Saturday, March 29, 2008

Separated at Birth: White Line Fever

Flash #181/Impulse #81
L: Flash #181 (February 2002), art by Brian Bolland
R: Impulse #81 (February 2002), art by Carlo Barberi and Wayne Faucher
(Click picture to Chunk-size)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Because sometimes you just have to post a panel of the Fantastic Four riding in a flying car with a Skrull in 1920s Manhattan in outer space.

(It's been that sort of week.)

Gangster Skrulls
Panel from Fantastic Four #93 (December 1969), written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia, lettering by Artie Simek

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #47: Company for Henry

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Company for Henry (1967, published as The Purloined Paperweight in the US) is a pleasant and brisk but by-the-numbers late-era romantic romp. By this point in his career you can pretty much check off the standard elements Wodehouse is going to spin into his novel like candyfloss:
  • Impoverished owner of a crumbling British country house
  • Cheerfully brusque ex-chorus girl
  • Handsome and love-smitten young man
  • The beautiful and smart girl he's fallen head over heels with, who engaged to someone else
  • Layabout brother with no cash but a get-rich-quick scheme
  • American millionaire with an eccentric habit
  • A Silver Cow Creamer
In that last case, of course and as almost always usual, it's not actually a real Silver Cow Creamer (unless the hero of the piece is Bertie Wooster), but an objet d'art upon which the plot pivots and that everyone and his butler is trying to pocket. Keeping the American title of Company for Henry in mind, can you deduce what this novel's S.C.C. is? Aw, go ahead, take a guess.


Yup, American millionaire and paperweight collectin' fool J. Wendall Stickney is as head-over-heels over Henry Paradene's heirloom eighteenth-century French paperweight as young writer Thomas "Bill" Hardy is for pretty Jane Martyn. You can set your watch by the fact that Jane's engaged to the handsome but dull Lionel Green, so for a while it looks like no one in the novel's going to get what he or she wants, most of all Henry, who wants nothing more but to dump the family's ramshackle rambling estate on the next convenient buyer, who just might be Stickley if he plays his cards right. Will love triumph? Will the money come through? Will the paperweight weigh down some papers for someone who really appreciates it? Why, as this is a Wodehouse novel, yes, yes, a million times yes. Did you have any doubt?

Although much of the action takes place at Ashby Hall in the country, you can count this novel as one of the several with scenes in Valley Fields, the London suburb Wodehouse is fond of populating with his young lover characters. If you had asked me before I'd started on this project the setting of Wodehouse books, I'd have answered London, New York, and the English Countryside—it's only been in conjunction with reading them weekly in a row that I've realized Wodehouse is as fond of suburban Valley Fields as a springpoint for action as the other places. Like Big Money, Ice in the Bedroom, and Something Fishy, it's a pleasant and placid little oasis outside of the hustle and bustle of London proper; in Company for Henry it's also the inspiration for a "can't-miss" investment scheme dreamed up by Algy to capitalize on the building of a block of flats in Valley Streams. Say it ain't so, Algy! Don't pave over our beloved Valley Fields!

There's an interesting and atypical section which almost reads like an aside: Chapter Five, Part 2 is a discussion between two of the "downstairs" staff at Ashby Hall, valet Clarkson and butler Ferris. It runs a swift three pages and serves to set up a mild subplot in which Clarkson leaves the employ of Stickley, but for the most part it's an unusual anomaly examining the servants' life. Like similar passages in Something Fresh, it's got an Upstairs, Downstairs feel to it, most notably when Wodehouse interrupts the action for some ethnic humor:
'....I gave my notice. I was not sorry to do so, for I had found my colleagues at the Waterbury house most uncongenial.'

'What was wrong with them?'

'Several of them were Swedes, and the rest Irish.'

'You don't like Swedes?'

'I disapprove of them.'


'Their heads are too square.'

'And you disapprove of the Irish?'



'Because they are Irish.'

To Clarkson, some of whose best friends were Swedish and Irish, it occurred as a passing thought that his companion, however gifted at buttling, must have been a difficult man to fit in socially.

'They can't help being Irish,' he argued.

Ferris pursed his lips, as though affronted by this specious reasoning. He seemed to be thinking that they could if they tried.
You'd never catch Jeeves making such observations.

The plot of the book follows the usual Wodehouse roller-coaster: complications spun into one another and unraveled quickly at the end. A little too quickly: he introduces several turns-of-fortune for Bill and Algy quite near to the end; with a chapter left to go they're changing their plans and masquerading as various guests with so much sudden rapidity that we don't even get to see the promise of the fun their duplicitous disguises are expected to bring.

Still, although the formula's familiar and we've basically seen the whole thing before, Wodehouse still delights with clever turns of phrases and the perfect lyrical passage spiced with a humorous quip:
As they made their way to the oubliette to which feminine guests of the club were confined, Jane was aware of an odd and disagreeable feeling. Analysing this, she found that what was causing it was what Roget in his Thesaurus would have called violent anger, extreme agitation, fury, wrath and the rest of the emotions listed under the heading of 'Rage.' As she thought of how Lionel, after a six months parting, had turned the tête-a-tête to which she had been looking forward into a threesome that included the bearded Tarvin. Fume, frenzy, and acharnement bubbled and sizzled within her as if they had been the scrambled eggs assembled in his frying pan that morning by her Uncle Henry.
If Wodehouse had written the famous "Who's on first?" sketch, it might have started out like this:
'What do you plan to do with your wealth?'

'I was telling Algy. I'm going to settle down in the country somewhere.'

'What will you do there? Raise chickens?'


'Oh? Well, I suppose you know your own business best,' said Jane dubiously. 'I don't think I'd like to run a poultry farm myself.'

Bill saw that the intricacies of the English language had misled her.

'When I said write, I didn't mean right, I meant write,' he said helpfully.

'Oh, write?'


'I'm glad we've got that straight. It was worrying me.'
A running joke is how hideously designed Ashby Hall is:
Arriving at the post office and finding the telegram window occupied by a man in his bowler hat, he had filled in the time of waiting by looking through the picture postcards on the other side of the shop, and among these he had found a coloured presentation of Ashby Hall. His initial emotion, like that of everybody who saw the Hall for the first time, was one of shock. In spite of Jane's warning he had not been prepared for anything quite so hideous. It had obviously been designed by an architect steeped to the tonsils in spirituous liquor, as so many architects were in the days of the Regency.

As befitting a novel that circles upon the collecting of antique paperweights, Wodehouse has a good deal of fun at the eccentricity of obsessive collectors. He even slips in a couple mentions of comic books (to be fair, as newsstand entertainment rather than mylar-snugged collectibles). He's got that manic furor that true collectors have done pretty pat, though. That's much the way I feel about my P. G. Wodehouse book collection, in which I have a paperback Penguin Company for Henry as well as an American hardcover reprint under the title The Purloined Paperweight. This hardcover is interesting from a collector's viewpoint—not because it's a specific rarity or hard to find, but because of its publisher, a press which only published one Wodehouse, and for good reason: the publisher is Paperweight Press, and they only publish books on one subject. I bet you can speculate what that subject is, huh? Oh, go ahead, take a guess!

Oh wait, sorry. That's Genesis's "Paperlate." Silly mistake to have made, I suppose.

Paperweight Press, as its name suggest, only publishes books about paperweights. For example:

Most of Paperweight Press's output is color guidebooks and collectible art histories of paperweights, plus their single fiction offering: The Purloined Paperweight. I can't imagine there are too many pieces of fiction that resolve around paperweights—there are paperweights in John Fowles's The Magus and Orwell's 1984 and I suppose this bookmight qualify...but paperweight-centric fiction is few and far between, and Paperweight Press makes the most of the occasion with a paperweightcentric introduction discussion the history of paperweights, pointing out, rather rudely in his own book, that Wodehouse was quite wrong in writing about an eighteenth-century glass paperweight as they were first made in the nineteenth century. Three lengthy paragraphs about the history of paperweights later, the introduction briskly returns to the matter at hand and suggests that "Wodehouse fans and paperweight enthusiasts will greatly enjoy this delightful novel." Well, although it's not one of his finest, I certainly did, and you can too by clicking on the Amazon link below, whether or not you collect paperweights. The book is neither as pricey nor as heavy as an antique paperweight, which means it's more portable but less likely to be used, as is suggested in the novel itself, as a blunt instrument weapon. Read it, instead, okay?

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What If...Clark Kent worked for Barry White instead of Perry White?

Inspired by an idea from the ever-soulful Lucy Anne