Métal hurlant: The Hugely Influential French Comic Magazine That Put Moebius on the Map & Changed Sci-Fi Forever

Would you believe that one particular publication inspired a range of visionary creators including Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Luc Besson, William Gibson, and Hayao Miyazaki? Moreover, would you believe that it was French, from the 1970s, and a comic book? Not that that term "comic book" does justice to Métal hurlant, which during its initial run from 1974 to 1987 not only redefined the possibilities of the medium and greatly widened the imaginative possibilities of science fiction storytelling, but brought to prominence a number of wholly unconventional and highly influential artists, chief among them Jean Giraud, best known as Moebius.

Métal hurlant, according to Tom Lennon in his history of the magazine, launched "as the flagship title of Les Humanoïdes Associés, a French publishing venture set up by Euro comic veterans Moebius, Druillet and Jean-Pierre Dionnet, together with their finance director Bernard Farkas. Influenced by both the American underground comix scene of the 1960s and the political and cultural upheavals of that decade, their goal was bold and grandiose: they were going to kick ass, take names, and make people take comics seriously."

This demanded "artistic innovation at every level," from high-quality, large-format paper stock to risk-taking storytelling "shot through with a rich vein of humour and delivered with a narrative sophistication previously unseen in the medium."

Giraud took to the possibilities of the new publication with a special avidness. Under the pen name "Gir," writes Lennon, he "was best known as the co-creator of the popular Western series, Blueberry. By the mid-1970s, Giraud was feeling increasingly constrained by the conventions of the western genre, so decided to revive a long-dormant pseudonym to embark on more experimental work. As ‘Moebius’, Giraud not only worked in a different genre to ‘Gir’ – a deeply personal, highly idiosyncratic form of science fiction and fantasy – but his art looked like it was drawn by a completely different person," and "unlike anything that had been seen in comics — or, for that matter, in any other medium."

Métal hurlant saw the debuts of two of Moebius’ best-known characters: the pith-helmeted and mustachioed protector of miniature universes Major Grubert and the silent, pterodactyl-riding explorer Arzach, who bears a certain resemblance to the protagonist of Miyazaki's 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Read through the back issues of the magazine — or its 40-years-running American version, Heavy Metal — and you'll also glimpse, in the work of Moebius and others, elements that would later find their way into the worlds of NeuromancerMad MaxAlienBlade RunnerStar Wars, and much more besides.

“A while ago, SF was filled with monstrous rocket ships and planets,” said Moebius in 1980. "It was a naive and materialistic vision, which confused external space with internal space, which saw the future as an extrapolation of the present. It was a victim of an illusion of a technological sort, of a progression without stopping towards a consummation of energy." He and Métal hurlant did more than their part to transform and enrich that vision, but plenty of old perceptions still remain for their countless artistic descendants to warp beyond recognition.

via Tom Lennon/Dazed Digital

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Strange Story of Wonder Woman’s Creator William Moulton Marston: Polyamorous Feminist, Psychologist & Inventor of the Lie Detector

Most young male fans from my generation failed to appreciate the gender imbalance in comic books. After all, what were the X-Men without powerful X-women Storm, Rogue, and, maybe the most powerful mutant of all, Jean Grey? Indie comics like Love and Rockets revolved around strong female characters, and if the legacy golden age Marvel and DC titles were nearly all about Great Men, well... just look at the time they came from. We shrugged it off, and also failed to appreciate how the hypersexualization of women in comics made many of the women around us uncomfortable and hyperannoyed.

Had we been curious enough to look, however, we would have found that golden age comics weren’t just innocent “products of their time”—they reflected a collective will, just as did the comics of our time. And the character who first challenged golden age attitudes about women—Wonder Woman, created in 1941—began her career as perhaps one of the kinkiest superheroes in mainstream comic books. What’s more, she was created by a psychologist William Moulton Marston, who first published under a pseudonym, due in part to his unconventional personal life. Marston, writes NPR, “had a wife—and a mistress. He fathered children with both of them, and they all secretly lived together in Rye, N.Y.”

The other woman in Marston’s polyamorous threesome, one of his former students, happened to be the niece of Margaret Sanger, and Marston just happened to be the creator of the lie detector. The details of his life are as odd and prurient now as they were to readers in the 1940s—partly an index of how little some things have changed. And now that Marston’s creation has finally received her blockbuster due, his story seems ripe for the Hollywood telling. Such it has received, it appears, in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, the upcoming biopic by Angela Robinson. It’s unfair to judge a film by its trailer, but in the clips above we see much more of Marston’s dual romance than we do of the invention of his famous heroine.

Yet as political historian Jill Lepore tells it, the cultural history of Wonder Woman is as fascinating as her creator’s personal life, though it may be impossible to fully separate the two. A press release accompanying Wonder Woman’s debut explained that Marston aimed “to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men.” It went on to express Marston’s view that “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.”

The language sounds like that of many a modern-day NGO, not a World War II-era popular entertainment. But Marston would go further, saying, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is the psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” His interest in domineering women and S&M drove the early stories, which are full of bondage imagery. “There are a lot of people who get very upset at what Marston was doing...,” Lepore told Terry Gross on Fresh Air. “’Is this a feminist project that’s supposed to help girls decide to go to college and have careers, or is this just like soft porn?’” As Marston understood it, the latter question could be asked of most comics.

When writer Olive Richard—pen name of Marston’s mistress Olive Byrne—asked him in an interview for Family Circle whether some comics weren’t “full of torture, kidnapping, sadism, and other cruel business,” he replied, “Unfortunately, that is true." But “the reader’s wish is to save the girl, not to see her suffer.” Marston created a “girl”—or rather a superhuman Amazonian princess—who saved herself and others. “One of the things that’s a defining element of Wonder Woman,” says Lepore, “is that if a man binds her in chains, she loses all of her Amazonian strength. So in almost every episode of the early comics, the ones that Marston wrote... she’s chained up or she’s roped up.” She has to break free, he would say, “in order to signify her emancipation from men.” She does her share of roping others up as well, with her lasso of truth and other means.

The seemingly clear bondage references in all those ropes and chains also had clear political significance, Lepore explains. During the fight for suffrage, women would chain themselves to government buildings. In parades, suffragists "would march in chains—they imported that iconography from the abolitionist campaigns of the 19th century that women had been involved in... Chains became a really important symbol,” as in the 1912 drawing below by Lou Rogers. Wonder Woman’s mythological origins also had deeper signification than the male fantasy of a powerful race of well-armed dominatrices. Her story, writes Lepore at The New Yorker, “comes straight out of feminist utopian fiction” and the fascination many feminists had with anthropologists' speculation about an Amazonian matriarchy.

The combination of feminist symbols have made the character a redoubtable icon for every generation of activists—as in her appearance on 1972 cover of Ms. magazine, further up, an issue headlined by Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir. Marston translated the feminist ideas of the suffrage movement, and of women like Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, his wife, lawyer Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and his mistress Olive Byrne, into a powerful, long-revered superhero. He also translated his own ideas of what Havelock Ellis called “the erotic rights of women.”

Marston's version of Wonder Woman (he stopped writing the comic in 1947) had as much agency—sexual and otherwise—as any male character of the time. (See her breaking the bonds of “Prejudice,” “Prudery,” and “Man’s Superiority” in a drawing, below, from Marston’s 1943 article “Why 100,000 Americans Read Comics.”) The character was undoubtedly kinky, a quality that largely disappeared from later iterations. But she was not created, as were so many women in comics in the following decades, as an object of teenage lust, but as a radically liberated feminist hero. Read more about Marston in Lepore’s essays at Smithsonian and The New Yorker and in her book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

24,000 Vintage Cartoons from the Library of Congress Illustrate the History of This Modern Art Form (1780-1977)

Historically speaking, what we call cartoons began as artifacts of print culture, and as such, of modernity. Before the widespread availability of printed texts, the word “cartoon” referred to a sketch, an artist’s mock-up of a greater work. The word literally meant “a very large sheet of paper,” since Renaissance cartones “were the same size as the intended painting and were created to transfer the image,” as one art historian notes (with some very elegant examples). So when and how did the cartoon become shorthand for illustrated comic editorials?

Not until the late 18th century, though the origins of the form are often traced to another Italian art, the caricatura, satirical doodles favored by such masters as Leonardo da Vinci and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

These, writes the Cartoon Museum, “were technical exercises in virtuosity with the daring aim of defining the essence of a person in a few deft strokes of the pen.” Like the work of boardwalk caricaturists, we associate the contemporary cartoon with deft essentializing, but rarely with high art.

Yet when cartoons as we know them began proliferating, illustrators produced very high-quality work. Many, like English engraver William Hogarth—“regarded as the father of British caricature… and of the comic strip”—are well-known as fine artists. Others, like James Gillray, the most influential cartoonist of the period next to Hogarth, combined fine draughtsmanship with the Italian love of exaggeration and the use of word bubbles. Gillray, who freely satirized figures like George III and Napoleon (above)—is one of many prominent cartoonists represented in the Library of Congress’s digital collections of vintage cartoons, which, taken together, comprise about 24,000 images.

The work of Gillray, George Cruikshank, and other famous cartoon artists of the “golden Georgian age” (1770-1820) appear in a British Collection that showcases “approximately 9,000 prints” highlighting “British political life, society, fashion, manners, and theater.” Most of the Library’s American Collection begins when the Georgian period ends, around 1830, when U.S. illustrators participated in furious debates over slavery, the expanding nation’s colonial wars and, of course, the Civil War. In the 1864 cartoon above, “Columbia, wearing a liberty cap and a skirt made of an American flag, demands, ‘Mr. Lincoln, give me back my 500,000 sons,'” to which the caricature of Lincoln responds with a visual and rhetorical shrug.

The Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon takes us well into the 20th century with 2,085 “drawings, prints, and paintings related to the art of caricature, cartoon, and illustration, spanning the years 1780 to 1977” and encompassing magazine illustrations like Russell Patterson’s “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” at the top, and political cartoons, comic book art, and comic strips like the four-frame Batman comic above from 1966. A larger collection of Cartoon Drawings collects “9,000 original drawings for editorial cartoons, caricatures, and comic strips spanning the late 1700s to the present.”

Finally, the Herblock Collection contains “the bulk of the 14,000 original ink and graphite drawings… from 1946 through 2001, when Herblock [Herbert L. Block] worked for the Washington Post,” as well as 1,300 images from his days at the Chicago Daily News. (See a slideshow here of selected cartoons throughout the artist’s career.) Many of the issues in these drawings now seem forgotten or obscure. Some, like his Nixon cartoons, are newly relevant to our times. As we look through these archives, that phenomenon repeats itself over the course of two-hundred years of cartooning. Fashions and tastes may change, but some of the tangled circumstances of British and American politics have remained remarkably consistent.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Franz Kafka’s Unfinished Novel, The Castle, Gets Turned Into an Album by Czech Musicians: Watch a Music Video for the Song, “The Grave”

If, for some unfathomable reason, author Franz Kafka should emerge from his grave to direct a music video, the result would most certainly resemble the one for "The Grave" by The Kafka Band, above.

The air of futility and social foreboding…

The chilly broken landscape, rendered in black and white…

Bikinis and bling…

(Kidding! Overcoats and haggard expressions.)

"The Grave" was directed by animator, Noro Holder, but the lyrics are credited to Kafka, drawn directly from his unfinished novel, The Castle. As the band’s name might imply, this is no fickle flirtation with the author’s sensibilities.

"The Grave" is actually part of a ten-song album inspired by The Castle. (Stream it on Spotify below.) As bandmate, author Jaroslav Rudiš, observed:

Kafka is often deemed as a dark author, yet we strive to challenge this cliché. The novel possesses plenty of black and absurd humour, which we reflected in some of our compositions.

The album led to a collaboration with Germany’s Theater Bremen on a theatrical adaptation that featured the music played live.

The moody woodcut-inspired visuals seen above come from a graphic novel adaptation of The Castle illustrated by Rudiš’ bandmate, Jaromír 99, in collaboration with David Zane Mairowitz, an American playwright who previously tackled Kafka’s The Trial

At the point where another group might decide to take a detour into sunnier territory---a pop romp through the oeuvre of Milan Kundera perhaps---the Kafka Band is doubling down on another coproduction with Theater Bremen, an adaptation of Kafka’s novel Amerika (or The Man Who Disappeared), slated to open this fall.

The Grave

I’m dreaming of

Being with you

Without interruption

On earth

There is no space

For our love

Not in the village

Not anywhere else.

Deep in the earth / around us only death / the living won’t find us.

I’m imagining a grave

Deep and tight

We hold each other

My face next to yours

Yours next to mine

Nobody will ever see us

On earth there is no space

For our love.

Deep in the earth / around us only death / the living won’t find us.

Watch the video for "Arrival," another track inspired by The Castle, with drawings by Jaromír 99 here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker, soon to be appearing in a clown adaptation of Faust, inspired by the current administration and opening in New York City this June. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Jonathan Demme Narrates I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!!,” a Short Film About the Counterculture Cartoon Reid Fleming

Earlier today, we sadly learned about the passing of Jonathan Demme, director of The Silence of the Lambs and Stop Making Sense. We'll have more to say about his contributions to cinema in the morning. But, for now, I want to share a short film, narrated by Demme himself in 2015, called I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!!.  Featuring stop motion animation and interviews, the short revisits David Boswell's 1970s counterculture cartoon, Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman. Perhaps the cartoon never ended up on your radar. But it certainly influenced a number of important creators you're familiar with. And, happily, you can still pick up copies of Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman on Amazon or over at the official Reid Fleming web site.

Directed by Charlie Tyrell, I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!! will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.. You can also download it over at Tyrell's vimeo page.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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1950s Batman Cartoon Tells Kids: “Don’t Believe Those Crackpot Lies About People Who Worship Differently”

"Don't believe those crackpot lies about people who worship differently, or whose skin is of a different color, or whose parents come from another country. Remember our American heritage of freedom and equality!"

Blow the dust off the vintage 1950s Public Service Announcement (PSA) from Batman.

Back during the Eisenhower era, refugees from World War II didn't exactly get a warm reception in the United States. And so the forces of good, DC Comics, created some PSAs designed to encourage kids to treat new citizens with kindness and understanding. You can see one frame from a larger cartoon above. The makers of Superman cartoon also created their own tolerance poster. Check it out here. And hopefully you'll help spread the same message today.

via Boing Boing

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Hear an Hour of the Jazzy Background Music from the Original 1967 Spider-Man Cartoon

Ray Ellis had a six-decade career as a producer, arranger, and jazz composer. And while he's best known for arranging music for Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin (1958), he also enjoyed a long career orchestrating music for television. Working under a pseudonym "Yvette Blais" (his wife’s name), Ellis composed background music for the cartoon studio Filmation between 1968 and 1982. And, during the late 60s, he notably created the background and incidental music for the original Spider-Man cartoons.

Above, hear Ray Ellis' Spider-Man soundtrack. The show's talking parts and sound effects have been removed as much as possible, then "pieced back together into complete form," by a YouTuber who uses the moniker "11db11." All of the music from Season 1 is included, plus many recordings from Seasons 2 and 3. It's worth noting that the 52 episodes from the original 1967 Spider-Man TV series have been completely restored. You can purchase them on DVD online.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Retroist

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