Judging books by their covers: Giant Winged Monkey

According to comic book legend, back in the Silver Age when it took months to determine what were the accurate sales for comics and the battle for rack space was extremley cut-throat, one publisher tracked in great detail what type of cover resulted in the most sales. Oddly, it turned out that covers that featured monkeys, no matter how ridiculous the teaser, sold more than the ones that did not feature them. Hence, the large number of primate-themed comic covers through the 50’s and 60’s and the interest in the sub-genre of what has been come to be called “Monkey Covers” in comic circles.

I can certainly understand it. After all, when it comes to monkey comic covers this is my absolute favorite…

-image from from the GCD

I rarely buy a book because of the cover but Strange Adventures #125 is an example of where I break my rule. This issue is different from the style of alien invaders that just happen to look like traditional snowmen, which I would purchase just for the straight-faced absurdity of it. This issue is just has a freaking great picture. Giant, alien, winged gorilla attacks planes and plucks them out of mid-flight. Hard to beat the sheer awesomenessity of that.

A comic or book doesn’t necessarily have to have the whole package for me to enjoy it.

There are many examples of comics and books where the cover eclipses completely the interior art and story. The cover is what a potential customer sees first and many a sale is made or broken when a buyer is motivated to pick up a particular title because of the art. Most fans have become wise to the bait and switch of a hot artist doing the chores on the on the cover only to disscover the artist who drew the story is not the same as the fan fav who drew the outside. The late 1970’s was notorious for it, particularly at Marvel. There was many a Frank Miller cover that featured awful story and art on the inside. For many this was acceptable as any Frank Miller product was welcome and desireable. I, for one, did not appreciate the fake out. Don’t advertise that Miller is doing the book when the story is drawn by Ditko and Colletta having a bad day.

DC’s unoffical ‘house artist’ Neal Adams did literally hundreds of covers that eclipsed the often silly (even by the standards of the 60’s and 70’s) interior. Browsing the score of covers done by Adams I’d almost say that DC invented single-handedly the concept of the Cover Disconnect, where the cover barely represents what happens in the book. The idea of the disconnect, by the way, is different from the Showcase Cover, where the characters are in a generic pose or situation that could be slapped on any month of that title and mean nothing. See almost any cover of Ultimate Spider-Man for examples.

Today, comic companies are in most cases, as a matter of survival, making sure that a possible customer knows exactly what creative team is working on the book from first to last page. For example, artist Alex Ross is one of the few artists that can sell a book based on the cover art alone and is often used as a selling point in advertising.

There are other comics and even books that I purchased just for the cover art, which I considered a story in itself. It didn’t matter if the interior work was weak because I thouroughly enjoyed the exterior and accepted the cover as a story in itself. A comic worthy of collecting just for the cover is of course the iconic Wonder Woman #72 by Brian Bolland. Anyone remember the story? Not me. I didn’t know anyone who bought it that month for the tribulations of Wondy. We couldn’t care less. But boy, did we have to get it for the Bolland! Mike Kaluta did a series of particularly creepy covers for House of Mystery that were worth the purchase price alone and are suitable for framing. There wasn’t a single issue of HoM I purchased back then for the stories.

In the 70’s Ballantine books published a series of HP Lovecraft anthologies that I would have bought even if I was not a fan of the genre. The cover art was done by artist John Holmes, who also did a rock album LP with art that was similar to the Ballantine efforts.

These books, long out of print, are hard to come by and sought after by collectors.

Pulps are another source for great cover art that is superior to the main product. While I really want to read the interior stories as a collector I am reluctant to remove them and risk cracking the brittle 30’s and 40’s era cheap paper and seperating the pages from the spine. Dreams’ End is a favorite pulp cover of many, including myself and I purchased it the moment I found a good copy. Again, this was collected for the cover art alone. The bonus was that I also enjoyed the story.

This issue of Thrilling Wonder from 1946 is the first pulp I ever owned, and was obtained only because the classic “good girl in peril” cover caught my eye. That Manley Wade Wellman, author of the amazing ‘Silver John’ stories was also featured in the issue was incidental.

Returning to the subject of ginormous primates, check out Big Monkey Comics, a chain of comics (and more) retail stores run by the brains behind Seven Hells! and The Absorbascon. From what I can tell these places aren’t some mildewed holes smelling of poo-gas decked out with cast-off bookcases from their Mom’s basement, so check it out.

From the site and this seems neat…

It has some fun features, such as

  • RSS feeds from comic book newsites
  • a blog (The Big Blog) to which Devon and I and others contribute
  • comic book reviews by Devon and some of our expert friends
  • store info and sales (gotta make a living!)
  • the Astounding Stupid Quote Balloon!
  • a very easy way to listen to Big Monkey Comics Radio (formerly SuperHero Radio)
  • links (of course) to our Ebay store and on-line Monkey Merchandise store
  • Devon’s Pick of the Week and Recommend Readings
  • Two fan forums (FanFatale for women readers and Comic Book Issues for general topics)

Tell ’em Sleestak sent ya!


Grocery Store Artifact: Mr & Mrs Smith DVD display instructions

Here are the instructions to assemble the disposable cardboard display stand for the Mr. & Mrs. Smith DVD our store is selling. A few weeks ago the word came down from corporate that the usual rolling racks that we have always used to sell product were going away for good. If a vendor wants to sell cookies or DVD’s then they must supply a display stand for it.

The old racks were esthetically displeasing, but the cardboard stands sag after a day or two. The DVD’s hold up well enough but a stand of aresol air fresheners can’t handle the weight.

On the subjects of racks, wanna bet it’s only because of the anticipated box office draw of the one carried by Angelina Jolie that Mr. & Mrs. Smith got made? Wow, was that a dull film. It definately won the Meh of the Week award. I can imagine the pitch meeting for it:

“Okay, it’s like Fun With Dick and Jane meets the War of the Roses.”
“Uh…Angelina Jolie wears a latex hooker outfit and tight sweaters. And Brad Pitt looks scruffy and unwashed, too.”

If only the plot was not as rickety as a cardboard stand it would have been a better movie.

Kansas wingnuts want to ban dull books

Here is a list of books that another rogue cell of the Amurrican Wingnuttiban* based in Blue Valley, Kansas want to have taken out of schools, libraries and this plane of reality.

1. All the Pretty Horses
2. Animal Dreams
3. The Awakening
4. The Bean Trees
5. Beloved
6. Black Boy
7. Fallen Angels
8. The Hot Zone
9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
10. Lords of Discipline
11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
12. Song of Solomon
13. Stotan
14. This Boy’s Life

    Choosing a book link on their page takes you to a disclaimer the likes of which are only seen on porn sites and the warning labels of industrial strength varnish-remover…


    Some of the material in these assigned school books is extremely controversial and many people consider it objectionable or inappropriate for children. The content you are about to view contains adult material that may not be appropriate for all users. Before viewing this page you must read and agree to the following:

    1. You are an adult (18 years or older) and have read and understand this warning.
    2. You understand that the material may involve language, content and themes of an adult, objectionable or controversial nature.
    3. IN NO EVENT WILL ClassKC.org BE LIABLE TO YOU FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND resulting from viewing or any other use of this material.

    If you agree, click here to continue.

    Hilarious. Paging Dr Werthem!

    Then you get to the excerpt page…

    Fallen Angels
    Myers, Walter Dean

    Used in the Blue Valley Communication Arts classes

    This extremely graphic novel is a story about a group of young Army recruits in Vietnam. It centers around a black man from Harlem, Richie Perry, and how his opinion of the war is quickly changed. He initially believes that he won’t be there long and won’t have to actually fight because of a medical issue. After witnessing intense and repeated brutality and destruction he doubts the “morality” of the war and decides it’s not possible to define the line between good and evil.

    If this book was selected by Blue Valley school staff to teach children about the Vietnam War, it was a poor choice. Yes, “war IS hell.” But why not select one of the dozens of well-written books about the Vietnam War written by someone who was actually there? Walter Dean Myers did not serve in Vietnam. It’s difficult to believe that there is not a more suitable book available that 1) shows the perspective of an actual soldier or medical person (whether a minority or not) and 2) does not use pervasive vulgarity. One of the purposes of Communication Arts is to teach kids correct grammar and vocabulary. Does this book expand their minds and vocabularies in an educationally sound way?

    Furthermore, together with The Things They Carried these two books promote one narrow opinion about the Viet Nam War, and they promote this opinion in the same vulgar manner.

    It’s alarming to consider the effect this book could have on a child with unidentified psychological issues.

    Yes? Ban the book because someone who is already unhinged might get a wacky idea from it? Ah, the 50’s! Ban flouride while you are it. Sorry, folks. But if someone is going to have sex or get the Big Headache and flip out it is impossible to keep them from being exposed to anything that might influence them. Even if you “round all the sharp corners” of the world someone will eventually be on top of a clock tower holding a rifle and screaming about how the sunshine and puppies drove him to it. It is all relative.

    Truthfully, there are few books on the list I would ever consider reading just because they are so darn boring. I can’t read anything by Maya Angelo without wanting to throw myself under a bus. Yet that doesn’t mean I have to agree with their 18th century ideals.

    Interestingly, on their page of books that they are aghast that are not approved to read are titles that others have in the past tried to ban for the themes of drug abuse, child labor, homosexuality and immorality. Under Great Titles for High School are listed, among others, Moby Dick and The Diary of Anne Frank. If I recall correctly, the protagonist and Queequeg of Mellville’s clasic whale hunting book were quite affectionate.

    Another gem from their site:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to select high-quality, non-sexualized literature for teenagers in the first place?

    Like what…The Bible? I’d suggest they give that little tome an in-depth read for immoral content, also. Yes, I know that is a cliched rebuttal but I can’t help it. I also point out The Passion of the Christ when someone whines about violence in films.

    I’d hazard a guess that very few of the Blue Valley Gang have actually read any of the books that they are FOR or AGIN’ and are instead relying on others to write the marching orders for them.

    * Anyone ever notice that a wingnut looks like a halo flanked by an angel’s wings? Me neither.

    Health PSA: Hearing Voices – A Self Help Guide

    Here’s a PSA from the UK published in 2002, advising people what to do to seek care if they begin hearing voices. Nice try, but some of the advice seems odd. Like taking enjoyment in the voices.

    Then again, I am not a medical professional or know what I am writing about, like the guy at Polite Dissent. It seems interesting that the ‘positives’ for hearing voices and having disturbing beliefs outweigh the ‘negative’ aspects. This pamphlet reads like an argument for believing in a religion.

    So…if God speaks to you aren’t disturbed. But if pigeons strike up a conversation, you need help?

    I am curious about two things:

    1. How does one get help if the voices say you are fine, fine, fine?
    2. Do screams count as voices?

    I’m not poking fun at the ill, just the brochure. Oh, and the gullible. Oh, and anyone who read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind because it was referenced in that issue of Micronauts that Marvel did back in the day.

    I put the entire pamphlet up on flickr for those that are curious.

    Req: Book and short story help

    There are a few books and short stories I am looking for but can’t recall the author or title. Typing different phrases into search engines met with negative results, so I turn to the reader of my blog to help out.

    Novel: This is a Sci-Fi novel I think I first read in 80’s. It is about a man who is suddenly transported to a home in England from America or vice versa. The cause of his teleportation is an alien or creature in the basement or cellar of a house who controlls him telepathically.

    12-3-05 Update: A helpful person reminded me the book I was looking for was Bob Shaw’s 1979 novel, Dagger of the Mind.

    Short Story: An amoeba like creature absorbs animals and people, infesting a farm house. The creature can take on the form of the creatures it absorbs. It is temporarily controlled when the protagonist lets it absorb him, and his will is able to control the monster. Reprinted many times in horror anthologies.

    Short Story: Spaceship captain meets a demonic alien being on a bridge at night, Captain kills it with his raygun. Alien sizzles away like black oil. Reprinted in anthologies.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Needs to be on a t-shirt

    Great image from the final page of Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars, an ancient-astronaut tale first published in Marvel Preview #1 b/w magazine. Written by Doug Moench & Roy Thomas, the first issue of MP (with painted Neal Adams cover) jumped on the then-huge UFO craze. The often inaccessible, highly abstract and heavily stylized art by Alex Nino is toned down a bit in this issue for this story. The word-balloons on this page were removed by me.

    Other than it is a great image, I’d put this on a t-shirt just because it makes no sense out of context and is so very 70’s.

    While on the subject of t-shirts, I did this when at cafe press when I was bored. I notice it is now less expensive to order from them than it is to get one of those kits for your PC to make iron-on decals you can print out at home.

    Grocery Store Artifact: Stuff in the dirt tray

    Generic Coinstar images courtesy of the Inter Nets

    The store where I work has one of those Coinstar machines where for a fee you can turn in your spare change and redeem all of it for cash or, if you are so inclined, give it to charity. When the machine jams I have to fix it and get it running again.

    It jams about once a week and 99% of the time it is because of dirty money. Now, technically all money is filthy, but the coins people bring in even more so. Chewing gum, wax, plastic, corrosion and glue among other unidentifiable substances are often stuck to the coins and impair the machine’s functions.

    Today, some guy tried redeeming a 5 gallon plastic water bottle about half-full of coins* that had sat in his garage for a while. Some liquid like soda had spilled into the bottle and on the coins sometime in the past because they were sticky, corroded and kept jamming the machine. Eventually I managed to get the customer’s coins swapped out for a voucher but I had to do a good spot-clean of the feed tray and hopper to remove all the tacky residue. Some of the coins remained stubbornly fused together or stuck to the sides and bottom of the water bottle and the customer abandoned them. I had advised the customer he could recover the remaining money by cleaning the interior of the bottle with some hot water, but he declined. The bottle went into the trash with about $6 in coins still glued to the interior. That’s okay, it’s his money.

    In cleaning the machine I dumped the dirt tray into a small trash bag to check for and recover any coins. The store gets credit for lost money returned and it adds up over a year. The dirt tray catches some (but not all) of the debris that is dumped along with the coins that are poured into the hopper from boxes, bottles, overnight cases and bags.

    Here are the things I found in the dirt tray and coin-sorter bin today:

    • Safety pins
    • Corroded coins (returned to customer)
    • Nails
    • Lint, dirt, bits of stuff
    • Button
    • Little wooden dot that goes on a cabinet door
    • Shiny metal bullet-shaped slug that looks like a bullet and says ’38’ on the bottom
    • Washers
    • Springy barrette
    • O-rings
    • Paperclips
    • Staples
    • Hair of many colors
    • Yes, there are two press-on fingernails in there

    * Optimistic, y’know