Monday, February 09, 2015

Number 1694: One awful night

“One Awful Night With a Fiend,” from Ace’s Hand of Fate #10 (1952), is about a director of snuff films. I remember reading an article in the 1970s about snuff films, which some thought at the time to be an urban legend. Perhaps someone in Hollywood read the same article or heard the same legends. It was the plot of at least a couple Hollywood movies (8MM with Nicolas Cage, for one.)

My remembered '70s article was written in the days before video tape for consumer use became common, and before the Internet and digital media. With those technologies if people can think of it, they can do it. We have had sickening examples of  real snuff films on the Internet — hooded, homicidal monsters beheading innocent people for political purposes.

So where was I? Oh yeah. This 63-year-old comic book story about snuff films, drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Vince Alascia.


My interest in crime* comics grew out of the furor in the early '50s, just as I was becoming a regular reader of comic books. In a perverse way all of the shouting from the pulpits and the “experts” giving example after example of the dangerous effects of comics made me curious. I was drawn to Doc Wertham’s Seduction Of the Innocent in a way he could not have imagined: I used it and its references to “bad” comics to put out want lists of what I was most curious about.

John Adcock, who does the excellent blog (much recommended), Yesterday’s Papers, has posted a short history of Gershon Legman and his own war against comic books.  Legman was known as a crank, in both his writing and personal life, but his conclusions about comic books are thought-provoking. It is just that we have to consider the source.

The article is “Gershon Legman Vs the Crime Comic Books.

Crime comics were assumed to be aimed at children. That demographic has parents and teachers and other guardians of the interests of minors, and they became alarmed by all of the negative press about the effects of comic books on young minds. If you go back to some of my postings of crime comics you will see many examples of some of the worst, including some of the most alarming panels, sure to have attracted the attention of anyone leafing through their childrens’ comic book collection during that era.

I have said this before: nowadays, with all that is available in movies, on television, and lord help us, the nightly news programs, these comic books, now over 60 years old, seem almost quaint. My showing them is part and parcel of that fascination I formed back in the fifties from all of the strident voices raised against what I saw as a fun and relatively harmless hobby — collecting comics.

It is also fair to say that comics weren’t all that were singled out by critics. But the rest of the sex, crime and sleaze publishing of the time were ostensibly read by adults. A cover like this, of a prose magazine aimed at adults, devoted to true crime stories, doesn’t seem all that far removed from a comic book cover. 

The same formula used in the comics applies: the promises of illicit thrills, violence and sex await you if you plunk down your money for this publication.

*Horror comics, also, but for the sake of this essay I’ll stay on the subject of crime comics.


Brian Barnes said...

I'm more offended by the endlessly trite moralizing endings of crime comics than the actually violent murders!

This is a fun little story with some decent Sekowsky act, but he was always a bit like Johnny Craig to me, a bit too clean for horror comics. And I love Craig!

It's interesting that you mention crime comics because this story, unintentionally, has the opposite morals. She does everything wrong; gets involved with evil, digs up graves, raises spooks, and generally makes bad decision after bad decision but, in the end, gets her dreams in the hunky hands of some random, just introduced love interest.

Now that comic we should burn :)

Pappy said...

Point well taken, Brian. I have been looking in my junk drawer for some matches or a lighter to torch the offending material. I gave up smoking almost 40 years ago and things that make fire are hard to find in my house.

J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

This post really offers a chance for a logomanic like me.

On the story:
Interesting. Is it an horror story, a crime story, or both? It is, by all means, a "moral" story. The hint to snuff movies is really impressive, although mitigated somehow by the fact that the villain is of a supernatural kind. The end with the charming producer guy spoils everything: aren't producers the worst kind of "Famous Monsters of Filmland"?

On the "psychopathology of comics":
Silly as it may sound, I guess the truth lies in the middle:
Yes, the iconic power of "images" has always been more effective than words on human minds, especially when used cleverly for propagandistic purpose. No, I don't think that 12 y.o. lads will stab their sisters in the eyes with a needle after reading the wonderful "Murder, morphine and me" by Jack Cole. Guess it's the first and last time I agree with J. E. Hoover. "Bad taste" is a delicate matter, I won't be the one who tells where it begins, but yes, there is a limit, and let me say this, for I grew up with the 1970's "fumetti per adulti" (supposedly restricted but aimed to teenagers, and based on extreme sex and sadistic violence). This story is built like one of those, only less explicit.

On the "nazi" attitude of super heroes:
Here again, 50-50. The guy Blackbeard can say "Nietzsche", "Ubermensch" etc... I can answer "typical American individualism", "the hero conquering the Frontier", etc.
The S.S., anyway, do not agree with Blackbeard (remember the article on Superman "typical jewish hero"?).
There is a great sci-fi story written by Kim Newman and called "Ubermensch!" (it's not a comic book). What If Kal-El's Shuttlepod lands in a Bavarian forest near the city of Kleinberg (Ha-ha) and the boy is christened Curt Kessler?

On ISIS films:
Makes me puke. We already know they kill hostages, but why TV keeps on showing us their fkn "snuff movies"? To gloat on those murders? To help those bastards reaching their goal? To make us fear and hate all muslims? No, it's NOT like showing footage of Vietnam's war...
But enough of such prattling... whoever reads this reply to the end wins a date with Gershon Legman, J.E. Hoover or Adolf Hitler. Pick your fave crackpot! Thanks for this challenging post, Mr. Pappy.

Alicia American said...

LOL it's a good thing a dude came along 2 like give meanering 2 her pour female life yo LOL omg smh

As per ur requesterizering Pappy, hear R pix frm Negative Stacey's 8-BIT BASH in NYC: Yay! Theirs a 3D pic of Robo-Deb w/Stacey dressded as MaryJane Watson & I think 2 pix of me as Miss Victory. Altho I 4got my gluvs. Oh also theirs anuthar pic of me fiting crime as Ms. V hear: Yay! I didnt do tha 1940s hare but more like tha more modern Ms Victory Hare LOL OMG Happity Mundy Pappity! xoxoxoxoxo

Pappy said...

Thanks for the update, Alicia. It looks like you and your buddies all had a blast. Hope all the snow didn't put a "damper" on your fun (Pappy said from his town where it is almost 70º and sunny).

Pappy said...

J D, thanks for your note. You really covered the bases on the subjects raised.

I only have to add that comic books sold in the millions in the late '40s. They had to sell about 500,000 copies to make a profit, according to William M. Gaines, EC/Mad's famous publisher. So many of those titles that went on year after year were apparently reaching a fairly big audience. (The population of the U.S. in 1950 was about 125,000,000, so a larger percentage of the public bought and read comic books in those days compared to our times.) If we had followed the logic of the critics of crime comics then many more young men and women would have been led into a life of crime by those comic books. Some would be encouraged or get ideas from crime comics, but for the most part I believe the great majority of readers were just seeking some thrills, not ways to commit crimes. Likewise movies about crime, radio programs, crime pulps, paperback books...crime is a popular subject, but reading about it is not a crime.

The other thing I'd like to mention is that I skipped over commenting on the quotes from Bill Blackbeard because I knew Blackbeard (he is now deceased). He made his life's work the collecting of comic strips in newspapers. At the 1980 San Diego Comic Con I asked him if he had achieved his goal and he said, yes, he believed they had collected every comic strip ever published in the U.S. I can understand why he was prejudiced against comic books, which he saw as much inferior to the fare in newspapers. He had once explained that he thought early comic books were "meretricious dreck," which is a pretty strong thing to say about anything. He thought the artists were bad, maybe teenagers like himself, and some of them were. But many of them were good at what they did, and while he may have been right about publishers out to make a quick buck, paying the talent very little, many artists chose to stay in the field. What does that tell you? For some it was not a bad deal at all.

I don't know if Bill Blackbeard ever considered artists who did their magic almost exclusively for comic books, like Carl Barks, or Joe Kubert, or an artist who had early work in comic books but went on to a successful newspaper strip, like Walt Kelly with Pogo. (I'm sure if I thought about it there would be many more to add to both lists.)

Sturgeon's Law states 90% of everything is crud. It is a whimsical law, but is probably true with most of popular culture, television, movies, pop music, comic strips and comic books. Blackbeard's strong statements indicate he probably thought 100% of comics books were crud. I don't agree with him, while at the same time being indebted to him for his work keeping the twentieth century comic strips alive. Blackbeard's book, The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics, from 1977, is the best book I have ever read on the subject, and in my mind puts Bill Blackbeard in a special category of comic scholars. So I forgive him for his dislike of comic books.