Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Number 228


To the strains of Danny Elfman's theme from Tales From The Crypt, I descend my basement steps. Anticipation is high; every trip to the basement is a trip into Pappy's past, every box opened, every shelf examined, is an archaeological dig into a half-remembered world. I open a file box sitting on top of a high shelf. "What's this?" I say to no one but the dusty skeletons shackled to the wall. I pull out some old magazines, untouched for years. Fanzines!

Every so often I'll go through and show you some of the fanzines I've hung onto. There wouldn't be enough room in my house for all the fanzines I ever got in the mail if I stored them with my comics, so oftentimes when purging the collection the fanzines went first. I've always regretted it, but while the number of objects to collect is infinite, the space to store them is not.

I got this particular gem, The Shudder Fanzine, in the summer of 1964. It showed up unannounced. I was on the comp list of several fanzine publishers, but didn't know it extended to Birmingham, England, where The Shudder originated, published by cartoonist Mike Higgs. I read the fanzine, but cloddishly did not respond to Higgs, not even to let him know his magazine had arrived and been read.

As you can imagine from the title, Mike's area of interest was in The Shadow and pulp magazines. The fanzine, which is well produced, appears to be a mixture of photo offset and mimeography. The typewriter used had worn keys, which bothered me as letters faded off on their corners, but now I see that as charming in a world of perfect typography thanks to computers. There is an article by Philip Harbottle on the series of Golden Amazon stories from the pulps.

There's a comic section with an article on Captain Marvel. There is even an article on the Salem witchcraft trials, a fiction piece, and then there are a couple of Higgs' cartoons. For a fan artist he seemed a cut above the average. Higgs explains his interest in the Shadow in a one-page introductory editorial: "I first encountered 'The Shadow' about two years ago in a large store pile of old magazines at half price. Among the pile I came across several British reprint editions of 'The Shadow' mystery magazine. I decided to buy one just for something to read. That night having read the story of a weird person in a black cloak and slouch hat, I became a Shadow Fan. I went back to the store the next day and bought the rest of the 'Shadow' mags." Sound familiar? A trufan in the making.

He goes on to explain that only about a dozen British editions of The Shadow appeared, so he had to resort to buying the American magazines for (choke!) $3.00 apiece. He found a contact in the States and was soon getting them at a more "reasonable price." Ah, for those good ol' days of cheap pulps, because no one was collecting them…but I digress. Here's one of Higgs' cartoons, signed as MIK, this one showing his fannish influence.
Beyond the above mention of the Shadow pulps and the cartoons, there isn't anything about the Shadow.
I have read several of the novels over the years, but was never a big Shadow fan. Even so I appreciated Higgs' enthusiasm and the whole tone of the fanzine. Still, The Shudder Fanzine went into storage, and because I didn't send a letter of comment, if there were subsequent issues, I never saw them. Over 20 years later at my local comic book store I noticed this indy comic, Brickman by British cartoonist Lew Stringer. In the lower right corner is a teaser, "Big Thrills with The Redundant Hero by Mike Higgs."

Aha. Brain engaged, memory circuits aglow, I remembered Higgs and The Shudder. The "Redundant Hero" of the title is named The Cloak, but he's a descendant of The Shudder.

If he's still around, and if you know Mike Higgs, let him know about this blog. If you're Mike reading this blog, then I'd like to offer my apologies. Thanks for sending this entertaining and well-done fanzine, and I'm sorry it took me 43 years to tell you that.


By coincidence, after writing the above several days ago, I found this book in the library. It's a graphic novel aimed at children, and the villain is patterned after the Shadow.


Sea_of_Green said...

Yep, Mike Higgs is still around, and The Cloak is very fondly remembered by many people who grew up reading British comics. :-) WONDERFUL strip.

Pappy said...

Can you tell me if The Cloak stories have been collected in book form?

Sea_of_Green said...

Sadly, they haven't been collected in book form yet, at least as far as I know. The only real way to get them is to look for old issues of POW! magazine (U.K.) from 1967 to 1969. :-( The Cloak series unfortunately didn't last very long. It died out quickly along with other late-60s U.K. "dramady" strips like the Man from B.U.N.G.L.E., but it has become popular with collectors due to word of mouth.

Lew Stringer said...

Mike's a friend of mine and I've notified him of your blog so I'm sure he'll enjoy reading it.

Here's a blog entry on The Cloak that I did a while back: