Saturday, 4 April 2015

COMICS SUCK! - Psychoanalysis #1 (April 1955)

60 YEARS AGO - April 1955
Reprint cover. Artwork by Jack Kamen.
From the publisher that brought you such comics as Mad, Weird Science and twisted stories such as "Foul Play" in which a disgruntled baseball team plays ball with a severed head comes the weirdest comic of them all: Psychoanalysis. It's hard to believe this comic was ever published, let alone by EC Comics. It debuted 60 years ago along with sister titles M.D. and Extra! as part of the publisher's New Direction line of comics. Looking back it seems to be a sardonic response to the draconian censorship that had been foisted on the company as a result of a government witch hunt. "So, you don't like the ghoul mags, eh?" publisher William M. Gaines seemed to be saying, "you want us to tone it down, huh? Well, how's this for you? Not too lively for you is it?" Gaines and co. had toned things down alright. The New Direction comics weren't too lively, they seemed to have no pulse at all!

This comic is practically unreadable and it seems to be an extravagant waste of resources and talent just to send a message. The amazing Jack Kamen was the featured artist on this title. We was the artist Gaines and partner-in-crime Al Feldstein would tap any time they needed somebody to draw a sexy dame. But he was more than just the "good girl artist". His pages were livid, his monsters memorable and his depictions cinematic (see "Kamen's Kalamity" from Tales from the Crypt #31 (Aug-Sept '52)). Kamen's art is drowned in a tidal wave of text (see picture below), it's something the writer's of EC's famous horror mags had been guilty of in the past, but they were forgiven because of the exciting subject matter. Psychoanalysis is possibly the dullest comic I've ever read. It's hard to imagine the publishers really expected the 10 year old's who read titles like Vault of Horror in the millions to make it through even a single issue of this title.

While the New Direction did appear to conform to EC's weird sensibilities, it was weird for all the wrong reasons. Imagine your favorite thrash metal band releasing an AM Gold album at the height of their popularity (cough**'Load'**cough). In some ways, EC had always been ahead of their time. I could imagine this comic being put out in 1995 by an underground creator like a Charles Ware, but for 1955 Psychoanalysis magazine was simply outrageous.

About Psychoanalysis, Gaines said this on the inside front cover of this issue:
"This magazine, PSYCHOANALYSIS, the fifth of E.C. Comic's "New Direction" publications, is our most difficult and revolutionary creative effort thus far. Through the medium of the comic format, we will attempt to portray, graphically and dramatically, the manner in which people find peace of mind through the science of psychoanalysis. 
Psychoanalysis is the psychology of the unconscious mind. To understand the human mind by the study of consciousness alone would be the same as to attempt to learn the structure and content of the ocean depths by examination of the surface waters. It is in the unconscious mind that are located the basic reservoirs of emotion. It is there that the roots and sources of passion and prejudice, love and hate are hidden. Most emotional disorders are the result of a tug-of-war between the unconscious and conscious minds! Through analysis, this tug-of-war is dissolved. 
However, don't let this technical stuff scare you away. First and foremost, this magazine has been produced for your entertainment. You're going to meet three tormented and troubled people ... not mental cases, mind you (for the insane cannot be helped by psychoanalysis), but people who are plagued by the same type of emotional disturbances that may be plaguing you or us. You will see how the analyst helps these people discover the subconscious bases for their emotional disorders. This is done by taking the patient back, mentally, to the source of his unsolved conflicts, activating the factors once again, and adding in a new and better solution. This is the method of psychoanalysis. 
An analysis, ordinarily, is a fairly long procedure ... frequently taking two or more years. If an outsider was given the privilege of listening in on an actual analysis, the main effect upon him would be a boredom beyond all endurance. Therefore, for dramatic effect and entertainment value, we plan to telescope each analysis into three to five issue-sessions, according to the severity of the particular patient's problems. For example, Freddy Carter will run four issue-sessions; Ellen Lyman, three; and Mark Stone, five. At the completion of each analysis, a new patient ... with new problems ... will be introduced. (Who knows, you might eventually meet YOU!) 
Another liberty we have taken is with the role of the psychoanalyst himself. Ordinarily, in real life, he gives no advice, and neither criticizes nor condones, praises nor blames. His work is limited solely to assisting the patient to an interpretation of his own thoughts and feelings. Again, for dramatic effect and entertainment value, "our" analyst actively guides the patient in making his discoveries. 
Several psychiatrists checked over the proofs of this first issue. They, too, noted the condensed treatment and the non-passive role of the analyst. Aside from these, and a few minor faults which we will correct in future issues, they were, for the most part, highly enthusiastic."
Unsurprisingly the series was cancelled after issue #5.

Still, after having read countless E.C. revenge horror stories, I wonder if they didn't have something planned. Fredric Wertham, the loudest cheerleader in the crusade against comics and author of the infamous Seduction of the Innocent, was a psychiatrist. Had the series flourished and developed and E.C. been willing and able to fight back against the censorship that had gutted them, it might have led to the greatest revenge tale of them all: the story where "their" analyst is revealed as being utterly, rampantly insane. The final panel: a basement full of rotting corpses and torture devices.

After reading this issue and having a good snooze, it was time for a pick-me-up. It was time to pop a dime in the 'ol juke and dig on some old hound dog blues in the form of:

You listen to a song like this and realize where Elvis Presley came from. What a great record! Sonny Boy Williamson (II) shouldn't be confused with his harmonica-spewing predecessor / contemporary of the same name.

If it seems like I "know-it-all" when it comes to music, specifically the 1950's period stuff, I don't. I started with a rudimentary list of known favorites like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, John Lee Hooker, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins among a few others, but I had to dig down and do my research to unearth the best songs and albums from the decade of crew-cuts and sock hops. So I wanted to share with you the ultimate resource that I found for the best 50's songs: this list of 100 Great Rock & Roll Songs of the 1950's. If you're interested, check it out. You'll be surprised at the potency of some of these mostly unheralded songs of yesteryear. "Don't Start Me Talkin'" is just one of them, and relatively tame to boot!

The same goes for films. One of the great joys of doing these Comics Suck! posts is the research involved. Before I started doing these I didn't know my 1950's and 60's movies from the parliamentary proceedings of the country of Luxembourg. It's been great fun catching up.

I have a list that I add to on an almost daily basis of comics, music and films that I find. Most of the time I have two or three movies (most of which I've never seen) to choose from to talk about. For April 1955 I had a choice between Godzilla Raids Again or The Conquest of Space. Both films are wonderful in their own ways, but let's talk Godzilla.

Originally released on April 24, 1955 in Japan as ゴジラの逆襲 (Gojira no Gyakushū), this early Toho Productions film was distributed in the United States by Warner Brothers in 1959 as Gigantis, the Fire Monster. This movie is arguably an early example of big studios attempt to re-boot a franchise, in this case by giving everybody's favorite giant lizard a new name and origin. It's also an example of American studios needlessly "re-tooling" a franchise for the American audience, which always seems unnecessary to me and ought to be considered an insult to the audience's intelligence. In this particular case it was an attempt to pass of the famous monster as an entirely new entity. Anyway, the heavily re-cut film failed at the box office and all subsequent Godzilla film releases have used the monster's real name.

The American version is an unusual picture to say the least. The film "reads" like a summary. Rather than having events unfold in "real time", the story is told in flashback with a voice-over from main character Soichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizuma), making it more difficult to suspend disbelief. When disbelief is suspended, it's impossible not to sympathize with the monster: thrust into a world he never made the giant lizard has the appearance and demeanor of an upright-walking family dog whose destructive behavior is an accidental consequence due to its size. Godzilla even defends Osaka from an attack by Anguirus, the ankylosaurus, who is, by the way, Godzilla's first monstrous foe. However, the attack nearly destroys the entire city.

It's difficult not to read into the themes of the picture. Japan was a mere 10 years removed from being on the wrong end of the worst single strike in human history. They were still healing from the Great War and doing a great job of it, but seeing the Japanese city in ruins, even in miniature strikes a sobering chord even 60 years later. In a rebuilding mode as the country was, this movie was as much about Japanese industriousness and restoring the nation's pride as it was about a fire-breathing lizard. Which makes the American studios decisions regarding the release and marketing of the film all the more callous. At one point, the plan was to edit out all of the Japanese actors and replace them with Americans, but to keep all the Japanese special effects shots. Thankfully, that plan never materialized.

Morally reprehensible as a re-cut version with all American actors would have been, the greatest loss of all would have been in the english overdub performances. The monster-loving world would have never thrilled to the excitable young George Takei's English overdubs.

Godzilla Raids Again was directed by Motoyoshi Oda and starred the previously mentioned Koizuma alongside, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, everybody's favorite ubiquitous Japanese actor of the era, and Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla, a role he owned until the early 70's. They say he lost ten pounds a day wearing that foam-rubber monster-suit!


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