're ever to move past the place of melancholy and defeat.

Things to look forward to.

(The piece of street-art featured on the cover, by the way, is one of the works I'll be discussing in WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, a live discussion with Bassem Yousri and Lara Baladi on March 27 at 3pm EST)

#work #reads

Orson Welles: Egyptian art and culture dominated the aesthetics of the First [French] Empire.

Henry Jaglom: I didn't know that.

Orson Welles: Study the interior decoration. It's full of Egyptian elements, just as the Deuxieme Empire of Louis Napoleon drew on Arabic and Algerian sources for exoticism. Just as the English used India for exoticism. Paris is full of imitation Arabic places left over from the Second Empire.

A rather trivial passage from MY LUNCHES WITH ORSON which sent me down a rabbit hole of Egyptian revivalism, finally narrowed down to a few books I'd like to probe, namely:

The question is, of course, how on Earth I'm ever going to find the time to read all those. And... it's clearly time I got myself a local library card.

#Journal #Research #Reads

“After a long residence in Egypt and intimate association with all classes of the people, from the dwellers in palaces to those who inhabit mud huts or wander over the desert, my conviction is strong that—whether Copt, Christian, or Mahometan—the people of Egypt largely derive their religious beliefs and their customs from the superstitions of the ancient Egyptians,” says William Loring in his A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER IN EGYPT. Although not widely known by the everyday Egyptian, this is something acknowledged by most Egyptian Egyptologists.

One of Loring's most interesting observations is his witness to Moulid El-Sayyed El Badawi in Tanta sometime in the late 19th century, a twice-a-year affair (not entirely sure why) wherein the birth of a Muslim “saint” is celebrated (twice a year though?) where he is buried. Every town in Egypt celebrates one or more such “saint”, attributed to “Sufism” practices (otherwise described as “Islamic Mysticism”) which tends to be viewed as rather heretic by more orthodox Islam (wherein only God and the Prophet are to be venerated, and even then only in the abstract). Things like elaborate tombs and shrines are seen to be a carry over from the ancient practices of the polytheism of old. Festivities entail a full week of religious song, dance, poetry, storytelling, and drugs. Essentially, an older, more culturally ingrained religious Burning Man of sorts. In ancient times, each town in Egypt was typically associated with a particular deity, and it is thought that not so dissimilar celebrations took place back then as well, probably around the same times of year, but in reverence of the deities of old instead of these newer figures associated with their current belief system. Personally, I've never attended any of these. Organized religion and I don't do well together. What it says about history and culture though I find quite interesting. I have a few self-identifying Sufi friends who have described some of these wild festivities to me, but nothing I've heard of in contemporary times comes close to what Loring describes to have witnessed in the late 19th Century Tanta:

“Not only Egypt, but all Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia send religious votaries and merchants with silks, satins, embroideries, and every kind of merchandise to tempt the Eastern buyer. Amid the throngs who come with merchandise come also those who bring daintier wares in human form—beautiful houris, virgins sent forth by their Circassian or Georgian mothers to find an asylum in the land of the Nile. These maidens have been carefully nurtured to be made marketable, and are happy if they succeed in becoming the property —wife or slave, as the case may be—of some rich Bey or Pacha. It is still the custom—though now slightly veiled —to fix a price upon these young women, the sum varying with the beauty of the merchandise. The girl whose marriage in this market is pecuniarily successful is happy in the thought that she has done well for herself and her parents, and her success induces her young kinswomen to follow her from their bleak homes in the Caucasus to the sunnier climate of Egypt. Her sisters look forward to marrying in the same way, while her brothers are, by her favor, educated in the military schools for employment in the army or the civil service. She thus provides for the future of her kinsmen by her marriage, often raising the sons of an obscure family to positions of profit and honor. Tanta has of late years become a considerable mart for European commerce. The remarkable growth of cotton and sugar culture in the rich valleys around the city has greatly increased the value of the land and the attractiveness of the region.

“The Syrian, Turk, Ethiopian, Algerian, Tunisian, European, Greek, Persian, American, and Jew, with many other strange people, pass in review, the head-dress being the distinguishing mark of faith and nationality. Men of all races make up this varied and extraordinary scene. Tired of wandering through this sea of humanity, and suffocated with the myriads of smells, one gladly leaves these material things to seek an asylum near the shrine of the renowned saint, who brings so many thousands of other saints and sinners to do honor to his tomb, many of whom seek the aid of his miraculous power.”

And, perhaps more interestingly:

“Tanta during the fair is a scene of joyous mirth, and the women—usually caged birds, but now let loose—enter gayly into the festivities. In thorough disguise, they are lost to sight in the vast multitude. At the end of eight days, the time allotted for prayer and for the intercession of the saint, they return home in the full belief that their devotions have been blessed. I am sorry to write that the picturesque scene is too often marred by the licentiousness so common among Orientals, and Tanta yearly witnesses orgies only comparable with those of the ancient city of Busiris, which was situated a few miles distant in this valley. It was there the fête of Isis was celebrated by all Egypt, and truth makes it necessary to say that the modern city, in following the traditions of centuries, rivals her ancient sister in those scenes which made the modest Father of History blush when writing the amazing story of the worship of that famous goddess.”

There are descriptions of loosely veiled women who separate from their husbands to indulge in these week long festivities only to be united with them when it's all over, which brings to mind echoes of the masquerade carnivals of 16th century Venice, themselves carrying echoes of the ancient festivities of Dionysia and Bacchanal.

One of the “powers” associated with this Islamic mystic saint who, born in Fez (Morocco) some 2500 miles from his resting place in Egypt's Tanta is—like the ancient goddess Isis, and Greece's Dionysus as well as Rome's Bacchus—the power of fertility.

When all it really is is the power of uninhibited orgies; the accumulation of as wide a variety of male sperm as humanly possible over the course of 8 wildly intoxicated days.

(Above left picture is Tanta circa 1932, sourced from Masr30.blogspot.com, above right shows two Egyptian “peasants” sometime in the early 1900s, sourced from Grand-bazaar.tumblr.com)

#Journal #Reads #LG

“Just below Aboukir there was a massive dike, erected by the ancients to separate the sea from the shore, and in the course of centuries a large tract of land was reclaimed. The splendid engineering skill of the English opened this obstruction, created the present vast expanse of waste, and covered it with destructive salt water, in the merciful attempt to drown the French out of Egypt, when these most Christian nations were so intent upon annihilating each other. No less than sixty villages were submerged by the ocean and their teeming population driven from their homes to starve. The waters still cover the once fertile fields. How much more magnanimous it would have been if England in our own time, instead of driving Ismail from his home and battling against Arabi Pacha, who fought for the liberties of his race, had paid into the Egyptian treasury the value of the great property and territory thus destroyed.”

From W.W. Loring's A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER IN EGYPT which I started looking at for research for a [far] future thing, but couldn't stop reading.

#Journal #Reads

Finally cracked open a copy of KALILA & DIMNA the wife scored for me on one of her many pre-COVID travels. Needed to get on a good reading kick before diving into this one, which MEN OF TOMORROW and MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY successfully supplied.

Before KALILA & DIMNA though, I'd initiated a read of THE PULPS by Tony Goodstone, deeming it a kind of unofficial prequel to both MEN OF TOMORROW and the MARVEL COMICS book; after all, America's two largest publishers of comicbooks did get their start as publishers of pulp magazines. After reading a couple of idiotically racist stories though, I had to put THE PULPS aside, with the resolve to read it intermittently rather in one continuous go. And thus my start on KALILA & DIMNA began.

KALILA & DIMNA is a collection of fables written sometime between 750-1250 AD. Actually, that's a lie. It precedes that, having been in the Persian cultural conscious for however long after having made its way there from India. The Arabic collection I now hold in my hands was adapted by Ibn Al Mokafaa', largely considered to be one of the most important Arabic authors in history despite his Persian origins—and as such, Arabic not being his mother tongue. The book comes with an extensive intro on Ibn Al Mokafaa', citing the importance of his contributions which can more or less be summarized in two points:

  • Introducing new uses and wordplay into the Arabic language inspired by his Farsi mother tongue.
  • Translating multiple books from Farsi into Arabic, including numerous books that were originally translated from other languages into Farsi, such as Indian and Greek; essentially introducing Arabic readers (and by proxy, speakers at large) to a wide array of knowledge from other cultures.

It also helps that Ibn Al Mokafaa' was by most accounts what you might call a, um, an infidel (possibly the reason behind his assassination); essentially injecting progressive thought into an otherwise conservative society. Then again, there was a lot of that happening at the time what with the Abbasid empire's rapid expansion and its embrace of a great many cultures in the process, one of the main reasons it is perversely (and ironically) pointed to as an “Islamic” golden age. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

This actually relates quite closely to a few things the MEN OF TOMORROW book got me thinking about, namely that you can probably relate any culture's “golden age” to an influx of immigrants or its exposure to and/or absorption of other cultures. Picture America without the contribution of its Jews, Mexicans, Greeks, Africans, Italians, Arabs, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans... and what you're left with is awfully bland, isn't it?

#Journal #Reads

Because I got asked in regards to my previous post, the shelf above the desk is for “immediate books”. Either my current to-read selection, or previously read things that I feel the need to revisit and/or reference.

It easily changes every week or two.

Here's a closer look at what's currently sat on it:

#journal #reads

This sort of thing definitely lends itself more to video than a blog post, and I was planning on doing this as a video but my mic was picking up all matter of sound from several blocks away; lawnmowers, blending machines, and very loud birds (Houston is, after all, kind of tropical). So I figured I'd just make do with a blog post for now.

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a fan of both comix and science fiction, so a magazine that brings both together really makes absolute sense to me. I find myself a little frustrated at the tendency for these “scenes” to exist completely separate from one another, siloed off in their own echo chambers when of course there's an overlap, and it's an overlap that ought to be expanded even, at least in my mind.

So it was with great surprise that I came across this 1975 magazine that sought to bring both worlds together, a magazine put out by Marvel Comics of all people! It's a pretty good effort, with each issue running original material as well as adaptations of works by giants in the science fiction field (Harlan Ellison! Frank Herbert! Robert Silverberg!). All self-contained shorts, with only the occasional one running across multiple issues.

Let's take a closer look at issue no. 2, the earliest issue in my possession.

Formidable painted cover by Mike Kaluta featuring a number of soldiers together with an android raising an alternate American flag on a rock that may or may not be in space?

The editorial by Roy Thomas within sheds a bit of light on the cover art's development.

In his own words: > “Seems Michael walked into the office one day and told me he'd like to do a robot painting for a cover of UNKNOWN WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION. Well, ordinarily, covers which feature robots are not exactly noted for selling copies either of comic books or of magazines (and, as Gerry Conway astutely pointed out, how many robots have you seen even on paperback covers in recent years?).”

Completely bizarre blanket statement for anyone to make. Especially bizarre given that they're coming not from the suits, not from the “executive” types, but from the supposedly creative people. Imagine if that kind of mentality had persisted to this very day? We'd never have ended up with works like WALL-E or, I dunno, TRANSFORMERS?

(As an aside, I really long for the day when marketing people stop telling artists what to make based on saleability and would instead just take whatever artists make and then figure out how to sell them. That is after what their job entails: selling stuff, not inventing them.)

“Still I'd had this idea floating around in the back in my head for a long time—a view of the Iwo Jima flag-raising scene, only taking place on the moon instead of on earth, and with a robot in place of John Wayne. Couldn't shake the image—so I gave Mike the go-ahead.

“Gradually, as you can tell, the scene as Mike saw it became more like earth and less like the moon (although we added the Big Blue Marble and a certain nameless ringed planet in the background, just to let everybody know this is a science fiction mag, not the latest issue of War Monthly).”

Another odd statement from Roy. As if a science fiction scene couldn't possibly be set on Earth?

What's most bizarre actually is that there is in fact a short comic in the magazine titled WAR TOY that does in fact depict a flag raising scene involving a robot that takes place on Earth!

So it's not like Roy really believed that science fiction could only involve off-world stuff. If that were the case, WAR TOY(and others really) wouldn't have made it into the magazine. Such odd contradictions and senseless decision-making.

Anyway, Roy's peculiar editorial aside, the issue is actually pretty good! There's an awesome framing device they use which I just love; a prologue and an epilogue involving a substance called “Slow Glass”, which as the name suggests is a kind of glass that traps light for much longer than traditional glass, resulting in the capturing and preserving of events long after they've occurred. If a piece of Slow Glass was present where something major might've happened, and you were to get ahold of that Slow Glass, you could essentially “watch” the events unfold inside the glass. Pretty neat idea if you ask me, credited in the magazine to Bob Shaw.

In this issue's prologue the exclusive distributor of Slow Glass, a Mr. Sandson Tyme (cheesy, I know, but you gotta love it!) is making a house visit. Mr. Wilder lives on the 27th floor in a hideously lavish palace of an apartment, and for reasons not entirely clear yet he is very distressed and in severe need of a... “diversion”. A distraction from his thoughts, hence Sandson's Slow Glass.

Notice how that ingenious panel layout gives the impression of almost falling into the story captured within the Slow Glass (scripted by Tony Isabella with art by Frank Brunner and Klaus Janson).

The first story is WAR TOY written also by Tony Isabella with Art by George Perez and Rico Rival. I gotta say, not only is it refreshing to see George Perez art in black and white, but it's also great to see him knock out non-superhero stuff. The story by Isabella doesn't go deep into the philosophical questions about artificial consciousness that are kind of typical of robot stories (although it does slightly touch upon it, I guess), it's more of a morality tale. A story of “bad karma” once society screws the robot over essentially.

It is then followed by an interview with Alfred Bester conducted by Denny O'Neil! (who is very much associated with Marvel's competition, DC Comics, and is kind of odd to see him in what is primarily a Marvel vehicle). Bester of course is most famously known for science fiction novels such as THE DEMOLISHED MAN and THE STARS MY DESTINATION, which may give him more cache than Denny O'Neil, but y'know... even based solely on this interview, this is a situation where the interviewer strikes me as far more interesting than the interviewee.

The interview is cut short (continued at the very end of the magazine, not sure why olden publications did this), and followed by a one-page installment of GULLY FOYLE, an Australian adaptation by Stanley Pitt of Bester's THE STARS MY DESTINATION. Too faithful an adaptation if you ask me, resulting in panels that are obtrusively wordy. The artwork however? Quite phenomenal. Brilliant grasp of light and shadow, and some mark-making there that I've never quite seen anywhere else.

Denny O'Neil together with Frank Robbins and Jim Mooney deliver another Bester adaptation in this edition, titled ADAM... AND NO EVE, another kind of morality tale that's rather reminiscent of the EC stuff, both visually as well as conceptually.

Of course you might've noticed that Marvel branding is completely absent from the cover. The only clues to this being a Marvel vehicle lies in the indicia (“published by Management Magazine Co. Inc.” which owned Marvel at the time) and the ads, many of which are house ads. Why the the distributor's logo is on the cover, I'm not entirely sure. Makes me wonder if this was a “packaging job”; whereby Curtis hired Marvel (or Magazine Management Co.) to produce the magazine for them. 🤷

Generally speaking, Marvel's output has always been affected by the business model of its parent company. When owned by a “magazine management company” it leaned heavy on putting out magazines, including some containing material it did not own. When bought up by a toy company, it became more of an IP farm for characters that could potentially make great toys. As a subsidiary of Disney, it serves also as an IP farm, but with a bit more concern for the cheap development of all-ages blockbuster storylines that can be adapted to the screen, big and small.

Don Thompson writes an article in the magazine, about how the Hugo awards came to be, essentially a direct result of the growth of fandom.

There's a pretty interesting short written and drawn by Bruce Jones, with typeset letters.

Interestingly enough, none of the comix are lettered by anyone other than the artist. Not odd for comix in most places, but far from common in the American industry, especially anything that came out of Marvel.

Jones' 8-pager involves a guy with a captured specimen, who happens to be a woman, on a spaceship. She attempts to seduce him throughout the strip, much to his resistance, until he can't take it anymore and releases her from her cell. At which point, he drops his “thought screen” and his true nature is revealed...

Jones' SPECIMEN is then followed by THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, a 20-page(!) installment continued from the previous issue, an adaptation by Gerry Conway and Rico Rival of a John Wyndham novel. I gotta say, Rico Rival (who assisted George Perez on WAR TOY) provides the most cinematic visuals in the entire magazine. Fantastic compositions and gorgeously fluid line-art. I'm really taken aback by my not having heard of him before. Will have to seek out what else he's done. The story is a little oldschool, but Conway and Rico do a commendable job at delivering it, before transitioning to the “Slow Glass” epilogue by Isabella, Brunner, and Janson that closes the issue.

Where it is revealed that the agitated Mr. Wilder killed his wife for fear of her cheating on him. But not before he captured her perfect likeness in a large pane of Slow Glass he had previously acquired from Sandson Tyme.

Over all, strong issue! My favorite is definitely the framing device, and the original comix more so than the adaptations. The particular interview and essay in this issue weren't particularly groundbreaking pieces of writing, but as a concept... to have a magazine that would include all that stuff is in itself refreshing. UNKNOWN WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION was short lived with only 6 issues ever published, but I think there's value in reexamining it, looking at what it did right and what it may have done wrong, rather than overlook the entire thing and toss the baby out with the baby water so to speak.

Reasons for its demise could be numerous: – Excessively faithful adaptations that leaned towards the very verbose. – The once every two months release schedule might've been too wide a gap. – Too many Marvel-centric ads and not enough science-fiction-related product placement? – The title? After all, UNKNOWN WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION comes off as a little too mid-century. This was 1975, at which point there already existed things like DANGEROUS VISIONS and METAL HURLANT (“Screaming Metal”). An edgier title could've done wonders! – Cover Art: The painted covers are beautiful! But (and this is a big but), they are awfully generic, aren't they? Definitely hearkening back to 1950's ideas of science fiction. But by 1975 people like Bob Pepper, Wojtek Siudmak, and Philippe Caza were already injecting science fiction paperbacks with cerebral visuals that were outright weird, surreal, and trippy!

Who knows? The reasons for cancellation may even have nothing at all to do with the content. But whatever the case, it's an interesting look at a bit of lost history, a look at what could've been.

And nothing ever goes to waste. It's entirely possible that somewhere in this carcass is a seed for better, more glorious things to come.

#Journal #Comix #Reads