Shrek in the orgone box: William Steig’s misanthropic drawings for Wilhelm Reich

Cartoonist William Steig is beloved, and rightly so. Starting in the 1930s, his thousands of New Yorker panels (and over 100 covers) made him a giant in the cartooning world, and showed him to be an astute observer and renderer of human nature and the consequences of social class conditions (and a gifted ironist, to boot). His late-in-life career detour into children’s books yielded classics like CDB!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and the completely awesome Rotten Island. Then in 1990, he wrote a little 32 page book about an ogre named Shrek, which has been adapted into four massively successful films (so far) and more video game spinoffs than I feel like trying to count. Steig’s gifts were lost to us in 2003, when he died at age 95.

A bit of trivia: Steig was a devotee of the controversial theories of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich, after an apparent encounter with David Lynch’s barber
There is plenty to read online about Reich, both pro and con, so I will not go into great depth here. Reich was a psychotherapy pioneer, an associate of Freud’s in the 1920s, who went on to adopt some extreme positions. He was blindingly obsessed with the importance of orgasmic potency, and advocated levels of sexual permissiveness that alienated many of his contemporaries. Reich’s later career was devoted to the exploration of a cosmic energy that linked physical and mental/emotional health, “discovered” by and apparently detectable only to him, that he dubbed “orgone.” This led to his construction of supposedly therapeutic devices like the “orgone accumulator,” and “orgone cannons” (“cloudbusters”) that he claimed could be used as rainmaking devices. None of these claims have withstood scientific scrutiny, but they still have impassioned devotees.

US government medical authorities, believing Reich to be not misguided, but in fact a fraudster, won legal injunctions against the distribution of orgone accumulators as unlicensed medical devices in 1954. In 1956, Reich was imprisoned for violating that injunction, and, in one of the most notorious and singularly revolting episodes of official censorship in US history, the government supervised the burning of six tons of Reich’s books, devices, and clinical notes. Reich died in prison before he finished serving his two-year sentence, which, combined with the book burning, made a martyr of him among the types of people who think they can build perpetual motion machines in their garages and those knee-jerky “libertarian” paranoiacs who assume that anything that’s been suppressed MUST BE TRUE. However, despite Reich’s pariah status, there are ideas worth discussing in works like The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Function of the Orgasm, among others. The title of his 1936 work The Sexual Revolution was certainly prophetic enough.

Reich and Steig’s works converged in 1949, when, frustrated that his work wasn’t being taken seriously by mainstream science (also a lil’ frustrated that he wasn’t being hailed as a savior of mankind), Reich penned an amazing and engaging screed denouncing the pettiness and stupidity of humanity, called Listen, Little Man! In it, he lambasted humanity for what he, with plentiful justification, saw as an overwhelming laziness in people, who eagerly favored their herd instincts over their greater potential, collaborating in the self-defeating destruction not just of society, but of the species itself, and so become less victim than harbinger. In the wake of WWII (ethnically a Jew, Reich fled Europe in the ‘30s), he saw little in the defeat of the Nazis to convince him that people weren’t just embracing different reasons to goose-step. The book loses some of its potency when you realize that he’s mainly so upset with people because his theories were being rejected, so ultimately you’re reading a self-mythologizing, self-pitying lashing out, a lengthy screed not unlike Bela Lugosi’s famous “I have no home” speech in Bride of the Monster. It’s still a great read if you’re in a misanthropic mood, and it contains wonderful artwork by William Steig.

Steig had skillfully handled this sort of content before, in his own books About People, The Lonely Ones, and Persistent Faces. Inspired by Picasso and Klee, he abandoned the relatively realistic brush-and-ink drawings that shaped his early fame and moved towards a more stark, abstract style, at once loopy and angular, obeisant only to the emotional truth of a character. And his assessments of wayward humanity became more and more brutal and incisive. This work was caricature as revelation. In his introduction to The Lonely Ones the great New Yorker writer Wolcott Gibbs wrote

Mr. Steig offers us a series of impressions of people set off from the rest of the world by certain private obsessions, usually, it seems, by a devotion to some particularly disastrous clichéd thought or behavior. They are not necessarily unhappy. Some of them, in fact, are obviously only too well pleased with themselves…

Righty Reich…

The illustrations in Listen, Little Man! are obviously well within this particular body of Steig’s work, and they constitute some of its most trenchant examples. It seems clear that this style of Steig’s was shaped to a degree by his therapeutic relationship and friendship with Reich—Steig even wrote the preface to Reich’s Children of the Future. Steig’s follow-up to Listen, The Agony in the Kindergarten, was absolutely a Reichian work, in which Steig BLASTED, with breathtakingly powerful pairings of pain-filled drawings and simple captions, the way Western childhood development can be pockmarked or even derailed by adult repression. Which invariably leads to the cultivation of grownups like those in Listen Little Man!, who really are just awful, awful people.









Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Your favorite new publisher for hip, cult, and brilliant works of literature

If, like me, you have sold or lost a favorite book and, no matter how hard you try, cannot find a replacement volume in some second-hand bookshop, dime rack, or yard sale, then you will probably be delighted to hear about Valancourt Books, which publishes a fabulous selection of lost classics, well-loved out-of-print novels, and neglected works of literature.

Valancourt Books are not only saving these authors for another generation, it is publishing books that seriously demand to be read. Let’s take a cue from cult novelist Michael Moorcock, who wrote this about the publishers:

Valancourt Books are fast becoming my favourite publisher.  They have made it their business, with considerable taste and integrity, to put back into print a considerable amount of work which has been in serious need of republication.  Their list has been compiled by editors who know their stuff, bringing back into the light a raft of books I, for one, have been waiting years to read!  If you ever felt there were gaps in your reading experience or are simply frustrated that you can’t find enough good, substantial fiction in the shops or even online, then this is the publisher for you!

Even the Times Literary Supplement got in on the act, stating:

Valancourt Books specializes in new editions of rare and sometimes almost entirely forgotten fiction from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. These are not cheap reprints: the “Classics” range comes annotated with scholarly introductions and, in some cases, contextualizing appendices. […] Valancourt Books is to be lauded for the scope of its ambition. It will spare scholars and the atmosphere many long-distance journeys to university and copyright libraries, and makes available to the lay enthusiast some curious marginalia from the history of the novel.

No mean praise there. And I have certainly found many of my favorite authors here, including John Blackburn, whose novel Broken Boy is a chilling, dark classic. It was truly a shame that Blackburn was all but forgotten until his rediscovery by Valancourt Books. Blackburn wrote such damnably good novels as A Scent of New Mown Hay, and Nothing But the Night, which was made into a rather disappointing film—just read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

But it’s not just thrills; there’s the sadly neglected author David Storey, whose early novel This Sporting Life was filmed by Lindsay Anderson. Storey also wrote plays (In Celebration and Home being the most notable) and several award-winning novels, in particular Pasmore, and the Booker Prize-winning Saville.

We’re just getting started; other writers whose works have been saved from literary limbo include J. B. Priestley, John Braine, Hilda Lewis, Gillian Freeman, Gerald Kersh, Jennifer Dawson, Keith Waterhouse, and Colin Wilson. There’s a wide selection of lost Gothic literature, gay fiction and nonfiction, and a diverse selection of modern novels. Don’t take my word for it—go have a browse, and I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like.
More covers from Valancourt Books, after the jump…..

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Someone is defacing hundreds of copies of Anne Frank’s Diary in Japanese libraries
06:58 am


Anne Frank

Anne Frank

Last month it was discovered that a total of 305 copies of the Japanese translation of The Diary of Anne Frank have been severely defaced—some most likely slashed with a knife, others with entire pages forcefully torn out—in a number of libraries across Tokyo, according to Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan. The affected libraries, of which there are 31, have reported no other acts of vandalism or theft, leading authorities to regard the vandalism as the handiwork of a person or persons with a political motive.
The Diary of Anne Frank
The diary is one of the most moving and inspiring documents of the twentieth century. Anne Frank, of course, was a teenager hiding in Amsterdam with her family to evade detection from the Nazis during World War II. The diary covers the years 1942 through 1944, years during which Frank was 13 to 15 years old. In early 1945 she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In 1947 her diary was published in the Netherlands to widespread acclaim under the title Het Achterhuis (The Annex); the English translation would follow five years later, under the title Diary of a Young Girl, although it is most commonly called simply The Diary of Anne Frank. As one of the best-known testimonies about the Holocaust, it has been widely read in Japan and many other countries.

Officials in Japan have commenced an investigation into the mysterious mutilation of hundreds of copies of the diary as well as other books related to her at public libraries across Tokyo. The motive for the mutilations are likely to reflect Japanese politics more than ordinary anti-Semitism per se. The New York Times made reference to vague conspiracies from the late 1970s incorrectly claiming that the name of the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that delivered the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima meant “Kill the Emperor” in Yiddish. Meanwhile, the election of right-wing politician Shinzo Abe as prime minister in 2012 (he had served in the post for a year spanning 2006 and 2007) has emboldened right-wing groups across Japan.
The Diary of Anne Frank
Some libraries have elected to remove materials relating to Anne Frank off the shelves, which means that a personal request will have to be made with a library employee to read them. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga has expressed disappointment at the damage; “It is extremely regrettable and shameful,” he told reporters. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group, has issued a statement expressing “shock and deep concern” over the vandalism: “Only people imbued with bigotry and hatred would seek to destroy Anne’s historic words of courage, hope and love in the face of impending doom.”

On a more hopeful note, an anonymous donor has already funded the replacement of 100 copies of The Diary of Anne Frank.

via RocketNews24

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Fabulous covers from the ‘Golden Age’ of Lesbian pulp fiction 1935-65
09:02 am


Pulp Fiction

These fabulous pulp covers come from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library‘s collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer materials representing “the fields of history, literature, cultural studies, popular culture, the arts, and design.”

This selection come from the “Golden Age” of lesbian pulp fiction between 1950 and 1965, when several hundred lesbian pulp novels were published and sold in their millions. The covers often mixed lurid and sensationalist images with suggestive tag-lines. Authors were said to have “frequently complained that the illustrations rarely matched plots.”

You can read more about the “Golden Age” of lesbian pulp fiction here.
H/T Retronaut, via Beinecke Library
More lesbian pulp covers, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
I Got You, God: Sonny and Cher pimp The Bible, 1970
09:41 am


TV Guide
Sonny and Cher
The Bible

According to my extensive and laborious research (I Googled it) this ad appeared in the November 28, 1970 issue of TV Guide.

The small print reads:

The people who make music today read the Bible. It’s that kind of book. It can make things work for you. Read the Bible. Find out where all the music is coming from.

And if you don’t have a Bible of your own, we’ll send you one for only a dollar. Hard cover and everything. Just one should do it. The Bible lasts a long time.

Bibles are good for people on bummers, like “Pammie” in Sonny Bono’s preposterously epic “Pammie’s on a Bummer.” He doesn’t even start singing until after three minutes have passed! “Singing” might be too strong of a word, here.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
The Process Church of the Final Judgement: Revelations of an apocalypse cult
04:42 pm


Timothy Wyllie
The Process

Alessandro Papa’s excellent new book, The Process: Archives, Documents, Reflections and Revelations, is an indispensable addition to the small number of publications devoted to the 60s apocalypse cult, The Process Church of the Final Judgement.

When I say small, I refer only to the handful of books—well, three—that includes Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment and Propaganda and the Holy Writ of The Process Church of the Final Judgment, both published by Feral House in recent years, along with William S. Bainbridge’s sociological study of the organization, Satan’s Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult, which came out in 1978. Not a lot.

The Process is the subject of fascination for many people—I’m one of them—because of how dark their theology was, and a desire to understand what caused the well-educated middle class members to join up with such a group in the first place. What weirdos! Although they appeared at first blush to be a Satan-worshipping cult—something Ed Sanders’ lurid Manson book The Family is partially to blame for—this view is very widely off the mark. The Processean tenants sought to harmonize the notion of the Christian eschaton with the carnage the cult’s young adherents had literally been born into, the bombed out ruins of post-WWII Europe. Christ would return and team up with Satan for the final judgement of mankind. After what had just gone down, would this have seemed so incredibly far-fetched? In this sense, the poetic Process theology, most of it coming via the inspired pen of the group’s charismatic leader, Robert DeGrimston, was firmly grounded in Judeo-Christian imagery and the thanatonic impulses of eschatological beliefs in general.

DeGrimston’s “Game of the Gods” described a universe where Lucifer, Satan and Jehovah battle it out on a cosmic chess board where we—and all of history—are just their pawns. This idea of the trio’s endtime “unity” comes from a not-so-esoteric reading of The Book of Revelation. I’m not saying this is exactly the same sort of energy that’s been channeled into the Left Behind book series, but there IS a certain similar impulse at play. Christians LOVE them a little end of the world, right, so how surprising would it be that something like The Process would sprout up in postwar Britain, where the participants were probably all raised as Christians? (This is a very difficult thing to shake, as many of you reading this can no doubt attest to.) That Charles Manson’s prophecy of a coming race war would find inspiration in DeGrimston’s end of the world sermonizing isn’t that surprising, either.

The thing is, I think people who are fascinated by the Process want them to be “darker” than they actually were. Based on the dramatic—indeed the infernal—prose of DeGrimston, they probably expect to find “rites” or Crowleyan sex magick rituals, when the reality was much closer to a “Jesus freak” coffee house with newsletters, folk singers and veggie burgers. Setting aside any “mindfucking” that authoritarian cults tend to engage in, viewed in retrospect, the Processeans actually seem pretty tame, an ascetic, gentle and devotional lot.

Papa’s book makes good use of his extensive collection of Process memorabilia. As the shadowy cult’s narrative history unfolds, he is able to refer to, quote from extensively and even reproduce from the vast amount of literature they produced. In doing so, Papa is able to give his readers an accurate picture of what actually transpired, cleaving the myth from the history and presenting the most objective portrait of The Process yet, even when it can be a little goofy.

The Process: Archives, Documents, Reflections and Revelations has been published in a limited edition of just 555 copies. You can order it from End of Kali-Yuga editions via eBay.

Below, a 2010 interview that I conducted with former Process member and author, Timothy Wylie

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
J. G. Ballard: Undermining bourgeois certainties and ‘Empire of the Sun’
10:15 am


J. G. Ballard

Writing is a very peculiar existence, J. G. Ballard told an audience during an interview for his novel Empire of the Sun, at the ICA London, in 1984.

”Unlike playwrights, composers, sculptors and painters who can go to first nights and gallery openings and alike, the writer never sees his audience. I mean, I have never in my life seen anybody reading one of my books.”

Ballard’s knowledge of his audience came from the letters he received, mainly written by teenage Science Fiction fans. He believed his audience was limited as the reading of such speculative or “imaginative fiction—which is not popular on the whole—is a very solitary business.”

”It’s an extreme fiction made out of extreme metaphors, and I think only people with that taste for extreme solutions are going to be drawn to imaginative fiction. Let’s face it, if Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland were published for the first time now they would meet with rather a mixed response. Imaginative fiction is not popular as a whole, I don’t think.”

Ballard devoted his whole career to imaginative fiction, and was more influenced by the Surrealists than his favorite novelists Graham Greene and William Burroughs.

”I have a great built in hostility towards the realistic social novel because it does tend to accept society as it finds it. I feel it is particularly dangerous in sort of puritanical, northern European countries like this one, where there’s a polite distaste for going too far—for going anywhere at all practically.

“I have devoted my career, for what it’s worth, to undermining the bourgeois certainties wherever I can, and the bourgeois novel is target number one on my list. I see the writer’s role as important but I recognize, and one has got to be a realist, most people prefer cosy certainties of life to permanent revolution, as the Surrealists called it, but that doesn’t discourage me at all.”

Empire of the Sun was the first of Ballard’s fictional autobiographies, loosely based on his childhood experiences as a prisoner-of-war at Lunghua Civilian Assembly in Shanghai during World War II. The novel was his most successful and was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987. In this interview with Matthew Hoffman, Ballard briefly discusses this book, his career as a writer up to 1984, as well as giving his views on America and the rise of China.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
‘Movies R Fun!’: R-rated movies drawn in the style of a children’s book
08:49 am


Josh Cooley

The Graduate
Pixar storyboard artist Josh Cooley‘s new book Movies R Fun!: A Collection of Cinematic Classics for the Pre-(Film) School Cinephile will be available to purchase on March 1.

I’m going to hold out for Cooley’s XXX version children’s book.
The Godfather

Rosemary’s Baby

Léon: The Professional



Blues Brothers
Apocalypse Now

Pan’s Labyrinth

Silence of the Lambs

Via Imgur

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
No More Mister Nice Girl: Maggie Estep, RIP
05:13 pm

Pop Culture

Maggie Estep

Sad to hear that poet-novelist-spoken word performer Maggie Estep has died at the age of 50. According to friends, Estep, an East Village fixture of the 1990s, suffered a massive heart attack on the 9th and died earlier today.

She is probably best remembered for her numerous MTV and Def Poetry Jam appearances and a music video for “Hey Baby” from her 1994 album No More Mister Nice Girl. Estep was the author of Diary of An Emotional Idiot and several “Ruby Murphy” mystery novels.

The East Village Grieve blog reports that Maggie Estep had been living in Upstate New York while working on a new book.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Neil Gaiman, Jesse Jackson and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic read ‘Green Eggs and Ham’

Author Neil Gaiman, known for the Sandman comic book series, the teleplay and novel Neverwhere, and the book and film Coraline, among many other wonderful works, has made an amusing video of himself reading aloud from Dr. SeussGreen Eggs and Ham. There’s probably a rich lode in the notion of Gaiman/Seuss mashups, but this was done for charity:

I promised WORLDBUILDERS that if they made it to $500,000 raised I would read Green Eggs and Ham ob video. They did, so I did. I hope you enjoy it.


It’s fun, but it doesn’t touch Jesse Jackson’s infamous read of the book on Saturday Night Live in 1991:

Another winning contender in the Green Eggs and Ham-off is “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose response to a fan letter asking him to read the book on TV is hilarious:

I will not include Ted Cruz in this roundup. This is Dr. Seuss, we need to keep this dignified and respectful, please.

Via Metafilter

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Page 2 of 45  < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›