5124 De Longpre Avenue, Los Angeles, California, United States of America, North American Continent, Planet Earth, System Sol: one-time residence of Charles Bukowski. Now an Historic Landmark and now occupied after a long vacancy.
Incidentally, this is located about 5 blocks away from my apartment.
Plus, a repeat visit with the God of Medicine, now tagged:
John Fante is oft considered the real deal, a Los Angeles writer of genuine talent; as far as I can tell, this reputation is based entirely on the word of one man– Chuckie Bukowski– and one novel, Ask the Dust, viewed by Bukowski as a kind of founding document of his own career. I bought Ask the Dust a few months ago– before I knew it was the centennial of Fante’s birth– because of this fabulous post about the apartment in which the book was writ. (Caveat emptor, my sweet darlings, cuz it’s got a few photos of human feces smeared about the floors.)
Having read Ask the Dust, I am now left wondering if anyone other than Bukowski bothered reading past the first twenty pages– yes, it’s nice enough to have an evocation of 1930s Bunker Hill, but that river quickly runs dry, leaving the parched reader with a clunky novel that provides answers to questions everyone has since forgotten. The characterization, such as it is, has one laughing at the author’s seeming ignorance of any human interaction, ever, and the last third of the book contains the worst drug writing that I’ve had the misfortune of reading. We’re talking straight-up, genuine Reefer Madness.
The plot of the book, such as it is, revolves almost entirely around the protagonist’s pursuit of a young Latina woman named Camilla Lopez, a Frankenstein’s Monster of cliches stitched together with misogyny and racism– she’s a Mexican pretending to be white, she’s a hophead lost to the perils of maryjane addiction, she can’t love the author’s stand-in cuz she loves another man who doesn’t love her and she’s an awful whore or some bother like that– that lumbers through the book, ever in danger of being chased by peasants into a burning windmill.
One might forgive the novel its flaws if they read as period anachronisms– after all, ain’t that Heaffy and Caffy jes’ so lifeylike tho’ they speke ne diff’runt from yous and I– but Fante isn’t simply of his period, he’s a victim of it, utterly unable to rise above gutter literature of the late Thirties. It’s a testament to Hank Aqualung’s hold over Los Angeles’s post-Chandler vision of itself– or perhaps the fact that no New Messiah has Arisen amidst chanted Hosannahs and resounding Hallelujahs– that the nodding head of a drink besotted pervert, himself not an especially astute student of human behavior, could elevate a period obscurity into a work deserving 100 year celebrations.
This post is long overdue. I first mentioned my copy of Herzog way back on June 7th, 2007, in this blog’s second week of existence. Less than two years but feels like an eternity. I’m still buying cheap books from Out of the Closet at Hollywood & Western, but these days the deals come in editions of Recent Works. The other week I scored a proof of The Fortress of Solitude and a $0.25 copy of Jesus’ Son; ain’t read either of them yet, as Dorian Gray’s uncle might say, but soon enough they’ll pass before my weary eyes.
But yes, one of the very, very first books I ever bought was a Book Club edition of Saul Bellow’s Herzog. It took me a few months, but once I opened it, I discovered an authentic artifact of old Los Angeles history– for beneath the dustjacket, there was an underjacket identifying the book as property of the Larchmont Bookshop, a long gone establishment that both sold and rented books.
According to the title page, Herzog went for $0.10 a day! The underjacket carries ads for other businesses, presenting a wonderful snapshot of Larchmont Village circa 1965. I’m particular fond of the slogan employed by Bond Cleaners– “Our Work is Our Bond” –and of the ad for Dr. Harry Locks, Chiropractor. Nice to see the phone numbers using the HO exchange.
I see this guy nearly every time I’m at the Starbucks at Hollywood & Western, churning out screenplays on an old electric typewriter. Normally I wouldn’t photograph him– and never have– but this encounter amazed me. He was hand drawing page after page after page of six panel storyboards. So… I had an ethical lapse.
I didn’t stick around to see if he ever drew anything inside.
From the Los Feliz Ledger, “The ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ started on Kingswell,” by Jean Luc Renault, Community News, February 2008:
LOS FELIZ—When Extra Copy on Kingswell Avenue opened in 1994, the staff knew nothing about the small storefront’s unique history.
About a year later, one visitor changed all that.
“An old woman came into the store and just started crying,” said Extra Copy’s manager Marine Ter-Pogosyan. “She told us she used to work here when it was Disney’s studio.”
Stumbling distance from the Dresden Restaurant’s parking lot, the storefront was the Disney brothers’ first standalone animation studio. But brothers Walt and Roy had been perfecting their animation on Kingswell Avenue for some time before that.
The only photo I could find of the Disneys with the store front fully visible in the background. Apologies for the terrible quality.
Also, a note about Extra Copy: they are a fine place to make duplications! Recommended.
Okay, I own it, so why not? Here we go– Secret Romance #48, a true relic. According to Dan Stevenson’s invaluable list of romance comics, after Secret Romance #48, the last of its series, only about ten more individual issues of any genre series were published in the US.
This does not tell the full story– Secret Romance was in fact one of several titles revived by Charlton in 1979, relying entirely on reprinted material from the company’s back catalog. All of Charlton’s on-going romance titles were canceled at the end of 1976– after that massacre, the only remaining genre title appears to have been DC’s Young Love, running a few months into 1977. To give a sense of how unfortunate things had become, the final issue of Young Love, #126, ran with cover copy that read, “Was Distance The Only Thing That Kept Alive The C.B. [radio] Romance?”
Secret Romance #48 reprints, in its entirety, For Lovers Only #87, cover date November 1976, one of the last individual issues before Charlton’s mass cancellation. This makes SR #48 a double oddity– one of the last romance comics published in the US which itself reprints another of the very last romance comics. It is the real rough stuff– the burning decadence of a genre beyond concern or care, multiplied by two.
I snagged my copy for $1 at the Los Angeles Comic Book and SciFi Convention, a place that scientific consensus has determined as the exact, bi-monthly spot where nostalgia dies a protracted, agony-wracked death. Occurring regularly in the historic Shriner Auditorium, one must arrive on foot, like a pilgrim, to gain understanding. Words fail. There is something exactly right about finding one of the last miserable efforts of a failed genre amongst the tables of mid-1990s comics (all Liefield, all McFarlane, all Ghost Rider, all the time!) and the countless boxes of action figures missing limbs.
Anyhoo, here’s the cover:
This art is actually pretty great, which is why I bought the issue. Unbeknownst to me, the FWB cover attribution is for Frank Bolle.
I scanned the story, “Be Proud, My Love!,” which is almost entirely incoherent. A model gives up being a model and goes back to the farm, where her dad has taken on his secret partner as a farmhand, and the model is constantly being made fun of for being “plain,” whilst the farmhand turns out a rogue academic pulling a Bob Dylan and fetishizing farmlife, who is also capable of beating up two locals while on his quest for meaning. Just like John Berryman! Somehow this ends up with the model becoming a model again on her wedding, which she’s kept secret from the farmhand. I think. She also invited the paparazzi. Just like Samantha Ronson!
Watch a genre die:
Next up is a one-pager– again, it’s totally incoherent. How bad did things get in the romance genre? This is a ONE PAGE story titled, “Cindy’s First Date” about a girl named Elaine. And this is a reprint.
Visually, it’s the best thing in the issue. One of the things about Charlton, particularly in later days, is that their increasingly decaying printing press seriously affected the art– I suspect if we could see the color mark-up of “Cindy’s First Date,” it’d be gorgeous. As it stands, we salute it for transcending its surroundings, and also for giving us this:
Seriously, if I’d gone to a normal high school with dances, instead of a colony for misfits, drug addicts and art kids, and the girls wore outfits like that, standing in front of Chinese Lanterns like that, then good lawd almighty, I’d of gone to Junior Prom. Here’s the full page:
Please find below the first page of the cover story, “The Art of Romance.” Clearly, this was drawn by an artist other than Bolle. It’s incredibly, incredibly ugly.
That’s it. Show’s over. No place to go from here.
After my last two posts on the topic of counterculture bleed into Romance Comics, and my broad assertions as to the slow death of the genre at Charlton, I thought it might behoove me to post an example of how bad things got. So here’s Love Diary #99. The cover is suitably amazing, and suitably inept, and all kinds of incomprehensible:
I have no idea what the hell this cover references. Janis Joplin had been dead for years, and while my understanding of the 1970s is spotty, I’m fairly certain there wasn’t a mid-decade acoustic acid-haze chartreuse of any particular note. Karen Carpenter this ain’t. Furthermore, what the hell is the dude with the coffee mug doing? Is he dancing? Having a small stroke? Does this all take place in a coffee house? Why does the coffee house have ultra-disco lighting? These mysteries are unsolvable!
This cover is also notable for its complete disconnect from any of the book’s interior content.
I scanned the longest story, but by now it doesn’t matter. They’re all totally bland and horrible– and stuffed with T&A. There’s enough half-naked women in Love Diary #99 that I’m wondering if the comics’ main function hadn’t degraded into a system of low-grade T&A distribution. That said, I cop to adoring this panel, in all of its ineptitude:
Something about the stars and the trashy eye-shadow. The blooming cactus on the right side of the panel don’t hurt, either. Also note the distorted spatial anatomy– whatever they’re doing, it ain’t kissing. But these flaws aside, I am genuine in my affection for the panel. It’s great.
Unfortunately the story is not. Herein a girl finds true love by, well, I’m not sure, really. Being a jerk, I guess. Anyway, her old man is rich and bland, but her new man works on an oil field and gets called a gypsy. Lots of T&A, though. Risque shadowy stripping! Underwater love-making!
As if to underscore the repetition of content, here’s the first two pages of another story from Love Diary #99 with more underwater love-making. This story is way more glam, which is a plus.
I’ve got no final insight on this book. Honestly, I bought it for the ugly, tripped-out cover. It’s bleh in extremis. Instead, let me leave you with an era-appropriate possible solution to the age old mystery of how The Kinks late-60s career mutated into their 1970s stadium rock: what if Ray Davies didn’t like pot or acid, but really, really, really liked cocaine?
After my last post, wherein I rambled about the slow bleed of counterculture imagery into Romance Comics, I thought it might behoove me to post an example. I’ve chosen a story from my own modest collection– Charlton’s For Lovers Only #61, and its feature story, “In Search of Love.” Take a gander at this cover:
Compared with the feature story of Heart Throbs #92, “In Search of Love,” (which if you throw in an ellipses, sounds like an episode of the old Leonard Nimoy program) is instructive in both its differences and similarities. Post-Woodstock, post-Altamont, post-Summer of Love the scene is no longer merely backdrop, but an active and vital part of the narrative. The Wonder Mountain Rock Festival is a destination of both space and spirit, an actual desire of the story’s participants. Our heroine lies to her parents about attending! Just like in the go-go 90s, when I was 13 and lied about going to Lollapalooza!
Ultimately, genre convention consumes everything and our groovy chick meets a happening fella, who not only protects her from a proto-Hells Angel, but also questions her willingness to kiss him so soon and is hip to family. Through this morally upstanding gent, our protagonist finds herself back where she started– at her parents’ pad, but with a twist: she’s in love, a woman tamed. She’ll never run wild again! Can marriage be far?
Dig the crazy look in the eyes of the almost rapist. It gives a sense, forty years after the fact, of how far Altamont and Manson penetrated the national consciousness. The bad ugly of the hippie scene. Check it out:
I scanned two pages from FLO #61′s first story. It’s another example (though less dramatic) of the bleed. I love how the second page is a timeless laundry list of a young woman’s worries in the wilds of New York City. And check out that lingo, swingers!
These two pages of another story are just T&A. Look at how many men she’s taken to the drive-in! There’s a very strange undercurrent in this story.
And, finally, a Charlton house ad. Look at the lettering on each title’s logo. It’s like a hobo camped outside of Victor Moscoso’s studio and picked up tips peering through the window.
That reminds me– for those of you uninitiated in the history and lore of comic companies, Charlton was an ultra-low budget affair, so if you’re wondering why the art, printing, coloring and page orientation of FLO looks terrible compared to Heart Throbs #92, I’ll provide a help qualifying metric. Think of DC as a Rolls-Royce and Charlton as the Ford Escort.
What distinguished Charlton was their ownership of every stage in creation and distribution– originally a magazine publisher, they reportedly got into the comics game when it was discovered that turning off the press cost more than having it print continually. This fostered a spirit in which no one cared very much about what comics went out, so long as it made its money back. This benefited a handful of creators– most notably our own idee fixee Steve Ditko, who got to do pre-Mr. A Objectivist works, in particular the masterpieces Blue Beetle #5 and Mysterious Suspense #1. On the other, the interesting stuff coming out of Charlton represents about 0.05% of total output. The atmosphere mostly created horrible comics of dubious quality.
Charlton was where Romance died, and what a horrible death it was, with the very strange books of the late 1970s/early 1980s looking like ultra-cheap hippie comics of 1970-71 but without the cultural frame of reference. Ugly.
If 20th Century narrative taught us anything, it’s that people’s respectable facades are lies constructed to hide a bitter core of resentment, malice and disquieting interests. And hey, I’m no diff– I got my own weird kicks, and the one which truly disquiets is my fascination with a certain vintage of Romance Comics. Specifically, I’m interested in the slow bleed of counterculture visuals into a genre that remained, from its beginnings in the 1940s to its dismal death in the late 70s/early 80s, a forum for repressive middle class values. The contrast grew extreme in the late 60s/early 70s, with hippie chicks at swinger pads learning, miraculously, the virtue of holding out and not getting a bad reputation.
There’s a newish book on Romance Comics called Love on the Racks, authored by Michelle Nolan. We encountered Michelle at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, where I bought the book from her, and a nicer person you could not meet– the book is great, too, a thorough overview of a wildly ignored genre which will never, ever have a critical or popular revival. (Arguments about yaoi put to the side.) Worth the buy.
Yesterday, I checked my mail box, and, lo, discovered that my supplier/patron e.j. bought me a copy of a comic I’ve wanted for a goodly long while– Heart Throbs #92. The reason should be obvious, once you scope the glorious cover:
Published in ’64, this cover and its attendant story, anticipate the influx of youth counterculture into the genre– the closest thing would be a year later (#101), when very mop-toppy versions of the Beatles started appearing. The Mod, or the American conception thereof, being a guy who dressed like the Beatles, then became a semi-reoccurring figure in the genre. But The Mod, and the Beatles themselves, were in many ways tailor-made (pardon the pun) for the Romance Comic– they were wooden men in suits, and thus not far from the typical romantic lead. By 1969, youth culture had gone through such changes that the women in Romance Comics were decked out in post-Mary Quant fantasy clothing and the men, well, it depends on the comic in question, but there were plenty longhairs in fur vests waiting to steal a girl’s heart.
The cover story of Heart Throbs #92, “The Nights That Never Ended,” is a very typical tale of love gained, lost and regained that lightly uses an unnamed Greenwich Village as the backdrop for its denouement. Given the year of publication, 1964, I imagine this was an attempt to stay au courant with the interests of the target audience of young, middle class girls. HT #92 was published roughly at the height of the Folk Revival, that strangest of all pop music manifestations. For a brief moment, a band like Peter, Paul and Mary could top the American Charts. The story serves as a fine example of how little the genre changed with time– the inclusion of the Village is a meaningless nod to the assumed taste of audience. This reunion could take place anywhere in the world, even in outer space.
Romance Comics proved exceptional at adopting visual motifs and subsuming them to the core function of value reinforcement. This, by the way, is a microcosm of the fate of so-called underground art within capitalism– your aesthetic is sure to be co-opted, your meaning and intent are sure to be discarded. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t something worthwhile in the comics for what they were– after all, they produced this panel:
I love the formal device of this story– every panel of heightened emotion is a close-up with no background detail, just a solid block of red. It hits like the beat of a drum. Here’s the full thing:
I also scanned the splash pages of HT #92′s other two stories– unlike the cover story, I find both pages disturbing. Was lingerie what girls kept in their hope chests? I thought it was Tupperware!
Pictures of what I assume is the US premiere of Watchmen at Grauman’s Chinese.
This is the second time that I’ve been in the presence of the movie’s big stupid prop Owl Ship. My first time was at the San Diego Comic Con. Even there, I don’t think I got any closer. Today I wondered, as I am wont to do in nearly every circumstance, if this made me Special– how many people have ended up near this thing twice and by random?
But my higher brain took over and I decided, no, I’m just a shitbird for living in California.
I will say this– it is incredibly strange to see that thing in person. Not because I am much a fan of the original comic, a brilliantly drawn and constructed but ultimately creaky work of pink boy Cold War Leftism, an anachronism about as appealing and relevant as coercive interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib, but rather because it looks so much like something from the mind of Steve Ditko. The genesis of Watchmen is common lore– the characters are based on 1960s Charlton superheroes, most of which were drawn by Ditko– but it’s rarely remarked how much the comic (and now, the movie) visually resembles Ditko’s Charlton stuff.
Here’s a few panels of the Owl Ship (in the comic, anyway, it’s called the Archimedes, and yes, I’m a sad person for knowing that):
Here’s part of a page with multiple panels of Ditko drawing Blue Beetle’s ship, The Bug, taken from Blue Beetle #3:
I also scanned a page of that issue’s Question back-up:
Seriously. Pure Rorschach.
Directly across the street from the Owl Ship, there were two (2) guys dressed up like Spider-Man. It’s Ditko’s world. We’re all tourists.
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan