William Price Fox, Jack Davis, Southern Fried

William Price Fox grew up in South Carolina. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he joined the army. “Horrible mistake”, he says in a later story. But he got through that, went on to New York, where he worked as a salesman and hung out with writers. One day, the story goes, a writer for the Village Voice was unable to fill his daily quota of words and got Fox to step in and write his column for him. Fox says that he never knew it was so easy and began writing full time. He was published in Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated (writing about golf), and other slick magazines of the 1950s and 60s.
I recall once hearing Fox interviewed on the radio. He talked about growing up in the South and quitting high school and the interviewer, some young woman who had recently graduated with a degree in Journalism or Media or something, said that it was amazing that he could go on to be a writer. “Well,” said Fox, “I always was good with my hands.”
In 1962, a number of Fox’s short pieces were collected and published as an original paperback in Fawcett’s Gold Medal line. These paperbacks were usually priced at 35¢ but Southern Fried fetched 40¢ a copy. Maybe the extra nickel was to pay Jack Davis to illustrate the book.
Georgia-born Jack Davis drew comics for EC and Mad and later did movie posters, book covers, and all kinds of other illustration work. Davis is Fox’s contemporary and the perfect choice to illustrate his work.
This post is about Southern Fried but mostly to show all of Davis’ work for this book, which is otherwise (I think) unavailable.

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In 1974, some stories were added to the book which was re-issued as Southern Fried Plus Six. Some of the original stories were edited for re-publication including the first one, “Lower Elmwood”, which was re-titled “Lower Mulberry”. The paragraphs that this drawing illustrated were cut for reasons that escape me:

…before the cars there were bikes. There were handlebars to be asjusted and seats that needed saddle-soaping. And they’d take the brakes apart and drop the hundred wafer parts into a shallow pan of gasoline. They’d clean the parts and check for nicks and sand. And then they’d pack the brake sleeve with thick dope applied with a flat popsicle stick and slowly fit the metal wafers into place…
And then the spoke wrench…that tiny little white steel butterfly that looked like a jew’s-harp. And it would be quiet and they’d squat or sit on Coca-Cola crates around the wheel and watch and listen for the warps…

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The tone here is nostalgic and, in the stories where the main character is a young boy, the time is the early 1940s. Sometimes, to bring the action closer to the present day, Fox hedges events into the 1950s. But, with a few exceptions, think of the time as 1940.

“Wilma” is about a sweet good-time girl who introduces our adolescent protagonists to sex:

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There was a question and answer period and Esco and I really asked them. About Orientals, about fat people, thin people, old people. About dogs and animals, about dogs and people, about goats and sheep. And more, and worse than that and better than that. Nothing fazed her and the few answers she didn’t know, she said she would check.

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In “Pit Fight” a nasty guy brings in a wildcat to fight dogs in the pits. It is a slaughter. Right here, I should say that Fox may write some funny stuff but he doesn’t blink at the bad parts of the South, either. It is what it is. Anyway, a smart hound is trained to go after the cat and the story is mainly about the boy narrating and his feelings about the whole thing.

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“Eugene Talmadge and Sears Roebuck Co.” may be about another bad part of the South, at least if you recall that Talmadge was an arch-racist who thought the occasional lynching necessary to keep blacks in line. But Fox’s study is of the man speechifying on the campaign stump, something Talmadge loved to do. Talmadge was governor of Georgia twice in the 1930s, served again 1941-43, was elected a fourth time in 1946, the year he died. His tag-line ending to a speech:

“You got three friends in this here world and I want you to know it.”
“Tell us, Gene.”
He raised one finger, pointed it at the sun, and addressed the back row and the two men leaning on the buckboard.
“You got Sears Roebuck Company — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
A second finger…a louder voice to the back row…the two leaning on the buckboard and the two seated in the Ford by the drain ditch drinking corn whiskey out of a mayonnaise jar.
“You got God Almighty — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
And then he crashed his steel heels into the gallery boards, snapping his suspenders, rared back like he was going to lift a whole bale of cotton single-handed and roared to the men by the buckboard, the men in the Ford, to the sky, the swamp, and down the drain ditch the length of Calhoun County…
“And you got Eugene Herman Talmadge of Sugar Hill, Georgia, and I want you to know it.”

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“The Ordeal of Lonnie Register” is a key story in this collection because it’s about story-telling. Lonnie is a door-to-door salesman. He sells “kerosene lamps, chenille bed spreads, hairbrush and mirror sets, and religious statues and plaques that glowed in the dark.” His rival, Frog Jones, is also a door-to-door salesman. No matter how hard Lonnie works he finds it hard to make a sale. Frog, on the other hand, would make two calls and wind up with two sales. They work at night, so that the glow-in-the-dark items can be demonstrated, and during the day hang out at Doc Baker’s drugstore, telling stories. But no matter how good Lonnie Register’s stories are, Frog’s are better.
The frustration of working so hard and showing so poorly against Frog gets to Lonnie and every couple of months he goes on a wild binge that winds up with him under arrest and having to do roadwork on the chain gang. Well, he didn’t wear a chain “but there would be a man in a black hat on shotgun” watching him. Lonnie is on the road gang when it is assigned work in town, right outside Lonnie’s house in fact. His wife has the blinds drawn and has shut the children up in the back so they won’t witness their father’s humiliation. Folks in the drugstore are busy not staring and trying not to make Lonnie feel bad. Frog, who has poor eyesight, doesn’t notice him until Lonnie’s airedale runs up to his master and jumps all over him. “Lonnie tried to shoo the dog away but you know how airedales are.” Frog sees the dog and:

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Following this humiliation there is an epic story-telling battle between Frog and Lonnie and… But you already know, Lonnie just isn’t going to win.

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“Fast Nerves” is about a gambler named Greenwood Knox who succumbs to nervous exhaustion after long episodes of card-playing. For instance, after seeing Joseph Cotten demonstrate Power X in From the Earth to the Moon he leaps up in the movie theater and climbs over the seats, yelling “With that power I could rule the world!” Next thing, he believes that he is Oral Roberts, only better:

…he was grander, wiser, more benevolent than Roberts. He could raise the dead, fertilize the land, cause fish to bite, and most of all he could give away money.

Greenwood gives away all his cash, spreads general mayhem, and is committed to a mental institution. Eventually he is released and goes back to gambling, but his hands start to shake and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he breaks down again. Electroshock therapy steadies him for a while but the treatments take all Greenwood’s money. Then his buddy, mechanic Chauncey Jones, comes up with an idea:

[Chauncey] led him out to the Buick and patted the winged figure on the radiator.
“This old horse will kick up a thousand volts if I put her on the floor.”
“Whoa, now, Chauncey…”
“Greenwood, it ain’t any more than like tipping your tongue to a flashlight battery.”

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Oh, yeah! But it works and Greenwood gets back to his work with hands “steady as ping pong paddles”.

“Razor Fight At The St. Louis Cafe”: Round House Brown doesn’t say much, but when Bad Dave Hill taunts him into a razor fight, Round House communicates in very immediate fashion. This is one of the stories that was edited and a chunk removed for the reprint version. I don’t know why. If the story is racist, then the section that’s removed doesn’t make it less so.

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“The Buzzard’s Lope”:  Slim Elmo Brown is from the backwoods — Shell Bluff, Georgia along the Horse Creek Valley — and is pretty shy at the weekly square dance, but he comes out of his shell and shows people how to dance. Or, at least he shows them one version of dancing:

Slim Elmo spins the girl out and jumps up in the air. He comes down hard on one knee with his head back.
“You reckon he’s been taken hold of?”

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He squats and dances in the squat. He rushes forward in a high head-back screaming leap. The floor boards make a crashing noise and the audience goes wild. Black rubber heel marks are all over…
“…it’s Horse Creek Valley all right. Claims they call it the Buzzard’s Lope down there…”
“You shore he ain’t been taken hold of? Keep an eye on his tongue when he comes by.”

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Leroy Jeffcoat plays for the Columbia Green Wave, an amateur baseball team. “The name must have come from the fact that most of us got drunk on Friday nights and the games were all played on Saturday.” Leroy isn’t much of a ball player, but he owns a snazzy uniform. In fact, he owns two of them, while one is at the cleaners, Leroy is wearing the other. This is his permanent outfit. “His was the long season.”

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There’s always somebody too hungover to play, so Leroy gets into most of the games. He reads everything he can find about baseball and he can imitate any ball player ever; he can hit like Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Joe DiMaggio except when he’s actually in a game, then he tries to hit like all three of them at once, gets confused, and strikes out. Most of this story is about the time that the Green Wave goes to play the State Penitentiary team, a game that they dread because the convicts play to Win:

We came to bat and Franklin Folk, our catcher, led off. Their pitcher’s name was Strunk and he was in jail for murder. The first pitch was right at Franklin’s head. He hit the dirt. The crowd cheered. The next pitch the same thing. Franklin Folk was white as a sheet.

Franklin becomes too scared to swing and strikes out. The game continues that way:

At the end of five innings we didn’t have a scratch hit. The Pen had fourteen runs and the pitcher Strunk had three doubles and a home run.
We didn’t care what the score was. All we wanted to do was get the game over and get out of that prison yard.

That’s when Leroy Jeffcoat demands to be put in the game. “I can hit that son of a bitch.” So Leroy gets in the game, playing first base. Strunk comes up to bat.

“Let him hit! Let him hit, Ed! I want to see that son of a bitch over here…Send that bastard down here. I want him. I’ll fix his ass.”
The crowd cheered Leroy and he tipped his hat like Stan Musial.
The crowd cheered again.
Strunk bellowed, “Shut that nut up, ump.”
The umpire raised his hands. “All right, over there, simmer down or I’ll throw you out.”
The crowd booed the umpire.
Leroy wouldn’t stop. “Don’t let him hit, Ed. Walk him. Walk that beanball bastard. He might get a double. I want him over here.” Ed looked at Franklin Folk. Folk gave him the walk sign.
Two balls…three balls…
“You getting scared, you bastard? Won’t be long now.”
The crowd laughed and cheered.
Again the Musial touch with the cap.
Four balls…
Strunk laid the bat down carefully and slowly walked toward first. Strunk got close. The crowd was silent. Leroy stepped off the bag and Strunk stepped on. Leroy backed up. Strunk followed. Everybody watched. No noise. Leroy stopped and took his glove off. He handed it to Strunk. Strunk took the glove in both hands.
Leroy hit him with fastest right I’ve ever seen.
…Leroy got him off balance and kept him that way while he pumped in four lefts and six rights.
They led Strunk back to the dugout bleeding.
The crowd went wild.
Leroy tipped his hat Musial-style…

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The Green Wave comes up to bat in the ninth with the score 21 to 0 against them. Strunk is pitching. He hits one man with a pitch and walks two more, loading the bases, so he can pitch to Leroy Jeffcoat.

So Leroy came up with the bases loaded and the prison crowd shouting “Leroy Jeffcoat is our boy.”
He pulled his cap down like Musial and dug into the box like DiMaggio. The crowd cheered and he got out of the box and tipped his hat.

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All this time, Strunk is getting angrier and angrier. His first pitch is right at Leroy’s head. “Leroy flicked his head back like a snake but didn’t move his feet.” The crowd boos Strunk and the umpire goes to the mound to talk to him. Strunk tells the umpire to go to hell. The next pitch hits the bill of Leroy’s cap and the umpire wants to put him on base.

Leroy shouted. “No. He didn’t hit me. He’s yellow. Let him pitch.”
The crowd cheered Leroy again.
Two convicts dropped out of the stands and trotted across the infield to the mound. They meant business. When they talked Strunk listened and nodded his head. A signal passed around the infield.

The next pitch is perfect and Leroy connects with it for an honest single, but the fielders keep bobbling the ball and Leroy keeps running:

He ran in spurts, each spurt faster than the last. The throw to third got past the baseman and Leroy streaked for home, shouting.
He began sliding from twenty feet out. He slid so long he stopped short. He had to get up and lunge for home plate with his hand. He made it as the ball whacked into the catcher’s mitt and the crowd started coming out of the stands.
The guards tried to hold the crowd back and a warning siren sounded. But the convicts got to him and paraded around the field with Leroy on their backs. The game was called at this point and the reserve guards and trustees came out with billy clubs.

I’ve maybe quoted too much from this story but the writing is just about perfect and so funny. Jack Davis may have thought so, too, because he did more illustrations for it than any other in the book. Anyway, there’s lots more to the story that I didn’t quote and somewhere in there Fox mentions that there is a tale about Leroy Jeffcoat and the Green Wave playing the State Mental Institution but he doesn’t say anything more about it. I’m glad because it’s probably more fun to just imagine what might have happened.

“Dear Diary” and “Dear Diary: Wanda” are two pieces narrated by a young man just in the Army as Fox was in 1943. Our hero is seventeen but: “Air Corps think I’m eighteen. Also think I finished one year of college. If they discover I finished one year of high school, will be washed out, sent home. Maybe should tell them now.”
Our hero trains, gets homesick, gets promoted, goes back home on leave, meets proud parents, and struts into high school. And so on. He has adventures — drinking, fights — and continues growing up. No Davis illustration for the first “Diary” story.
Wanda lives in Odessa, Texas, where the young man is training. He falls in love with her, or else he wants to get into her pants and can’t tell the difference. He pictures her as wife and mother:

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Wanda’s dad tells him that she is a slut. Our hero is offended. He sleeps beside her one night but is determined to keep everything chaste. Next day she is in bed with an officer. Our hero’s heart is broken but he is full of forgiveness. Doesn’t matter; Wanda doesn’t want to see him any more:

And to think of that divine creature lying there before me in the moonlight with a slip barely on, squirming and asking for it. That’s right, squirming and asking and begging for it, and me so goddam full of love and horse shit, I didn’t know what to do.
Live and learn…

Yes. And that’s what the “Dear Diary” stories are about: living and learning.

“The B-Flat Cornet” is a sentimental reminiscence by an elderly ex-jazz player. As a memorial to a certain era of music, it works, but it’s far from the best story in the collection.

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Fox says his father was in a band of that era: “My dad played the trumpet, the guitar, and the piano. He sang. He was a member of a half-white, half-black band. They called themselves “The Hawaiians” and sang in Spanish.” He also says his father was in jail, made whisky, and was in the Navy like the father of the “Dear Diary” narrator.

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The title story is narrated by a young man working at Doug Broome’s in the Five Points area of Columbia, South Carolina. There’s a soda fountain at one end and the kitchen at the other. This kind of place was all over the South before McDonald’s and Hardee’s came along, but the soda fountain suggests a pre-WWII place rather than one from the 50s.
The narrator works in the kitchen with a black man called “Preacher” because he’s in his last year at Bible College. The soda fountain is run by a white asshole named Fleetwood Driggers. Fleetwood dislikes Preacher and there is racial antagonism there. This boils up into a huge contest between Fleetwood and Preacher over who can work the soda fountain the best. I’m not going to get into the details; it’s a good story and you can read it for yourself.
One thing, of all the editing and re-writing done to stories before bringing out the re-issue, this story (in my opinion) suffers the most. First off, here (and in other stories like “Fast Nerves) Fox uses Oral Roberts as an example of revival preacher, possibly because Roberts was more likely to be familiar to Yankee audiences. Roberts went on great Crusades across the US in the late 1940s and afterwards, sometimes claiming to be able to raise the dead. So a big part of this story is when a Roberts revival lets out and 8000 people suddenly descend on Doug’s Bar-Be-Cue. In the re-issue, all mention of Oral Roberts is removed from every story and his name is replaced by that of a fictitious Sonny Love or even Billy Sunday, who died in 1935. I don’t know, maybe lawyers had something to do with it. Maybe that’s why Doug’s in Columbia was changed to Holly Yates’ place in Moss Hill and all his competitors renamed as well. Here’s a bit cut out of the story, just the last sentence here:

…the heat around the grill and the frypots had risen and nothing would put it down. Sweat was running down Preach’s nose and ears into the barbecue and lettuce and he couldn’t stop it. He grinned at me and said, “Native juice.”

Now why cut that out? The part where Fleetwood calls Preacher a nigger is kept in, so if it’s fear of racism, that fear is misplaced. But maybe this is just an historical artifact, an example of white editors in the 1970s trying to catch up with times that were a-changin’.
In case I haven’t made this crystal clear: it was a mistake to edit these stories at all. Well, there’s two places where it’s not so bad. Changing Lonnie Register’s dog from an airedale to a labrador is all right, and I understand changing Marilyn Monroe to a different sex goddess since she was dead (but Sophia Loren?)

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Coley Moke lives back in the swamp and makes whisky. Teen-aged boys come around and give Moke comics books in exchange for being allowed to drink and pass out in his shack. And Coley Moke tells them stories, mostly about his dogs. He claims that, if a “federal man” came around, one of his hounds would grab the bucket of hooch and run off with it into the swamp. Davis illustrated this in the title cut. Coley was married once:

“Yeah, I suspect I miss that old gal. Wonder what she looks like now. She was something all right. Up at dawn, cook a first class meal and then go out and outplow any man or mule in the county and every Sunday, rain or shine, we had white linen on the table and apple pie. …ain’t nothing I like better than apple pie.
“Sometimes we didn’t speak for a week. It was nice then, real nice. As long as I kept quiet and minded the still and my dogs everything was fine. But we started talking and then the first thing you know we were arguing and then she began throwing the dogs up in my face.

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“Yeah, I was lying here with old Sport. He was Brownie here’s father. He was young then and high spirited and, you know, sensitive. When Emma Louise got up from her chair and come over he must have seen it in her face. They never had gotten along. He crawled off the bed and went outside. If I live to be two hundred, I’ll never forget those words…
“She said, ‘Coley Moke, you are the sorriest man on God’s green earth. Here it is almost winter, we got no money, we got no food, and you just lay there and stare up at that leaky roof. And what’s more, you’ve gone out and taken our last hog and traded it for another dog.’”
Coley smiled and leaned forward. Then his face set mean and hard. “Emma, Emma Louise,’ I said, ‘if I told you once I told you a hundred times. …But since you seem to not hear I’m going to tell you one more time. I traded that hog and I got me a dog for the plain and simple reason that I can’t go running no fox with no hog.”

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There’s been a lot about making whisky in these stories, but this tale, along with the fine illustration by Jack Davis, is pretty much a primer on the subject. Lamarr Peevy narrates the story of how he drove to New York City to straighten things out with a bar-owner who has been buying his product. It’s a really funny story and I recommend it even if you don’t want to make whisky.

“Monck’s Corner” is a short piece about a drinking adventure — or maybe, an adventure in getting drunk. No illustration.

The last piece in the original collection is called “Tourist” and this is (possibly) the Village Voice story that started off Fox’s career. The narrator is visited by a friend from the South. They do the town, or at least a piece of it:

We hadn’t been south of Thirty-fourth Street, east of Sixth Avenue, or north of Fifty-fourth Street. But we’d been thorough. We’d had pizza, coconut juice, knishes, pig’s feet, paella, and Him Soon York, and Jack had been sick on Broadway and Forty-second Street.

This piece is just about perfect but, like the rest of this book, better in the original than the edited re-issue. Either way, though, reprint or original, you owe it to yourself to run down a copy of Southern Fried. It’s just a whole lot of fun.

Walt Kelly’s Christmas

Best known for Pogo, Walt Kelly was a star artist for Disney in the 1940s. He drew centaurs for Fantasia (silly people added bras to the female centaurs later) and comic books for the Dell publishing company who printed a number of Disney titles. He turned out work at an alarming rate and Dell actually gave him credit for some comics — a rare thing in those days. Among the titles that Kelly worked on were Santa Claus Funnies and some Christmas one-offs, but the book close to his heart was Animal Comics, where Pogo Possum got his start.
Early on Kelly put his characters in Christmas stories. Here’s a few pages from Animal Comics December issue, 1945. Note that Pogo looked alot different then he did later, and his personality is also different: he’s more cunning and sly. The little boy in the story is Bumbazine, gentle voice of reason when dealing with the animals in the swamp. Later, Bumbazine would be dropped from the comic and his personality shifted to Pogo. [Most images in this post can be made bigger by clicking on them.]

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The story concept — putting on a Christmas party for the orphans — is one that Kelly used over and over. Although Albert is identified here as an orphan, a few years later Pogo calls Albert a fake when he claims to be orphaned — it seems his parents are travelling circus performers. Porky Pine becomes the swamp’s token orphan. Although Kelly often re-hashed material, he never bothered too much with continuity.
Kelly’s most famous Christmas trope was introduced in 1948 during a brief comic strip run in a short-lived paper. I mean, of course, the carol, “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie”. Here’s a much later version [from The Return of Pogo, originally published 1965]:

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The lyrics changed over the years; possibly the key version is the one in Songs of the Pogo which you can read here  in its entirety.
“Boston Charlie” was a hit, of sorts. People argued about the lyrics and tried to find meaning in them. Kelly was bemused by this and often said that the song was what it was at any given moment and didn’t mean anything. Of course, no one paid any attention any more then Charlie Manson paid attention when people said Helter Skelter” was just a pop song.
Kelly did other carols, too:

Good King Sauerkraut, Look out!
On your feets uneven.
While the snoo lay round about…
“Snoo? What’s snoo?”
“Not Much. What’s snoo with you?”

And he tackled this gem [from Pogo Sunday Brunch, originally appeared 1955]:

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Then there was Clement Moore’s poem [from Pogo Sunday Parade, originally published 1954]:

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That Sunday page was originally in color and you will be able to see it in all its glory in the Fantagraphics complete Pogo comic strips series when it is printed — volume four, I think, but maybe five.[Pogo, Vol. 1: Complete Syndicated Comic Strips ]
But Kelly’s own favorite Christmas carol was probably the one that he used on his Christmas cards, year after year.

Merry Christmas everyone, be merry and never give in to dismay.

[If you want more Pogo, check out Whirled of Kelly which reprints lots of stuff.]

The Mask Of Anarchy

Recently, a Brazilian reporter wondered where the Guy Fawkes masks worn by protestors came from. He learned that, locally, masks were being manufactured by Condal, a company that specializes in Carnaval masks. Right now, Condal sells sometimes 800 Guy Fawkes masks in a day, which is nothing compared to their output of 200,000 Carnaval masks a day during the season. (These numbers are from the article .) Condal, and the reporter, were somewhat bemused by the fact that individuals would come into the factory to buy several hundred masks at a time while stores and distributors might buy 60 or so per order. They understand that the mask is a phenomenon of the moment and Condal’s sales of the object may dissipate along with Brazil’s protest movement — or expand with it, as the case may be.

Guy Fawkes masks at the Condal factory, Rio. [photo: Gabriel de Paiva]

Guy Fawkes masks at the Condal factory, Rio. [photo: Gabriel de Paiva]

The mask is based on that worn by the lead character in V For Vendetta, Alan Moore’s 1982 comic book account of an anarchist fighting against a fascist government in England. The design was done by artist David Lloyd. Originally, Lloyd had wanted to copy masks worn on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, but the designs were done in the summer when there were no live models. That is probably for the best, since it forced Lloyd to strip down the mask to a stark, but memorable design.

The series originally ran in Warrior Magazine, but when Warrior ceased publication in 1985, Moore and Lloyd signed a deal with DC Comics to run the series. That run led to a 2005 movie production, one of several that angered Moore and caused him to sever his connnections with the film industry. But the movie did popularize the mask and a US outfit called Rubie’s bought the license to produce V For Vendetta merchandise. Rubie’s sells perhaps 100,000 a year of the masks — $8.77 at your local Wal-Mart.

Anti-Scientology protest, London, 2008. [WikiMedia Commons]

Anti-Scientology protest, London, 2008. [WikiMedia Commons]


Then, in 2008, a collection of anonymous people connected to 4Chan, decided to protest Scientology. Because of that organization’s reputation of intimidating individuals who expressed negative opinions about the group, the protestors decided to wear masks. There was some discussion of what kind of masks — the fledgling Anonymous group had adopted a symbol of a black-suited man with a globe and question mark for a head, but that really didn’t translate into a good mask. So Anonymous wore Guy Fawkes masks. Partly this was a case of labeling Scientology as Epic Fail, since Epic Fail Guy was seen on 4Chan wearing the mask and Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot was exactly that. But the symbol proved more powerful than Anonymous had thought and has become the preferred streetwear of protestors all over the world.

Masks for sale in Taksim Square, Istanbul [Reuters]

Masks for sale in Taksim Square, Istanbul [Reuters]

The popularity of the mask pleases Alan Moore. Part of the reason he disliked the movie version of V For Vendetta was that it watered down his concept of an anarchist rebel to that of an American-style vigilante fighter for justice. Although Nazi Germany was the model for Moore’s fascist England, the comic was seen as an open attack on Thatcher and the destructive government policies that she introduced. Ironically, Moore thought Thatcher was going to be a one-term PM; now he admits to being a lousy prophet. Anyway, he hated the movie. Moore:

As far I’m concerned, the two poles of politics were not Left Wing or Right Wing. In fact they’re just two ways of ordering an industrial society and we’re fast moving beyond the industrial societies of the 19th and 20th centuries. It seemed to me the two more absolute extremes were anarchy and fascism. This was one of the things I objected to in the recent film, where it seems to be, from the script that I read, sort of recasting it as current American neo-conservatism vs. current American liberalism. There wasn’t a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity.

The real Guy Fawkes was part of a group that tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. The intent was to foment a rebellion that would oust King James I and bring a Catholic sovereign to the throne. The plot was a fiasco: the gunpowder was wet and didn’t explode, Guy Fawkes was caught and, under torture, named the other members of the conspiracy. All were executed.

Panels from V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, Warrior Magazine #4, 1982

Panels from V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, Warrior Magazine #4, 1982

In the Alan Moore version, the man known as V actually succeeds in blowing up Parliament but he is not fighting for a Catholic monarchy nor any other kind of king. He wears Cavalier dress in opposition to the Roundhead puritan garb of the fascists who run England. Moore is mixing eras a bit, looking forward from James I to Cromwell’s puritan dictatorship of the 1650s. Oliver Cromwell, the English ayatollah, murderer of Irish Catholics and Scots Presbyterians, was who Moore wanted people to associate with English fascism.

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There have been a number of articles pointing out that people buying Guy Fawkes masks are paying into a movie industry that is one of Anonymous’ enemies, but these articles miss the point. It is unlikely that Condal has actually paid Warner Brothers to license the mask. Probably there are as many knockoffs seen in protests as there are licensed objects. And, of course, you can print your own mask. Sooner or later, someone is going to distribute a template for 3-D printers and then Rubie’s will be redundant.

Protestors in Jakarta wearing printed masks. [Reuters]

Protestors in Jakarta wearing printed masks. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, governments have been working to outlaw the mask or to make illegal the wearing of any mask during a protest. But when masses of people are arrested simply for wearing a mask that is a symbol of protest, then the mask will have become not only a symbol, but a means of radicalizing those who wear it. [Gallery of 2011 protests with the mask.]

Polish legislators protesting the passage of anti-piracy legislation, 2012. [via Bleeding Cool]

Polish legislators protesting the passage of anti-piracy legislation, 2012. [via Bleeding Cool]

Like Alan Moore, David Lloyd is quite pleased with the success of the mask and proud that he designed something that is useful to street politics. He is “[h]appy that a symbol of resistance to tyranny in fiction is being used as a symbol of resistance to any perceived tyranny in real life.” Unlike Moore, however, he does still collect his royalties for V For Vendetta and its merchandise.

Bloomsday: Ulysses

Bloomsday is June 16. That is the day, in 1904, that James Joyce went out with the love of his life, Nora Barnacle. That is the day Joyce immortalized in Ulysses, the odyssey of an ordinary man’s daily round in Dublin.
In 1954, certain Irish publicists decided to have a 50th anniversary celebration and Bloomsday, as an event, was born. For many years there have been attempts to celebrate this day but many were thwarted by Stephen Joyce, grandson and legal representative of James Joyce’s copyrights.

bloom_joyce

Stephen was a twat. I use the past tense because he may have reformed, oh, yesterday, or an hour ago, or something, and I don’t want to imply that the man is forever damned because he was, for years, a twat. This is Catholic country and forgiveness for all, including child molesters and twats, is possible.
At one point Stephen used his control of copyright to bar public readings from his grand-dad’s work – unless he was paid a hefty fee — but now Joyce’s work is in the public domain and Dublin rejoices (so to speak).
This Bloomsday began yesterday (by my time) with an internationally broadcast reading of Ulysses and will continue until all participants are so thoroughly soused that they cannot perform any longer. Stephen must be shitting bricks thinking of the lost revenues.
Well, but that is now and next year may be different — who knows what crap the copyrighters will throw at us. Why, I might be forced to delete this post.
Meanwhile, for those who are interested, I recommend the comic Ulysses Seen by Throwaway Horse, a publisher that specializes in comic versions of important stuff — like Eliot’s “The Wasteland” or an account of the Trojan War. Throwaway Horse has recently teamed with Dublin’s Joyce Centre to reproduce Ulysses Seen.
bloom_buck
This comic reproduces Joyce’s words and illustrates them. It is an excellent introduction to Ulysses for those who want to know how to read the book. I found the illustrations for Part One very illuminating — I did not know of a Martello Tower before, much less that it was the location where stately, plump Buck Mulligan invoked divinity, just as Homer had invoked the Goddess. There are copious notes and explantions for every page. The Tower in question is the site of other Bloomsday activities.

Part of the descriptive page for the opening caption. (Screen grab, links do not work -- go to  first page of comic  for the full monty.

Part of the descriptive page for the opening caption. (Screen grab, links do not work — go to first page of comic for the full monty.

There is another entire section, “Calypso”, Part Four of Ulysses that is illustrated on the site and includes interesting interpretations of Bloom’s visit to the privy (with a copy of a paper that prints a rejected Joyce manuscript to wipe his ass) and the painting over Molly’s bed. More is said to follow, though don’t hold your breath: this is a long term project. (part of Section Two, “Nestor” and Section Five, “Lotus [sic] Eaters” are available.)

bloom_privy

Spain Rodriguez

Spain Rodriguez died yesterday after a six year battle with cancer. He was 72. Rodriguez was one of the major underground comics artists, of course, but he created or illustrated many other kinds of work from Sherlock Holmes to personal stories of “What the Fifties Were Really Like”.

His work was political, from a proletarian perspective. He was pleased to work in a mass medium that was disdained as lowbrow. When he knew he was dying, Rodriguez said, “I’ve enjoyed immensely being a Zap artist. I’ve enjoyed being an underground cartoonist. I generally wish everybody well.”

Self-portrait, 1974

Some of his political comics include: The Dark Hotel about an attempted American coup in the 1930s, a biography of Che Guevara , and stories about The Long War aka the War On Terrorism.

I particularly liked his work based on the great struggle between fascism and communism in the twentieth century. His direct, thick lines were well suited for depicting the industrial scale combat of the 1940s. Although a collection of these strips was proposed once or twice, it never was published and that’s too bad.

from “Durrutti”, Anarchy Comics #3

from “Stalin”, Arcade: the Comics Revue #4

Interview from 1998.

This link includes a fifteen minute documentary.

Much of Spain Rodriguez’ work, such as The Dark Hotel , is out of print. His most recent book in print is Crusin’ With The Hound: The Life And Times Of Fred Toote , a series of stories from the 1950s.

“The Inheritance of Rufus Griswold” and other graphic stories from the classics

Dies Irae – “One man against the American empire.”

Crockett Johnson: The Slippery Slope from Comics to Fine Art

Crockett Johnson was born David Johnson Leisk in New York 1906. Over the years his name morphed into the nom de plume “Crockett Johnson” but close friends still called him Dave. Johnson’s father was a Scots immigrant who worked as a bookkeeper and his mother was an immigrant from Germany. Johnson’s father died in 1925 during his freshman year at Cooper Union and the young man dropped out of school to support his mother and sister. He worked at a number of jobs and may have played a little semi-pro football for the Flushing Packers. Johnson’s first graphics job was as assistant art editor at Macy’s. He was probably hired for the artwork he had done in high school, such as for the yearbook.  He was fired for not wearing the stiff celluloid collar required of Macy’s employees.

Johnson in front of one of his paintings, 1969, via the Crockett Johnson home page

After several other brief employments, Johnson wound up in 1927 as art editor for Aviation magazine. He was successful at this job and began taking courses in typography and design. One notable teacher was Frederic Goudy, designer of the font that bears his name. Goudy’s credo was simplicity — eliminate “unneccessary lines and parts”. This seems to have had a major effect on Johnson’s work who described his own style as “simplified, almost diagrammatic, for clear storytelling, avoiding all arbitrary decoration”. [from Phillip Nel, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, see end of post].

When McGraw took over Aviation in 1928, Johnson moved up to art editor of about six different magazines. This golden period lasted only a few months. The crash of 1929 left Johnson with a much reduced salary, though he still had a job.

Cartoon for the New Masses, 1934.

Johnson had left-wing political leanings and hung out with a radical crowd. His first cartoon appeared in New Masses in 1934 and soon cartooning became his only work. Johnson turned out cartoons for New Masses until 1940 and then began a run of The Little Man with the Eyes for Collier’s. In 1942 Johnson produced his first Barnaby strip for PM, a publication that also carried work by Walt Kelly, Coulton Waugh, and Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss).

“Little Man with the Eyes” strip via philnel.com

PM had a miniscule circulation composed mainly of  New York lefties and intellectuals but Johnson did get syndication for Barnaby and the strip was read across the country. Dorothy Parker wrote a glowing review ( “…Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American Arts and Letters in Lord knows how many years.” ) and other critics agreed that Barnaby was a great comic strip.

Three days of Barnaby from 1943. [scanned from The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics

Barnaby is a young boy who has a fairy godfather, Mister O’Malley, a member of the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder & Marching Society. No adults can see O’Malley and he is thought by them to be just a creation of Barnaby’s imagination. Mister O’Malley is a bit of a fraud, always promising magic that he never quite manages to pull off. Barnaby is his straight man. Over time, the strip added characters like Barnaby’s friend Jane, Gus the Ghost, and Gorgon the (sometimes) Talking Dog. Over the years, Barnaby has been adapted into a stage play, a children’s theatre production, a radio show, and a live-action television special in 1959 with Ron Howard playing Barnaby.

Next two days. You now have a week of Barnaby. [scanned from The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics]

 
By 1946, Johnson grew tired of coming up with gags five days a week and tried to turn the strip over to other people but could not let go. He micromanaged to the point where he might as well have kept on doing it all and finally, in early 1952, Johnson wrapped the strip up. By this time he was into the second leg of his career, writing and illustrating children’s books.

 Johnson had married in 1930 but that union unravelled over the next decade and in 1943, he married again to children’s book writer, Ruth Krauss. In 1945, Johnson illustrated Krauss’ The Carrot Seed , and a few other works including this deprecated classic, but often she worked with other illustrators.

Ruth Krauss [via HarperCollins.com]

Krauss had recorded a number of poetic utterances from children and wanted to put them together into a book. In 1952, Maurice Sendak, who was just starting out in the field, began working on the project. Soon, he was living at the Johnson/Krauss home while working on the new book, A Hole is to Dig. Krauss and Sendak’s discussions sometimes became agitated. Sendak recalled:

I remember the porch table covered with a million (it seems) bits of Krauss words and thinkings, encircled by my little scratchy, dumpy doodles. Ruth and I would arrange and rearrange and paste and unpaste and Ruth would sing and Ruth would holler and I’d quail and sulk and Dave would referee. His name should be on all our books, for the technical savvy and cool consideration he brought to them. There was an impressive silence about Dave (he was the most giant of all!), and after Ruth had gone to bed I’d hang around with him, hoping he’d open up and waiting for my weekly reading list.

from A Hole Is to Dig.

Krauss insisted on Sendak getting a good royalty instead of a small fee for illustrating A Hole is to Dig and, when the book became a best-seller, Sendak was able to quit his day job and concentrate full-time on children’s books. He illustrated a number of other projects for Krauss, with Johnson providing lay-out and design assistance.

Crockett Johnson was also writing and illustrating his own children’s books. In 1955, he created Harold and the Purple Crayon, which was an immediate success. Weston Woods bought an adaptation of Harold for their series of animated children’s books that Johnson hated. Weston then got Gene Deitch to adapt a sequel, A Picture for Harold’s Room. Deitch discovered one reason Johnson disliked the Purple Crayon adaptation: the film violated Johnson’s use of “perpetual profile”:

Johnson simply shifted the position of Harold’s ear and eye, which in conjunction with his body position made you believe you were seeing his head from three-quarter-front, or three-quarter rear as well as from the side. It was Crockett Johnson’s version of the illusion of shifting of Mickey Mouse’s ears as his head turned!

Now thinking he had the magic formula for interpreting Johnson’s work, Deitch sent storyboards to Johnson for approval and received a one-line postcard, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” Deitch was shocked but went back to the drawing board. The problem was that Deitch had used close-ups, medium shots, different camera angles, and all the other paraphernalia available to animators  but Johnson had drawn the story from a single viewpoint. Harold moves along the wall, always remaining the same size, as he draws a single continuous picture that includes all kinds of outsize elements. In order to correctly adapt the book, Deitch had to do the complete picture as background then shoot the action in reverse, scratching off the background to show the drawing as Harold draws it. It was a massive undertaking but it won Johnson’s approval as being the first filmed version of his work that was true to his concept. Deitch did one more adaptation of a Harold book, then decided not to do any more — it was too difficult to copy Johnson’s simplicity. 

From Deitch’s A Picture for Harold’s Room

Around 1965, Crockett Johnson entered the third part of his career: he began painting non-representational works that illustrated mathematical principles. Johnson had become interested in mathematics the way that amateurs become wrapped up in any number of disciplines. Sometimes these amateurs prove nuisances, cranks with half-baked theories, but Johnson actually published a few papers in mathematical journals — for instance, “The Geometrical Nature of  √π” in The Mathematical Gazette. More than that, Johnson illustrated his concepts with paintings.

“Pi Squared” via NMAH

Many of these paintings are now in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian and there are articles about them (with explanations and diagrams) here, here, and here. Incidentally, before mathematicians weigh in, Johnson never claimed to discover the square root of pi, which is an infinite series of numbers, but said his work showed the limits of allowable values. It is interesting to think of what he would have painted if he were aware of fractal mathematics which was still in its infancy at the time.

“Squared Circle” via NMAH

 Johnson also looked at the ancient problem of Squaring the Circle and did a few paintings around that notion as well. Whether you know anything about math or not, these are interesting paintings and might be considered alongside the work of other artists who tried to embody mathematical concepts in their work, such as Kandinsky and Palazuelo.

“Equal Areas, Their Triangular Square Root, and Pi”

In 1973, when Crockett Johnson was visiting Syracuse, Greece, he sat in an outdoor cafe, rearranging toothpicks at his table. Turning his menu and wine list so that they formed the two equal sides of an isosceles triangle, he placed the toothpicks in a criss-cross pattern across the space in between these two sides (figure 1). Johnson then hypothesized that the angle where the menu and wine list intersected would be 180/7 degrees (“Stroud studies…” 7). His supposition was correct. So what? Well, as Professor J. B. Stroud has shown, this discovery permitted Johnson to “construct a regular seven-sided figure using a compass and strai[gh]tedge with only one mark on it.” Stroud, the former chair of Davidson College’s Math Department, adds, “As far as I know, nobody thought of trying this until Crockett Johnson. [from Crockett Johnson homepage]

“Construction of Heptagon” via NMAH

Two years later, Crockett Johnson died from lung cancer. He had been a cigarette smoker from youth. Ruth Strauss lived another twenty years. Maurice Sendak died recently. These three artists left an impressive body of work. Their lives were linked. Reading Sendak’s account of the fuss and bother over the simple words and drawings in A Hole Is to Dig should say something about the difficulties in simplicity and eliminating “arbitrary decoration”.

Notes:

Phillip Nel has done most of the research cited above. He maintains the Crockett Johnson page, and also has cited much information on his own blog, Phil Nel, which also has much other good stuff
and see his article in Comic Art on Johnson.
Nel has written Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature, which can be pre-ordered now and should be in bookstores next month. This post did not go into the troubles of American lefties in the 1950s, but if you are interested, I strongly recommend Nel’s book.
Fantagraphics is re-printing all of Barnaby beginning this December.

More Sendak

I just came across a comic by Art Spiegelman and Maurice Sendak. Here’s an excerpt:

The comic is a joint project with each artist drawing himself and some of the background (mostly by Sendak) and recording a conversation. This is a not uncommon method in underground comics — Crumb and Kominsky have done a lot of these. This particular comic appears on Francoise Mouly’s website Blown Covers which is often about the New Yorker where Mouly is art editor. Art Spiegelman is Mouly’s husband.

[via Metafilter]

A Pierre Berton Comic

I was just presented with a copy of The Someday Funnies, a comics anthology that has been in limbo since 1974. Back then, editor Michel Choquette got the bright idea of having various people contribute to a book of comics about the 1960s. He had connections at The National Lampoon and backing from Rolling Stone Magazine, so it looked like it was going to happen — but it didn’t, until now.

Contributors include a great many comics artists, both mainstream and underground, and non-comics folk like William Burroughs, Fredrico Fellini, and Frank Zappa. Pierre Trudeau wanted to submit a strip but didn’t. Pierre Berton did.

Pierre Berton was a newspaper columnist, popular historian, and TV host. I plan on re-reading The Invasion of Canada, his look at the War of 1812, pretty soon. Probably his best known books are Klondike, about the history of Berton’s home town, Dawson City, Yukon, and The National Dream,about the building of the CPR. Along the way he made the only surviving interview with Bruce Lee, defined a Canadian as someone “who can make love in a canoe”, and, at the age of 84, gave a nationally televised demonstration of how to roll a joint. He was voted the celebrity most Canadians would like to invite to their July 1 barbecue. Here’s his comic:

Hair was a big deal in the 1960s because symbolized all those youthful forces that adults could not control. The musical Hair wound up with the main character being drafted (the movie was a little different) and that was the ideal — cut off all that long hair and show those kids some discipline like we had in the 1940s during the Good War. This attitude pre-dated the 1960s. It was in the 1950s that I sat with a bunch of other kids in a phys ed class being lectured about hair. This was long before the Beatles, this was when wicked hair had sideburns, a waterfall in the front, and a duck’s ass in the back. The red-faced gym teacher lecturing us said that human males did not gussy themselves up to attract females, birds did, maybe, but not humans. Our ears perked up, if it worked for birds… It wasn’t long before I got a pink shirt, charcoal slacks with a belt in the back, and pointy-toed Italian slip-ons (dago daggers as they were called then.) I still had short hair, though. For a while.

Frank Frazetta’s Boner

Frank Frazetta was heir to a great tradition of book illustration that was dying out when he came on the scene. The pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan, John Carter of Mars — and Robert Howard — Conan the Barbarian — were all graced by the work of J. Allen St. John, himself following such artists as N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

J. Allen St. John, "Warlord of Mars"

In the 1960s there was a brief renaissance for Burroughs and Howard and new paperback editions for Tarzan, Conan, and the rest called for new illustrators. Frank Frazetta answered the call.

Frank Frazetta: "Warlord of Mars"

 

 

Frazetta was the premier fantasy illustrator of his day and revisited all of the books once illustrated by J. Allen St. John. He said later that he never read any of them, just drew what he felt like, but certainly Frazetta had seen St. John’s work and, whether he read the books or not, his Princess of Mars is closer to Burroughs’ concept than St. John’s. Burroughs wrote that his characters were naked, St. John always showed Thuvia and the others in modest garb, Frazetta drew them as the author intended. St. John did allow fewer clothes for his Tarzan illustrations, though. Here’s Tarzan prone before Queen La of Opar with her bare-breasted attendants just behind:

Frazetta was very good at drawing naked people. In 1994, Alex Acevedo was buying up all the original Frazetta art that he could get. Frazetta showed him a gouache drawing that was intended only for private perusal. Tarzan, held by two nude young women, is brought before an undressed African queen, La of Opar. The picture is pretty good as heroic erotica, or whatever you call this genre, but when Acevedo first saw it, it was better: Tarzan was sporting an erection.

Acevedo wanted to buy the picture right away. He offered $45000. Frazetta refused — unless he could remove the erect member. Acevedo agreed.

 
So Tarzan’s grand member has been erased forever. No doubt the world is better off without this smut, though it is interesting that the female pudenda are allowed. I suppose naked ladies are Art but naked men are Nasty. And Huge Erections are completely obscene! Maybe this is a definition: it isn’t pornographic unless it shows erect male organs. This is undoubtedly a reflection of male dominence — women get naked, men maintain their dignity (except for Greek statues with teeny peeny that don’t threaten anyone’s self-esteem). I keep reading in the Sunday supplements that women are taking over — they have the jobs, the university placements, and so on. I am certain that, once they are firmly in control, women will correct this error and male members in all their glory will be sported by the subservient erotic objects that men will become.

[via http://themanwhonevermissed.blogspot.com/ thanks, Bill Wottin!]

Jack Chick Dramatized

Jack Chick’s tracts are well-known, maybe forty million have been distributed around the world. Now, some are being dramatized. Here’s an example: Bewitched, originally published in 1972 and reprinted (with a character name change) in 2000.

The comic begins in Hell where Satan delays a meeting so that he can watch his favorite show: Bewitched. Why is this his favorite? Because it’s part of an insidious plan to make witchcraft and related wickedness acceptable.

Dramatization of above panels

At the meeting, Satan gets reports on the booming sales of tarot cards and ouija boards, pornography, rising rate of homosexuality, one-world government, and ecumenicalism. Yes, these are all satanic and evil and flourishing like the green bay tree. But there’s one difficulty: a believing grandmother who just won’t stop praying for Ashley, who is otherwise in Satan’s clutches. Her mother is already in Hell and her father (who we never see) is damned.

Satan’s minions get Ashley to attend a seance where the spirit of her mother appears and tells Ashley that everything is okay, But we know that this is not Ashley’s mother, it’s a demon! Meanwhile, Ashley’s granny prays that God will make her come visit so that she can show Ashley the true path.

Curses! Satan’s plan seems to be foiled but wait! Ashley has done so much acid mixed with speed that her circulatory system has begun to “gel”. Ashley has an acid flashback and a massive heart attack.

 

Ashley’s grandmother prays for God to stave off her death and give the girl a chance to repent. He does and she does, then she dies, but Ashley’s grandmother is content and thanks the Lord for allowing Ashley’s name to be written in the Book of Life. An amazing story! And, before you ask, the dramatization is faithful to the original so the creators’ intent, whether mockery or not, is immaterial.

Full text of Bewitched may be read here.
Video dramatization may be seen here.