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Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City

Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City

Ask me what book i’m reading. Go ahead. Ask.

Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City by Elizabeth Wollman, as if the title of this post wasn’t a dead give away. It is awesome and you should go download it or order it from Amazon.

1970s New York was such a particular place in such a particular time. The city was going bankrupt and everyone predicted it would crash and burn any day. The wild 60s had transformed into the strange and decadent 70s. The sexual revolution was in full swing. Times Square was not the Disneyland it is today, it was the sleaziest sexland you’ve ever witnessed. Hookers, peeps shows, sex shows, adult book stores, adult movie places…little crappy booths whose seats were grimy and sticky where you could watch scenes from porno movies featuring ugly dudes with ridiculous mustaches and chicks with feathered hair and unshaved nether regions. It was before computers where everyone could just quietly enjoy titilation in the privacy of their home. It was before even video cassettes. You wanted sleaze, you had to go out there and get it. And Time Square was the world’s epicenter, the wonderland of sleaze.

Out of this feral mix arose a very specific genre of theater, the adult musical. Oh, Calcutta is the most famous. It would be the one you’ve heard of if you’re heard of any.

This book explores this genre that rose for a few years during the 70s. It’s kind of hysterical at times. At other times it’s quite interesting from a social point of view.  Many productions attempted to be serious in many ways. They tried to frankly discuss the issues arising in the age of sexual revolution, feminism and gay rights. Some tried to be clever. Some tried to be cheap. Some were out for a fast buck and some had high minded aspirations. There was nakedness and lots of pelvic thrusting, but no actual sex.

There’s these delights such as the Musical ‘Let My People Come; complete with the cheesiest 70s soft rock score you’ve ever heard (which we’ll feature in a moment), but also gay musicals reflecting the sexual revolution from a gay standpoint post Stonewall riots.

It’s this lost, forgotten and needless to say fascinating genre which this book explores. I seriously can’t recommend this enough.

Here. Take a listen to this abomination:

That is…. that is so bad it’s…. it’s… it’s hysterical.

And yet, there’ much more. It was a sign of the times. Feminism, gay rights, sexual experimentation were all finding their footing and this genre of New York musical was a part of this moment, as well as a central target for the obscenity controversies that roared and backlashed, particularly as the 70s sputtered to an end the conservative 80s began to slouch towards Bethlehem to be born.

Plus it cannot be left unmentioned, this genre did give birth to a movie. Oh yes. One of the most WTF movies of all time: Alice In Wonderland, an X Rated Musical Fantasy.


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Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


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7 Essential Lost Worlds of the Victorian/Pulp Eras

Yeah, see a theme going here? Hey, i’m on a kick and i genuinely love exploring literary and creative mythos.

Before we get started i just want to quickly state that the demo for the 1st Act of the Dieselpunk Opera is basically done. I can’t work on it anymore. It would be best if i put it down for awhile and moved on. I’m just awaiting some basic tracks i asked a guitarist friend of mine to lay down for it and then i’ll post it here for a limited time. 3-5 days. You will be able to listen to the 1st Act demo for 3-5 days then i will remove it. The same will probably the happen for the 2nd Act. They’re demo versions and they’re not actually ready to be truly out there.

Now, on to business. The idea of the modern fantastical Lost World is more or less traced to 1888’s King Solomon’s Mines. While lost cities and civilizations had certainly existed before this, from Swift’s Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels to Plato’s invention of Atlantis, these were used very specifically as satire and metaphoric demonstration. King’s Solomon’s Mines gave birth to a meme that would blossom and peak in the pulp fiction period.

After the 50s science fiction transformed the Lost World into science fiction epicness and i believed the meme evolved into something similar but more expansive. Let’s look back on some of the greatest pre WW2 Lost Worlds.

7. Kukuanaland from King Solomon’s MInes.

This list is in chronological order so let’s start with the work that invented the Lost World meme. Allan Quartermain is the victorian precursor to Indiana Jones. Truly and seriously, you can draw a direct line. In the mid 1880s lost civilizations were in fact being discovered.

Sir H. Rider Haggard’s brother told him there was no way he could write a novel as good as Treasure Island, so Haggard bet his brother 5 shillings he could. The result was a book published in 1885 that was a blockbuster, created a new genre of fantastic fiction, the Lost World story, introduced a character that was as well known for decades afterwards as Indiana Jones is now and has been adapted into at least 6 movies.

Kukuanaland is somewhere in the south east Congo region.  The inhabitants have a well-organised army and society and speak an ancient dialect of IsiZulu.  Kukuanaland’s capital is Loo, the destination of a magnificent road from ancient times. The city is dominated by a central royal kraal.

Quartermain, an adventurer based in Africa, is hired to find an aristocrat’s brother who has disappeared while trying to find the fabled mines of King Solomon.  They find an uncharted land on the other side of a mountain range called Suliman Berg, using a map drawn in blood by a dead 16th century Portegeuse explorer.

6. Kafiristan from The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

First of all, go right now and watch the 1975 film starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The Man Who Would Be King. It’s awesome.

Two British adventurers in India travel to some remote part of Afghanistan and try to become kings of a region there. I’d tell you more but really, go watch the movie or read the book. I never read the book, honestly, so.. you know i can only recommend the movie.

The really crazy thing about the tale is that it’s inspired by true stories,  the exploits of James Brooke, an Englishman who became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in Borneo; and by the travels of American adventurer Josiah Harlan, who was granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity for himself and his descendants.

5. Maple White Land from The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes’ creator and author actually wrote other books. The Lost World was a major success when it came out in 1912 and nailed the meme down bit more.

A professor claims to have discovered dinosaurs in South America which no one believes. After years of ridicule a team joins him to prove the claim true or false. They go deep into the Amazon and find a plateau (where naturally the natives will not go). THEY go, because, well, it’s a crappy story if they don’t, and low and behold: dinosuars! Blue clay! Race of Ape Men! Humans living on the other side of the plateau with whom the ape men are at war! Capture! Rescue! Adventure!

4. Almost Everything Ever Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs But For Brevitiy’s Sake We’ll Say The Land That Time Forgot.

The Land That Time Forgot is the most cemented and stereotypical story Burroughs wrote in the Lost World genre, with dinosaurs and all (Lost Worlds often have Dinosaurs) but the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels are endless tales of lost worlds, cities and civilizations. It’s kind of Burroughs’ hallmark.

This one has an island in the South Atlantic, dinosaurs of course, various races of near human primitives, captures, escapes, etc.

3. The Savage Land from Ka-Zar by Manvis Publishing, Timely Comics and Marvel Comics

I know who Ka-Zar is, but that’s because i used to be a comics nerd. Ka-Zar was a Tarzan rip off who started in the pulps in the 1930s. It ran for 2 years, from 1936 to 37. In 1939 the tales were put into comic form by Timely Comics, who eventually became Marvel Comics. The comic series Ka-Zar was featured in was Marvel Comics and Marvel Mystery Comics, although Timely was not yet Marvel. Got it?

Thus Ka-Zar and his lost world, the Savage Land, populated by dinosaurs and strange ruins and other Tarzan-esque tropes lived on into the 40s where he then faded into obscurity.

In 1965 Timely was now Marvel and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pulled Ka-Zar and his Savage Land out of the dustbin and revamped him. They put the Savage Land in Antartica, hidden underneath by extra terrestrials. Ka-Zar has had his own comic series a number of times, in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

2. Aquilonia or The Hyborian Age from Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian

Robert E. Howard wins the creativity award for his Lost World. He made his lost world a lost age of the earth, and invented an entire world history, map, races, geography…. he built an entire world. Nowadays we live in a post Tolkien literary world where we expect this. Fantasy books are expected to do this and even beyond books they build detailed worlds. Video games invest huge amounts of creativity into world building on a level that encapsulates visual details undreamed of. But Howard my friends, was the first. The first to really commit to building an entire world in which his stories would operate.

Robert E. Howard built the first fully realized and thought out fantasy world. His Conan character ran about it (as did a few others like Kull). He wrote out an entire history and essay so that the world would be consistent throughout the stories. His main sources of inspiration were Bullfinch’s The Outline of Mythology and Clark Aston Smith’s Hyperborea cycle. Howard and Smith and even H.P.Lovercraft were all friends and all them were hugely in favor of borrowing from each other’s works in any degree. Howard borrowed Lovecraftian monsters as well, although adapted them more for a Conan yarn.

Here’s an overview of Howard’s essay outlining Hyboria which was published until well after his death. It may seem strange me putting on so much of this, but as someone who loves to write back story himself, usually just for fun knowing it will never get used, i just LOVE this stuff, enjoy reading this and this is the guy who put fantasy back story on the map, so respect should be paid.


According to the essay, at the time of this cataclysm a group of primitive humans were at a technological level hardly above the Neanderthal. They fled to the Northern areas of what was left of the Thurian continent to escape the destruction. They discovered the areas to be safe but covered with snow and already inhabited by a race of carnivorous apes.  The apes were large with white fur and apparently native to their land. The stone age invaders engaged in a territorial war with them and eventually managed to drive them off, past the Artic Circle. Believing their enemies fated to perish and no longer interested in them, the recently arrived group adapted to their new, harsh environment and its population started to increase.

Hyborian ancestors

One thousand five hundred years later, the descendants of this initial group were called “Hyborians”. They were named after their highest ranking god deity, Bori. The essay mentions that Bori had actually been a great tribal chief of their past who had undergone deification. Their oral tradition remembered him as their leader during their initial migration to the north though the antiquity of this man had been exaggerated.

By this point the various related but independent Hyborian tribes had spread throughout the northern regions of their area of the world. Some of them were already migrating south at a “leisurely” pace in search of new areas in which to settle. The Hyborians had yet to encounter other cultural groups but engaged in wars against each other. Howard describes them as a powerful and warlike race with the average individual being tall, tawny-haired, and grey eyed. Culturally they were already accomplished artists and poets. Most of the tribes still relied on hunting for their nourishment. Their southern offshoots however had been practicing animal husbandry on cattle for a number of centuries.

The only exception to their long isolation from other cultural groups came due to the actions of a lone adventurer, unnamed in the essay. He had traveled past the Arctic Circle and returned with news that their old adversaries, the apes, were not in fact annihilated. They had instead evolved into apemen and according to his description were by then numerous. He believed they were quickly evolving to human status and would pose a threat to the Hyborians in the future. He attempted to recruit a significant military force to campaign against them. But most Hyborians were not convinced by his tales and at last only a small group of foolhardy youths followed his campaign. None of them returned.

Beginnings of the Hyborian Age

With the population of the Hyborian tribes continuing to increase, the need for new lands also increased. The Hyborians started expanding outside their familiar territories, beginning a new age of wanderings and conquests. For five hundred years the Hyborians spread towards the South and the West of their nameless continent.

They encountered other tribal groups for the first time in millennia. They conquered many smaller clans of various origins. The survivors of the defeated clans merged with their conquerors, passing on their racial traits to new generations of Hyborians. The mixed-blooded Hyborian tribes were in turn forced to defend their new territories from pure blooded Hyborian tribes which followed the same paths of migration. Often the new invaders would wipe away the defenders before absorbing them, resulting in a tangled web of Hyborian tribes and nations with varying ancestral elements within their bloodlines.

The first organized Hyborian kingdom to emerge was Hyperborea. The tribe that established it entered their Neolithic age by learning to erect buildings in stone, largely for fortification. These nomads lived in tents made out of the hides of horses, but soon abandoned them in favor of their first crude but durable stone houses. They permanently settled in fortified settlements and developed cyclopean masonry to further fortify their defensive walls.

The Hyperboreans were by then the most advanced of the Hyborian tribes and set out to expand their kingdom by attacking their backwards neighbors. Tribes who defended their territories lost them and were forced to migrate elsewhere. Others fled the path of Hyperborean expansion before ever engaging them in war. Meanwhile the “apemen” of the Arctic Circle emerged as a new race of light-haired and tall humans. They started their own migration to the south, displacing the northernmost of the Hyborian tribes.

Rulers of the West

For the next thousand years the warlike Hyborian nations advanced to become the rulers of the Western areas of the nameless continent. They encountered the Picts and forced them to limit themselves to the western wastelands which would come to be known as the “Pictish Wilderness”. Following the example of their Hyperborean cousins, other Hyborians started to settle down and create their own kingdoms.

The southernmost of the early ones was Koth which was established north of the lands of Shem and soon started extending its cultural influence over the southern shepherds. Just south of the Pictish Wilderness was the fertile valley known as “Zing”. The wandering Hyborian tribe which conquered them found other people already settled there. They included a nameless farming nation related to the people of the Shem and a warlike Pictish tribe who had previously conquered them. They established the kingdom of Zingara and absorbed the defeated elements into their tribe. Hyborians, Picts, and the unnamed kin of the Shemites would merge into a nation calling themselves Zingarans.

On the other hand at the north of the continent, the fair haired invaders from the Arctic Circle had grown in numbers and power. They continued their expansion south while in turn displacing defeated Hyborians to the south. Even Hyperborea was conquered by one of these barbarian tribes. But the conquerors here decided to maintain the kingdom with its old name, merged with the defeated Hyperboreans and adopted elements of Hyborian culture. The continuing wars and migrations would keep the state of the other areas of the continent for another five hundred years.

1. No Human Actually Knows The City’s Name And Would Probably Go Stark Raving Mad If They Did, But The Area Is Generally Known As The Mountains Of Madness from H.P. Lovecraft.

Although written in 1931 this signature Lovecraft story wasn’t published until 1936. It is the ultimate Lost World.

By the time you’re done with Lovecraft the idea of berserk man eating dinosaurs tearing towards you with teeth gnashing will seem quaint and relaxing.

What do you want me to say? It’s Lovecraft. It’s a seminal piece of his Cthulhu Mythos and one of the his most reknowned and recognized works. The Lost World he makes up is… well it’s not like you can describe the damn thing. That’s kind of the point. The geometry is… impossible. There’s an entire history and it’s a cosmological terror rooted in doomed existentialism. If you haven’t read it… i mean, come on. It’s a gospel of geek canon.

It was also down in musical form by the Tiger Lillies, who as we’ve stated in the past we are quite endeared with here at The Steampunk Opera.

That’s it, campers! Our day’s quota of fantastical candy munchies in the form of Lost Worlds.

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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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7 Of The Most Popular Pulp Heroes

Before comic books, after the penny dreadfuls, were the pulps. From the beginning of the 20 century they rose in popularity and from the 1920s to the 1940s they dominated the fantastical and the imagination of youth.

Many of the famous characters of the pulp days are gone to one degree or another, although a few have name recognition that remains today. Here are 7 of the most popular whose adventures inspired the heroes, comic character and fantastical stories which came after.

7 Operator #5:

Operator #5 was a pre James Bond secret agent with wild adventures who was very popular in the 30s. However what really sets him as notable was that when writer Emile Tepperman took over in book 21, he took the possibilities of the pulps further then anyone else in the industry.

Tepperman was responsible for the 13 interconnected novels (starting with #26) that make up The Purple Invasion, a series in which the Purple Empire (an unnamed European power which is a thinly veiled Germany) conquers the United States after conquering the rest of the world. Operator #5 leads the insurgency against them. The saga is often looked upon as the War and Peace of pulps.

In a rare bit of continuity for the pulp magazines, America did not find itself fully recovered in the first novel following the end of the Purple Invasion. Instead, America was still reeling from the bloody war, and found itself vulnerable to yet other would-be conquerors. A new serial dealt with the invasion of the US by an oriental power, obviously Japan, led by the “Yellow Vulture.”

Jimmy Christopher was a secret agent, codename “Operator No. 5” for the United States Intelligence in a series of fast paced stories about America’s enemies who pledged war, death and bloody destruction in their efforts to take over America. The enemies were many, but often from countries with fictional names.

Christopher had two trademarks: a skull ring and a rapier which was kept curled inside his belt. He was aided by a number of people in the various wars: Diane Elliot, his girlfriend; Tim Donovan, who quickly grew from a youngster to a two fisted young man; Nan Christopher, his twin sister; John Christopher, his father who was a retired operative known as Q-6; Chief of Intelligence Z-7; and friend “Slips” McGuire, among many others, some of whom gave their lives for America.

6. G-8:

G-8 was a heroic aviator and spy during WWI. He had 110 books published during the 30s and early 40s.

His stories were often outlandish, with many supernatural or science fiction elements. G-8’s true identity was never revealed. He had a girlfriend, a nurse who aided his group, and her name as well was never revealed. He had an English manservant named Battle and two wing-men, the short Nippy Weston, who flew an aircraft numbered 13, and the tall and muscular but superstitious Bull Martin, whose aircraft was numbered 7. Both of them were Americans. His adventures entailed fighting against the lethal super technology that was constantly created by the Kaiser’s mad scientists. Reoccurring villains included Herr Doktor Krueger, the Steel Mask, and Grun.

5. The Spider

The Spider: Created to capitalize on the success of The Shadow, and stated by Stan Lee to be one of his inspirations for Spider Man, The Spider was huge during the 30s and early 40s.

Similar to the character of The Shadow, the Spider was in actuality millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth (who had been a Major in World War One), living in New York and unaffected by the Great Depression. It should be noted that beginning in the 30s ALL the heros of pulps were secretly millionaires. Interesting, no? I’m sure in the depths of the Great Depression there was some wish fulfillment in there. Anyway, Wentworth fought crime by donning a black cape, slouch hat. Later came vampiric makeup or face mask and a hunchback figure with grizzled hair to terrorize the criminal underworld with extreme prejudice and his own brand of vigilante justice.

The stories often involved a bizarre menace and a criminal conspiracy and were often extremely violent, with the villains engaging in wanton slaughter of literally thousands as part of sometimes nationwide crimes.

4. The Phantom

The Phantom: While some vague name recognition still echoes down today, a crappy newspaper comic and REALLY crappy movie or two, it may come as a surprise that back in the day The Phantom was a two fisted detective bad ass and immensely popular, rocking the pulps for 20 years. First published in 1933 he was the very second pulp hero published.

The Phantom is actually the wealthy Richard Curtis Van Loan. In the first few issues of the title, The Phantom is introduced as a world-famous detective, whose true identity is only known by one man — Frank Havens, the publisher of the Clarion newspaper. Richard Curtis Van Loan is orphaned at an early age, but inherits wealth. Before WWI, he leads the life of an idle playboy, but during the war he becomes a pilot and downs many German planes.

After the war, Van Sloan has a difficult time returning to his old life. At the suggestion of his father’s friend, Havens, he sets out to solve a crime that had stumped the police. After solving it, he decides he has found his calling.

He trains himself in all facets of detection and forensics, and becomes a master of disguise and escape. He makes a name for himself as the Phantom, whom all police agencies around the world know and respect. When dealing with law enforcement officials he carries a platinum badge in the shape of a domino mask as proof of his true identity. The initial stories were less about a detective than an adventurer using disguise and lucky escapes to conclude his cases.

3. Buck Rogers

Buck Rogers: Begun in 1928, Buck Rogers invented the space hero. INVENTED him. Without Buck there is no Flash Gordon, no Star Wars… the idea would of course have come through someone else had Buck never been born, but because of his success it is he who is the inspiration for all that came afterwards.

Buck Rogers first appeared in Amazing Stories in 1928 in a story called Armageddon 2419 A.D. The character blew up and soon grew out of the pulps and into just about every other media there was: Serial films series, comics, radio (in 1932 the first science fiction radio program in the states) a TV series in the 50s and another movie and TV series in the 1970s. He isn’t listed higher simply because his stay in the pulp fiction books was very short lived. He is most known through other mediums.

The character first appeared as Anthony Rogers, the central character of Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. Born in 1898, Rogers is a veteran of the Great War (World War I) and by 1927 is working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation investigating reports of unusual phenomena reported in abandoned coal mines near Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. On December 15, there is a cave-in while he is in one of the lower levels of a mine. Exposed to radioactive gas, Rogers falls into “a state of suspended animation, free from the ravages of catabolic processes, and without any apparent effect on physical or mental faculties.” Rogers remains in suspended animation for 492 years.

Rogers awakens in 2419. Thinking that he has been asleep for just several hours, he wanders for a few days in unfamiliar forests (what had been Pennsylvania almost five centuries before). He notices someone clad in strange clothes, who is under attack. He defends the person, Wilma Deering, killing one of the attackers and scaring off the rest. On “air patrol”, Deering was attacked by an enemy gang, the Bad Bloods, presumed to have allied themselves with the Hans.

Wilma takes Rogers to her camp, where he meets the bosses of her gang. He is invited to stay with them or leave and visit other gangs. They hope that Rogers’ experience and knowledge he gained fighting in the First World War may be useful in their struggle with the Hans who rule North America from 15 great cities they established across the continent. They ignored the Americans who were left to fend for themselves in the forests and mountains as their advanced technology prevented the need for slave labor.

2. Doc Savage

Doc Savage. Popular beyond compare in his heyday, dominating the pulps for 16 years (from 1933 to 1949)

Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage Jr.  He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices. “He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers.” He’s described as a mix of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive abilities, Tarzan’s outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy’s scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln’s goodness.  His character and world-view is displayed in his oath:

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc’s private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudosn River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, which is linked to his office by a pneumatic-tube system nicknamed the “flea run.” He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic — which pre-dates Superman’s similar hideout of the same name.

1. The Shadow.

The Shadow.  The Shadow dominates them all. For one thing he was the first pulp hero. Secondly, EVERYONE after was trying to piggy back on his success. Almost every character mentioned was begun to capitalize on The Shadow. Begun as the Narrator for a radio show featuring detective stories, listeners began asking for magazines featuring this mysterious voice.

“The Shadow’s real name was Kent Allard, a famed aviator who fought for the French during WWI. He became known by the alias of The Black Eagle but after the war, decides to wage war on criminals. Allard fakes his death in the South American jungles, then returns to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopts numerous identities to conceal his existence.

One of these identities—indeed, the best known—is Lamont Cranston, a “wealthy young man about town.” In the pulps, Cranston is a separate character; Allard frequently disguises himself as Cranston and adopts his identity (“The Shadow Laughs,” 1931). While Cranston travels the world, Allard assumes his identity in New York. Unlike the later superhero comics, the violence was much more pronounced and The Shadow held two pistols with which he would blow away his adversaries.

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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Stop what you’re doing and go check this out RIGHT NOW.

A good friend of mine sent me a link this a week ago and holy shlamoley, do i LUUUUUUUV this.

This is a series of stories. Some short, some ongoing, some these branching, interactive stories (seriosuly, go check them out), all in tasty bite sized posts about the fantastical city of Retropolis. All by Bradley W. Schenck who also does tons of illustrations so yummy you just want to eat them like candy.

My buddy pointed out that this guy and me could likely have had the same mother and i see what he means. Not only do i love this guy’s writing, but he does very much what i aspire to do when i write (although he is a vastly better writer than me). It’s right up my alley, but honestly, i can’t possibly see why it wouldn’t be up yours too.

Here’s a reprint of Prelude: in which we consider places where people do not go:

A city is a big crowded place that’s full of small crowded places. That’s pretty much how a city happens. So it seems strange that in many cities there’s a place where people do not go.

Most cities call these bad neighborhoods and (because they are neighborhoods) people do go there. People, in fact, live there. The cities with bad neighborhoods are just over-reacting.

Other cities – the ones that are not over-reacting – have what we have to call Empty Zones. If you were to track the movements of all the people in those cities on a map, you’d see swirling vortices of I’m-not-going-there that neatly frame the Empty Zones in infinitely complex fractal patterns. These vortices have eddies and peninsulas and spiral valleys where people nearly went there, but thought better of it, or bounced off.

But if you were to look very, very closely at these maps, every now and then a small track would lead right into an Empty Zone. Because folks are just like that. The reason more folks aren’t like that is this: most of these tiny traces don’t come out again. So long as those adventurous few explore the Empty Zones before they’ve had a chance to make more people like themselves, well, natural selection does the rest.

Now Retropolis is a wonderful place to live, but it’s not an exception to this rule.

If you were to map people’s movements in Retropolis you’d immediately see the large and perilous vortex that centers on the Experimental Research District. All of the most interesting laboratories are located there. By statute. Because as dangerous as it may be to group them all together it makes it a lot easier to point at it and say “Oh, and by the way, don’t ever go in there.”

But on closer examination the Experimental Research District isn’t really empty, because very fine threads enter the vortex and do, quite often, leave. The District houses a bustling population of scientists and lab assistants. There’s a regrettable amount of turnover in that population, but its numbers remain pretty steady: if you live in there, you probably don’t want to live anywhere else. Which is fortunate because, statistically, you won’t.

So by examining it closely we can see that the Experimental Research District is not really an Empty Zone. To find a true Empty Zone in Retropolis you need to look much, much closer. There is one. It’s just that it’s very small.

It’s so small that it wouldn’t even show up on a conventional map, and it doesn’t appear on one. It’s basically a big room at the end of a tunnel at the bottom of a shaft, down a ladder, deep below the streets.

It doesn’t need to be on a map. This is because of that ‘natural selection’ we discussed earlier. The residents of Retropolis no longer need to be told that they shouldn’t visit the Clockwork Book. They’re descended from the people who were smart enough not to.


How does this not possibly not want you to read more?

The author, Bradley W. Schenck not only has all these great fantastical stories but really plays with the possibilities of how to present and play with them online. You’ll see for yourself. Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual. Have a blast.

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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Uncategorized



Top 10 Uses Of Mars In Pop Culture

Rock and roll, NASA! Hats off to you folks and this historic day. The rover is down and we’re exploring Mars! That fills me with happiness.

To celebrate we’re going to dedicate today’s post to my top 10 favorite uses of Mars in pop culture. You know, what the title to this post pretty much told you.

10. Total Recall

Yes i know there’s a new one out, no i haven’t seen it, but let’s face it, the old Schwarzenegger one was pretty damn fun. Based on the Philip K Dick story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, the reason the movie makes this list instead of the story is that in the story the protagonist never actually makes it to Mars.

9. MST3K Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

Let’s be clear. I am not suggested the 1964 film Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is good or even bland or even just bad. It is jaw droppingly terrible in every sense a movie can be horrible. Thus makes it perfect fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Perhaps some of you don’t know of that show, but in the 90s there was this show where… ugm…. a guy and his robot friends watched really, really bad movies and sat heckling them the entire time. You were watching a bunch of wise asses make fun of a bad movie. And you know, it was awesome.


8.Acme Novelty Library #19 The Seeing Eye Dogs Of Mars

This is a graphic novel by Chris Ware. Ware is renowned for his moody, melancholy works and his story The Seeing Eye Dogs Of Mars fits the bill perfectly. The story functions as a tale written by his main character’s father, a mildly talented sci-fi writer who scored his one real success with a 1950s story The Seeing Eye Dogs Of Mars in which two couples are sent up to begin the colonization of Mars. Still with me? Look, it’s really good. Everything by Chris Ware is really depressing and really good.


7. John Carter Warlord Of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Ok, i know, the recent movie was a total flop. But the old pulp series by Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan for heaven’s sake, deserves its place on this list. First written in 1911 it may not be as well known today, and Lord knows the movie hasn’t helped it (to be fair the movie was okay), but the influence of John Carter Warlord of Mars cannot be understated. Star Wars? Heard of it? Lucas sites the Burroughs books as inspiration. Avatar? Heard of it? (I personally hated that stupid movie, but damn did it look amazing) Once again, these books sited as major inspiration. Dune? Superman? (Yes, you heard me) That’s right, once again, the Warlord of Mars books sited as… you get the idea. Moment of respect.


6. Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars (the Mars Trilogy) by Kim Stanley Robinson

There are many who claim this trilogy is the best hard science fiction novels of this generation. Unlike the adolescent fantasy of John Carter, this series if extremely intelligent, serious and painstakingly well researched. It takes the idea of colonizing Mars and thinks it through as realistically as possible, from technology to politics to people. That may seem pretty dry, but it’s really not. It’s a credit to the author’s talent and skill that he creates a trilogy which is captivating and believable. I have friends who will debate over these books for HOURS if you just keep the beer flowing.


5. War of the Worlds: Spielberg

You know what? This move kicked ass. It really did. I’m not saying it’s one of my all time favorites or anything, i’m just saying at the end of the day it kicked as. I was actually so freaked out  by the damn aliens that i utterly forgot that i already knew how it was going to end. When the ending came  i was suddenly shocked back to the fact that of course i knew that but i had forgotten because i those aliens were so freackin’ bad ass they had me clutching my seat. So i’m putting this movie on this list. There’s other Mars movies, but you know what? They’re not this good. That Val Kilmer one? You know it’s not as enjoyable as this.

4. The Extraordinary League of Gentlemen Vol #2

This graphic novel series also kicks ass, especially the first 2 volumes (out of 3 currently, but i know there’s a new one due out soon) and especially vol two which deals with Mars. Actually, it deals specifically with both War of the Worlds AND John Carter Warlord of Mars. Alan Moore, meta god of comics, took every possible sci fi  character from victorian and edwardian fantastical fiction and built utterly awesome stories utilizing them. Really, this one is a must read.


3. War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

Do i even need to bother writing an explanation for this? Published in its complete from in 1898 this is the book that started every single alien invasion story ever written. Yes. That is not an exaggeration. If this book had not been written someone would have invented alien invasions sooner or later i grant you, but HG Wells got there first and if i listed the influence of this book on pop culture we’d be here all feakin’ day how much time in a given day do you think i have to bang these posts? I’m scoring the damn show. I’m only on Annabelle’s Lament. I got work to do. Just trust me, this book is huge. Just… bow before it and let’s move along.


2. The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

You might think i’m nuts ranking this book higher then War of the Worlds, you’d have a case, but you know what? The Martian Chronicles is deeper and greater. Bradbury’s signature work is in every single sci-fi best of all time list, and will probably be for the forseeable future because it’s really that good. Call it personal preference, but this book did a number on me when i first read it years ago and i can still recall the emotional impact.

Wells is great and all but there’s a reason this song was written about Bradbury:


1. Congratulations NASA. The number one pick on the countdown goes out to all of you.

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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Edward Gorey Illustrating Lovecraft?

Over at Lovecraft eZine they’ve got a wonderful post featuring pics of Danish artist John Kenn Mortensen in which he basically channels artist Edward Gorey (the Gashlycrumb Tinies anyone?) illustrating Lovecraft.

I’m gonna repost these pics (to be fair i’m basically reprinting the post because time is not my friend today and shame and i have never been close.) They are very awesome i assure you.


To reiterate, most of these are all drawings drawn on post-it notes.

When it’s all said and done, the world is an awesome place.

You can buy John’s artwork in book form here.


Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Noir Vs. The Hard Boiled Detective

For a… thing i’m working on (you’ll discover it soon enough) i have begun a small self course in Noir, both book and film. Since it’s a wonderful and fun genre and a potential central tenant to dieselpunk we’ll be discussing it here on and off for a little while.

As you may know, noir began in literature in the late 1930s but became a full fledged phenomenon in the early 40s, as film noir emerged. The movie that critics point to which truly fired the first shot in the film noir movement was The Maltese Falcon, which set so many standards for the next 17 years it is still discussed and enjoyed today as thoroughly as it ever was. Truly it’s great movie and if you haven’t watched it GO WATCH IT.

Film noir slowed to an end, officially at least around 1958. It should be noted that the notion of the film noir genre and the films that embraced the style and aesthetics are categorized NOW as film noir, but back then no such label existed. It wasn’t until some years later that the French, in discussing these films came up with the name. Never the less these movies were all clearly playing with certain styles and notions.

James Ellroy, a writer and in my opinion the greatest living writer of crime fiction in the world today (known for LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia, but pick up White Jazz or American Tabloid if you really want to be blown away) and Otto Penzler who edited a recent Noir Fiction anthology make a convincing case that noir is often mislabelled and misunderstood as being synonymous with hard boiled detectives and in fact it is not.

When you think of noir and those black and white detectives walking the streets of the 1940s and 50s you may be missing some key distinctions that separate noir from detective stories.

In the world of the hard boiled detective, the detective is a tough bad ass who will bend whatever rules he needs to see justice done. The bend or even break the law in order that a higher justice be served. This trope continues today undiminished. However, this is NOT noir. The detective just mentioned is a type of knight and rough around the edges, he is never the less a champion of justice. The cases may be messy, but at the end, their self imposed moral slate is clean.

Noir is defined by a distinct break with this idea. Hence the existentialist egde. In noir, the protagonist such as detective is AMMORAL. Their motives are questionable. They do stupid things for the wrong women, or serve self interest over true justice or serve justice as a side effect. As noir really got going, the protagonists became more and more flawed and doomed by their flaws. The tales become outright Tragedies. The character in the film noir movie develops a scheme, usually out of lust for exactly the wrong women and the movie shows their doom play out. There can be no happy ending and their slate will never be clean.

Double Indemnity, one of the great noir films encapsulates this perfectly.

Noir is dark. The look of the films is heavily influenced by the German Expressionist film movement which we have covered here in length and also owes to the expressionists an existential underpinning. The endings are not really all that happy and in literature usually utterly tragic. In film a few more consolations are made since a film is often pushed by the studio to have SOME type of happy ending and in fact if the rest of the film fits noir standards you can’t dismiss it just because the ending isn’t depressing enough. Although the ending SHOULDN’T be utterly happy. It must be at least somewhat ambiguous.

A modern, post noir example would be Blade Runner, which is an utterly noir film, and technically sci-fi noir. The film was pushed by the studio to have a happier ending, which it did originally, although in later director’s cuts the ending was returned to being ambiguous.

Some noir afficianados will argue over whether Sam Spade of The Maltese Falcon is truly noir (much like how punks would argue whether something was punk enough) as he blurs the lines. However, not only does the film fire the first true shot in the movement (which nods to M and Freaks which set the stage) but Sam Spade is noticeably and significantly morally blurred and the ending is barely happy.

There must be a femme fatal. The female lead must also be of unscrupulous morals and will use her sexuality and charm to manipulate the male protagonist into corruption. Film noir made the femme fatale into an art form which still lingers today. A larger discussion of misogyny in noir is a topic we will tackle another day (although we shall tackle it as there’s a lot to think about here.) Many femme fatales exist in detective films as well as noir, causing more blurred lines in between, but it must be noted: the female interest must be morally questionable, just like the male and must drive him to do ammoral acts. Simply sexy is not enough. Wholesome is out of the question. The two of them together should be the perfect storm.

True noir it is argued is a tale of a corrupt character, the sexual stimuli that activates them and the fall that awaits them. In literature this distinction is more pronounced as stories were not required to have the type of endings that movies were and still are under great pressure to have.

We will discuss some other aspect of film noir in detail tomorrow (probably) but today i simply wanted to reiterate the case that Otto Penzler and James Ellroy make, which is it is a fallacy to assume that gritty detectives of the 40s and 50s are automatically noir, when they in fact often aren’t. If they have a strong personal moral sense they do not compromise, than they are not noir, regardless of how many shadows they run around in.


Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Little Orphan Annie

As we saw in our last post, the pathway to the character of Little Orphan Annie was longer and more interesting than one might think. Heck, we did an entire post and didn’t even get to the actual red haired Little Orphan Annie character we all know and every little girl loves.

Well, in August 1924 cartoonist Harold Gray, who had been trying unsuccessfully to get The Chicago Tribune to pick up one of his strips finally succeeded. Owner Joseph Patterson agreed to try out this Little Orphan Annie character in the New York Daily News to a test audience. The response was positive so the Chicago Tribune picked it up and soon the strip was running all over the country.

Gray had decided on the character based on a meeting with a little “ragamuffin” while wandering about Chicago. Her common sense and spunk (note, spunk in the american sense NOT the english) made an impression on him. He wanted to write and draw a successful comic strip and kids were popular stars to have in them.

Most comic strip featured boys as main character so a girl stood out. Furthermore, by making her an orphan he had the excuse to put her in whatever various adventures and places he wanted. He took the name directly from the Riley poem Little Orphant Annie which we covered last time.

Annie was popular enough but when the depression hit she became wildly successful, one of the most popular strips in the country during the 30s and according to Fortune magazine in 1937 THE most popular comic strip, beating out Popeye, Dick Tracy and Lil Abner.

Gray’s philosophy was more about conservative values then “the sun’ll come out tomorrow”. Annie outspokenly advocated hard work, respect for elders, and yes, keeping your chin up regardless of the circumstances. It also heartily criticized FDR’s New Deal and 1930s labor unionism.

Gray was occasionally criticized for the fact that because of the enormous success of the strip he rode out the depression well cared for while all the while preaching to the huddle masses.

In 1930 the Little Orphan Annie radio show began, which was also a runaway hit. It aired for 12 years until 1942.

The show’s sponsors were indeed Ovaltine and they made a killing out of cultivating the show’s fan base by offering special premiums, including secret decoders, shake-up mugs for drinking Ovaltine and rings for members of the Little Orphan Annie secret society. Announcer Pierre Andre’s exuberant pitches for Ovaltine and the many premiums were an integral part of the show. This has of course been immortalized in one of the greatest Xmas movies ever made, A Christmas story.

There was a (very bad) cartoon and two pretty bad Annie movies in the 30s. IN 1962 there was a pretty popular Annie spoof in the then wildly popular Playboy magazine. Written and drawn by Harvy Kurtzman, the guy behind Mad Magazine and Will Elder, it featured “Annie Fanny, a tall, blonde, amply breasted, round buttocked, curly-haired young female who seems to find herself in trouble and naked in each episode.” The Mad Men guys went crazy over it.

Well now, isn’t that interesting? Ask anyone around in the Mad Men era, they know about Little Annie Fanny.

Which FINALLY, after ALL THIS, brings us to the version of Little Orphan Annie everyone actually knows, the 1977 Broadway musical and that stupid damn song “Tomorrow”. Which i’m not gonna play here, although don’t get me wrong, i find the music from the show in general to be immensely hummable and catchy.

It led to the 1982 film and actually another in 1999 which i never heard of.

So there ya go. Little Orphan Annie, a character you probably dismissed as utterly uninteresting actually has one of the most interesting histories of any long running character still around.

I leave you with a medley from the musical. Personally i’d rather beat my own genitals with a hammer rather than have to sit through an entire performance of the show, but hey, that’s me. If i was an 8 year girl i would feel very, very differently and indeed know many who did.

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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Little Orphant Annie

I have an endless fascination with fictional characters who experience long lives and evolutions through by being expounded upon by different artists who keep the character alive and transforming through generations. As surprising as it may seem, few characters really emulate as thoroughly as Little Orphan Annie, whose history is surprisingly longer and more interesting than you might have thought.

Little Orphan Annie

When folks think of the famous Little Orphan Annie they almost always hum ‘Tomorrow’ and other songs from the famous 1977musical. A few will point out that the musical is based off the long running and at one time enormously popular daily comic strip. However, Little Orphan Annie is actually a product of the Victorian era, although she was born in the states, in Indiana.

The original incarnation of Annie was as an 1885 poem by James Whitcomb Riley entitled The Elf Child.

James Whitcomb Riley

He based the poem on a 12 year old orphan girl who lived with him and his family while he was growing up. The girl, Mary Alice Smith, known as Allie to everyone was orphaned when her father died as a soldier in the American Civil War. Riley’s father was also a soldier in the war and when his mother discovered the poor girl’s plight she insisted the girl be brought in to live with the Rileys.

Mary Alice “Allie” Smith

Allie worked alongside the family to earn her keep and in the evenings told the other children stories. It is this image the poem centers on.

The poem gained some popularity and in 1897 for its third printing Riley decided to change the title from The Elf Child to Little Orphant Allie. However the printing house miscast the type and instead of using Allie’s name cast it as Little Orphant Annie. Riley tried to get them to change it, but the poem’s popularity was taking off and the Annie name was becoming widely known, so he let it go.


Little Orphant Annie

The poem uses a midwestern accent, one used by residents of Indiana, and indeed James Whitcomb Riley was known as the Hoosier poet for his prevelant use of this accent in his poetry.

The poem begins by introducing Allie, well, Annie now, and in the following verses she tells the children various morality tales about bad children who meet their fearsome fate.

Little Orphant Annie
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,-You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you
After the renaming of the poem to Little Orphant Annie the poem became nationally famous. It even became a silent film in 1918. i would LOVE to post some footage of it here, but i cannot find any actual footage online.
The next true evolution of Annie occurred in 1915 however, when writer Johnny Gruelle was presented an old rag doll by his young daughter Marcella. He drew a face on it and when she asked for a name, pulled out a book of poems by Riley and saw the poem Little Orphant Annie. He thus named the doll Raggedy Ann.

Raggedy Ann

Raggedy Ann became a sensation. First the doll was produced and then in 1918 Gruelle began writing books about the doll’s adventures. In 1920 he introduced a companion doll and book of stories to go along with him, Raggedy Andy. He went on to write over 35 books about the pair, although the exact number is contested as beginning in the 1940s it is accepted that as grulle began writing less and less Raggedy Ann and Andy books, the publishing house Saalfield would ghost write books and throw Gruelle’s name on it for authenticity.
The dolls are STILL being produced today. My sister had a Raggedy Ann and Andy doll when she was a girl and in 2012 toy giant Hasbro has signed for a new line of plush Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.
However, a very interesting note on this, Gruelle’s daughter Marcella died at age 13 after receiving a smallpox vaccine at school without her parent’s permission.  There has been speculation that the vaccine was infected although other doctors blamed a heart defect.Gruelle and his wife blamed the vaccine. Gruelle became an outspoken proponent of the anti-vaccination movement and Raggedy Ann for years was used as an anti vaccine symbol.
We will end here for today. Thanks for stopping by, little urchins!

Posted by on June 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Philip K Dick: The Penultimate Truth

YEARS ago i went through a big Philip K Dick phase. I read all of his books in about a 1 year period. There was a great little sci-fi bookstore near me and several times a week i would buy one of his novels and a couple Sam Adams then sit in the evening and read the entire book in a single sitting. Which actually worked because for awhile he himself would write the books in a single, very long, amphetamine induced sitting.

He does has issues as a writer which can get rather annoying or which you must simply roll with and chalk up to his idiosyncricies. However his imagination is stunning and the ideas he throws out and toys with are the reason he enjoys such a large, rabid cult following and why he is endlessly plundered for movie premises.

Years after my phase with Philip K Dick ended i picked up and read a biography on him and the biography was absolutely fascinating. I had already known a bit about the “event” which seriously messed with his headspace, and which every book from Valis onward was based on. This “event” shook Philip K Dick’s already neurotic take on reality and thrust him into living out one of his own novels for the rest of his life.

What i didn’t know was how many details from his books were actually based on details from his life and what a very strange person he really was. Now a documentary about him made in 2008 is online and i present it to you here today. It’s got some really stupid “framing device” involving special agents because… i don’t know you just can’t get right to the point? But ignore that and this is a very good documentary about an iconic author who eventually… went crazy? Had a genuine religious experience? Had SOME experience which he couldn’t explain but which lead to him basically being one of his own characters in his own real life, exploring his favorite theme of reality itself being absolutely uncertain?

(note, the “band” i’m in, that is Ah Pook The Destroyer which is actually just musician/composer Matthew Broyles and myself are trying to see if we can get permission to use Valis as our next literature inspired album. I would LOVE for us to tackle Valis as an album. Our last one was Lovecraft’s The Silver Key.)

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Posted by on June 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


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