Monday, July 9, 2018

Steve Ditko, R.I.P. (1927-2018)

From Andy Lewis and Aaron Couch's 7-6-18 Hollywood Reporter article entitled "Steve Ditko, Spider-Man Co-Creator and Legendary Comics Artist, Dies at 90":
"Artist Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee, has died. He was 90.
"The New York Police Department confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter. Ditko was found dead in his apartment on June 29; no cause of death has yet been announced."
To read the rest of Lewis and Couch's article, click HERE.
What follow are the first three paragraphs of Graeme McMillan's 7-6-18 Hollywood Reporter article (aptly) entitled "Steve Ditko Was a Creator Ahead of His Time":
"For most people, Steve Ditko will be remembered for co-creating one of Marvel Entertainment’s most iconic characters, Spider-Man. He was the artist who not only illustrated (and, increasingly, plotted) the first years of the wall-crawler’s existence, but co-created most of his iconic rogues’ gallery, including the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, the Lizard and many, many more. For anyone, that would be an impressive creative legacy, but for Ditko, whose death the comics world is reeling from, it was just the beginning.
"Like his Marvel contemporary Jack Kirby, Ditko was a creative powerhouse who continued to create fascinating characters even after splitting with Marvel and Stan Lee. With Lee, he also co-created Doctor Strange and the majority of that character’s mythology and, more importantly, iconography; it’s literally impossible to separate Strange from Ditko, in the same way that the Fantastic Four remain permanently wedded to Kirby. Ditko actually jumped ship from Marvel almost five years before Kirby left, for reasons that neither he nor Stan Lee ever fully explained, but have been assumed to be related to creative freedom and differences in approach between the two men in charge of Spider-Man’s story.
"What this meant was that one of the two men behind one of Marvel’s biggest hits, still on a creative and commercial peak, was suddenly on the market at a time when superheroes were big business — something that made Ditko attractive to Marvel’s competitors, who were generally willing to let him follow his muse no matter where it was going. The result was a number of comic creations that, while not as famous as Peter Parker or Stephen Strange, were just as individual, just as fascinating, and just as full of possibility."
To read the rest of McMillan's article, click HERE.

Here's what I wrote about Ditko's most recent creations in my 12-16-15 Cryptoscatology post:

It’s very strange to me that the common “wisdom” of comicdom seems to suggest that Steve Ditko’s greatest efforts were the works he produced for Marvel Comics in the early 1960s.  Putting the lie to that theory is his most recent series, which is so unconventional that it changes its title every issue.  This series is sometimes referred to by its readers as A Ditko.  Ditko and his partner, Robin Snyder, have been publishing this comic book regularly since 2007.  Some comics fans claim that Ditko's technique has declined in quality over the years, the implication being that his artistic skill deteriorated somehow after he turned his back on his earliest successes at Marvel Comics in the 1960s.  This is tantamount to claiming that Picasso's artistic technique deteriorated when he first experimented with cubism in 1909 with such paintings as The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro, or that Miles Davis' artistic technique began to deteriorate when he first experimented with electronic music in 1969 with his groundbreaking album In a Silent Way.  Similar to both Picasso and Davis, Ditko's most recent contributions to his chosen medium represent bold experiments in extreme minimalism, attempts to drag the medium back to an embryonic state when almost anything was possible because the medium had not yet been locked down, concretized, frozen in stasis.  In his latest work Ditko has reduced human figures to their most basic possible forms in order to emphasize the ideas behind the figures.  Looking at the voluminous artwork Ditko has created in his late eighties reminds me of listening to the songs of an aging blues singer, a ragged voice aged to perfection.  

A Ditko plays with the anthology form that was so prevalent in the earliest days of the comics medium (e.g., Famous FunniesTales from the Crypt,Young Romance, etc.) and transforms it into something altogether strange and new.  The way the various stories, such as “The Madman,” “!?,” and “Miss Eerie,” overlap with one another in terms of locale and theme and tone is mind-boggingly impressive.  I particularly appreciate the enigmatic quality of the stories featuring “The Cape” and “The Distorter."  The truth is that Ditko's artwork in these stories is as engaging and eye-catching and unique as it’s ever been.  Beginning comic book artists often don’t understand that’s it more challenging to do less than more.  Ditko's minimalist style (on full display here) is very effective in portraying the stories he wants to tell, unburdened of all the unnecessary accoutrements I sometimes see younger artists layer onto their work for no real reason.  A Ditko is, without a doubt, my favorite comic book series being published today. 

You can purchase A Ditko by clicking HERE.


To watch Harlan Ellison introducing Steve Ditko in Ken Viola's excellent 1987 documentary, The Masters of Comic Book Art, proceed to 19:28 (and hear Ditko discussing his work in his very own words at 20:53):


Friday, July 6, 2018


Digital editions of my latest book, UNTIL THE LAST DOG DIES, are on sale today for only $1.99 (part of the Kindle Monthly Deals).  Get your copy right away by clicking HERE!  


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Harlan Ellison on The Tomorrow Show

Take a few moments out of your day to observe Harlan Ellison at the peak of his irascibility on a trio of episodes from Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show in which Harlan discusses the aftermath of winning his legendary plagiarism suit against ABC, the dangers of Ronald Reagan and the Moral Majority, and the transcendental joys of road rage.  

Harlan Ellison On Tomorrow - Plagiarism and Hollywood


Harlan Ellison On Tomorrow - Why Television Is Made For Morons



Harlan Ellison On Tomorrow - Random


Also, check out John Scalzi's 6-28-18 Los Angeles Times article about Harlan HERE.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Harlan Ellison, R.I.P. (1934-2018)

Harlan Ellison, the legendary author of well over a thousand short stories, has passed away at the age of 84.  Back in August of 2014 I mailed Harlan a copy of my book, Spies & Saucers, a collection of three interlinking novellas that all take place in the 1950s.  Along with the book I included a cover letter explaining how much his work had meant to me over the years.  It just so happened that the package arrived on his doorstep the very same day Robin Williams died.  Williams was Harlan's longtime friend, appeared alongside him in Erik Nelson's 2008 documentary Harlan Ellison:  Dreams With Sharp Teeth, and even inspired one of his short stories ("Keyboard") in Harlan's 1997 collection, Slippage.  About a week after putting that package in the mail, I received a brief message from Harlan telling me how much my letter had meant to him on an otherwise bleak day.  That I had contributed, in some small way, to easing such overwhelming and incomprehensible pain meant a great deal to me.  

A few months later, in December, I sent Harlan a copy of my recently published New York Review of Science Fiction piece about his two latest books, Pulling a Train and Getting in the Wind.  Once again, Harlan responded not long afterwards.  As with the previous correspondence, the letter was cleanly written on a vintage Smith-Corona manual typewriter and read (in part): 

Dear Robert,

What a dynamite review!  Genuine day-making killer.

I am in your debt; unfortunate that [for propriety's sake, I've redacted a caustically humorous remark about a deceased science fiction editor].  But now I have the Good Words, and I thank you evermuch!

yr. Pal, Harlan

The letter now hangs on my wall, framed in glass.  Harlan deemed something I wrote to be a "dynamite, day-making killer," and pleased him enough to claim that he was in my debt.  Well, of course, the situation was the other way around and always would be.  Anyone who was ever touched by the fiery power of his imagination will forever be in Harlan's debt.

If you've somehow escaped the hypnotic pull of Harlan's work up to this point, I suggest beginning with my favorite of his many excellent collections, Angry Candy (1988), which my older brother bought for me as a Christmas gift when I was sixteen years old.  That might very well be the best Christmas gift I've ever received.  Appropriately, given today's events, Angry Candy is all about dealing with the unbearable mysteries of death.

Synchronistically, Harlan's latest book, Blood's a Rover, arrived on my doorstep just yesterday.  I had begun reading it only hours before his death. 

As when Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012 (also in the month of June), I decided to honor Harlan's memory by writing a new short story.  My Postscripts novelette, "The Wedding Photographer," emerged from that protracted period of mourning for Bradbury and remains one of my favorites of the thirty or so stories I've published.  As Harlan himself wrote in the Author's Note at the end of "The Museum on Cyclops Avenue" (a story inspired by Robert Bloch's passing), "The work goes on."

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered."
--Harlan Ellison, Afterword to The Essential Ellison

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Conspirinormal Goes On the Road!

Adam Sayne, host of the excellent podcast Conspirinormal, decided to take his show on the road a couple of weeks ago.  During his first trip to California, Adam visited with Adam Gorightly (author of The Shadow Over Santa Susana:  Black Magic, Mind Control and the Manson Family Mythos), Walter Bosley (author of Latitude 33:  Key to the Kingdom), and Yours Truly (author of Chameleo, Until the Last Dog Dies, and other cryptoscatological jabberwocky).  On June 6, Adam and I recorded our discussion at Enrique's Mexican Restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach.  While eating zucchini and mushroom quesadillas, Adam and I discussed such esoterica as:  The Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles; the LAPD's investigation into the death of Manly P. Hall; Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and the weird dangers of hypnotism; San Diego's Whaley House (which some say is the most haunted house in the United States); the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and John Lennon; George Bush and the Iran-Contra Affair; Wormwood and the murder of Frank Olson; Jessica Jones and gangstalking; Stranger Things and the Montauk Project; the curious misdeeds of Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton; chatting idly with mind-controlled super-soldiers at one's place of employment; nanotechnology, black oil, and the forthcoming Venom film; Milton Berle's twelve-inch penis; among numerous other imponderables. 

The next day, Adam moved on to Morro Bay where he interviewed Adam Gorightly about the UFO crash in Aztec, New Mexico; the lost manuscript of James Shelby Downard; King Kill 33°; the strange misadventures of such infamous alien contactees as George Adamski and Orfeo Angelucci; the homemade flying saucers of Otis T. Carr; David Jacobs and a real life Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and protecting yourself from murderous Freemasons with ink-filled squirt guns.

Finally, Adam ended his vacation with a visit to San Bernardino where he accompanied Walter Bosley on a walking tour of haunted locations along the 33rd Parallel. 

To listen to this latest episode of Conspirinormal (On the Road Edition), see below....


Monday, June 18, 2018

Calling All Earthlings

From Greg Eghigian's 6-14-18 Air & Space article entitled "New Film Tells the Story of George Van Tassel and His UFO-Inspired 'Integratron'":  
"Are we witnessing a renewal of interest in unidentified flying objects? Recent revelations about a secret Defense Department project for studying UFOs continue to draw media attention, while reports of unusual aircraft sightings show up regularly in the news.
"Not quite as common these days, however, are stories of individuals claiming to have had contact with extraterrestrials. In his new documentary, Calling All Earthlings, filmmaker Jonathan Berman takes a look back at one of the most famous of these 'contactees,' George Van Tassel. The film captures an aspect of UFO belief that often escapes skeptical outsiders—that it wasn’t so much anxiety about alien visitors as enthusiasm and hope that attracted believers to the idea of extraterrestrial contact.
"Beginning in 1927 as an airplane mechanic right out of high school, Van Tassel had a long career in aviation, first with Douglas Aircraft, then with Hughes and Lockheed. At Hughes he was involved in flight testing near Barstow, California, where he was attracted to the 'clean air, the intense quiet nights, and outdoor living in the desert.'
"It was there that Van Tassel got to know an eccentric German-American by the name of Frank Critzer, who had carved out a 'cave home' from a natural landmark known as Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert near Landers, California. Critzer came under government investigation in the early days of World War II for reasons that are not entirely clear, but most likely involved his use of dynamite. When local police came to Giant Rock to question him in July 1942, Critzer set off an explosion that resulted in his own death.
"After the war Van Tassel purchased the land around Giant Rock and moved there with his wife Dorris and their three daughters. In addition to operating a small airport, he began to hold meditation readings for groups of 25 to 45 people—and for the first time reported hearing disembodied voices.
"Then, beginning in 1952, Van Tassel claimed he started having encounters with spacemen. At first, he said, these beings issued warnings of looming destruction along with messages of universal peace. But soon, according to Van Tassel, they began instructing him on how to construct a building that could reverse the aging process. Dubbed the Integratron, the project would consume Van Tassel for years, although he never finished it."
Click HERE to read Eghigian's entire article.  

For more information about the legendary George Van Tassel (author of I RODE A FLYING SAUCER:  THE MYSTERY OF THE FLYING SAUCERS REVEALED), I refer you to my 2-25-15 post entitled "Lo, the Integratron!":

What follows are some photos of my own pilgrimage to George Van Tassel's Integratron--as well as to nearby Giant Rock--just this past October.  I made this journey in the company of my good friend Eric Williams and inventor Richard Schowengerdt (whose explosive theories are featured prominently in my book, CHAMELEO).  If you're a UFO enthusiast living in Southern California, you shouldn't hesitate to make this trip.  Upon approaching the remote destination after hours of driving, you can only stare in awe as the blazing white dome of the Integratron emerges out of the barren, Ralph-Steadmanesque desert landscape like a mythical fortress from a fractured fairy tale.  This is a quite a surreal experience, to say the least.  You can't help but feel the the 1950s UFO energy rising from the desert floor in tangible waves of 100% pure FORTEAN HEAT!  

Watch the official trailer for CALLING ALL EARTHLINGS: