Monday, February 29, 2016

Number 1861: Otherworldly Tales: “I, Rocket”

We are ending February and beginning the month of March with three stories in a theme week I call Otherworldly Tales. These are science fiction tales set in space or in the case of Friday’s offering, on Mars.

First up is an EC adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic 1944 short story, “I, Rocket,” which first appeared in the May, 1944 issue of Amazing Stories, told from the point of view of the rocket ship. Al Williamson signed the artwork, which also shows contributions (sans signatures) from Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel. Editor Al Feldstein did the adaptation. It was published in Weird Fantasy #20 (1953).

I am showing it in the form of the scans made by those wonderful folks at Heritage Auctions. It gives us all a chance to study the techniques used by the artists. Heritage sold the entire story in 2003 for a winning bid of $16,675.00.

Ray Bradbury’s original text version of “I, Rocket” can be read on the Amazing Stories website. Just click on the thumbnail.


Daniel [] said...

For a while, Bradbury somehow had a reputation for the macabre (perhaps largely because of The Illustrated Man), but those of his stories that I've read typically involve a sort of benign wish-fulfillment. “I, Rocket” is more a story of magick than of science fiction, and ends with the Happy Spaceship rescued by its adoptive father. (I don't think that this is somehow a flaw.)

I'm not perfectly comfortable with “I, Rocket”, as I'm inclined to guess that colonists ought to be allowed to secede. Perhaps the Venerians — who are indeed called “Venerian” by Bradbury! — were wanting to impose an inappropriate social order on other colonists or to preserve such an order. But it seems as if the Martians were likewise rebelling colonists — the Captain is enamored of a Martian dancing girl — and that these wars were more a matter of maintaining a Terran Empire than of fighting alien aggressors.

This adaptation is of course extremely well illustrated, and I think that Feldstein did a proper job with the writing. Williamson &alii may have regretted not getting to draw the cool-eyed/blue-eyed Martian dancing girl, but she would have thrown-off the pacing.

Russ said...

Of all the IDW Artists Editions I've seen, the EC books are the most boggling by far. It's not just the twice-up size of the pages, it's also the level of attention given to every panel. Some of the linework is so delicate on the Williamson stories that it's amazing they even attempted this level of care. I know these guys were trying to emulate the great magazine illustrators like Joseph Clement Coll and Matt Clark, but when you experience these detailed panels assembled on 15" x 22" boards, it feels more like the Sistine Chapel.

Dale said...

Beautiful post. It does look as though Frazetta lent major support on this story. Of course,Williamson was notorious for enlisting help to meet deadlines. Still one of my favorites - his work for Warren seemed to have less ghosting.

Ryan Anthony said...

Interesting concept with really nice (as always) Williamson art, although I did think the inking was kind of soft. At least in the black-and-white, it sometimes looked like the people were starting to fade away. Anyway, besides that, I had issues with the story, and I'm sure they're unique to me. First, I have to say I adore Bradbury. His prose reads like poetry, which is likely why he's my favorite fiction writer. But, for me (and I'm sure it's just me), the poetry here is problematic. The ship talking in such flowery language about things it shouldn't even be knowledgeable of, like babies, birds, and champagne, bugs me. Yes, I know we're talking about a sentient spacecraft, but I think the writer could have taken advantage of the artists' skills and not been so slavishly faithful to Bradbury's narrative. The ship could have "spoken" in more general language, or even technical terms, without actually naming such things as sirens and blood, things the ship would have no reason to know about. The artists could have filled in the gaps by just showing the champagne bottle breaking or the crew bleeding out, and the writer could've used the dialogue to say "There goes the siren" or somesuch.

One other thing: the fact that the ship doesn't appear to know everything that's going on in itself at the same time. It seems to know about the bombs going off only when they actually explode, and it finds the traitor's dead body at the same time as the captain. It could've been an interesting little challenge for the artists to do a "split screen" and show various things going on around the ship in the same panel.

Anyway, I know it's all just poetic license, and that these creative people were very successful at what they did. I'm just explaining how I would've done it differently. I actually plan on writing a horror comic story from the perspective of a knife, so I should keep these ideas in mind when I get to that.

Pappy said...

Ryan...being able to adapt Bradbury's work (legally) was a coup for EC, since earlier he had caught them doing it illegally, and called them on it. A sale is a sale, and he got money for the adaptations and EC got to use his name as a banner on their covers. That changed when comics became controversial, but at least for a while it was a good arrangement for both.

I don't think Feldstein had any choice but to use Bradbury's was what he was known for, after all. The problem was getting as much into the panels as he did, considering he also had to make room for the artwork.

A sentient knife...well, I'd like to read that when you write it.

Pappy said...

Daniel, how did I know you would notice "Venerian"? You have mentioned it before, and nowadays when I see the word "Venusian" in a story I think of you.

Since Venus is named after the love goddess, residents of Mars (named after the god of war) are called "Martians." I assume that would be because of the word "martial" — but would it also be proper to call them Marsians?

(As an aside, my 7th grade science teacher spoke of people living on Mars as "Martins," which may have been his misreading of the word and not hearing anyone speak it. Funny the memories that pop into one's head at 3:00 a.m. during a bout of insomnia, eh?)

Pappy said...

Russ, Dale, thanks for noting the artwork. I think Williamson and his pals took a major chance by doing it this way, considering how bad the printing of comic books could be. They had faith. Later on when Williamson was tracing photos for comic strip work he used a lot more blacks, which was more amenable to newspaper printing.

I always bless those folks at Heritage because most of their reproductions of comic art are so well done. It is a joy to look at their site for that reason.

Daniel [] said...

“Marsian” would entail the same break from Latin inflection as does “Venusian”. The stem with which one begins is “Ma[vo]rt-”. The suffix applied to the stem can somewhat change the stem, which is how one gets “Ma[vo]rs” (and “Venus” from “Vener-”); but the suffix “-ian” (from Latin “-ianus”) or “-ial” (from Latin “-ialis”/“-iale”) shouldn't change the stem like that.