“OH! What a Lie!!!” by Richard F. Yates

[All photos in this post are by me. This particular image is from a fortune cookie that I ate today, which obviously lied to me! I’m far too much of a weirdo-jerk for folks to speak of me in any terms, besides mystified annoyance!]

It’s Saturday! And here is a recap of the last 24 hours or so! (For little or no reason! Wooo!)

Last night was one of my closing shifts at work, and that went fine (boring, tiring, and not-much in tips, but I finished my work earlier than usual, so that was neat-o.) Got home before 1:00 A.M. and took a shower, then spent a half-hour or so reading a digital comic on my e-reader before conking out and going to sleep. Slept WAAAAY in, until almost 7:00 A.M.!!! (That’s late for me.) For some reason, everyone in the whole house was up today by about seven! Weird. We all could have slept in, but for some reason, nobody did…

(Are you mystified and annoyed yet?)

Anyway, we all got up and ate some breakfast (I won’t tell you what we ate, in order to preserve some mystery), and my older daughter, Frankie, came by with the new kid, Felicity, just as we were finishing our food. (Yes. We fed Frankie, too.)

I’ve been spending lots of time with the new kid lately:

Frankie has recently started back to work two days a week, (she’s back to working at a vet clinic, although it’s a different clinic than the one she used to work at,) so I’ve been babysitting. Part of the fun of babysitting is introducing the kid to new music and cartoons, and (as I tend to think like a DJ) I put together a YouTube playlist to play on the T.V. while the kid’s here, full of ‘80’s new wave music, ‘60’s and ‘70’s cartoon clips, my Minecraft videos, a few classic internet bits, and a ton of other junk. If you’re interested in seeing what’s on the playlist (it lasts for HOURS,) here’s a link to check it out:


It’s interesting to me to see how quickly time flies, and it seems like just yesterday that I was introducing these cartoons and songs to my two daughters for the first time. To ME, my kids are still kids… THIS is how I still think of them!

The kid on the left (on the bike) is Frankie—who now has a four-month-old of her own. The guy with the blue hair has TWO kids of his own now and is working on coding a very cool video game! The gentleman holding the skateboard is a musician, a boxer, and also does artwork of his own. And the girl on the right, Ellie, just bought a house!!! (But they’re all so little!!!) Old guys tend not to realize how much time has passed… (I’m very guilty of this “time blindness.”)

Back to today’s exciting adventure:

Once everyone had eaten, we loaded up two vehicles with humans (and a baby) and wheeled over to my grandma, Lucille, and uncle, Randy’s, house to visit. I’m glad we did that. It’s important to stay in touch with FAMILY!!! Once we’d worn out our welcome, we went to a local Chinese restaurant and ate lunch. That’s where I got the fortune cookie that resulted in the photo at the top of this post! (It’s all connected man….)

Then we began a MASSIVE shopping marathon. Ellie (our younger daughter) needs stuff for the new house she just bought, Mariah was looking at Christmas stuff (plus some general supplies), and I broke our vacuum cleaner last weekend so we had to spend too-much-money on a new machine for sucking junk out of the carpet. Frankie had her hands full with Baby Felicity, as the little kid wasn’t feeling well—kept sneezing and had a runny nose and such—so she took the baby home after the first store so she could get the kid to rest and try to heal up! Mariah, Ellie, and I soldiered on, however, and helped keep the economy spinning. (Ellie found a little, replica Christmas tree based on the sad, little tree in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. She was pretty excited to get that!) Mariah and I DID get a new vacuum—which SUCKS! (Hopefully.) We got a bunch of other junk, too, like groceries and toothpaste and a bottle of Saint Brendan’s Irish Crème… (I don’t drink very often, once every few months I’ll get a bottle of something, usually a whisky, and it will take me a few more months to drink it…) I also got me some new “fast-jumping, high-running shoes!” (When my brothers and I were young, we used to think that new shoes made you run faster and jump higher, but I’m an old grandpa, now, so I sometimes get things confused.) I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes for just walking around in for about three years, and my old shoes, which I chucked right into the trash when we got home, had more holes than hide left to them—so good riddance! Nice to finally be able to walk around outside without my socks getting wet!

It was a long day. Shopping can be exhausting, and I imagine, as I was finishing bagging our final purchases of the day, I probably looked a little bit like our cat Gitzy does in this photo:

She’s an OLD cat—about 14-years-old now. (This image is from a couple of days ago, and I caught her in a particularly grouchy mood in the photo—so that was cool.) Clearly evil.

TIME PASSES…And now it’s super-dark outside and I’m already tired (even though it’s barely 9:00 P.M.) Meanwhile, as I plink on the computer and make notes in my notebook, Mariah and Ellie are working on their craft projects! Together with Frankie, the three of them have started a company: GOOFY GALS CRAFTS. Check out there Faceboot page HERE!!! They’re currently working on Christmas wreaths for a couple of bazaars that they’re going to be vending at in the next few weeks. Here are a couple of the wreaths they finished tonight!

I think Ellie and Mariah have been making some super-cool things, and Frankie (who has a Cricut) has been making personalized hand-towels, coffee mugs, t-shirts and other fancy stuff. (Again, check out their Faceboot page to see some of what they have to offer.)

[By the way, I’m not being PAID to push the GOOFY GALS’ products, although you COULD say that they are my SPONSORS, in the sense that the group is made up of my wife and my two daughters—AND, since my wife is the BOSS OF ME, and the primary breadwinner in our relationship, she does fund just about everything I do! She wears the pants, and I draw the ghosts and monsters!]

And that’s about it for today! I have every intention of posting a new Read a Damn Book review tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that! If my brain is back to full function by Monday, I’m going to try to post some new CRYPTO-ART—finally! (Fingers and tentacles crossed!) Aaaaaand, basically, that was Saturday: an old guy went shopping! The thrills! The coupons! The new shoes!!! [Rated PG-13 for strong economic themes and some cursing…]


—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)


[This post was originally published on my Steemit blog on 9 Nov. 2019.]

“A Grandpa Plays MINECRAFT – Day 0003!” by Richard F. Yates

Hey folks! My MINECRAFT play-through experiment continues! In this odd-ball episode, I fight some monsters, do some farming, make some stained glass, and (after dark) spot a mysterious glow on the horizon! It’s a bit like watching a slightly deranged person wander around and talk to himself—except there are zombies!

As always, the project is lo-fi, but you can hear what I’m saying… Maybe that should be my new angle (for future episodes.) While I’m doing Minecraft stuff, I’ll tell weird stories that have nothing to do with the game! ??? (It’s a thought.)

Anywho, here’s the link to today’s episode:

You know, I didn’t actually expect to be doing a new episode so soon. I got off work a little early last night, ate some cereal, and realized that the wife and daughter were going into the bedroom to watch some “murder show,” (they like forensics programs,) and I thought, “Why not make another Minecraft video?” (This is EPIC storytelling, isn’t it!?!) And though I was tired, and I knew I should get to bed—because today is going to be a MARATHON—I went ahead and recorded a video, edited it, and uploaded it to the YooToobs, instead of being responsible and getting the rest I’m going to need today and tonight. (Foolish human does foolish things!)

But—there you go. A surprise Minecraft video, put together instead of getting enough sleep. HOPEFULLY, I’ll have a new READ A DAMN BOOK review for you folks, either Saturday or Sunday, and THEN I REALLY REEEAALLY need to get some new CRYPTO-ART uploaded to my MakesPlace store. I’m behind in all of my production scheduling lately. (Remember when I started that “STORY TIME” thing? What was that, like two years ago or something???) Yeah… I really need to get my SMURFIN’ act together, make a schedule, and STICK TO IT.

There you go. RESOLVED. I’ll be better at getting my work done on time. (Now, let’s see if I can managed to actually ACCOMPLISH THAT!)

Okay. Now, I need to take a nap before the baby gets here and I have to start my seventeen hour work day!!!!


—Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool) [I’ve clearly demonstrated the FOOL part of that title, haven’t I???]



“Name Change and Further Experimentation with MINECRAFT Videos” by Richard F. Yates

Hey folks! I’m back with DAY TWO of my MINECRAFT video play through series. I noticed, in my first video, that I spelled “Minecraft” wrong… Damn. That’s embarrassing! I’ll have to be more careful with my editing in the future, although I’m almost certain that I’m going to have errors in every video. (But, in my junk-punk philosophy, it’s better to make a bunch of videos with flaws that being so paralyzed by fear of not getting everything perfect that you don’t do anything at all! I assume, as I do more of these, that I’ll get better at them!)

In other news, my wife suggested that I change the name of this series from a “Beginner” plays the game to a “Grandpa” plays the game. She thought that was funny—because grandpas aren’t SUPPOSED to play video games—or that’s the common conception, anyway. This is, of course, FALSE. My generation was actually the FIRST to become addicted to video games! They weren’t as slick or sophisticated as they are now, back in the 1970s and early ’80s, but we still got hooked on games like Pac-Man, Defender, Miner 2049, Missile Command, Centipede, and even PONG! (We had a Pong machine at our house as far back as 1975 or ’76—I’m pretty sure it was a Magnavox version of Pong, so it wasn’t CALLED “Pong,” but it was still fun…) Moral to this story: Grandpas DO play video games! (Even if we aren’t all GOOD at them!)

Anyway, here’s my most recent video:

Like last time, the video and audio quality aren’t super, but I’m coming at this with a “lo-fi,” punk, DIY attitude, and I’m trying—first and foremost—to have FUN! If it goes well, I can upgrade stuff later. If it DOESN’T, I’ll still have a good time playing!!!

Okay! Now that I’ve posted my link, I’m off to vacuum the house! If I have time before work, I have a few drawings that I’d like to share today, too, but we’ll see how quickly I can finish my chores!!! If I have time, I’ll get another post up this afternoon. If NOT, I’ll have to share my new drawings either tomorrow morning before the BABY gets here (Wednesdays are babysitting days) OR I’ll post after she goes home for the night—so I might not get a chance to post anything until tomorrow evening… Keep your peepers pealed! LATER!!!

—Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool)

“My First MINECRAFT Video!” by Richard F. Yates

Hey folks, I’ve finally taken the plunge and entered the challenging world of video game play through videos… (That sounded weird. Let’s try it again.) I recorded a video of me playing Minecraft, starting from day one and trying to survive! I’m really bad at the game, so that’s kind of fun. I also talk a bit, but I’m nervous, so I’m talking pretty fast and not always making a lot of sense… But HEY! It’s my first try…

PLUS, I really don’t know what I’m doing with either the game OR technically, especially with the video capture junk. It’s all a big experiment. It was fun, though, so that’s something!

Here’s the video, if you want to see it:

And here’s a STEEM related question: Why did I use YouTube instead of D-Tube to post my video? The simple answer is LAZINESS! I already have a YouTube account set up—I’ve uploaded half a dozen stupid videos, which have about two views each—and I didn’t want to have to learn a whole new system…yet. I might try shifting to D-Tube, eventually, once I get more comfortable with the whole VIDEO experience. I’m still new—and I’m obviously REALLY bad at it. (Most of my videos look like Abstract-Expressionist paintings come to life, what with the low quality. I’ve never been able to afford REAL equipment, so most of the videos I’ve uploaded either came off my phone or old digital cameras…)

Still, if the experiment goes well enough, I might try to EXPAND MY HORIZONS: Get some better equipment, maybe acquire some REAL video editing software (although that might involve getting a newer computer because mine ain’t that powerful), and yes, even trying out D-Tube. I’m dabbling at the moment, but we’ll see where stuff goes! DEAL???

Okay, now I have to go put away a bunch of laundry, make the bed, hang some artwork in the living room, and start making dinner… A Dad’s duties are never done!!!

—Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool!)

“Cultural Day” by Richard F. Yates

[All photos by me. The owl in this image is on the roof of Shattuck Hall at Portland State University. I love grotesques and gargoyles—and some day I’ll get a REAL camera so I can take better photos of them! For now, I do what I can with my phone! —RFY]

Last Thursday (aka: Halloween), my younger daughter, Elise, and my wife, Mariah, and I went on a journey of discovery! We had ulterior motives, of course, because we are sneaky, shadowy figures—but on the face of it, we DID exactly what we’d said we were going to do…

What we WANTED was Halloween off from work. As a family, we love Halloween—basically all things spooky and sweet and artificial—and LAST year, we missed the traditional Halloween festivities because we’d gone to California to spend about a week in a few THEME PARKS. (We hit Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. Great time! However, it was weird not being at our own house for Halloween, which we always decorate to the rafters with spooky imagery, and we always enjoy giving out goodies to the neighborhood kids, which we couldn’t do from Disneyland!) So THIS year, we wanted the day off so that we were free to celebrate the SPOOKY-TIME the RIGHT WAY!

My wife and I just requested the day off way ahead of time (I indicated in my request that it was a religious holiday, partially to be funny and partially because it’s as close to TRUE as I get. I’m not a religious fellow—but if there are a FEW things that almost inspire religious-LIKE feelings in me, Halloween would be one of the closest!) Ellie, though, had to put in a reason for her request, and it was suggested by someone at her work—she is medical encoder for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe—that she take the day off as a “Cultural Day.” This sounded interesting, and I remembered a Native American resource center on the campus of Portland State University (where I went to grad school a few years ago), and this resource center has a number of creative works made by Indigenous folks that I suggested it might be fun to explore! Ellie pitched this idea to her supervisor, who okayed her request, and we were SET! On the morning of October 31st, we headed towards Portland, Oregon, to look at some art!!!

We arrived in Portland around 10:00 A.M., navigated the busy downtown traffic, and found a parking space in the pay-lot next to Shattuck Hall on the PSU campus. (It was $8.00 for two hours of parking!!! That seems like a lot to me…) The Native American Student and Community Center is on the next block up the hill, on Broadway Street, from Shattuck Hall, so we hoofed it from our parking spot to the center.

(I knew about this resource center because, back when I was a student at PSU, I took a lit class on Louise Erdrich and Toni Morrison in that building. It was a great class, and I loved ever book we read in the course—but for some reason, I was the only MALE student in the class… I don’t know why. Out of nearly thirty students, why weren’t there any other GUYS who wanted to read those books? I’ll never understand…)

Here are some of the pieces of art that we saw and enjoyed!

[I WISH I’d gotten some of the artist information on these pieces. I’d love to know who created these, but unfortunately, I was in such a hurry to jump from artwork to artwork, I wasn’t diligent in getting artist info. I apologize to the creators!!! I know how I’d feel if my artwork was used but I wasn’t credited… Still, these works, as of 31 Oct. 2019, are all on display at the Native American Student and Community Center on Broadway Street in Portland, Oregon. Go check them out, and don’t forget to ask who the artists were!!!]

[My wife is silly…]

I have a BUNCH more photos—but I’m already overloading this post with images, so I’ll cut it there. Hopefully, I’ve included enough here to convince people to stop by the resource center, if you ever find yourselves in Portland, and look at some of the awe-inspiring art! It doesn’t cost anything to go in and look around, and it’s certainly a cool place.

After we finished looking at the Native American art, we were starting to feel a bit hungry, so we went looking for my favorite crepe shop, which used to be right across the street from Neuberger Hall, but sadly, it had become a Bubble Tea shop since I was there last. (It’s been a few years.) Looking around, I noticed at that point that a LOT of stuff had changed since 2007… (And I just noticed that 2007 was TWELVE YEARS AGO!!!! That’s insane. Time slides by on greased wheels!!!)

We wandered around the campus for a bit looking for a bite, and we eventually found a shop called the Green Zebra Grocery. I don’t know if this is a chain or just a Portland thing or what, but it was an interesting take on the “minute mart” concept, with a coffee bar, a deli, and a bunch of snacks and drinks—but they specialize in what Ellie called “HIPPIE FOOD.” They have organic chocolates and veggie hot dogs and plant-based hamburgers and vegan goat cheese! (How does “vegan goat cheese” work?) “What’s wrong with this place???” Ellie said, and Mariah and I both laughed. Mariah bought some hot cocoa, and Ellie said she was creeped out by the experience, but it just seemed like a normal Portland store to me… Everyone was friendly, though, and because it was Halloween, all the staff were dressed in costumes, like Sloth pajamas and stuff… Actually, now that I think about it, it’s PORTLAND—maybe they dress like that everyday… I dig it.

After our stop at the Green Zebra, we headed back to the car and motored out of town, heading back north. It was still before noon, so we had time to kill before the TRICK-OR-TREATING was going to begin, so we stopped by the Cowlitz County Historical Museum in Kelso, Washington (which is only a few blocks off the I-5 Freeway,) before going home.

It’s a cool little museum focused on local history, which we’ve visited several times before, although I’ll admit, it’s been several years since I’ve been there. The HIGHLIGHT of the museum is the actual log cabin that they have in the main showroom. They now have a whole “show” that you can see through a big window, with lighting and narration and voice acting, talking about the lives of some of the early settlers to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a quality production! I was definitely impressed!

They have lots of other neat stuff there, too, and the staff is friendly and excited to share their knowledge, but that log cabin is easily the coolest element of the museum!

And that was our cultural day! We had some fun, saw some fantastic artwork, and expanded our minds—and then gave out a bunch of candy that night to all the little kids who started showing up just before dark. Some NOT-SO-LITTLE kids came by, too, but I’m fine with that. In fact, we still have WAY TOO MUCH CANDY, so I kind of wish MORE folks had come knocking!

That’s it! Show’s over. Hopefully, I’ll have more stuff ready to share tomorrow! LATER!!!

—Richard F. Yates (Holy Fool)



[This write-up was originally published on my Steemit blog on 7 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 160: Peculia”

What happens if you mix gothic horror, the old cheesiness of the Universal-style monster movies, Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy rogues gallery, and the surreal, nightmarish weirdness of dreams all in one comic? You get Peculia, that’s what happens!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Peculia is a collection of loosely connected, short, very strange stories, all starring Peculia, an independently wealthy breakfast cereal fanatic who likes to take walks, but who tends to get attacked, kidnapped, or waylaid every time she leaves her house (and is then saved either by her butler, Ambrose, or a mysterious, sinister figure, named Obscurus.) These stories are all written and drawn by Richard Sala, one of my absolute favorite comic creators, (I’ve previously reviewed his brilliant noir graphic novel, Mad Night), and all but one of these tales were previously serialized in Sala’s monthly comic, Evil Eye (published by Fantagraphics Books.) There are nine or ten stories here, presented in stunning black and white, with the final story (created just for this volume, according to the contents page) being a quick, “silent film” (no word balloons) in vivid hues in what appears to be watercolors (but might just be a digital effect—I can’t tell for sure…and I don’t care. I just LOVE how it looks.)

The WORLD that Richard Sala conjures in this book is a strange, gothic, noir place, full of sinister, oddly shaped figures, monsters, ghosts, zombies, spies, secret societies, sorcery, shape-shifting cult members, and vaguely super-heroic characters. Peculia, in this collection, seems to have no form of employment, but has a lovely house and paid servants (including both the supernaturally efficient butler, Ambrose, and a large, bird-headed doorman, named Byrd.) Her house is also within walking distance of shopping centers AND quaint European villages AND primeval forests full of monsters and deadly beasts, and although Peculia seems to LOVE going for walks, there is about a 50-50 chance that she is going to be grabbed from behind before she finishes her jaunt and hauled off by some evil fiend bent on some horrible scheme (usually involving murder or black magic or WORSE!)

Sala’s art style is cartoonish, but it also has a dark, gruesome element to it:

Again, like Charles Schulz, Sala creates some extremely emotive facial expressions with just a few lines. He is also a master of shadows and evocative lighting, and he’s also not afraid to take his cartoony characters and give them the full HORROR treatment. We get throats being bitten, folks being sizzled alive, gun shots through chests, and even one rather nasty exploding head—all in this one book. Did I mention yet that this collection is not for kids? Because it’s NOT for kids! And not just because of the violence. There’s also a vaguely perverse, sexual element to some of these stories, with Peculia or some of the other female characters occasionally being portrayed in various states of undress. (Yep, there’s cartoon nudity in this book.) So, although the art style might SEEM kid friendly, the STORIES are definitely not. There’s violence, death, gore, nudity, and sexual insinuation (although nothing EXPLICIT) throughout the book—but it’s all done in a rather tongue-in-cheek tone, which I find brilliantly entertaining and funny.

The stories here are all quite short, as I’ve mentioned, and they’re driven by a sort of dream-logic. There are wildly implausible coincidences, secret cults with magical powers, and (to be fair) very little character development, at least in the title figure. She just seems to float through whatever comes her way, in the end rather unaffected by the carnage that’s happening all around her. In a way, it’s almost like reading a monstrous version of Spy vs Spy, where you know who the characters are—because they never change—but you keep coming back to see what sort of crazy death-trap one or the other of the characters is going to fall into THIS time, but by the end of the day, you’re always back to square one. All is well—until NEXT time!

There are hints of some kind of back-story in these tales, particularly with the character, Obscurus, and his hench-woman, Justine, (who is obviously jealous of the attraction that Obscurus feels towards Peculia.) However, these hints and suggestions are more like tantalizing glimpses of something hidden than major plot developments, as the individual stories are just as likely to involve weird, cannibalistic witches; or a strange, giant, grasping hand on an infinitely long arm; or zombies; or a cute, little, psychopath girl with a rifle who wants to be friends with Peculia—some weird random thing—as they are to feature Justine or Obscurus (although even in the weirder tales, one of them will usually get a short cameo by the end of the story.)

For people looking for a wholesome, kid-friendly comic experience, Peculia is NOT going to be for you, but if what you want are some fun, weird, beautifully drawn, noir, monster stories, swimming in cartoon violence, and with a slightly perverse sub-text floating just beyond where your flickering candle-light can reach, there are few comics creators whose work can entertain as well as Sala’s does. This collection isn’t a straightforward narrative, like his books Mad Night or The Chuckling Whatsit are, as these are more like serialized stand-alone stories (which is what they WERE before being collected here), but this is still a very entertaining, incredibly strange comic that LOOKS great and is perfect for a dark laugh or two! Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan or things like Edward Gorey or the old Creepy and Eerie horror comic magazines!

Okay! Are you convinced!? (If not, check out Sala’s BLOG and see what he’s been up to lately!!!)


—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)


[This review was originally posted on my Steemit blog on 26 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 159: Supernatural Horror in Literature”

Hey folks! I’m FINALLY getting around to reviewing an H.P. Lovecraft book! BUT… It’s not one of his works of fiction… (Sorry!) Instead, I’m looking at an extended essay he wrote on the history and development of a specific type of horror story, which Lovecraft HIMSELF felt was the BEST kind of horror. You know…the kind that HE wrote!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

H.P. Lovecraft – Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927 / 2018)

The book I’m looking at today is a 2018 digitization of a long essay that Lovecraft originally published in back in 1927, but which (according to Wikipedia) was edited and republished in the early 1930s, and I’m honestly not sure which version I’ve got with my digitized copy—because the company who published it, Aeterna Classics, gave ZERO history or publication information with this digital book. While I’m on the publisher’s case, there were also a NUMBER of typos in this text, and I’m not usually that bothered by a typo here or there, but there were a LOT in this book, like too many, making me think they weren’t being as diligent with the editing as they should have been—so if I were you, if you are considering getting a copy of this book, I’d either get a paper copy OR try to find a version that isn’t published by Aeterna. (I USED to own a paper copy of this book, but I loaned it to somebody several years ago—and then I forgot who I loaned it to, and I never got the book back… Hopefully, the person I loaned it to enjoyed it!)

What this book ISN’T: Lovecraft is most well known for his weird fiction, particularly for his monstrous, stygian creation Cthulhu, which WAS a horrifying monster that was so awful that merely DREAMING about it could drive someone insane (and seeing it in person was even worse); but Cthulhu is NOW a cuddly, squid-faced plush toy. The creature has become so sanitized and removed from its original context that it clearly constitutes a crime against nature. (I’m losing focus here… Let’s get back on track!) Although Lovecraft is most well known for his horror stories, this book does NOT contain any of his fictional works. Instead…

What this book IS is a long essay in which Lovecraft lays out why he feels SUPERNATURAL horror is superior to all other types of fiction, how it differs from mere grotesque or violent fiction (such as one might find in a mystery novel with lots of dead bodies strewn about), how this type of fiction developed over time, and he presents a detailed examination of some of his picks for the most influential works that include the proper tone and tropes for inclusion in the WEIRD CIRCLE*. *(In another aside, The Weird Circle was also the name of great, old horror radio show, which you can still find online and which often included fantastic dramatizations of supernatural and weird stories, including several mentioned by Lovecraft in this very book! Give it a listen HERE, if you’re interested!!)

Full disclosure: I’m just going to say this now…unless you are a literary scholar or a die-hard fan of horror history, you’re probably NOT going to enjoy this book. The language is a bit dry and pompus, although I personally appreciate Lovecraft’s wit and his sometimes harsh criticisms of the tales he discusses, particularly of works which he felt were more famous or influential than they deserved to be. What I DO NOT appreciate is Lovecraft’s persistent race-based conceits. He isn’t OVERTLY racist in this text, although it’s now pretty well established that Lovecraft DID, in fact, have strong beliefs that we would now label as blatantly racist (according to scholars, like Robert Price and Scott Poole, both of whom have done fascinating, often very funny and entertaining interviews on the MonsterTalk podcast about Lovecraft.) Lovecraft talks about regional differences in story tropes as being RACIALLY distinct, instead of being merely CULTURAL distinctions, which may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s NOT insignificant, and this racialized talk (especially after listening to the MonsterTalk discussions that clearly demonstrated his nasty racial biases) really makes me uncomfortable now—but he does have some interesting things to say about a whole bunch of old horror stories and writers, many that aren’t really talked about anymore, which makes this book a worthwhile read (as long as we are conscious and aware of the racist tropes.)

I’ve read this text a number of times now, and the first time I read through the book, I’d only encountered a handful of the weird authors that Lovecraft mentions, like Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Coleridge, H.G. Wells, and a few other rather famous figures that I’d learned about in high school and early college lit classes. AFTER reading his book, I was inspired to seek out some of the other figures that he spoke of in glowing letters—people like Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany, and Clark Ashton Smith, all of whom I really enjoyed reading. In addition, because the number of authors he mentions is so large, each time I reread this book, I note one or two more forgotten names to search for (and many of these authors’ works are now in the public domain, which means that getting a digital copy of their books can be quite cheap or even free! Although, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, you do GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. If you download a free version of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, it might not have the same attention to detail as a Norton or Broadview edition will have OR any of the extras, like critical assessments or historical and contextual essays! Serious horror nerds LOVE that kind of stuff!)

Not everyone who likes horror is going to love OLD or gothic literature, especially if they’ve come to horror fiction from the more modern, splatter gore or shock-horror era of things, like Saw or Hostel—although Lovecraft would argue that these works, while horrific, are NOT examples of SUPERNATURAL horror of the type that he is championing in this book. For Lovecraft, there MUST be an element of the story that takes the reader OUTSIDE of the mundane world and suggests some unknown, overwhelming darkness or evil that is beyond human comprehension. There isn’t any such “supernatural” element in a work like Hostel, which is purely human inspired evil. Whereas Friday the 13th, even the first film (from 1980), has both “standard” earthly horrors from the extreme violence AND the suggestion of a supernatural element in the character of Jason, who has somehow survived, UNDER WATER, for many years. The boogeyman figure of Jason (who appears at the very end of the first film, then becomes the antagonist for most of the next ten or so films) is ESSENTIALLY a zombie, an unstoppable DEATH figure who deals out punishment—primarily to teenagers who can’t control their hormonal impulses. Since the MECHANISMS by which Jason—who I should mention didn’t jump-scare his way into the public eye until FORTY YEARS after Lovecraft’s death (in 1937)—the MEANS by which he goes from drowning victim to punishing angel are never explained, and this gives the story the ESSENTIAL element of the supernatural that Lovecraft attempts to define in this book, whereas stories, like Saw or Hostel or Psycho, are merely grotesque and violent, and therefore outside of the Lovecraftian arena. The distinction might not seem important, but Lovecraft argues that the supernatural elements of a tale RAISE the effectiveness of the story by acting differently on the mind of the reader than more simple shocks or human inflicted violence. For HIM, the difference is vitally important—and he attempts to argue that the difference is also FELT by the reader, even if it isn’t always acknowledged or understood.

His essay is interesting, in my opinion, especially for the information he includes on the dozens of early horror and weird fiction authors who have slipped out of the modern consciousness—but I’m also an ex-literary scholar AS WELL AS a lover of horror fiction. I can certainly see where some folks might have a hard time following his writing style (as he likes to use esoteric language, including a lot of words that most folks are going to need to look up!) In addition, people who pick this book up looking for a scary Lovecraft STORY are going to be bitterly disappointed, as there’s no fiction to be found here, beyond Lovecraft’s quick retellings of a few major works of weird fiction for analytical purposes. This book is primarily a scholarly look at a very specific genre of fiction—(with a bit of uncomfortable, subtly racist language clogging the essay’s arteries.) However, what the book DOES have going for it is the interesting attempt by Lovecraft at examining WHY certain forms of horror fiction are more effective than others, AS WELL AS the plethora of information he shares (including his personal opinions) on A GREAT MANY early horror writers, covering several hundred years of weird fiction (and poetry.) I’ve returned to this text numerous times in search of new stories to read and enjoy!

SOOOOOO….if you like horror fiction AND you’re interested in seeing how that genre developed over time, this book (with a few reservations) is a great resource. Lovecraft was clearly passionate about scary stories, and many of the works he mentions in this text are some of my favorite spooky stories of all time! (Will you look at that! This review ended up being Halloween appropriate after all, so… BONUS!!!)

Okay, thanks for stopping by!!! Now go read a damn book!!!!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)


[This review was originally posted on my Steemit blog on 20 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 158: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

It’s been about a year and half since I reviewed the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but I was feeling the need to revisit some fun, well worn, homey territory. Does this book still hold up??? Is it worth reading through all 433 pages??? Let’s dive into this monstrous, ghost-filled tale and see! (It’s at least seasonally appropriate, if you ask me!)

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999/2002)

As I mentioned in my review of the first book in this series, I’ve been down this road before. This is probably my third time reading Chamber of Secrets, and I’ve seen the film adaptation dozens of times. (My wife and I will frequently get the itch and binge watch all the Harry Potter films over the course of a week or two… We do the same thing with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, about once a year!) However, it’s probably been about three years since I’ve READ this particular book, and it’s surprising to me how many things I can forget in just a few years, even with a book I’ve already read multiple times.

For people who have never bothered to pick up this novel OR seen the films, (are those people still out there???), here’s a quick recap of what we’re talking about: In the first book in the series, Harry Potter, who was raised by his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, but is treated rather poorly by them, discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is a wizard and that his parents were both magic users, too, but were killed when he was just a baby by an evil wizard. Despite his aunt and uncle’s protests, Harry is invited to Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards—and he goes off on an adventure to this magic castle, where he makes friends, learns to control his magical powers, and does battle with the same evil wizard who murdered his parents.

This second book opens with Harry, back at his aunt and uncle’s house for the summer and disappointed that his friends from the magic school haven’t written to him during the break. Surprisingly, Harry is visited by an ELF, (named Dobby), who tells him that he shouldn’t go back to Hogwarts because someone is planning to unleash some evil scheme, and the elf doesn’t want Harry to be hurt of killed if he returns to the school. In fact, Dobby has even been keeping all the letters that Harry’s friends have written to him over the summer, hoping that if Harry thought nobody at the school cared about him, he wouldn’t want to return, but Harry, who hates living with the Dursleys, tells Dobby that he feels more at home at Hogwarts and in the magical world—and he ignores the elf’s warning and returns to the school, only to discover that someone has unleashed a horrible monster that begins petrifying students (turning them into living statues). Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, learn that this same creature was let loose at the school fifty years before, as well, and that the last time, someone was even killed.

It’s a fairly simple premise, a monster that no one seems to be able to see or stop is running around the school causing chaos and threatening to kill the students, but what Rowling does to make the book interesting is combine a mystery / detective element to the plot, in which Harry and his friends try to discover WHAT is attacking students and WHO set it loose. And this mystery element is combined (quite deftly) with humor, monsters, and whimsical magic, and it’s built around solid characters. There are a number of well defined, memorable folks in this book, besides the big three (Harry, Ron, and Hermione.) There’s the wise, knowledgeable wizard, Dumbledore; the strict but fair Professor McGonagall; the grouchy, cantankerous school janitor, Filch; the slimy and sinister Lucius Malfoy; and a new character introduced in this book, the pompous, self-aggrandizing buffoon, Professor Lockhart, who clearly has no idea what he’s doing and provides some much needed humor in this fairly dark tale (until his true colors are exposed!)

For people who have seen the movie but never read the novel, I do recommend reading this book. Rowling does a great job of creating atmosphere, her dialog is quite entertaining, and (being 400+ pages long) there are a LOT of details in this book that didn’t make it into the film. Some of the most entertaining “missing” scenes that can only be found in the novel include a fist fight between Ron Weasley’s father and Mr. Malfoy in Flourish and Blotts book shop; all of the wacky antics of the poltergeist character, Peeves (who is in all of the books, but for reasons I will never understand, never appeared in the films); and the Death Day party that the ghost, Nearly-Headless Nick, invites Harry to! There are a great many differences between the book and the movie, particularly in the amount of time the reader gets to spend getting to know some of the minor characters—but I do still enjoy the movies, and I understand why they took most of the extra bits out. HOWEVER!!! If you want the FULL STORY, it really is worthwhile going back to the source material. Rowling’s writing style is easy to read and JAMMED FULL of little quirks and details, most of which I quite enjoy. (I do have to say, though, that the giant spider sequence is MUCH more exciting in the film. Sometimes, it helps to SEE the monster!)

All that being said, this is a quick read and entertaining. At this point in the series, I think Rowling was still probably aiming at a middle school audience, but the novel doesn’t feel dumbed down or (I hate to say it) stupid, like a lot of books for younger readers are. I appreciate how difficult it is for an author to write for a younger audience, but not sound like they’re being patronizing or talking down to their readers. It takes a master, like Maurice Sendak, to write a kids book that adults can also enjoy. I think, and my wife and brother will back me up, Rowling did a good job of making a book for younger readers that can fly just as well with “grown-ups.”

Chamber of Secrets doesn’t really have any bad language or explicit sexual content, although the scarier scenes might be a teeny bit intense for youngsters or people who don’t read a lot of scary stories. (Anyone who can handle a Stephen King story shouldn’t be bothered at all.) In some of the later Harry Potter novels, the violence gets a bit more graphic, but this one isn’t really bloody at all, even though you do get a bit of “death talk,” particularly from the ghostly characters, like Nearly-Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle, who like to describe how the met their fates. I suppose I should say that some folks, who think all tales of MAGIC are evil, are going to be bothered by this book, but I honestly don’t see anything in this text that you could say was Satanic… (At all. And I’ve read the Satanic Bible, so I know from whence I speak.) The primary theme that seems to be most explicitly hammered home in this book is that those WITH power have a moral obligation to PROTECT those who do NOT have power. To ME that doesn’t sound particularly EVIL, but maybe I’m not the right person to ask…

Final words: This book is fun and funny, includes a suspenseful “who-done-it” plot, has a couple of great monsters in it, and the story is built around solidly developed, entertaining characters, who I really enjoy coming back to every few years and visiting again. Hopefully, it won’t take me quite as long to get to The Goblet of Fire, but who knows!?!?! Alrighty folks, “FINITE INCANTATUM!!!”

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)


[This review was originally published on my Steemit blog on 12 Oct. 2019.]

“Read a Damn Book – 157: Hellboy Omnibus Volume 1 – Seed of Destruction”

I’m a massive fan of Guillermo del Toro, and in particular I LOVE his 2004 film adaptation of Hellboy, so much so that I bought the giant, three disc, “Director’s Cut” box set on DVD. (I’m extremely poor, so I almost NEVER buy the extended box sets with all the special features… In fact, the LAST time I bought a special set like this, it was for a VHS release of Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma ½ animated show, back in the 1990s!) HOWEVER, and for reasons that I really can’t explain, until I bought this omnibus collection (through Comixology), I’d only ever read two or three issues of the comic series, and I’d never OWNED any of the books! So—how well does the comic hold up to the film? Let’s find out!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital comic that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Mike Mignola – Hellboy Omnibus Volume 1 – Seed of Destruction (2018)

Hellboy, the character, is the creation of writer / artist, Mike Mignola, and this book collects his stories going back to 1993, as well as early concept art and the first few published Hellboy short story appearances. This book includes the graphic novels Hellboy: Seed of Destruction and Hellboy: Wake the Devil, as well as a few other individual stories. The first graphic novel presented in this book, Seed of Destruction, is listed as having been scripted by comics legend, John Byrne. I’m pretty sure that all of these books were originally published by Dark Horse Comics, aside from some of the earliest concept art and short-shorts, which are included at the end of the collection. I’m just going to say this now, at over 350 pages, this collection was a FANTASTIC buy, and the next time I’m rich, I’m certainly going to throw some money at the second omnibus collection!

For those who have never read the comics, seen the three live action films, or any of the animated features, here’s a quick overview of what this series is about. (I’m going to TRY not to give away too many spoilers because part of what’s so much fun in this series is experiencing the various revelations with Hellboy as he discovers them.) First off, I want to try to describe what TYPE of story this is, but that’s not exactly that easy to do, as what Mignola has crafted is something unique—and that’s saying something! I’ve read a LOT of genre fiction, and aside from (maybe—a bit—in some ways) DC Comic’s The Doom Patrol or Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (neither of these titles is EXACTLY the same thing, but there are similar elements in both), Hellboy is definitely doing its own thing. The story combines occult / supernatural elements, a noir / detective feel, secret agent tropes, Lovecraftian horror, folklore concepts, and VERY strong characterization, and not only in the primary protagonists, be also delving into the thoughts and motivations of the “bad guys”!

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the film, which I remind you, I loved, but I’m going to say this—as wonderful as the del Toro production was, Mignola’s comic is absolutely EPIC! It has a very different mood from the film version (I’m talking specifically about the 2004 movie, here—I like the 2006 sequel, but it’s different, and I haven’t seen the 2019 version, yet), and I was surprised at just HOW different the overall tone was. The film has a comedic tone, lots of action, a bit of drama, and some excellent monsters in it—whereas the COMIC is based solidly in the HORROR camp. It combines elements of other genres, as I mentioned above, but the TONE is primarily dark, haunted, and serious, though with the occasional lighter moment, usually as a result of the dialog and interactions between characters. Although, Hellboy himself is less silly in the comic than he was in the film—more of a hard-working, hard-boiled detective, who knows he has an important job to do, a dangerous job with lots of lives at stake, but additionally, he’s also a very HUMAN character in the comics (especially for a demon or devil or whatever sort of entity he’s supposed to be.) I think Ron Perlman’s character in the movies is fun and entertaining—but the comic character is much deeper, with a well-developed, introspective personality. It helps that we have access to his thoughts through the comic text boxes, so we know exactly what he’s thinking—something that the on-screen character lacks. This is not Perlman’s fault, of course, but the advantage definitely goes to the comic, in this case. In addition, Professor “Broom”, played by John Hurt in the film, is barely in the comic, and the firestarter character, Liz, (who was well acted by Selma Blair), is more of a sober, serious character, as well.

It’s actually kind of strange… Somehow, the comic is LESS cartoony than the live action adaptation.

In this comic series, the reader learns that Hellboy is some kind of an elemental creature, something like a demon or devil, who was brought to Earth at the tail end of World War II by a sorcerer, Grigori Rasputin, who is working with a team of Nazis to supposedly enact a magical ritual that will turn the tide of the war in Hitler’s favor. Though Rasputin completes the ritual, it ends up NOT being the miracle that the Nazis had hoped for, but something far darker—and Rasputin, his secret plans complete, disappears into the icy Arctic, and the Allied forces win the war.

Fast forward several decades, and Hellboy, who fell into Allied hands, has grown up in military custody and, showing an aptitude for fighting threats that would easily destroy the average human, he becomes an agent of a secret organization, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. The stories from this point in the book take off in a variety of interesting and strange directions, although the true threat, beyond all of the various monsters and vampires and ghosts and harpies that Hellboy and the other BPRD agents encounter, is the question of who Hellboy REALLY is, and what sort of dark destiny is hanging over his head.

Each of the stories in this book are INCREDIBLY well told. The characters are developed and convincing, the mood is PITCH PERFECT, including horror, mythology, and folklore elements with a grim and gritty, hard-boiled detective noir feel. And the book IS still funny, even though the tone is MUCH darker than the film. There is a lot of action, some very creepy, dream-like, haunted sequences, and an atmosphere dripping with black magic that makes the reader feel as though they have somehow slipped into a deep, dark, dream-world that they are exploring through Hellboy’s eyes.

As a huge fan of gothic horror, folklore, mythology, and Lovecraftian cosmic madness, I truly appreciate the nods to classic literature and the attention to DETAIL that Mignola brings to this book. He has a vampire character, Giurescu, who, when killed, can be revived if his body is laid in direct moonlight—just like the vampire in the 1819 work, The Vampyre by John Polidori. The Russian folklore figure, Baba Yaga, a witch who supposedly lives in a strange hut with chicken legs (!!!), plays a significant role in the story, and the Lovecraftian trope of calling on ancient Titanic monsters, which slumber in a dimension tangential to ours waiting to be summoned back to Earth to wreak havoc, is one of the primary goals for the sorcerer, Rasputin. If nothing else, Mignola and I have read a LOT of the same books!!! (Ha!)

It would also be criminal for me to wrap up this review without mentioning Mignola’s stunning artwork. He has a stylized, almost blocky line, (not completely dissimilar to Jack Kirby’s), which he utilizes to create some fantastic noir effects, particularly shadow, silhouettes, and dark, gothic compositions. His panels are absolutely beautiful, often countering expressive close-ups of faces with images in which the characters are tiny, overshadowed by some massive, threatening architectural structure, like a rotting church, or a crumbling ruin, or an old, gothic, haunted house. His sense of light and dark, his framing of the characters in his scenes, his extremely expressive faces (often created with just a few, well chosen lines and dripping with shadow and general menace), and his dynamic and powerful action scenes all work together to create a living (or, I should say, “undead”), breathing, terrifying world… In the same vein as masters, like King Kirby and Will Eisner, Mignola has a distinctive, unique style, which works perfectly with the noir tone of the story he’s telling.

For any sensitive types who might be considering reading this book, I have to mention that this is a dark, mature title. There is some cussing, quite a few violent scenes, and a TON of occult and Nazi and nightmarish / supernatural imagery. There are some theological concepts at play here, which also might upset any religious folks who (for some reason) accidentally wander into the book (although, beyond looking for things to complain about, I can’t imagine why a person sensitive about religious concepts would even TOUCH a book called Hellboy.) It’s not as gory or violent as something like From Hell, but it’s certainly not kid-friendly, by any means. As I mentioned above, this is first and foremost, a HORROR title—albeit one that also incorporates detective and (maybe just a bit) some superhero tropes, as well (if you consider books, like Doom Patrol or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen superhero titles.)

My personal opinion: I LOVE IT. I’m a huge fan of the del Toro movie, but I have to say, this collection really presents a MUCH more developed story. It’s much darker, gives us more insight into the characters, (especially Hellboy and Rasputin), and it just has a more EPIC feel, but it also has a lot of PAGES over which the story can unfold, whereas the film version only gets 132 minutes—and that’s the extended DIRECTOR’S cut! (I would compare the world that Mignola has crafted here, favorably, to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, as far as both depth AND weirdness are concerned.) The story might not be for everyone, as it is a strange mash-up of several weird genres, plus some of the imagery and concepts might freak a few people out, but as I said, I love all of the elements that went in to this stew, and I think what Mignola has created with this series is exceptional. I will absolutely be reading more of his work in the near future!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)



“Read a Damn Book – 156: The Amazing Spider-Man – Marvel Masterworks Volume 1”

I was surprisingly shaken by the recent news that Spider-Man will NOT be returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the foreseeable future. (I understand that CARING about which superheroes, played by specific actors, will be in upcoming superhero fantasy films makes me a bit of a nerd… Just a bit… But I’m OLD, and I like what I like. I love Air Supply and Culture Club and Scorpions and vanilla ice-cream and 50-50 blend t-shirts and Disneyland and Star Wars and talking about the weather and painting on recycled cardboard and playing Minecraft and reading comic books and watching superhero movies—and I don’t care who knows it!) BUT, just because the next Tom Holland Spider-Man movies won’t be set in the MCU doesn’t change the COMICS, right? So I thought it was time to go back to the SOURCE, the ORIGINAL Spider-Man stories, and see where this pop culture icon actually came from… As surprising as this might be for some people to believe, I’d never bothered to read the early Spider-Man comics before, even though I grew up reading TONS of Spidey books—mostly from the 1970s and later. Come with me now, through the magic of the Marvel Masterworks reprint collections, to where it all started!

[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital comic that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Stan Lee & Steve Ditko – The Amazing Spider-Man – Marvel Masterworks Volume 1 (2017)

Spider-Man made his dramatic debut in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, issue #15, which had a cover date of August 1962, and this Masterworks collection includes his first appearance as well as the first ten issues of The Amazing Spider-Man series. Spidey got his own book about seven months after his debut—issue #1 was dated March 1963.

That initial comic appearance is a story we all know. Nerdy kid is picked on by classmates, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gains fantastic powers, tries to be a selfish jerk, which leads directly to the death of his Uncle Ben, and decides after this tragedy to use his powers for good. Eleven pages that changed the world. (Hopefully, I didn’t reveal any spoilers there, but considering the story is about 57 years old, and it’s been told and retold a thousand times in comics, movies, cartoons, and so on, it’s safe to say it’s pretty much common knowledge. Like, do I have to say, “Spoiler!” before mentioning that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father? Probably not.)

What makes this original story interesting, considering how many times I’d already encountered it, is Steve Ditko’s odd, angular artwork. He plays fast and loose with physics and geometry, and he creates some truly awkward and uncomfortable looking poses and facial expressions. It’s funny just to look at his artwork—although perhaps in a way that it wasn’t meant to be. Kind of like Jack Kirby, who draws these fantastically weird faces and poses—but where Kirby’s work is stylized and exaggerated and creates this crazy intensity, Ditko’s drawings look more freaked out and manic. The faces look SHOCKED a lot of the time, big circular eyes, and snarling, grotesque mouths and weird noses on nearly every “bad guy” character. (You rarely have a hard time guessing when a character is going to turn out to be evil—they almost always LOOK disgusting.)

I’ve seen and read a lot stuff about how Stan Lee was usually credited for the “story” in the early Marvel Comics, and yet the tales invariably differ dramatically from artist to artist. A Jack Kirby story is always epic and grandiose and full of POWER and action. Yet a story supposedly written by Lee but drawn by Steve Ditko is weirdly claustrophobic and angry and full of morally compromised characters. The idea, from several documentaries and introductions that I’ve read to Marvel reprint collections, is that Stan Lee would come up with the IDEA for a story, maybe suggest a villain and a few of the main plot points, then he would hand these sketches of a story off to Kirby or Ditko or Don Heck or Gene Colan, and they would DRAW THE COMIC, (creating the story flow, the action, the character interactions, etc.,) then these pages would be given back to Lee, and he would write in the dialog and captions. Eventually, folks like Kirby and Ditko ended up having some serious fits about getting the WRITING credits they felt they deserved, having plotted the entire book when the laid-out their art, even ignoring Lee’s suggestions when they actually created the tale. (You get a look at this process in this collection, as some of the original artwork, with editorial marks in pencil, are included. It might not interest EVERYONE to know how the creation process for a Marvel Comic worked, but for people who are themselves writers or comic artists, this is a fascinating inclusion!)

Why did I bring all that up? Because I want to impress on people how DIFFERENT these stories are to the other Marvel books I’ve read from this era, most of which were drawn by Jack Kirby or Don Heck—things like The Fantastic Four and The Avengers. Ditko’s entire MOOD is different from those other guys… And I’m not sure exactly how much I liked it. I mean, this is DEFINITELY where we get Spider-Man, and it’s surprising how fully formed he seemed to be as soon as he popped into existence. Within these first eleven comics we get a great many of the KEY elements of the Spider-Man universe that we still know today: Aunt May (although she is NOT Marisa Tomei! Aunt May in these stories looks like a skeleton or mummy, like she’s about a hundred years old—and she is SICK a lot; in one dramatic story, she even ends up in the hospital in need of an operation, and Peter Parker has to FAKE some photographs, which seem to suggest that he may be a bad guy, just so he can sell them to The Daily Bugle and help pay for Aunt May’s medical expenses!) Speaking of The Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, millionaire owner of that prestigious paper, arrives in issue #1 of The Amazing Spider-Man, and he HATES the web-head, right out of the gate.

Also appearing in these first few books are some of Spider-Man’s greatest foes. In these pages we find Flash Thompson (the school bully and primary rival for all of Peter Parker’s early romantic interests), the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, Electro, and the Human Torch (from The Fantastic Four, who is also a teenager, and therefore has a serious rivalry with Spider-Man, especially because Spidey sees the Torch driving around in fancy cars and dating attractive women, while he is poor, nerdy, can’t really get a date, and lives with his doddering old aunt—and not in a fancy penthouse!) That’s a pretty significant number of well-known villains to show up in fewer than a dozen books! Ditko and Lee knew how to create quirky characters, and they were on FIRE with these early Spider-Man stories…

Now here’s where we get to the parts that I didn’t enjoy as much. First off, these stories are often depressing—and MEAN. Have you ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon and thought, “GAWD! Why are they so awful to poor Charlie Brown? All he wants is for people to like him!” Well, that’s not what’s going on here. I mean, the kids at school definitely pick on Peter Parker—but he’s kind of a jerk. Peter is quick to anger, vindictive, and says some terrible, hurtful things. He’s known as a smart-ass to most of us who like Spider-Man as a character, a quick-witted jokester who is almost always portrayed making snarky comments while he’s engaged in his various battles, but he is ALSO usually kind and…well…“good.” The Peter Parker in these early stories, however, is constantly hitting on girls, yelling nasty things at Flash Thompson, faking various photos to sell to make money, and even, in one particularly unpleasant moment, he considers letting Flash Thompson die at the hands of Doctor Doom, just so he doesn’t have to deal with Thompson anymore. The look on Peter’s face as he’s thinking about this is genuinely disturbing. He contemplates, “What a break for me! The FF will never agree to Doom’s terms, so all I have to do is keep out of it, and Flash Thompson will never bother Peter Parker again! Things are finally going my way!” Eventually, he decides to do the right thing and save his high school rival, but…. Can you imagine Tom Holland’s Spider-Man even contemplating such a horrible possibility—let alone grinning from ear-to-ear while doing it!? Nope. We think of Spidey as a good guy now—but this original version can be pretty nasty. Not ALWAYS, but frequently enough that it made me uncomfortable.

[From issue #5]

Another complaint that I have, and this one might just be my personal bias, is that the “EVIL VILLAINS” here (with the exception of Doctor Doom, who isn’t technically a Spider-Man nemesis) are fairly petty. Sandman, Electo, the Vulture, and a few lesser lights are all, truthfully, just crooks with gimmicks—robbing and stealing. Simple motives—not much narrative interest for me. The Lizard and Dr. Octopus are a bit more complex, falling more into the “take-over-the-world” mold, which is marginally more entertaining—and one story, which probably seemed like hard science-fiction at the time, involves a robotic computer, called the Living Brain, which threatened not only to reveal Spider-Man’s true identity to the world (utilizing its complex logic circuits to discover who he really was) but also tried to murder all of the kids at Peter Parker’s high school when an attempt to steal the Living Brain went bad, and the crooks accidentally activate the machine’s defenses—wildly swinging metal fists!

Overall, the stories here are pretty standard comic book affair, I THINK, although to be honest, I’m not sure EXACTLY what the comic landscape was like in 1962! (I wasn’t even born until 1972!) From what I’ve heard (from Stan Lee and others, in documentaries like Comic Book Confidential), people liked Marvel Comics at the time because of the HUMAN elements of the tales. The fact that Peter Parker was picked on, that he had money troubles, that his aunt could become ill and need medical attention, that things didn’t always go Peter’s way (hardly EVER)—these types of “real life” plot elements supposedly hadn’t been in comics before. These tales were more relatable than Superman, the impossibly strong, flying alien—or Batman, the millionaire playboy detective, who could build any gadget or machine he needed. Parker is always broke, and his web shooters, although still basically magical, (especially in these early stories where he can make everything from snow shoes to parachutes out of webbing,) they DO sometimes run out of fluid leaving him in dire situations. As hard as it may be to believe today, Marvel Comics were more REALISTIC than the competition was (!!!), and people really responded to this new STYLE of comic storytelling.

I would definitely say that these are IMPORTANT stories, and that what Ditko and Lee created with these first few Spider-Man comics DID have a massive, lasting impact on popular culture. For this reason alone, it’s probably worth reading this book, just to see how it all began. Ditko’s art is janky and weird, and the faces and figures he drew can be both terrifying and humorous, and I enjoy that weirdness. For the artwork alone, this book is probably worth the price of admission, even if the stories didn’t really appeal to me as much as some of the other books I’ve read from this era. It’s completely possible that these WERE exciting tales when they first appeared, but that the plots have been told and retold so many times that they’ve lost their initial GLOW. I’m willing to admit that. These stories were also Comic Code Authority approved, so there’s nothing in here that’s going to be offensive to ANYONE (even though Peter is a bit of a creeper, when it comes to women. He’s desperate for a date, until maybe issue 7 or 8 when he sparks up a romance with J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary!) So, historically and culturally, this is important work—but personally, I’m more of a horror / weirdo / cosmic nonsense fan—unless the story I’m reading is SERIOUSLY FUNNY. I’ll read just about anything if it makes me laugh!

[From issue #10]

Alright. Enough from me. Go read a damn book…

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

[P.S. – This post originally appeared on my Steemit blog on 16 Sept. 2019!]



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