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Dress in White, One Said with Quotations

So, for the sake of experimentation, I saw a copy of Eerie #103 for sale on eBay for under $4 from a local seller, so I bought it and had it shipped to me. It's been sitting in an envelope for the past week, and having taken the day off because I'm getting a cold and can't afford more than 24 hours' down-time, I pulled it out and read it.

I had a copy of this magazine when I was 11. It completely fascinated me for some reason. It's probably one of the reasons that I am still into genre fiction and recognize it as on par with literary fiction. Which is also to say that the literary fiction I like (Pamuk, Hoban, Eco, for ex.) is pretty much speculative fiction anyway.

Reading it, I find that I'm not able to divorce myself from how I look at genre nowadays. I did not get involved in genre fiction until 2007, and only really started to watch what was going on in the community after 2009, so I thought looking at this magazine would be an interesting exercise in self- and genre- discovery. What I found out instead is that everything everybody complains about in genre fiction is well represented in this volume. Flat characters, male viewpoint, vapid or barbarian women, inaccurate cultural portrayals, and very thin plot. All of that has changed drastically, and even if you're of the opinion that it hasn't changed enough, the difference is incotrovertably huge.

But I also notice that the business side of things hasn't changed AT ALL. It's still about ignoring the artist for the subject-matter, and about merchanizing. Huge amounts of it. But there's also an essay about the history of comics, which I found enlightening, if probably not 100% factual. Anyway, here are my as-I-read-it notes:

  • It's fatter than I remember
  • Don't remember any of the star-wars themed toys advertised on the back and the inside
  • Thought the dark shape behind the "king" creature was wings
  • Thought the head being eaten was a person in a hole coming out of the ground.
  • I notice I'm now reading the names to see who the contributors are. I recognize none.
  • I can see why the first story had no appeal. It was disjointed and politically naive, with the standard trope that a man with his fists can go up against an ideological struggle and win. And by win, I mean "get the girl".
  • But I also notice that the only frame that rings a bell was the one of the "girl", huddled in a corner of the abandoned spaceship, looking lost and folorn in her spacesuit.
  • The girl in this case is an adult who exhibits all sorts of childhood aspects, apparently due to trauma, but there are no instances of mature women to compare her to. She even sucks her thumb as he relates off-screen discussion, for our benefit, the trauma she's endured. This, I believe, is to draw out his instinct for protection of the young.
  • In the end, he sacrifices his life for her, but in true comic-book fashion, he's saved at the last minute by some kind of anarchist who wages war on communist and capitalist alike. Who is now dying, leaving his ship to our hero. Who is soon to be re-united with Ms. Vacuous.
  • I don't remember the very interesting essay on the history of comic books, from the perspective of Max Gaines and his son. I didn't know that Action comics' creator's son created Mad magazine. Wow!
  • Then a page of ads for SFF posters. Most of which are Boris Vallejo creations. The artists' names are not mentioned at all. Some of them, "The Golden Amazon", "The Green Brain", "The Scarlet Demon", "Children of Tomorrow", are quite well known.
  • The next story, about humanity being split between winged vampire creatures and stumbling troglodytes, I remember a little better. I remember even then wondering where a race dressed in rat-skins finds fine glass bowls to put their illuminating glow-fish in. Now, I also wonder why everyone's hair is so well trimmed.
  • I also notice the lift of the heroine's breasts a bit better now, but the part I really remember is the ironic smile captured on one character's face. It spoke of deceit and manipulation back then, and even moreso now.
  • The "girl" in this case is a "strong female lead" in that she is willing to fight for her friend when he's down, and wants to take revenge personally on the villain when he is defeated. It makes me realize that I've always had a problem with this kind of character, not because the are un-feminine, but because they move from Ms. Vapid to Ms. Vengeful. They are the teen-hero with tits, but nothing beyond that.
  • And true to both the Ms. Vapid and Ms. Vengeful stereotypes, our heroine doesn't bother even telling her mother that she's leaving the caves, but wanders out into the world with Mr. deceitful. Who turns out to not be deceitful after all. The punchline, "men never had wings" is supposed to be liberating, since it allows her to disavow any kindship with the vampire-like creatures they have shared the cave with.
  • With the next story, we have the female-in-trouble again. This time, she is protected by psychpathic brothers and living in a mansion in the bayou, but its a kind of prison where the wealthy retreated to during some sort of anti-wealth riots during the 80s. The hero looks like a young Martin Landau and the "girl" looks like a pre-anorexic Karen Carpenter. Hubby shows up and doesn't want to be told about his child's deformities or his own terminal cancer. I remember parts of it, but I don't remember where it was going, because there's actually very little story there and the hero is not sympathetic in any way.
  • The next story I remember very well. It is set in "fuedal Japan". It begins with the hero explaining that he was sent to meet a priest (buddhist priest?) called Do-Shin (!) at the Rashomon (!) gate. Apparently, he is pulling a 300-lb bow. Which seems to be made of slender bamboo. And firing arrows of solid iron. Naturally, they are set upon by ninjas (!) whom they quickly dispatch. A manoever of the master ninja is called "dragon sacrificing his own wing" (!). Then they go chant sanskrit (!) dirges for the burial of the dead. During which, our hero is drugged via smoke which is either black lotus (!) or opium from the "golden triangle" (!—in 17th century Japan, no less!)
  • There is an interesting premise at this point, which is the part of the story I really do remember. Our hero (who has suddenly started looking like Bruce Lee) is imprisoned, allowed to eat a bowl of rice for every ten books from (get this) the secret Shao-Lin temple library, all of which were written by Lao Tzu, Confucius, or Boddidharma. He may drink a flask of water whenever he solves ten complicated wooden puzzles designed by Satoshi Hirota (?). Our hero practices martial arts as well during his confinement. After four years of not getting scurvy, he emerges, and is posed a question. Now, assuming he was reading a ten minor works every day to earn his bowl of rice, he would have finished 14,650 volumes of literature by those particular philosophers, who, I believe, wrote about 20 volumes between them. At best. But he's chosen to choose between six treasures to take as a token to a particular temple which he answers by cutting off his captor's head and taking that instead. Which was a pretty good story element. In a morass of very bad orientalism. The story continues in the next volume. Not for me, though.
  • Finally, we get to the story that most captured my imagination. Merlin and two young followers are in a castle, which is being beseiged by millions upon millions of what look like flayed rabbit-creatures with long fangs. Covering themselves in the blood of one of them, they pass unnoticed through the herd, until they arrive at the flayed-rabbit-termite-queen's pavilion, there to murder her before she can warn her massive flock that they are headed off a cliff. End story. I believe I read that story over a 100 times. I don't know why it was so compelling, but there you go.
  • Following that was forteen pages of advertisements for fan stuff:
    1. Art books of Jose Ortiz, Boris Vallejo, the Brothers Hildenbrandt, Esteban Maroto, Franzetta,
    2. Episodes of Ariel, Vampirella, Eerie, and Weird,
    3. Buck Rogers toys and figurines,
    4. film-novels of classic horror films (Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman),
    5. a reprint of all the Conan books,
    6. two whole pages of everything Star Wars from pendants and watches, to action figures, to models,
    7. back issues of Eerie going back to the 60s,
    8. Lord of the Rings (the animated movie) buttons,
    9. Doctor Who paperbacks,
    10. Planet of the Apes in 8mm film,
    11. Sinbad films in 8mm,
    12. a weird T-shirt "I'll eat anything",
    13. "Shogun warriors" (early post-ultraman japanese giant robot figurines),
    14. Superman movie merchandise,
    15. The ubiquitous latex mask collection,
    16. Battlestar Galactica merchandise,
    17. Star-wars merchandise of the cloth variety (t-shirts, sheets, electric tooth-brush, beach towels),
    18. Close Encounters of the Third Kind coloring books, puzzles, and pen set, plus an 7" glowing alien bendy-figure.

Which shows you how much the Internet has made this latter part of fandom so much easier, but also flatter.

So, 33 years since it came out and 30 years since I read it last. There you go.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
asakiyume
Aug. 30th, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)
That Japan!themed story was making me laugh out loud. What a lovely bouquet of exclamation points.
barry_king
Aug. 30th, 2012 04:19 pm (UTC)
I've got to say I was having trouble understanding the concept of "cultural appropriation" as it is currently used until I saw that one. Now I see the trees for the forest!
lnhammer
Aug. 30th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
And have heard the sound of one hand clapping?

---L.
barry_king
Aug. 30th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
Yes. Slap one hand to the side of the face, half covering the mouth. Blow.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )