Saturday, February 20, 2016

Secret Origins

The Lost World of Cave Girl!
Part 3 Continued from Part 2, here
by Terence E. Hanley

In February 1913, fresh from the success of "Under the Moons of Mars" and "Tarzan of the Apes," both published in magazine form in the previous year, Edgar Rice Burroughs began work on a new novel, again to take place in a lost world. Entitled "The Cave Girl," it was serialized in The All-Story in July through September 1913. Like most of Burroughs' novel-length stories, it was reprinted in hardback, in this case as The Cave Girl in 1925. A sequel, "The Cave Man," appeared in All-Story Weekly in March and April 1917, but it doesn't seem to have been reprinted until recent years, and then only digitally.

The Cave Girl is the story of a contemporary man, Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, and his adventures on an unexplored island in the South Pacific. There he finds and is rescued by a cave girl named Nadara, who returns him to her village. Along the way, she dubs him Thandar--"The Brave One." In actuality, he is a weak, fearful, and bookish scion of Back Bay, Boston, but over the course of several months' training, Smith-Jones--now Thandar--strengthens his body and learns to survive in his new home. He falls in love with Nadara and becomes a leader of her people. After further operatic adventures, Thandar--now Smith-Jones--is reunited with his parents. It is revealed then that Nadara's parents came from the outside world and that she is actually an aristocrat by the name of de la Valois. Thus the way is cleared for her to marry her champion. Very convenient.

The Cave Girl went through seven hardbound editions from 1925 to 1940. In 1949, Dell issued a paperback version as part of its famous "map back" series. Many more paperback versions followed over the years. The story of the cave girl Nadara and her almost anagrammatic lover Thandar is now in the public domain. Consequently, it has proliferated in our digital age. In 1985, that golden age of teen movies, Crown International Pictures released Cavegirl, in which a boy from the twentieth century travels back to prehistoric times, there to find the girl of his dreams. It's unlikely that Cavegirl has anything to do with The Cave Girl, although the conventions of the lost-world story seem evident in its plot.

Many years before, in January 1952, a new comic book appeared on the newsstand. Called Thun'da, it was the work of writer Gardner Fox (1911-1986) and artist Frank Frazetta (1928-2010). Frazetta was then only twenty-three years old, but he had already been in the comic book business for seven years. Thun'da #1 would prove to be the only comic book that was entirely his work. In that inaugural issue, Roger Drum, an American airman, crash lands in a lost valley in Africa. Like Smith-Jones before him, Drum spends months conditioning himself for his new life. He also finds in Pha, a beautiful native of the valley, the love of his life. Also like Smith-Jones, he becomes the leader of her people. And like him, Drum earns a new name, the Thun'da of the title. Thun'da ran for six issues in all in 1952-1953. Bob Powell (1916-1967) took over for Frazetta in Thun'da #2.

Gardner Fox and Bob Powell introduced a new character in that second issue. Called Cave Girl, she is Carol Mantomer, the daughter of two Americans killed by African natives. Like Mowgli, Cave Girl is reared by animals and lives among them as their friend. Thun'da guest-starred in the first Cave Girl story. She had a backup feature in Thun'da #2 through #6, then got her own title for four issues (#11-#14) published in 1953-1954. As for Thun'da, he became the backup feature in Cave Girl. In 1952, his story was adapted to the silver screen in King of the Congo, a serial starring Buster Crabbe.

Gardner Fox was a prolific author and a voracious reader in every field. "Knowledge," he said, "is a kind of hobby with me." His library was vast, and he kept filing cabinets full of story ideas. Like so many writers of his generation, he grew up reading the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. There can be little doubt that he encountered The Cave Girl somewhere along the line, and certainly no later than the Dell paperback edition of 1949, for it's clear that Thun'da and Cave Girl are drawn from Burroughs' story. The names alone--Thandar vs. Thun'da--are the first bit of evidence. Beyond that, the plots are more or less the same, as are the origins of the cave girl character in each. None of that matters now, for Burroughs' version and the Fox/Powell version of Cave Girl are in the public domain, and that's how she came to be in Five Star Comics as well.

"The Cave Girl" was a serial in The All-Story before it was a book and long before it was a comic book. It appeared in the magazine in three parts, July through September 1913, and made the cover in July. The artist was Clinton Pettee (1872-1937).

The Cave Girl was issued in hardback in 1925 with a dust jacket by J. Allen St. John . . .

And in paperback in 1949 with cover art by Jean des Vignes (which may be a pseudonym).

That paperback version is a Dell map back. Here's the map. Note the "Caves of Bad Men," which look about how Frank Frazetta drew them three years later:

The Cave Girl also appeared in foreign editions. Here's one, I think from Japan. The artist may not have seen the Dell map back, as his island has a different configuration.

Ace issued many of Edgar Rice Burroughs' books beginning in the early 1960s. Here is Roy G. Krenkel's cover for the 1964 edition . . .

A reprise of his role for Canaveral Press two years before. He and Frazetta were of course friends and sometime collaborators.

Frank Frazetta didn't draw the adventures of Cave Girl in the comic books. That was Bob Powell. But he did draw the heroine Pha, who was no doubt based on Burroughs' original character. Here is Cave Girl again on the cover of the later Ace edition, from 1973, in Frazetta's unmistakable manner.

Here is a British edition issued by Tandem. The artist is uncredited. It's interesting that depictions of the Cave Girl alternate between fearful or submisive and courageous or dominant.

Frank Frazetta had many great qualities as an artist. His unimaginative reliance on racial stereotypes was not one of them. This is his cover illustration for Thun'da #1 from January 1952. It was the only comic book that was all his. Gardner Fox wrote the script.

A page of Frazetta's art from that first issue. Note the sequence of training and conditioning as in Burroughs' story from nearly forty years before. Note, too, the Wally Wood-like figure in the bottom left panel and the Tarzan-like pose in the bottom right. Frazetta was a great admirer of Hal Foster. (Who isn't.) You can see that, especially in his early work.

In 1952, Thun'da was adapted to a movie serial starring Buster Crabbe. If you look closely, you'll see Frazetta's cover from above in the lower right. Movie posters weren't often signed in those days, but this one is. It was the work of Glenn Cravath (1897-1964). (The poster calls Thun'da a "Cartoon Magazine.")

In her journey from pulp magazines of the 1910s to the public domain of today, Cave Girl made a stopover in the comics. If it weren't for Gardner Fox, Frank Frazetta, and Bob Powell, she may well have been forgotten except by Burroughs fans. Now she is in our very own Five Star Comics . . . but that's a story for another time.

Note: Not long ago, I read Dian of the Lost Land by Edison Marshall, from 1935. It is very much like The Cave Girl and other stories of lost worlds in that a visitor from the effete or decadent outside world finds in himself courage, strength, hope, and fortitude in a place out of time. In Dian of the Lost Land, the protagonist also finds his true love in the queen of the people of that world. As it turns out, she, like Nadara, is the daughter of an outsider, thus is avoided any distasteful intermixing of peoples. Sometime between then and the movie Planet of the Apes (1968), the idea that a modern man can not and should not love a savage or primitive woman disappeared.

Edison Marshall (1894-1967) turned eighteen in the year that Edgar Rice Burroughs' first two fantasies went to print. A budding writer, he could hardly have been less impressed by Burroughs than others of his generation. He had his own first story published in The Argosy in 1915. In "Og, The Dawn Man" (1928, reprinted in hardback as Ogden's Strange Story in 1934), Marshall wrote about a man who crash lands in the Canadian wilderness and reverts to being a caveman. In Horrors Unknown (1972), Sam Moskowitz compared him favorably to Burroughs and to Rudyard Kipling. Dian of the Lost Land seems to have been Marshall writing in the mold of Burroughs. One difference is that Marshall was superior as a stylist.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, February 19, 2016

Five Star Comics Down Under #5

This is the last cover of the Australian 5 Star Comics for which we have an image. It may or may not be the last issue of the magazine. Note that the faces of the characters have shrunk away, leaving only their names inside the stars. The boy looks like a hillbilly character. I wonder if he is the "Hickory" from the star on the far right.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Five Star Comics Down Under #3

We weren't the first to have our characters' faces enclosed by stars on the cover of our comic book. The Australian 5 Star did it way back in the Golden Age. The grotesque image on the right is unfortunate, but that's how Will Eisner drew The Spirit's sidekick, Ebony White. There's no blaming an Australian artist for it.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Five Star Comics Down Under #1

Sharp-eyed Mike Tuz found out that 5 Star Comics goes back to the Golden Age of Comic Books, just like the characters in our modern-day title do. Here's the cover of 5 Star Comics #1, an Australian comic book, date unknown. In addition to The Spirit and Lady Luck, the original 5 Star had stories of Peachy, Perky, and Lassie (a girl, not a dog). More covers are on their way, so keep checking back. The images are from

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Secret Origins

The Amalga-Mates: The World's First (and Second) Siamese Twin Superheroes!
Part 4
by Terence E. Hanley

In his review of May 15, 2012, comic book writer, collector, and fan Tony Isabella wrote:
My specific quibble on the second issue [of Five Star Comics] revolves around the Amalga-Mates. Beside being pretty sure "Siamese twins" is now considered an insensitive/offensive term, the story was poorly done and seemed to mock its heroes. The [Five Star] collective should be a bit more choosy in what it publishes in this anthology.
Mr. Isabella isn't the first and won't be the last to assume that Siamese twins is an insensitive or offensive term. If you ask the question on the Internet--"Is the term Siamese twins offensive?"--you'll find plenty of people who say, "Yes." There are, of course, people who are looking everywhere for offense, especially in regards to racial, national, and ethnic categories. They are determined to be offended. Their determination is certain to pay off. There are also people who have fallen into political correctness. They're afraid of making any untoward reference to race, nationality, or ethnicity. Phrases like "getting your Irish up" or "Welshing on a bet" are verboten. They have probably decided that the term Siamese twins, because it refers to nationality--thus indirectly to what they call race--falls into the same category, like calling someone with Down syndrome a "mongoloid" or referring to people from East Asia as "Oriental." They don't understand the origin of the term and that it has nothing to do with any particular group--unless you consider a pair of brothers who became internationally famous simply because their bodies were congenitally joined to be a group. (1)

Chang and Eng Bunker (they adopted the surname while in the United States) were born on May 11, 1811, on a houseboat in the river village of Meklong, west of Bangkok in what was then called Siam. Their father, Ti-eye, was Chinese, while their mother, Nok, was three-quarters Chinese and one-quarter Siamese. The twins were born entangled in each other. When they were untangled, it was discovered that they were bound at the breast by a fleshy ligament between them. Neither the locals nor the people of the greater part of Siam had seen such a thing before. Because of the nationality of the twins' parents, Chang and Eng were first referred to as "the Chinese twins."

Chang and Eng grew up strong and able. They learned to walk, run, play, swim, and handle a boat together. Chang, the twin on the twins' own left, was an inch shorter but "was the dominant member of the two and the more quick-tempered," wrote their biographers, Irving and Amy Wallace. "Eng," on the twins' own right, "was more agreeable, compliant, and docile." (The Two: A Biography, 1978, p. 24) Nonetheless, the two fought, though only once in childhood, until their mother "reasoned with them, [explaining] that their condition made any more fights impossible." (p. 24)

In 1824, Robert Hunter, a Scottish trader, met the boys while they were engaged in selling duck eggs in Meklong. He became acquainted with the whole family and conceived of the possibility of taking the Chinese twins on a tour of the West, where he would exhibit them as a curiosity to paying crowds. Finally, after seven years' delay, on April 1, 1829, Chang and Eng embarked on the American vessel Sachem for Boston. They arrived four and half months later, on August 16, 1829. Thus their careers and lives in the West began. They would never again see their mother or their homeland.

In their shared career, Chang and Eng traveled throughout the United States and in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, and Cuba, drawing large crowds and earning large receipts. On June 1, 1832, having reached majority, they went out on their own as performers and exhibitors. Called "the Siamese Double Boys," "the Siamese boys," or "the Siamese youths," Chang and Eng called themselves "Siamese Twins" in a letter written in 1832. If the term is offensive, then the offense began with the original Siamese twins.

In 1839, the Siamese Twins traveled to Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Then only twenty-eight years old, they had been on the road for more than a decade. It was time, they decided, to retire from the public eye and settle down. They bought a store and a farm and on April 13, 1843, married a pair of sisters, Sarah "Sallie" Yates, wife of Eng, and Adelaide "Addie" Yates, wife of Chang. From those marriages issued twenty-one children. Chang, the dominant brother, bested his twin by one.

Although they were Whigs, Chang and Eng kept slaves, twenty-eight in all by 1860. "The Siamese Twins were rumored to be hard on their slaves," wrote the Wallaces, "sometimes whipping them." (p. 192) Christopher Bunker, Chang's oldest son, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was captured by Union forces in August 1864. (2) Eng's son, Stephen Bunker, also served and was supposed to have been a prisoner of war as well. Both men survived the war.

Having lost a good part of their wealth (i.e., their slaves) in the war and its aftermath, the Siamese Twins went on tour again beginning in November 1865, traveling in the United States and Europe. They returned to North Carolina in 1870 knowing they would never travel again. By then they had lived in Mount Airy for many years, and that's where they died, at home, on the morning of January 17, 1874, Chang first, followed by Eng about two hours later. Although physicians thought them to have been surgically separable in life, a postmortem examination determined that "the twins' lives would unquestionably have been endangered from shock and subsequent inflammation" had they been so separated. (Quoted in Wallace and Wallace, p. 324) Their headstone reads, in part:

Siamese Twins - Chang and Eng
Born in Siam

Again, if the term is offensive, then the makers of the twins' own headstone, and the twins' own families, are among the offenders.

Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace closed their 1978 biography of Chang and Eng Bunker with a list of artifacts remaining from their lives. "But something more significant remains," the Wallaces wrote. "In the dictionaries of the world lies their immortality:
Siamese Twins. 1. congenitally united twins . . . 2. any twins joined together in any manner."
The Wallaces concluded with words that the habitually offended and politically correct might consider:
     They have become a part of the language, every language. With the birth of any Siamese twins anywhere, the Siamese Twins are resurrected in memory.
     In North Carolina, they sleep their eternal sleep together. In the world, they live, perhaps forever. (p. 339)
(1) None of this is to imply or suggest that Tony Isabella is looking for offense or is politically correct. It's obvious that his reference to the supposed offensiveness of the term Siamese twins is only an aside and was not his main point. I met Mr. Isabella at PulpFest in 2014 and in the short time I talked to him, he impressed me as a regular, down-to-earth, friendly kind of guy. I also don't want anything I have written here to lead anyone to think that we at Five Star Comics have any bones to pick with Mr. Isabella because of his review. He made a legitimate criticism of "The Case of the Nutcase," and it's something we take seriously. The story has its problems. We hope we will be more careful in our choices in the future, just Tony Isabella advised.
(2) Christopher Bunker served under Brigadier General John McCausland in his invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1864. As a prisoner of war, Bunker was held at Camp Chase, now partly a cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, the city in which the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (S.P.A.C.E.) and PulpFest are held every year. After the war, General McCausland retired to a large farm, "Grape Hill," near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, which, as we all know, is the home of Mothman and a family named Gibeaut.

Further Reading
  • The Two: A Biography by Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978).
  • The Mystery and Lore of Monsters by C.J.S. Thompson (New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1968).
  • A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural by Maurice Bessy (Feltham, Middelsex, UK: The Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1964), "Conjunction of Opposites," etc., pp. 119-124.

The original Siamese Twins, Eng and Chang, in a portrait by Larry Blake.

Art copyright 2016 Larry Blake
Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 1, 2016

Secret Origins

The Amalga-Mates: The World's First (and Second) Siamese Twin Superheroes!
Part 3
by Terence E. Hanley

Hemi and Semi are identical twins, of course, but as they say, their powers are fraternal. Hemi has one super power, his super strength. Semi's powers are more varied, but they're  random. He doesn't know what they will be, when they will show up, or how long they will last. One minute, he can fly, the next, he has the power of the Porcupine and is covered with spines made of pure adamandantium! The twins could easily be surgically separated, but their powers derive from the connection between them. If they were separated from each other, they would be diminished. There might be a lesson in that for all of us.

Reaction to The Amalga-Mates has been mixed. Some readers liked "The Case of the Nutcase." In his letter of comment in Five Star Comics #3, Rob Marsh called it "rich with goofy humor and silly slapstick." The late Don Ensign, on the other hand, considered it "rather self-conscious" and "sophomoric." Comic book writer, collector, and fan Tony Isabella reviewed Five Star Comics #2 and the first part of "The Case of the Nutcase" on his blog, called, appropriately enough, Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing (May 15, 2012). He wrote, in part:
My specific quibble on the second issue revolves around the Amalga-Mates. Beside being pretty sure "Siamese twins" is now considered an insensitive/offensive term, the story was poorly done and seemed to mock its heroes.  The collective should be a bit more choosy in what it publishes in this anthology.
I agree with Mr. Isabella that Part One could have been better, but in conceiving of the characters and writing the script, I didn't intend to mock them at all. Instead, I wanted to poke fun at superheroes, comic book fans, the comic book business, and the conventions of comic book storytelling. I should have done a better job of it, of course. I wouldn't be explaining myself now if I had. (I have heard that if you're explaining, you're losing. I guess I'm losing.) I regret that "The Case of the Nutcase" comes off as mocking its protagonists. I think Part Two is kinder to them and more to the point.

With The Amalga-Mates, I also wanted to poke fun at people in general as they are confronted by Siamese twins. The speaker in the opening of Part One makes a lame joke about the twins accepting the gift of the acorns on behalf--"Get it, on be-half?" he says--of the city. The reporter, Chelsea Brittany, describes The Amalga-Mates as a "new superhero, with two bodies and two heads," never understanding that she is talking about two distinct people who just happen to be conjoined. My intent is to show that Siamese twins, though they may look different, are simply human beings, and they have everything in common with the rest of us. Beyond that, if anyone else can be a superhero, why not a Siamese twin or twins? As for the quibble that Siamese twins is considered an insensitive or offensive term--I'll write about that in the last part of this series.

To be concluded . . .

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley