I am not that interested in speculation on whether aliens have ever visited the Earth. What I am excited about, however, are all the ways we have imagined them, from the earliest grainy photos of saucer shapes in the sky to the orchestral-minded, big-eyed aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the 1950s and 1960s, UFOs became ubiquitous in the pulp magazines and cheap popular paperbacks. With their lurid cover and claims that “Flying Saucers Have Landed,” these publications would set the popular consciousness afire. They also opened up theories of ever sort as to the origins of UFOs and what role the government might play in covering them up. From the hollow Earth, to Mars, to other dimensions, the UFO myth could contain almost any form of conjecture. Jews? Maybe. Men in black? Most certainly. Spiritual avatars leading us to a new age? Let’s hope so.
“Flying Saucers Are Real” by Jack Womack collects the science fiction author’s personal collection of UFO-related ephemera, and reveals what William Gibson describes in the book’s introduction as the “source code” of the UFO idea that has been programmed into all of us. Womack introduces the popular UFO myth as starting with what is known as the Shaver mystery, the strange tales of Richard Shaver who claimed to have visited the great civilization that lives in the hollows of the earth. Their brethren fled our planet on spaceships, but those left behind—the Dero—seek to kidnap and enslave human beings for the own (usually sexual) means. Read the rest
See sample pages from this book at Wink.
My own initiation into Freemasonry was one of the highlights of my adult life. The marvelous rituals and the delightful imparting of “secrets” are sublime, but they are threaded with a hint of anachronistic camp. In the moment you give over to it completely. This is the true power of theater and pomp. Much of Freemasonry’s ability to elicit this good-natured suspension of disbelief is its varied use of symbol and parable, most of which is part of the very architecture and decor of the lodge.
Like Freemasonry itself, the art and other artifacts that are both standard and unique to each lodge waver between high and low, masterful and kitsch. As Above, So Below by Lynne Adele and Bruce Lee Webb, and lovingly presented by University of Texas Press, collects all the various kinds of fraternal arts, including banners, aprons, paintings, and even magic lantern slides and quilts. The book is not limited to Freemasonry, and offers examples from Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias, among others.
What is made most apparent is how deeply these societies are entangled with folk elements. Images of death and resurrection abound, as do beehives, goats, and of course the all-seeing eye. There is esoteric lore and mystery layered with mystery. As David Byrne says in his foreword to the book, “The obscuring layers are the content.” And yet, the humble often outsider nature of the examples in this book reveal the most startling truth about Freemasons and others secret societies: these are the homegrown fellowships of our ancestors, people looking for fraternity and the warmth of a lodge, often during our country’s most difficult times. Read the rest
Lots of myths have been used as fodder for science fiction and fantasy, and some of the more interesting ones turn the gods into cosmic entities, or extensions of our own humanity. Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, for example, imagines a group of posthuman astronauts who take on the personas of the Hindu pantheon. Then there are comics, such as Jack Kirby’s Asgard, a techno-mystical dimension, where magic and technology are indistinguishable (to butcher Asimov’s famous dictum). One story that has not garnered much favor by writers and artists is the biblical creation story. But they are missing out on a vastly strange and cosmic tale, and when combined with Kabbalistic ideas of how the world was created, you have one of the most far-out psychedelic-inflected tales that, if used right, could do wonders for a science fiction/fantasy story.
The problem is, it would take a pretty weird imagination to know what to do with it. The solution is Jesse Moynihan. Moynihan’s day job is as a writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time, one of the greatest cartoons ever produced (sorry for the hyperbole, but it’s true). In Adventure Time, mythology and pop culture – including some brilliant shout outs to Dungeons & Dragons – are combined into something that is both whimsical and profound. After a few episodes, however, you can begin to see the self-imposed limitations. It is a kid’s show after all. In Moynihans’s own work as a comic writer and artist, his vision is let loose. Read the rest
They had me at Aurora. Nothing so perfectly captures the secret origin of my imagination than the Aurora line of snap-tite models from the 1970s, especially the Prehistoric Scenes and monster models, with optional glow in dark parts. It was the lurid Monster Scene sets, however, that pried open my weird third eye (along with Creature Double Feature on my local UHF station and Famous Monsters of Filmland). These delightfully ghastly models included: Dr. Deadly, the igor-esque mad scientist; The Victim, a busty young woman whose only purpose is to be abducted and experimented on; Frankenstein, the misnamed monster to do Dr. Deadly’s bidding; Vampirella, the might-as-well-be-naked vampire whose role in all this is ambiguous; Gruesome Goodies, a laboratory of Tesla-like machinery, workbench, lab equipment and the requisite skull; The Pain Parlor, which includes an operating table, a skeleton, and inscrutable “pain” machine; The Pendulum, for slicing the Victim in half; and The Hanging Cage, a room of torture that even has hot coals and a tiny pincer. Later sets would include Dracula and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
I was too young to recognize anything here that might have been exploitive or inappropriate for a kid’s model set. Looking back, it’s hard to believe they were ever allowed on the shelves of a toy store. It’s no surprise then that the development of the toys was one part “Let’s do the craziest things we can think of...” and one part “but let’s not get parents upset.” To this end, Aurora worked out a smart business arrangement with James Warren of Warren Publishing who was an expert on how to market monsters to young people while staying away from controversy. Read the rest
My own son will see every superhero movie with me, but no matter how I strategically litter the house with comics, he won’t pick one up.
Imagine a game where Gary Gygax had been possessed by Abdul Alhazred, the fabled author of the Necronomicon. This makes more sense than to believe Cave Evil was crafted by a bunch of game geeks in their basement.
There is still no better vehicle for total domination than the Super Bowl halftime show.
Here is a snapshot of my room in 1979: A box of Warren horror magazines, with assorted outliers such as Psycho and Scream; a stack of Dungeons & Dragons books, including some of the earlier supplements such as Eldritch Wizardry; a shelf displaying various Aurora monster models; a bookshelf holding any number of supernatural and horror short story anthologies; and my beloved but completely dog-eared copy of A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford.
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There has long been a tension between the witch of legend and the modern day practitioner. The former has its origins mainly in polemical Christian ideas and folktales, where the witch is a consort of the devil, brewing wicked and foul smelling potions in a cast-iron pot, and eating children.
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My punk coming of age happened in the early 1980s, and by then the music had morphed into hardcore, with its shaved heads, flannel shirts tied around waists, and a sometimes disheartening snot-nosed machismo.
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In the 1970s, a new wave of bands looked beyond the drugginess of psychedelia to classical music as the true guide. Peter Bebergal explores the occult roots of the prog-rock genre.
It’s impossible to review the Dark Horse Comics collections of Creepy and Eerie without a few fond recollections. In the ’60s and ’70s, my father owned a men’s tailored clothing shop on Moody Street in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was a fine place to hang around as a kid. My dad knew all the other business people in the area and I would spend part of the day visiting nearby stores. It was in Mr. Big’s toy store where I first discovered Aurora models. Their “snap-tite” collection was perfect for the budding model builder, but it was the types of sets that really set my imagination on fire — dinosaurs, Universal Film monsters, and most importantly, the bizarre and sadistic sets that were part of their Monster Scenes line. There was Dr. Deadly and his lab, The Pendulum, and The Hanging Cage. Then there was Vampirella, a fairly X-rated kit, that was really special, because she had her own magazine, Vampirella, which was part of the Warren publications that also included Creepy and Eerie. These magazines became the foundation of my childhood love of fantasy and horror, but somewhere along the way my collection was lost. Rediscovering these magazines in the Dark Horse collections reminds me not only of the ghastly fun these stories were, but just how weird the 1970s really were.
Now up to volume 19 for Creepy (collecting up to issue #93) and volume 16 for Eerie (collecting up to issue #80), Dark Horse has done an outstanding job with these collections, capturing all that was vibrant and exciting of these magazines. Read the rest
Peter Bebergal hasn’t been this impressed with anything bearing the D&D name since he first cracked open the original Player’s Handbook in 1978.
As Dungeons and Dragons became more rulebound and combat-oriented, some players revived older, more expressive forms of the game. But is the Old School Renaissance itself just more nerd fundamentalism?
Oh, those glorious gaming magazines! From Ares, to The General, to The Dragon, the original thrill and excitement of pen 'n' paper gaming is there to be experienced at the Internet Archive and other online haunts.
Some of the best music 2012 sounded a lot like the 1970s, replete with analog synths, occult pretensions, powery pop, ambient landscapes, and heavy guitars. 2012 felt like a dark time, and some of the music here reflects that. Yet in all my favorites of the year there is spring of hope, an urging towards creative extremes that insist no matter the shadows, the human capacity for making glorious noise will prevail.
10. Fresh and Onlys: Long Slow Dance
Like a forgotten nugget from 1979, this pop gem with slight garage and psychedelic undertones offers heartbreak you can dance to. Lush, memorable songs are tightened with smart lyrics. Jangly and whimsical in all the right places, it’s music for people who miss the time when pop on the radio actually rocked.
9. Wymond Miles: Earth Has Doors
The guitarist from Fresh and Onlys also released a full length this year -- Under the Pale Moon -- a fine achievement, but this four song EP is like a hermetic secret finally revealed, a beautifully crafted pop ritual. Miles has tapped into the occult consciousness that has grabbed hold of lot of recent underground and experimental rock, but there is something personal here, something that only Miles knows, but that he willing to open the door just a crack. It’s pretty great stuff. Read the rest
This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark
The Emigrants, by W.G. Sebald
A few days before the news of W.G. Sebald’s sudden death in a car accident in 2000, I had decided I was going to send him a letter. I have written about two letters to authors in my life, and I would do it more often if I thought there was way to go about it that didn’t by design come across as fannish and gushing. But the work of Sebald, particularly his 20th century masterpiece The Emigrants
, had such a profound affect on me, I felt compelled to let him know.
Word of his death was a blow. Sebald was just starting to get the wider recognition he deserved with the publication of Austerlitz, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. I felt as though something important had been taken from the world, something that was essential to helping us understand what it means to be human beings agents of history, and how history works on us. Read the rest