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Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Department of Fortean Events

In a blog post last year I mentioned that issue #12 of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD featured a character named “Robert Rickard”, in a deliberate homage to the founding editor of Fortean Times – who was a friend of the comic’s creators, Steve Parkhouse and Barry Windsor Smith. In the comment thread, reader B. Smith (presumably not the same B. Smith) pointed out that a “Doc Rickard of the Department of Fortean Events” also appeared circa 1990 in a Judge Anderson story called Shamballa, by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. This was reprinted in Judge Anderson: The Psi Files volume 02, which I finally got round to buying last week when I saw a reduced price copy in Forbidden Planet.

Doc Rickard is the old man seen talking to Judge Anderson in the excerpt above. She seeks his assistance after the world is hit by a sudden spate of Fortean events – including stigmatics in Rome, phantom hounds in London, a Manticore in Jakarta and a Bunyip in Australia. There are references to Doris Stokes, the Turin Shroud and the Tower of Babel, while Anderson herself witnesses a “pre-Columbian meteorite” break apart to reveal a living a toad entombed inside it. The villains of the story are called “deros” – degenerate human beings who live in underground caves and tunnels. The word “dero” is an obvious reference to the Shaver Mystery, although Shaver’s deros were huge, obese and sexually decadent, whereas the deros in the comic are more zombie-like – dressed in rags and physically emaciated.

There are several other stories in the collection besides Shamballa, including another very Fortean one called Childhood’s End. This has no connection to Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name, but it does have the Face on Mars, ancient aliens and references to Zecharia Sitchin’s theory of Anunnaki and Nephilim. And the art, by Kevin Walker, portrays a much sexier-looking Judge Anderson than Arthur Ranson’s version.

Although I found the stories interesting, I can’t say I really enjoyed them. I was never a big fan of Fleetway comics – for some reason they always struck me as gloomy and political (even when they weren’t). It’s all a matter of personal taste… and as far as comics are concerned, personal taste usually boils down to what you thought was cool when you were 15 or 16. Which brings me to another purchase I made in London last week – the first issue of a black-and-white horror anthology called Devilina, from Atlas-Seaboard comics.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Atlas-Seaboard comics. They were only active for a few months during 1975, but that just happened to coincide with the peak of my interest in comics fandom – and the new company created a huge buzz at the time (the whole story of Atlas-Seaboard is a fascinating one – here’s an excellent article on the subject). Most of their output consisted of colour comics aimed at challenging Marvel (which were the ones I bought at the time) – but they also produced a few black and white titles to rival Warren magazines such as Creepy, Eerie… and Vampirella, which is where Devilina comes in.

Having finally bought it 40 years after it came out, I really enjoyed Devilina #1. It’s fairly typical of horror anthologies of that vintage, both in terms of stories and artwork. It has its share of Fortean themes, too, with a story about people being reincarnated in animal form, another about a man who becomes convinced his life is controlled by aliens, and a nice moral tale about a mermaid taking revenge on a group of sailors who gang-raped her (and then saving the man who saved her). And as shown below, there’s a neat adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest (probably his most Fortean play – see my short ebook Paranormal Shakespeare).

6 comments:

Gordon Rutter said...

Paul Sieveking also gets a name check in some Judge Dredd / Anderson material.

Gordon

Kid said...

I remember running into Doris Stokes many years ago when I was down in London at some event or other. She was smirking from ear to ear and looking very pleased with herself, which infuriated me. I walked up to her and belted her right in the gob. "What did you do that for?" she screamed. "I always like to strike a happy medium!" I replied. Boom boom!

Andrew May said...

Thanks Gordon - I'll have to look out for those too!

As for Kid's anecdote - well, that sort of proves the woman was a fraud, doesn't it? I mean if she was a real clairvoyant she would have seen it coming.

Kid said...

Just jumped over from the link in your comment, Andrew. I'd forgotten I'd read this and commented (in a totally irrelevant way). I wonder what the comics scene would be like today if Atlas Comics had been a success? Maybe we'd be watching blockbuster movies featuring their characters.

Andrew May said...

Yes, it's interesting to speculate isn't it? In fact the whole question of which comic characters become perennial favourites and which fade into oblivion is a fascinating one (someone ought to do a PhD thesis on the subject, if they haven't already). It's not a simple question either - for example both the original Hulk and the X-Men titles were cancelled, and only became really popular after they were revived. And some characters who are hugely popular with comics readers never seem able to win over the general public (the Fantastic Four being one obvious example). So who knows what would have happened to the Atlas-Seaboard characters!

Kid said...

I know! Someone other than the creators would've got rich off them.