Monday, May 29, 2017

Author: The JT LeRoy Story: Why are leftists so gullible?

The documentary Author: The JT LeRoy story has a promising premise, and it starts out strong, with a seemingly dazed Winona Ryder bragging to a crowd of appreciative sycophants about her deep and meaningful friendship with the author JT LeRoy. We’re primed to see a story of gullible celebs being beclowned by a hoax—and, hopefully, of finding out just what it was about JT LeRoy’s ridiculous story that they fell in love with so hard. 

Alas, the movie scrupulously avoids examining what was so enticing about JT LeRoy to the celebrities that championed him. Instead, the film is all surface, depending largely on JT’s inventor to tell of the mechanics of the story, and on the recordings that she made of the phone calls during which she spoke to the celebrities, authors, and doctors she duped.

Bono giving the "okay" symbol, which apparently means he's a white supremacist or something--I read that on some leftist websites so it must be true, right? I mean, it's not a hoax.

LeRoy’s story is exceptionally lurid, and it seems engineered to appeal to the prurient interests and prejudices of leftists: He was transgender, and had contracted HIV, apparently from being raped by one of his mother’s multiple, abusive boyfriends. His mother was one hell of a piece of work, a trashy stripper traveling with him throughout the south, pimping him out at truck stops. He made his escape to San Francisco where, a heroin addict, he survived by pimping himself out. JT began writing stories about his alleged abuse at the behest of a psychiatrist called Dr. Terrence Owens. Those stories formed the basis of the pretentiously titled The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Here’s an overview from an approving Telegraph profile in 2005:

The stories are written in a crude, repetitive, blank style. In the past he has described them as being like journal entries. They were 'going into the unconscious,' he says now, 'sorting everything out'. The narrative is one of relentless abuse, of a small boy taken away from caring foster parents by his speed-addled teenage mother who tortures him psychologically and physically, leaves him with a series of violent boyfriends, and passes him off as a girl because it makes her thieving and prostitution easier. 

He is first raped at the age of five, is briefly subjected to a life of Christian fundamentalism by his grandparents, becomes a transvestite hustler before he reaches puberty, and has the end of his penis burnt by his mother with a car cigarette lighter.
He eventually comes sadomasochistically to crave beatings as an eroticised form of the only attention his mother used to show him. 

The last story in the book - actually the first he wrote when he went into therapy - describes him paying a biker to beat him up and slash his genitals with a switchblade.

What made JT LeRoy’s story so seductive is that it played into the provincial, prejudiced preconceptions of the mostly liberal and leftist celebrities who championed him. It hits all the liberal sweet spots, from religious (Christian, that is) fundamentalism to white-trash desperation. What Ryder was basking in in the clip at the beginning of the film was her own incandescent virtue signaling. LeRoy wasn’t an author, not even to the celebrities who thought he actually was an author—he was a concept that allowed celebrities to feel above the flyover rubes living in the desperate hellholes that result from unenlightened thinking.

LeRoy was the invention of a woman called Laura Albert, who, apparently, used prank calling child abuse hotlines and recording the results as her creative outlet. That was how she began communicating with Dr. Owens, who encouraged “Terminator” or “Jeremiah” (I can’t remember which name she was using at the time) to write out all of the horrible stories that he was hearing from her/him. As therapy. Albert was working as a phone sex operator at the time (“LeRoy,” she says in the documentary, came from one of her phone sex regulars) and so I suppose she had nothing better to do than to escalate her deception and waste even more time of people dedicated to helping child sex abuse victims.

The stories that “Terminator” wrote ended up in the hands of exactly the right authors and editors, and one story appeared in a collection, from which LeRoy managed to get a book deal. And how could he not, with stories written in a “crude, repetitive, blank style.” That’s what editors are looking for! (In fairness, Fifty Shades of Gray was written in a “crude, repetitive, blank style.” It’s also all about abuse. Something to think about.)

It’s telling that Albert was living in San Francisco when she first concocted LeRoy. That is perhaps the most provincial, closed-minded, hateful city in America. LeRoy’s story plays like a satire of a leftist’s idea of middle America. The “surprising” election of Donald Trump has only served to heighten leftist’s bigotry toward those with different beliefs. JT LeRoy’s story could have served as a jumping-off point for an examination of what it is that makes leftists so narrow-minded and susceptible to hoaxes like JT LeRoy, that other massive literary hoax the UVA rape story, the alleged epidemic of “hate crimes,” and the currently fashionable but utterly demented conspiracy theory that Trump colluded with Russians to somehow “hack” the election.

Winona Ryder, basically giving herself a kiss.

Instead, Author: The JT LeRoy Story seems to have been engineered to prevent any deeper examination, and to formally excuse Albert’s deception. The film is structured in such a way that toward the end Albert alleges that she herself was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She claims that this abuse caused an eating disorder (she was overweight for a great deal of her life, until getting gastric bypass surgery just as LeRoy was hitting it big). But, of course, this is the same woman who cynically invented an alternate persona that just happened to hit every liberal sweet spot—there’s absolutely no reason why we should believe her new stories of sexual abuse causing an eating disorder. Which is, itself, another popular liberal trope from the era in which Albert grew up. 

That’s another potentially interesting subject—as the “body positivity” movement has ascended in liberal and leftist circles, what’s happened to the “sexual abuse caused me to over-eat to make myself less attractive to my abuser” movement that was so popular when I was in college?

Albert is a fabulist, and not a particularly interesting one. She simply parrots leftist talking points back to leftists. How are we to be sure that this documentary isn’t just another layer of deception. It’s possible that someone with greater insight into human frailty—someone like, say, Todd Solondz—could have done something with this material. As it is, the director of the film doesn’t really try all that hard. In fact, he admits to making propaganda:

Could the new documentary be seen as Albert’s attempt to regain control of her own narrative? It is framed as a cards-on-the-table confessional, but if nothing else, Albert has proved herself a notoriously unreliable narrator. “This is her version of events,” says [director Jeff] Feuerzeig, although he alone decided what went into the film, he adds. “And yes, as you hear in the film, there’s a mosaic of responses. Some people are outraged, some think it’s the greatest thing since sliced cheese, and all of their responses are valid. The film doesn’t seek to moralise or judge.”

That's right; the movie doesn't moralize or judge--it indulges. It enables a peculiar pathology, and makes Albert, a horrifyingly dishonest and manipulative person, into a victim/hero, without in any way examining the implications of how she managed to get away with what she did.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hulu's "Batman & Bill" documentary-- more #BigFinger propaganda

Bob Kane lived the high life after "creating" Batman. Bill Finger died alone in diminished circumstances. It's an exceptionally sad and unfair story. 

Hulu’s “Batman & Bill” documentary opens with the author Marc Tyler Nobleman speaking to a group of children, spreading propaganda. Allegedly telling the whole story and correcting history, but in fact re-writing it to for his own aggrandizement.

Ostensibly about one of Batman’s “co-creators,” “Batman & Bill” ends up being a monument to the nobility, passion, and heroism of Nobleman himself. The David taking on the Time/Warner Goliath for the most noble of reasons—simply to gain creator credit for an unjustly forgotten visionary. If you don’t believe that Nobleman isn’t a noble man, don’t worry—his own wife interviews that he’s a “persistent” “detective” who is a “very brave person.” And: “He’s also very righteous and he wants to do right in the world.” Nobleman himself says that getting credit for Finger was part of a “higher moral obligation.” 

What starts this noble man on his quest is his desire to write a book about Finger and the creation of Batman. Before he gets started people tell him that there’s just not enough material there. But he knows different, and it’s not long before Nobleman is “uncovering a big superhero secret that should have been blown wide decades ago.”

He confides that “I had a couple of people who told me that ‘What you are trying to do will never happen.’” And while he’s relating that particular bit of information the on-screen animation shows Nobleman putting on a dark trench coat, then walking out of his house as he casts a shadow on the walkway before him. That shadow—and I am not making this up—has pointy bat-ears. This is because Nobleman sees himself as a Batman figure: “The parallel was not lost on me [of course it wasn’t!] that Bill made Batman a detective, and I was a detective in search of Bill’s legacy…” He says that his quest “became addictive.” 

Nobleman shows us some home movies in which he asks his daughter What’s my job? “Bill Finger,” she replies. What do I do? he continues. “Bill Finger” is her answer. It’s meant to be a cutesy-poo moment but it’s actually a biting commentary on Nobleman’s seemingly blind monomania. (At one point he’s shown harassing Batman cosplayers at San Diego Comic Con. “Do you know who Bill Finger is?” he badgers them. It would have been nice if one of them had asked him, “Do you know who Theodore Tinsley is?”) “Bill Finger” was, in fact, his job. “Bill Finger” made Nobleman a noble man. “There has to be someone who stands up and leads the charge,” he says at another point. Nobleman is just that rare and singular person. 

Nobleman actually comes across as self-aggrandizing, vainglorious, and grandiose as Bob Kane. And Bob Kane comes off very, very badly indeed. It’s difficult to like Kane, to be honest. He owned and ran the studio that produced the original Batman stories for National Comics, but his actual participation in the creation of those stories was—well, it wasn’t as singular as his single credit byline would have you believe. He was just part of a group that put those comics packages together. He had the sense and wherewithal to negotiate with National directly, but in fact what Kane did at his studio wasn’t particularly unusual. Almost every studio that was producing work for publishers in that era was bylined by a single creator, if in fact it had a byline at all. The difference is that most of the characters produced by those studios went nowhere. National, which would later become DC, was able to exploit the Intellectual Property to build it into the inescapable juggernaut that it is today.

The Shadow isn't mentioned once in "Batman & Bill." I wonder why?

The story is, roughly, that Kane either on his own initiative or at the behest of National Comics was inspired to create a new superhero, because Siegel and Shuster were making $800 a week from Superman. In 1939 that was big money. So Kane drew a picture of a man in red long underwear, a domino mask, and batwings. Kane either originally called this guy “Bird-Man,” or he actually wrote “Bat-Man” on it. He showed the image to Finger, an employee of Kane’s studio, who suggested Kane change the wings to a scalloped cape, make the long underwear darker, and give him a cowl with bat-ears on it. Kane took the revised drawing to National and made a deal to produce comics featuring the character, which National would publish.

The film suggests that there was no formal written agreement between Kane and Finger regarding the character “Bat-Man,” or the writing work that Finger did on the character. This is important because Finger’s heirs were able to use this as leverage to suggest that Time/Warner might not have ANY claim on the character. During this section of the film the cover of a copy of the 1976 Copyright Act appears—it would have been nice to get some clarification as to why and how a law passed in 1976 would have any bearing on events from 1939. But then again, this documentary isn’t about imparting any real information. It’s about chronicling the efforts of a noble man. That said, I have written extensively about copyright law as it pertains to comics, to Superman in particular, so feel free to read my past work on the subject for far more information than you’ll get from the documentary.

“Bat-Man” appears in Detective Comics #27, cover dated May 1939, in a story called “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” That story was written by Bill Finger, and illustrated by Bob Kane. Actually, it was swiped by Bill Finger. It was in fact nothing more than a re-writing of a Shadow novel originally published in 1936 called “Partners of Peril.” I’ve already documented some of Bill Finger’s extensive creative swiping. You can read about the actual origins of the cowl, the scalloped gloves, the utility belt, the Joker, Two-Face, the Batmobile, the Batcave, the parents-shot-by-a-street-tough-while-leaving-a-theater origin story, and so on there.

None of this information appears in “Batman & Bill.” The pulp magazines that let’s say “inspired” Bill Finger get not a single mention. The viewer is led to believe that Finger, an avid pulp magazine reader, simply came up with all of his contributions out of thin air. There is absolutely no context whatsoever given to Batman’s “creation” story. This is a glaring omission that assumes that the history of Batman starts in 1939 and casts Finger in borrowed robes. He was obviously a talented guy, but there were precedents for just about everything that Finger contributed to Batman. Precedents that are so remarkably similar that it’s very, very difficult to believe that Finger didn’t swipe them.

That said, Kane fights hard to assume all the credit for Batman’s “creation” on his own. When Finger appears at a comic book convention in the 1960s and Jerry Robinson, who worked in Kane’s studio at the time of Bat-Man’s creation, points out in a fanzine that Finger deserved some credit in Batman’s creation, Kane pens a self-serving editorial in another fanzine, essentially giving himself sole credit. It also appears that Kane might have attempted to buttress his story of being solely responsible for Bat-Man’s creation by scribbling a character with a scalloped cape, a cowl with bat-ears, and a bat-symbol on his chest, and dating it “1/17/1934.”

Who knows? Maybe it’s authentic. Pulp adventure magazines were selling hundreds of thousands of copies a month—maybe Kane was inspired by them the way Finger was, years later.

Kane also has a painfully self-aggrandizing headstone made—it’s almost the Hulu documentary of headstones, casting its subject as an exceptionally noble man.

As Nobleman says of Kane, “He had a chance to take the high road or…the low road. And he took the VERY LOW road.” Luckily, detective Nobleman is on the case. For a detective, however, he seems to be exceptionally uncurious about Finger’s inspirations. Also, strangely, in 2007, when he learns of the existence of Bill Finger’s granddaughter, it doesn’t occur to him to search Myspace for her. And it’s not entirely clear why it was so hard to track her and her father down when Finger’s family had made an effort to get Finger credit around the time of Tim Burton’s original 1989 film. But, again, this movie isn’t particularly about imparting information. 

(Actually, the parts about Finger's son and granddaughter are kind of touching, and the documentary wisely moves away from Nobleman for at least part of that. But it still can't help itself, and ends with a bit in which Nobleman goes to the movies to see Batman V Superman and gets a little misty-eyed when he sees that "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger" credit on the big screen. We don't get his reaction to the rest of that cinematic classic, however.)

Nobleman’s book about Finger is published, which leads to a TED Talk, an interview on NPR, and an appearance on Kevin Smith’s podcast. All of which contribute to “raising an army… a groundswell of support.” He’s growing the #BigFinger movement. For too long there’s been a myth of Bob Kane! The only way to correct it is to construct a myth of Bill Finger!

And that’s what this movie is really about.

Finger clearly deserves at least as much credit as Kane for Batman’s creation. But the story is a lot more complex than this shallow and inadvertently amusing film makes it appear. Some acknowledgement of Finger’s “inspiration” would have been welcome. But it would open up some very thorny questions about the nature of creativity, inspiration, and plagiarism. For instance, shouldn’t Shadow writer Theodore Tinsley get a credit as well, considering he’s the author of the story that Finger swiped when he put together that first Bat-Man story? Shouldn’t Tinsley get a co-creator credit on the Joker, considering he wrote a “Bulldog” Drummond story about a clown gangster called “the Joker”? 

Most interestingly, how has modern copyright law affected creativity? If a “Bat-Man” were to be created today, would its “creators” be able to actually get away with it, or would the publishers of all the characters that “inspired” it sue? How directly can you lift something that has "inspired" you, and how much do you have to do to "transform" what has inspired you? (As Krusty the Clown once said, "If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you're stealing my bit!")

The documentary notes that Batman is one of the most recognizable "characters" in the world. Nobleman's noble quest has taken him all over, but no matter where he goes, he tells us, everyone knows what "Batman" is. Superheroes are a major part of the culture now, and Batman is one of the biggest, if not the biggest. It has inspired a lot of loyalty. Exploring the real story of it's creation would expose exactly what it is that people are pledging that loyalty to.

Kevin Smith interviews that Batman is “a character that people build their moral compass upon.” Considering that Batman is a piece of corporate Intellectual Property that was cobbled together from scraps that were lifted whole cloth from other, largely forgotten pulp characters whose writers are more forgotten than Finger ever was, it makes you wonder just which direction that compass is pointing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bill Finger-- the plagiarist who "created" Batman

On May 6, Hulu will be debuting a documentary called “Batman and Bill,” created to document writer Bill Finger’s contributions to the Intellectual Property currently known as “Batman.” Someone at a site called Fansided offers this description:

Bob Kane has always been given sole credit, but Finger also had a major hand in creating and co-creating some of the Dark Knight’s most lasting characteristics.

Here’s the trailer:

Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of the book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, can be seen at one point intoning, “Bill Finger was the dominant creative force… of Batman.” At the Television Critic’s Association press tour back in January, Nobleman said,

“Bob Kane’s version of the story had been told for 6 decades…and that was wrong, and I wanted to tell the story from the right perspective.”

He also claims that regarding Batman, “creatively it was 98% Bill.” He goes on to analogize:

“The example I like to give is if you just stop a random grandmother on the street and say name something that you know about Batman, she’ll know something, everyone knows something, and whatever that person says will be a Bill Finger contribution. He was that pervasive in the creation of Batman.”

Well, let’s look at this. Because it’s largely revisionist, ahistorical bullshit.

If the trailer’s any indication, they’re going to liken Finger to a superhero, and Bob Kane, who owned the studio that produced Batman for National Comics, as a villain—a glory hound who took credit for other peoples’ work. And he did sign his name to everything his studio produced, giving the impression that he was the sole auteur behind those comics.

But in fact, Finger himself took credit for other people’s work. He just wasn’t a glory hound. Which I suppose is why he’s seen as such a “hero” today-- who can't sympathize with the boss who takes credit for the work of an underling?

Almost everything that the fictive “random grandmother” referenced above knows about Batman was stolen from other characters. Most notably The Shadow.

I’ve already written about how much the comics stole from the pulp magazines in their early days. Batman, in fact, was one of the worst examples of this institutionalized theft.

In 2007, Nostalgia Ventures published a reprint of Partners of Peril (buy it!), a novel featuring the hero The Shadow. The Shadow appeared in his own pulp magazine, each issue of which contained a novel of varying quality. Most of these novels were written by a man called Walter Gibson. Peril was written by Theodore Tinsley. Tinsley deserves at least as much credit for Batman’s creation as Finger does.

Finger cagily admitted that, “My first [Batman] script was a take-off on a Shadow story.” Which is putting it mildly. Finger lifted Peril whole cloth, taking almost every major story beat and cramming them into six pages.

But what the hell—it’s just one story, right? Actually, Finger did more than just swipe this one story. He stole almost every element he contributed to Batman from other pulp sources.

The Shadow volume that reprints Peril also features three essays discussing the extent of the theft in the “creation” of Batman. In one, “The Shadowy Origins of Batman,” Will Murray quotes Finger as saying, “I was very much influenced by The Shadow and Doc Savage, The Phantom, things of that sort… We discussed Batman’s potential. My idea was to have Batman be a combination of Douglas Fairbanks, Sherlock Holmes, The Shadow, and Doc Savage as well.” In his Foreword, Jerry Robinson, who worked in Kane’s studio, says that “Bill Finger was a devoted fan of ‘Maxwell Grant’ [the house pseudonym for The Shadow’s authors].” Murray quotes Kane as saying, “…Bill had it down pat… He was a pulp reader. As a matter of fact, I read all the pulps that Bill Finger read. He’d give me his magazines and I did read them. I was influenced by Doc Savage and the pulps, to some extent.”

Finger was an avid reader of the pulp magazines of the 1930s—which were soon to lose their cultural dominance. In part because of the influence of the comics.

For years, comics fans have gotten big laughs over the story of Kane’s original conception of the character who would grow to become the Intellectual Property now known as Batman.

The Man of Steel had cornered the market on BLUE tights and BLACK hair, so Kane decided to give his new hero RED tights and BLONDE hair, plus a Phantom-style domino mask.

Mimicking the HAWKMAN characters seen in Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (pictured left and right), Kane would add a pair of mechanical wings, and call his creation... “BIRD-MAN.”

“Red tights and blond hair”? LOL amirite? What a dummy. It’s a good thing Finger was there to, well, to list off a bunch of characteristics of other pulp characters.

Then, as recorded in The Steranko History of Comics, Finger recalls, "I got Webster's Dictionary off the shelf and was hoping they had a drawing of a BAT, and sure enough it did. I said,

'Notice the ears! Why don't we duplicate the ears?' I suggested [Bob] draw what looked like a cowl. I had suggested he bring the nosepiece down and make him mysterious and not show any eyes at all. I didn't like the wings, so I suggested he make a cape and scallop the edges so it would flow out behind him when he ran and would look like bat wings. He didn't have any gloves on. We gave him gloves.”

Finger claims that he turned “Bird-Man” into “Batman,” or actually it’s spelled “Bat-Man” in those early stories. He gave him a cowl and a cape and made the color scheme darker. And he gave him gloves. Not the scalloped gloves, however—in Bat-Man’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 he had a pair of little dress gloves, and then in his second appearance in Detective Comics #28, he went gloveless. The gloves issue is kind of interesting, because it leads into something that Murray mentions in his essay:

“At virtually the same time, a nearly identical hero emerged in a pulp called Black Book Detective. Norman A. Daniels created the black-cloaked crimebuster under the house name ‘G. Wayman Jones.’ Like Batman, the Black Bat wore an ebony hood a long bat-ribbed cloak. ‘There was a lawsuit almost pending,’ Finger recalled. ‘They were ready to sue us and we were ready to sue them. It was just one of those wild coincidences.’ Inexplicably, Batman soon took to wearing the finned gauntlets first worn by the Black Bat.”

There’s a lot of ironic richness in that paragraph. First of all, it’s ironic that Finger, who totally plagiarized Partners of Peril for the first Bat-Man story, would suggest that the Bat-Man gang might sue someone for stealing their ideas.

Second, Murray deliberately obfuscates the timing of the Black Bat’s appearance. “At virtually the same time,” he writes. The “same time” as what? The “creation” of Bat-Man? Bat-Man's first appearance in print?

Wikipedia notes that there was a “first Black Bat” who appeared in pulp magazines (and remember, Finger was an avid pulp magazine fan and reader) between 1933 and 1934. The title of that particular pulp was Black Bat Detective Mysteries. (Interestingly, Wikipedia notes that the great Murray Leinster wrote those stories. I guess if you’re going to swipe, swipe from the best!)

Wikipedia then says that the “second Black Bat” appeared in July 1939. (Actually, Wikipedia isn’t clear on whether that’s the cover date or the date the issue appeared on stands. But it looks like it was the cover date, meaning that it probably appeared three months earlier, so May 1939.) Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 was cover-dated May 1939 and released in March 1939. Which means that the Bat-Man team and the Black Bat team must have been working on their stories simultaneously. Parallel thinking, right? Two independent groups of creative people coming up with remarkably similar ideas at roughly the same time!

Except, there was that “first Black Bat” from six years before.

And get a load of the Black Bat’s origin story:

Tony Quinn was a district attorney until an angry criminal threw acid into his face leaving him blinded and scarred. Quinn vowed revenge and began to train his other senses and his body. He later secretly received an eye transplant from a slain police officer. His new eyes allowed him not only to see, but he now had night vision due to his time spent as a blind man.  
Tony decided to use his new ability to become a costumed hero known as the Black Bat. He carried twin .45s and often would leave a bat shaped scar on his victims. Black Bat used a secret crime lab and drove a heavily modified car. Law officers were against his vigilante activities and tried to deduce his identity. One officer in particular, Captain McGrath, believed Tony and the Black Bat were one and the same and tried to prove it.

That’s essentially the Batman villain Two-Face’s origin story. Two-Face was of course “created” by Finger and Kane. The “secret crime lab” was a “bat cave.” The “heavily modified car” is the Batmobile.

And the Black Bat had those finned gloves. And Will Murray has the audacity to claim that it’s just so “inexplicable” that Batman’s “creators” would steal that element for their own character. This is in the same essay in which Murray notes that Finger stole the “utility belt” from The Shadow, and stole the “Bat-signal” from another pulp character called the Phantom Detective. He also notes that,

“The coincidences did not end there. In the same month Batman was being created, the Phantom Detective battled a Batman-like foe called the Bat in The Yacht Club Murders, dated January 1939. This Bat wore a whalebone-ribbed cloak, face-concealing mask and Shadow-style slouch hat.”

"Dated January 1939" means that it actually appeared on the stands earlier, maybe in November 1938. That’s plenty of time for the Bat-Man “creators” to do their swipe—for Kane to do his “Bird-Man” drawing, and Finger to add his touches—the original source material was probably available for purchase at the very same time!

Yet Murray calls it a “coincidence.” That the fact that Bat-Man would appropriate the Black Bat’s finned gloves was “inexplicable.” In his essay “Spotlight on the Shadow: FORESHADOWING THE BATMAN,” Anthony Tollin makes this “inexplicable” claim:

“While his initial Batman story was lifted from Partners of Peril, Bill Finger quickly developed into one of comics’ most innovative scriptwriters.”

In his Foreword, Robinson also works hard to convince readers that Finger didn’t steal everything he ever wrote:

“I’m astounded to learn how much of Bill’s first Batman script borrowed from that novel [Peril]. Of course, at the time, Bill was just beginning his career, and struggling to shift from humor to adventure strips, just as Bob Kane was with the art. Bill was fast becoming the most inventive scriptwriter in comics, and would soon create Green Lantern with Martin Nodell and Wildcat with Irwin Hansen.”

“Wildcat” was of course another Shadow knock off. And Finger’s original Green Lantern (who was apparently created by Nodell, with Finger being brought in to write scripts after his creation) was the one with the green cape and the red tights who carried a railroad lantern around. His weakness was wood.

You can read those first few years worth of Bat-Man and Green Lantern stories if you like. They’re available in DC Archive editions. There’s also the paperback Batman Chronicles books. You can see how “innovative” they feel to you. Sadly, it’s impossible to know just how much Finger, and all the other Golden Age creators, stole outright from the pulps. The Shadow stories are still being reprinted, as are Doc Savage’s. A few other small outlets are bringing out other pulp material. But it would take a dedicated scholar years to sift through everything to find all the swipes.

But we do know of one more major swipe that Finger and the rest of Kane’s studio committed. The Joker was also cobbled together from other sources. The Shadow volume reprinting Peril also features another Tinsley story, “The Grim Joker,” featuring another pulp character called “Bulldog” Black. In Tollin’s essay, he notes,

“Three years before the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ debuted in Batman #1, police detective Bulldog Black encountered a white-faced crime boss called The Joker in the July 1937 issue of The Whisperer (whose alter ego as Police Commissioner James Gordon was borrowed by Bill Finger for Batman’s police contact).”

Did you just read that? A criminal boss with a white face called THE JOKER appeared in a pulp three years prior to Batman #1, in a magazine that featured a character whose real name was “James Gordon,” which is the name of the Commissioner in Gotham City.

For crying out loud did Bill Finger EVER have an original thought???

Not only that, in March 1939—the very same month that “Bat-Man” debuted in Detective Comics #27—The Shadow Magazine published a story called Death's Harlequin, featuring a villain described as “a living corpse in the costume of a gay Harlequin! With a wide-muzzled gun. And a jeering laugh that made the silence in the room crawl with menace.”

And of course we’ve all seen the still of the great actor Conrad Veidt in the classic film The Man Who Laughs. There’s not a single original element in the Joker.

In his Foreword, Robinson, who’s credited as “Joker-creator” in the bio, notes that,

“Bill Finger was comics’ best writer, but he was a slow, meticulous craftsman who spent lots of time doing research. Artists loved his scripts because he was the most visual writer in the business, and frequently included photo reference with his scripts so we could see exactly what he had in mind.”

Yeah, I’ll bet. It takes a long time to read a story in a pulp magazine and then convert it into thirty-six panels.

One could argue, and I’m sure that many people would, that Finger’s use of those elements was "transformative." Plus, you could argue that the elements that Finger stole from these other characters were each in and of themselves small—even though taken together they add up to one whole stolen piece of Intellectual Property. (Batman is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster, comprised of elements stolen from other characters.)

However, you could also argue that by swiping so much from other characters, Batman hopelessly undermined those other characters. Since his pulp magazine heyday it’s been impossible for The Shadow to gain any real traction. Why read about this dark avenger of the night with his face covered and a long flowing coat when you could read about this masked avenger of the night with a dark costume and a cloak?

In the trailer for the Hulu documentary, Cop Out and Jersey Girl director Kevin Smith, says that there was a lot of reluctance in the comic book industry when it came to correcting the story of Batman’s creation. I think that’s probably true, although not for the reasons that Smith might think.

The full story of Batman’s “creation” would reveal the extent of Finger’s appropriation. Maybe the reason he was so reluctant to put his own name on it, at least at first, was because he knew just how much of "Bat-Man" and his iconography and associated characters he’d stolen.

Then, as the character took off and all the characters from which he’d stolen fell by the cultural wayside, Finger might have wanted some credit. He’d gotten away with stealing—now was the time to get his name out there. But it was too late. Kane’s name was on everything. And this is somehow seen as an “injustice.”

This post took on a much darker tone than I’d originally intended. Artists are influenced by everything they see. They appropriate from a wide range of sources to create something new. This has gone on for millennia. Homer swiped. The Bible is full of swipes. Shakespeare swiped. Rimbaud swiped. Nabokov swiped. I can't think of any comics artist that hasn't swiped. Remix culture and mashups are perfectly valid artistic techniques that have produced some wonderful, enriching material. What frosts me about this movement to turn Finger into some sort of “visionary” “creator” is that it deliberately ignores the fact that almost nothing that he allegedly contributed came from him. “Batman” isn’t a unique character. He’s not even a character, actually—he’s Intellectual Property.

Which brings me to the other aspect of this story that really frosts me. The weaponization of copyright. Thanks to collusion between huge corporate Intellectual Property owners and governments all over the world, the kind of swiping that Finger committed in helping to “create” Batman could never happen today. Artists aren’t free to use elements within the culture in the same way that they have for generations. They aren’t free to appropriate to create transformative works. Try it yourself. “Batman” appeared shortly after the first appearance of a character called “The Bat.” They took that villainous character and made him a hero, and slapped the word “Man” on the end. Try creating a villain called “Batman-Man” today and see how far you get before WB lawyers come calling.

See how far you’d get if you took Batman’s origin and grafted it onto a villain that you yourself “created,” the way Finger and Kane did with Two-Face.

And now, those elements that Finger and Kane swiped are locked into the Intellectual Property known as "Batman." The movement to give Finger his "due" is a distraction from the fact that he, and just about every comics creator of that era, stole almost everything they "created" from the pulps.

It’s shocking just how much of the Golden Age of comics was stolen from the pulps that had appeared just a few years before. Those pulps were seen as ephemera. The comics, too, were looked at in that way, in the early going. They just wanted to churn out stories—they weren’t giving much thought to posterity. But today we’re in a situation where so much of our popular culture is built around comics. Which means that our modern popular culture was stolen. The movement to get “credit” for Bill Finger represents a larger, and extremely depressing flaw in our culture. It’s a way for some to congratulate themselves for their empathy and insight and knowledge (as Nobleman menacingly says above, "I wanted to tell the story from the right perspective"), without fully understanding what’s really happening, and ignoring our history while pretending to celebrate it.

UPDATE 5/3/2017: Razorfist's review of a new Batman/Shadow crossover comic makes some of the same points I did:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cheap Thrills: An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine by Ron Goulart

A few years ago, the great writer and deconstructor Alan Moore said this about modern culture:

“…I found something worrying about the fact that the superhero film audience was now almost entirely composed of adults, men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties who were eagerly lining up to watch characters and situations that had been expressly created to entertain the twelve year-old boys of fifty years ago. I not only feel this is a valid point, I also believe it to be fairly self-evident to any disinterested observer. To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”
Movies and TV are so expensive that going with a “known quantity”—something with decades of fandom goodwill behind it—rather than trying to build a franchise organically goes a long way toward ensuring a return on investment. Then there’s copyright law, which has been weaponized by huge corporations, in conjunction with the government, to protect corporate interests

I believe that we’re living in a very decadent era, and the fact that every other movie and TV show seems to be based around comic book concepts created circa 1940 is, as Moore suggests, extremely worrying. It’s even more worrying when you consider that so much of what was “created” in those early days of the comics was DIRECTLY RIPPED OFF from the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s. Which were themselves highly derivative.

I was thinking about this a lot while reading Ron Goulart’s Cheap Thrills: An Informal History of the Pulp Magazines (reprinted as an Ace paperback under only the subtitle, but with "Magazine" singular). Goulart mentions a couple of times throughout the book that the comics helped to usurp the pulps because their were drawn more than written, allowing the stories to get right to the action as quickly as possible, and to help the reader visualize that action, rather than having to go through hundreds of words of text, and page after page, to get to a single, static illustration. The comics also just outright stole from the pulps. Here’s something from Chapter Six, Doc Savage And His Circle:

“They didn’t think of using him as a comic book hero until 1940 [Doc Savage first appeared in his eponymous pulp magazine in 1933] and by then there was Superman. It’s obvious Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had recognized Doc Savage’s potential much earlier. Dedicated pulp readers, the two young Cleveland boys borrowed considerably from [Lester] Dent’s character for their own super-hero. It isn’t because of coincidence that Superman’s name is Clark Kent and that he was initially billed as the Man of Steel.”

Doc Savage’s first name is Clark. Doc Savage was called The Man of Bronze. Goulart leaves out that Doc Savage had a “Fortress of Solitude” in the Arctic, which is mentioned in his very first adventure.

In original advertising, Doc Savage was actually called "SUPERMAN." Siegel and Shuster weren't even trying.

Then there’s Batman, whose creators shamelessly “borrowed” elements from the Shadow and Zorro (weirdly, Informal History only mentions Johnston McCulley once, and I don’t think he ever mentions his famous creation—although I could be wrong). Both wore dark clothes, they had alter-egos who were wealthy (the Shadow actually had several different alter-egos at first, and Lamont Cranston was only one of them—and wasn’t even intended to be the “real” alter ego to be aviator Kent Allard). They wore capes that masked their faces. But Batman stole even more—for instance, left out of Goulart’s book is the fact that the Shadow had an antagonist called “The Joker,” who dressed as a clown. The Shadow was called “The Knight of Darkness” in his pulp adventures and of course Batman is “The Dark Knight.” Batman’s first appearance is an out-and-out rip-off of a Shadow novel called “Partners of Peril.”

(UPDATE AND CORRECTION 4/26/17: The above paragraph has a glaring error and now that I've actually read Nostalgia Ventures' Partners of Peril reprint I can correct it. The Shadow's clown antagonist was called the Harlequin, and appeared in the issue of The Shadow Magazine that appeared on the stands the same month that Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. That Shadow story was written by Peril author Theodore Tinsley. Tinsley wrote another story featuring a pulp character called "Bulldog" Black called "The Grim Joker," featuring another homicidal clown--a crime boss called "The Joker." See my post Bill Finger--the plagiarist who "created" Batman for more information.)  

As popular narrative shifted from the pulps over to comics it was necessary to retain the archetypes that the pulps were exploiting. In Chapter Two, Heroes For Sale, Goulart points out:

“A good many of the products of popular culture have always been generated by the preoccupations and anxieties of children and adolescents. This means that the mass entertainments of any period will invariably be much concerned with action and identity… As kids move through the precarious territory between childhood and adolescence their absorption with roles and occupations grows. ‘They are sometimes morbidly, often curiously, preoccupied with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are,’ writes Erik Erikson of young people in their later school years, “and with the question of how to connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the ideal prototypes of the day.” Popular entertainment that is going to appeal to youth, then, has to offer both distractions from and simplified solutions to some of the problems involved in getting from ten to twenty. One basic cultural product that offers both action and alternate identity is the fictional hero.”

This ties in neatly with what Moore says in the quote above, and, though it was first published in 1972, it could have just as easily been written last week. In the world of “antifa,” “the pussy hats,” “Russian hackers,” “twenty seven genders,” and “punching Nazis,” we have a popular culture that is dominated by adults obsessed with putting off taking on adult responsibilities in favor of a preoccupation with how they appear in the eyes of others—and in forcing others to see them as they see themselves. Introspection is scary and it’s even unnecessary when you KNOW YOU’RE RIGHT and everyone else is evil. So why face “reality”? Why not create your own? Trump didn’t win the presidential election—in fact, he lost the popular vote because RUSSIAN HACKERS. John Oliver and Samantha Bee told me so.

Also, there’s a new MCU movie opening in a couple of weeks.

In Chapter Three, Soldiers of Fortune, Etc, Goulart introduces us to a writer for a pulp called Adventure magazine, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson:

“Major Nicholson, an ex-Cavalry officer, is the man who played an important part in killing off the pulp magazines. In 1934 the Major, after writing many pulp novelets about army action and an occasional historic yarn about the Borgias, decided to start his own comic book company. No one had as yet made a go of original, not newspaper reprint, comic books. Major Nicholson worked up a format combining pulp plots and action with funny paper directness. He hired out-of-work old-timers and young art students, paid little, and got out a line of magazines… The Major himself went broke and so it was his creditors who carried on with his line and its new titles Action and Detective. There are the comic books that introduced Superman and Batman and drew huge audiences away from the pulp magazine.”

In Chapter Eleven, Super Science, Goulart notes,

“When the rising Superman-DC company decided to expand they hired, significantly, a good part of [Thrilling Wonder Stories editor Leo] Margulies’ staff away from him. Editorial personnel like Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff and staff writers like Alfred Bester and H.L. Gold.”

So the comics, which have provided so much of our modern culture, were originally created by people who graduated from the pulps, and people who ripped off the pulps. (Mort Wesisnger, by the way, was the editor responsible for the 1950s version of Superman, who was a surreal and hilarious character. See the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen and Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane comics for evidence.)

If you look at the bit I quoted from Chapter Three of Goulart, you’ll see a hint of another problem with our current, decadent culture. Major Nicholson is described as “an ex-Cavalry officer.” Indeed, most of the writers of the pulps had colorful, eventful lives full of real adventure. Goulart sketches out the backgrounds of many of them, of working as cowboys, soldiers, laborers, aviators, and so on, before breaking into writing. This is no longer common—many of our most successful writers today came up in academia, and got hired to write out of college. They spend their time on Twitter making snarky political statements in between writing sit-com scenes or comic book stories. They’re not drawing from their own unique experiences—they’re drawing on what they’ve already read, and simply re-writing it.

Re-booting, re-imagining, re-packaging, re-processing, re-cycling, re-configuring existing Intellectual Property.

This is certainly true of Moore, quoted above as being so worried about the state of our culture. He’s absolutely right. He’s also, as I described him, a deconstructor. Everything that he’s most famous for—Watchmen, Killing Joke, Swamp Thing, From Hell, Promethea, Lost Girls—is a “deconstruction”. His League of Extraordinary Gentlemen actually deconstructs pulp heroes in the public domain. Moore is a skilled artist and his work is miles above most peoples’. But he is still very much a theorist. He’s no Jim Tully, that’s for sure!

The entire concept of “adolescence” is fairly recent. When the pulps’ antecedents were born in the 1880s, most people got a few years of schooling, if that, then started at backbreaking, laborious jobs to help the family pay the bills. By the time the pulps were exploding in the 1920s there were people in cities who could afford to put off taking on adult responsibilities. Today we’re in an unprecedented time where kids can “be kids” until they hit their mid-20s, in many cases. And even adults with full-time jobs have, historically speaking, massive amounts of free time. And then, we have record numbers of people not working. And a culture that fetishizes youth. Combine all of these things with the seductive need for movie studios to produce mass entertainments and you get—well, you get 2017 in the United States.

If you’re at all interested in pulp magazines (and why the heck wouldn’t you be?) or if you’re interested in modern pop culture, An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine is must reading. It’s full of fascinating information about the concepts, creators, and publishers who built our modern culture, quite by accident, and often at less than a penny a word. Goulart writes in an easy-going, conversational style.

That style can actually get surprisingly snarky, and even judgmental. Take this for instance from Chapter Twelve, Odds & Ends:

“There is considerable torture carried on in the latter day horror pulps and a great deal of fascination with pain. Deformities, maimings, disembowelings are all presented in explicit, often loving detail. You’ll have to take my word for this, since this is one genre I am refraining from quoting. Various civic pressures, and the  real horror of the new World War put an end to most of the horror pulps by the early ’40’s. Fortunately, unlike what has happened in the case of the relatively literate Weird Tales, none of the material from any of the weird menace pulps has been preserved in books or else where, and the gruesome stuff is now as defunct as a mad doctor at the end of a Dime Mystery novelet.”

That sounds like an angry schoolmarm confiscating verboten reading material circa 1945. Considering that this book features a reminiscence by the great pulp author Bruno Fischer, who got his start writing some genuinely violent and gruesome stories for just such magazines, it’s a little bit hypocritical. Or at least ironic.

And in Chapter Ten, Tarzan and the Barbarians, Goulart quotes at length some awfully violent Robert E. Howard stuff. Just for starters—Goulart quotes a lot of violent action throughout the book, usually approvingly. Goulart’s making a judgment about the quality of the writing or maybe the attitude behind the writing. In his mind, the violence is “celebrated” in a way that he personally finds distasteful.

Also, in Chapter Eight, The Dime Detectives, he runs several excerpts from Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective stories. Which were filled with horrible violence and casual racism. Death is treated like a punchline, and Dan Turner isn’t above tying a woman up and threatening to rape her if he doesn’t get the information he’s looking for. However, Goulart approves of these stories, and doesn’t refrain from quoting them. As he says:

“The first person style Bellem devised for these detective adventures of Dan Turner is so colloquial, flippant, tough and high-speed that Turner comes across as the best parody private eye ever done.”

So the Dan Turner stories, which include over-the-top gunplay, beatings, rape fantasies, and racism come across as “parody.” But the stories from the lesser known “weird” pulps are simply beyond the pale.

This is not to criticize the Dan Turner stories. They’re very amusing—but they are also very much of their time. But that’s kind of the point that Goulart seems to be dismissing here. The “weird” pulps were very much of their time, too. And there’s no reason not to reference them. Goulart almost comes across like a modern SJW, here: Using his position of authority as a scholar to decide what information his readers should have access to. It's a "weird" attitude to take (so to speak), especially so near the end of the book. It leaves a bit of a sour taste behind.

But don’t let that deter you from reading the book, if you’re interested. We’re living through a pulp era, even though the pulps are dead. The remnants are all around us: In the form of movies, video games, comics, and even popular fiction (Jack Reacher is certainly a “pulp hero”, which reminds me: I wrote a parody of the Jock Reacher novels entitled Melee Child: A Jock Scratcher Thriller. It’s available for Kindle and as a paperback, and it is so funny you will laugh and laugh while you read it). An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine is a great jumping-off point if you want to understand our current culture, or if you’re looking for some “new” authors or characters to track down. As it turns out, Doc Savage is still publishing new adventures. The Shadow's are being reprinted.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Case of the Loaded Garter Holster by Ennis Willie

In the Ennis Willie entry in Brian Ritt’s indispensable Paperback Confidential it says that “Willie cranked out twenty-one books between 1961 and 1965, then burned out and stopped writing…” The Case of the Loaded Garter Holster was originally published in 1964, along with six other books (!), with one single book being published in 1965. Meaning that by the time he’d written Loaded Garter Holster, Willie was already an old hand in the pulp game, and it shows.

The Case of the Loaded Garter Holster is some kind of masterpiece. I don’t just mean that in the Renaissance, put-everything-you’ve-got-into-one-work-to-show-off-your-skills sense, but also in the this-is-a-heckuva-fine-piece-of-work sense. It is entertaining and twisty as hell.

The book is the seventh (of eight) to feature Sand, “the man nobody walks on,” who was once a member of an organized crime syndicate. Somehow he managed to extricate himself from the criminal gang, but he has to remain constantly on the move because there are a lot of people who want him dead:

They had told him, Quit the organization and you’ll die, Sand. Nobody gets out. Especially not you. You’re big. You’re slated for the top. You’re tough. Some say you’re maybe the toughest man alive, but you gotta sleep, sometime you gonna need a woman. Quit and the organization will get you Sand. Walk out and you’re a dead man.

Loaded Garter Holster opens with Sand arriving in Miami with an “ugly .45 automatic riding in a snap-draw holster under his left arm.” As soon as he lands, he’s picked up a tail, but he can’t worry about that. He’s there because a young girl of eighteen or nineteen, Carmen, has died, apparently of a drug overdose—and he’s there to find out how she died and to avenge her death.

Sand’s interest in Carmen is personal. Her father saved Sand’s life when a hitman tried to kill him on  beach in Cuba. They killed the girl he was with, instead. But they did get him in the thigh. Sand, losing blood, ends up in the home of a scientist called Dr. Ramon Sanchez, who nurses him back to health. With the revolution in full swing Dr. Sanchez is worried his days might be numbered, so he asks Sand to look out for Carmen should anything happen to him.

Not long after arriving in Miami Sand gets a visit from Virginia Widner, a woman with a very fit body and freckles. To ensure she’s not keeping any secrets from him, Sand instructs her to empty her purse, then remove all her clothes. This she does, of course, and Sand is surprised to see that she keeps a .25 caliber pistol, “In a garter holster, no less!”

Virginia warns Sand to stay out of matters that don’t concern him, although she doesn’t reveal what her own interest in Carmen’s death. Sand doesn’t listen to her and starts his investigation. First it leads him to a man called Jack Cristy (sometimes spelled “Christy”), whom he finds on a boat with a young Cuban girl. Sand kicks the crud out of him.

Cristy was a bad boy. He liked to flash his pretty teeth and flex his muscles for the girls. And when he got mad he liked to break things. Right now he was pretty mad.

He came off the couch with a roar, his head lowered and his shoulders bunched under his T-shirt. He charged like a bull, with his eyes closed. He was a bad boy, but he was stupid.

Sand took his time and kicked him in the face. There was the smack of leather against meat, and then a thump as Muscle-boy’s fanny hit the floor.

Cristy tells Sand where to find Carmen’s ex, a guy called Greggory Brooks. This sends him up to Atlanta, and Sand detours to the apartment building where Carmen had had a room. He knocks on the Manager’s door and it’s opened by a beautiful blond who’s in the process of zipping up her dress. But: “She got a good look at his face and stopped trying. It was a chemical thing. They affected each other.”

Selina, the woman in the unzipped dress, happens to be the one who found Carmen’s body. She contradicts the idea that Carmen was working as a prostitute to pay for her heroin habit. She tells Sand that she stayed in her room most of the time, seeing very few people because she was apparently afraid of someone, or something.

In the meantime, Sand and Selina are affecting each other:

There was a feeling between them. It filled the room, the entire apartment. It was the thing they had both known immediately, the chemical reaction. They played with it silently and watched it grow.

And grow it does.

The taste of her red lips was real. The pressure of her warm breasts against his chest and the hollow of her sweeping back under his hand… real.

And maddening, because that was the way it was meant to be. This was still the buildup. The surge would come later. the explosion.

“Your face is hard,” she said. “You’re hard all over, every muscle. Are you a very bad man, Sand?”

“Sometimes I am very bad,” he said.

Her lips moved against him. “I don’t care. I want you. I want you so much I’m dying. Save my life, Sand. Squeeze me until I can’t breathe. Crush me! Bruise me! Crumble me into little pieces!”

As the above excerpts show, Willie was adept at writing both hardboiled and sleaze. Loaded Garter Holster is full of bursts of brutal violence and steamy passion. It’s also got some genuinely surprisingly plot twists. Sand meets Carmen’s ex, Greggory, who is a drunken mess after Carmen’s death. Sand begins working with the CIA, who are looking for some of Dr. Sanchez’s papers—documents that they think Carmen might have brought with her to the United States. Sand is also forced to break the heart of a woman who falls in love with him:

“You see all those men back there in the city? Their car’s not paid for and the house they left has a mortgage, but it also has a lawn they mow every weekend and afterwards there’s cold beer from the refrigerator that tastes good and they feel clean. They don’t even know it, but that’s because they’ve never wallowed in filth or sweated cold fear or killed a man before breakfast. That’s the kind of guy you need… A man like me could ruin that for you.”

He didn’t look at her because he didn’t want to see her cry. He knew that was what she was doing, not the loud willing they do when it’s mostly an act, but the gentle flowing of tears that come from somewhere deep inside.

I should also mention that Willie manages to do all this in a breezy one hundred twenty-seven pages, with nice wide margins and fairly large print. There might be 35,000 words to this novel. It’s entirely possible that Willie had more than just artistic considerations in keeping things so spare. First of all, if you’re writing novels of that length, it’s a lot easier to get seven of them done in a year. Second of all, I’ve heard stories that Camerarts, publisher of the Merit Books imprint, was edited by someone with very little consideration for artistic choices.

Camerarts might or might not have (allegedly!) been connected to an organized crime network in some capacity, perhaps as a means of laundering money. And it’s entirely possible that the editor wasn’t much interested in “editing,” and so when he was told to keep books under a certain page count, he would just rip out every page of any manuscript that went over that page count. Meaning that a lot of their books had, shall we say, abrupt endings.

The back page of the book has a Merit Books house ad dedicated to Willie’s books. There were seventeen available, with eye-catching titles like Carnal Madness, Twisted Mistress, Politician’s Playgirl, and So Naked! So Dead! At the top of the page there’s a blurb attributed to “Editor, RASCAL Magazine” (how could I have missed that one?) which states:

Unquestionably one of the top three popular fiction writers on the stands today. His women are voluptuous, earthy creatures whose unrestrained passions make them worthy of his 100% virile heroes. I, personally, read every Ennis Willie book I can get my hands on.

This book was published in 1964, meaning that this editor was putting Willie up there with Ed McBain, Richard Prather, John D. MacDonald, Dan J. Marlowe, Vin Packer, and so on. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case, but if The Case of the Loaded Garter Holster is any indication of Willie’s writing he was certainly a force to be reckoned with. I plan on reading more, tough as that's going to be-- Willie's books aren't widely available. I'm happy to see that at least two "Sand shockers," Sand's Game, and Sand's War, are currently available from Ramble House.