Restricted Frequency #163
Yesterday's Men of Tomorrow, Resist Dystopia, Unanswered Questions, and more
1. Men of Tomorrow
I usually like to finish a book before reviewing it, so I’m not counting this as a review, but I’ve been enjoying this so much that I just had to say something about it. Holy shit, if you think you know everything there was about the birth of the comic book industry, think again! Get into the weeds a bit and you’ll find that even some of the most hardcore aficionados know nothing, because the birth of comicbooks is at the confluence of multiple histories colliding and overlapping in a perfect storm of thrill, excitement, dread, and terror!
I’m only 60 pages into this 358-page tome (not including the 26-page index of sources), and I’ve already learned a ton about Jewish socialist movements in early 20th century Russia, life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side versus Cleveland, union organizing in New York’s garment industry, prohibition and the evolution of small-time street gangs into big time mobs, the birth of fitness magazines, “scientifiction”, smut, feminist activism, and very early fandom!
“Eastern News, according to Michael Feldman, seems to have been one of the companies that distributed Sanger’s (women’s rights activist) publications and contraceptives in the Twenties. Harry Donenfeld may have been one of the printers of her Birth Control Review and other journals. It was in distribution, however, that Harry was most valuable, for it was illegal to send contraceptives and even pro-contraceptive literature by mail. Eastern News, like all magazine distributors, depended on the postal service to reach most of its territory. But Harry Donenfeld had connections with other distribution systems: those that moved Canadian liquor into the American heartland. So Margaret Sanger’s condoms, Hugo Gernsback’s science fiction, and Frank Costello’s whiskey could ride together on trucks and on trains and through post offices where the inspectors were on the take. And in 1928 those goods were joined by Al Smith’s campaign literature.”
(Al Smith was governor of New York and the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States that year.)
The way these things and the figures behind them would overlap is absolutely fascinating, and Gerard Jones writes about it all with gripping excitement and enthusiasm, not unlike the stories that filled the pulps of the era.
“The contours of that ‘undocumented alternative culture’ are traced by these business and social relationships. Booze, gambling, and prostitution on one extreme; feminism, reproductive rights, and scientific utopianism on the other; and in between them nude photography, pornographic humor, chorus girls and movie starlets, businessmen, hucksters, and politicians who opposed Prohibition and favored contraception but couldn’t say so out loud. The long party of the twenties got wilder as the decade rushed to a close, and right in the middle of it danced Harry Donenfeld—salesman, printer, smuggler, loyal Democrat, and smoosh publisher.”
(Harry Donenfeld would later go on to start National Allied Publications, which much later would become DC Comics.)
It got me thinking about the present, and how the fuel for new business models still largely seems to be the same. Things like Twitter, Instagram, and once upon a time Tumblr have been driven to prominence largely by three core things: smut, comix, and activism.
“Alternative culture” will always be the insidious driving force of human existence.
Anyway: I cannot for the life of me recommend this book enough. Essential reading to anyone interested in comix, pop culture, publishing, or just straight up modern history.
2. Resist Dystopia
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that MEN OF TOMORROW was recommended to me by Lantz Arroyo, 1/4 of the Radix Media crew, who’s Graphic Narrative kickstarter just met its target yesterday! (Huge congrats!)
They have however unleashed a stretch goal: a hand-made letterpress print of the above drawing (by me) delivered to all backers for free (including the ones who pledged for the $7 postcards!).
Stretch goal will be unlocked if they raise an additional $2500. So get on it quickly and/or spread the good word, because their campaign only has a few hours left to go.
3. Unanswered Questions
My OSU/Cartoon-Library talk seemed to have been enough of a success that I’m still getting messages about it! Didn’t even know a Zoom talk was even capable of eliciting any kind of enthusiasm.
The talk was followed by a Q&A, but there wasn’t enough time to answer all submitted questions. However! I was sent a log of questions asked and decided to address them in a blog post.
4. Restricted Radar
Everything Is Literally On Fire — Our Opinions Are Correct Podcast (essentially an episode on how science fiction has been addressing climate change)
A Wargame Designer Defines Our Four Possible Civil Wars — Mike Selinker (Pair this with Omar El Akkad’s excellent novel AMERICAN WAR)
Tea, Biscuits, and Empire: The Long Con of Britishness — Laurie Penny (wherein she points her sharp eye and even sharper tongue at the real—and fake—face of Britannia)
That should keep you busy for the day, or heck, the weekend. Thanks for reading and letting me into your inbox. Remember to hit the “Like” and/or “Share” buttons if you’ve enjoyed this edition of Restricted Frequency.
Stay safe and talk soon,