Alias
Saturday — November 1st, 2014

Alias

Weekly Shtuff 2-21-14

I’m down to finishing the page for the week the night before it goes up. Bummer. That probably means that I’ll miss a few weeks in the near future. It takes so long to do a page that I really need to be a few weeks ahead.

I found this link to pics of Buddhist cave temples awesome. And I wonder what the Old Gentleman would make of biocentrism’s claim that life doesn’t end when the body dies. Scientific mysticism?

Don’t miss the series on How I  Make a Webcomic which will be running every Wednesday for the next month or so. If you want to make your own, or if you’re just curious about the process necessary to produce one, I think you’ll be entertained and enlightened.

 

Have a good week.

Lovecraft is Missing- How to Make a Web Comic: the Idea

(Introduction

So you want to do your own webcomic. What are you, nuts? It will consume most of your waking hours, fill you with frustration over deadlines and technical issues, and, should people like it, shackle you with living up to whatever standards you’ve set. Seriously. No, really, seriously.

But then, I’m nuts, and Lovecraft is Missing is also the most liberating creative experience I’ve ever had. The limits are pretty much only those I set for myself. It’s likely that if you are reading this, those two factors will outweigh the previously mentioned obstacles.

‘Tutorials’ is a way too technical and organized term for what I’m going to do in this series of blogs, but I will be detailing the steps I go through, the tips I’ve learned from experience, and the way I do things in general. I’ll cover the whole process, from developing the idea to marketing. A lot of it is just my opinion, but it is opinion based on experience. It’s certainly not the only way, it won’t work for everybody, and I know I still have a lot to learn. But even if you disagree, what I have to say might help you figure out your own path. That said, let’s get on with it.)

Ideas

When it comes to the storytelling arts (novels, movies, comics, etc.) just about everybody thinks they have ideas. They seem to think that because they have a.) seen a lot of movies and/or read a lot of books and b.) at one time consigned a coherent sentence to paper, they necessarily have the chops to produce a workable story idea off the top of their heads at  a moment’s notice.

Most of them are wrong.

I’m not judging the quality of the  idea here, just noting that most people have a fuzzy notion of what actually constitutes an idea, at least insofar as it relates to story. After all, writing is easy, not real work. Kinda like singing or painting.

In their actual life, people would never think that “grocery store” was an idea; call it a thought, a concept, a notion, whatever, it lacks any potential for action or conflict, and fails to solve any problem. “I’ll go to the grocery store” is is at least action-driven, but without knowing why, or what obstacles might lie in the way, it’s just an item on a checklist of daily tasks. Just going to walk around? Low on Egg-os? Cute new check-out person? These might be germs for a story, but if you think any of these are dramatic –full of action and conflict– we need to get you out more.

However, the same folks have no trouble telling you they have an idea for a novel-m0vie-comic and when you ask what it is, they’ll say, with a straight face, “zombies.” If you press them further, they get flustered, hem and haw, act offended.

Sorry, not an idea. No offense to zombies.

Developing an Idea

But you have to start somewhere, so the subject should definitely be something that is of great interest to you. It’s not about what’s hot, what’s cool, what’s trendy. By the time you get your book out to the public, all that will have changed anyway. I don’t care how dull or mundane the subject may seem to be to others, it has to be of great interest to you. It’s your job as a writer to make it interesting to the rest of the world.

Let’s stick with webcomics as our medium and zombies as our subject , and we’ll go a step further: “Zombies take over the country.” Let’s pretend that this hasn’t been done to death, and we can still see that it isn’t really an idea. It’s too vague, too broad, the conflict is only impersonal and implied.

An idea is what will be carrying your webcomic for as long as you care to make it, whether it is a gag-a-day style strip or an adventure comic or something inbetween. It has to have muscle, endurance, tenacity, fortitude. (And let me be clear, I am not talking here about the Hollywood notion of being able to sum up a story in a single sentence. I think that’s shallow crap, and as evidence I offer the low quality of most high-concept movies like 2012. Everybody got so jazzed about the one sentence they forgot to fill out the other two hours of the movie.)

So, what would make “Zombies take over the country” into a workable idea? Well, “Zombies take over the country and it’s a GOOD thing” takes us a step closer. It’s a bit of a twist, it makes me curious as to how something like that would work. How would zombies be good for the country? Haven’t a clue at the moment, and that’s ok, but the notion inspires conflict on the level of C-SPAN programming. Need to up the ante.

So, howzabout “Zombies take over the country and it’s a GOOD thing, BUT there are still roving rebel bands of humans that will fight against them.” Ok, a bit of a twist in making the humans the bad guys, some conflict, though kind of mundane.

What makes it mundane? To me, it’s the humans. Guerilla forces always arise when there’s a coup, even if the coup is for the best. Also, too easy to fall into political statements and comparisons with real wars. Yawn.

In a situation like this, I like to turn on the spigot, make the longest list of alternatives I can in the shortest amount of time – say, ten minutes. No editing, you never have to show it to anybody, and  the crazier you get, the more alternatives you can think of, the freer your mind will be to stumble upon something really creative. It’s like uncorking a bottle of champagne – a little bit of work and then oh my, look out.

For example, at random here, I could replace the humans with yams, cows, dogs weighing less than 25 pounds, random electrical discharges, soda, frogs, Bigfoot, Donald Duck, John Malkovich’s puppet from Being John Malkovich, E. Coli, suddenly sentient mushrooms, and so on. None of these may be in the least workable, but it’s important to get your mind freed up, to turn off that editorial voice and just brainstorm. You can toss the whole list in the trash when done.

I kind of like Bigfoot, but I don’t see any inherent conflict. Unless you want to radically rewrite their whole mythology, Bigfeet generally keep to themselves. But as long as we’re talking mythical creatures, what about vampires?

Ok, there’s some possibility here. With humans on the wane, nourishment for the vampires is getting low, and it pisses them off, especially since zombies are very similar -they bite you, make more zombies. Competition. Vampires don’t get anything out of  biting zombies, because zombies have no blood. But what happens if a zombie bites a vampire? Do the vampires exist on sheep and pigs until they waste the zombie army? Since vampires are largely indestructible and have no need for weapons, would most of them be unfamiliar with firearms? Knives? Explosives? Would the internet still be up if the zombies work through some kind of a group mind?

Now again, I’m not saying this is a good idea, but the first clue you’ll have that you are in real idea country will be when questions start popping up spontaneously, suggesting relationships, inspiring characters, posing situations, inviting conflict.

Characters

Right now we have a conflict with some potential for unusual action, but it’s still kind of ordinary. What will make it different is how we handle the charcters, a subject we will deal with more in a few weeks. But even at this point, there are some things to consider. Are thses vampires the Ancient Royalty kind, like Twilight? Or the beasts on two feet of 30 Days of Night? Or can we find some new angle on them? Or maybe we step back and make THEM the good guys, whom the remaining humans turn to to stop the zombies (who maybe are no longer a GOOD thing – you have to be flexible.) Whatever approach you choose is going to affect the whole tone of your strip, so your idea has to have some feel for what that tone is going to be.: funny? romantic? gut-wrenching buckets of gore? personal statement?

Same with the zombies. If they are still going to be a force for good, how is that going to work in a general sense. Is there a grooup mind? Does someone have control over them?  Aliens have finally executed  Plan 9 from Outer Space?  Are they Romero zombies, or 28 Days Later zombies, or zombies from Stephen King’s Cell.

That, my friend, is up to you. It’s your idea we’re talking about.

Write it Down

At this point we come to an absolutely crucial step in the development of an idea:

write it down.

Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, character names, just get the facts down.  It doesn’t have to be in any readable format, it can bounce around chronologically, shift from character to plot to whatever; it only has to be intelligible to you when you read back over it.

Once it’s written, you can stretch it, morph it,sculpt it, invert it,  do whatever you like, but on that inevitable bad day, when you lack enthusiasm and energy to write, or have gotten so involved with the intricacies of what you’re doing that you’ve lost your way, having the written copy will help you refocus and recharge. Write it down with that passion you feel when you are just setting out, and it will serve as a battery later on.

An idea does not have to be epic in length. It can be a page of  handwritten notes. My original pitch for Lovecraft is Missing was 8 pages, plus 6 illustrations, but it was for an animated TV series. It set up the major characters, Win and Nan, and gave an outline of the world and overall story arc. It took a couple of weeks  to write and polish.

Ten years later, I started the webcomic and was I glad to have that pitch, even though I tossed  the majority of it. But the foundation was there and I didn’t have to recreate it from scratch, trying to recall what I liked about the idea in the first place.*

In ten years, times changed, I changed, and  the medium changed, all of which necessitated changes in the pitch.  A television show, animated or otherwise, has to tread water some of the time so as not to run out of story in case there’s a second season. A comic book, on the other hand, or at least one I am doing for free when I should be working, at least needs finite story arcs. I used my pitch as a springboard rather than a millstone.

I actually found this liberating. As i developed my webcomic story, I threw out a lot of the pitch; a minor character was promoted to a significantly larger part while others were dropped; plot points changed, were abandoned, were moved, were added. You’d recognize the basics from the pitch, just as you’d recognize the relationship between a chimp and a lemur while knowing  they are different animals.

There is no “finishing” point to an idea; there is only the moment when you decide you have enough to move on to developing the characters and story. Determining that point is difficult, but mostly I see people making the mistake of moving on too early rather than too late. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the posts on characters and plotting.

For now, let’s summarize thusly:

1. The subject has to be of great interest to you. It’s your job as a writer to make it interesting to the rest of the world.

2. Turn on the spigot. Entertain the wildest, most obviously ridiculous, outlnadish concepts, as it will be easier to rein them in than to make them fly.

3. You are in real idea country will be when questions start popping up spontaneously, suggesting relationships, inspiring characters, posing situations, inviting conflict.

4. Know what your basic tone is going to be. It can change, but you have to start somewhere.

5. Write it Down.

NEXT WEEK: The Decision

*(Which brings up another point about ideas: you don’t always get to execute them when they first occur. Another good reason for writing them down.)

Weekly Shtuff 2-14-14

Did HPL ever send Valentine’s Day cards? Those few years he was actually in school, did he drop them in the brown paper bags of the cute girls? Did he ever give one to his mom, or his aunts?

Probably not.

And that’s the sum tota; of my thoughts for this week.

Next week I’ll start a rerun of my “How I Make a Webcomic” series for those new folks who missed it last time around. And in a few weeks I’ll have another Occult Detective review up, featuring Andrew Latter.Who?

Have a good weekend. (And though I don’t beat this drum much anymore, feel free to vote for LIM at Top Web Comics and Like us on Facebook.

Occult Detectives, pt. 20 – Semi Dual

I’ve wanted to do a Semi Dual piece ever since I started this series of reviews. He was a pulp regular for over twenty years, appearing in 30 serials and short stories. He was usually cover featured. He is well known and well regarded among pulp fans. I was stymied, however, by the fact that, despite this seeming popularity, none of the stories had ever been reprinted. There were no SemiDual Argosy LIM Occult Detectives, pt. 20   Semi Dualhardcover collections from the 1920s or 1930s, and, up until this year, no reprints in paperback or in fanzines. I have a few odd parts of some of the serials in Argosy, but anyone who collects Argosy knows how hard it is to put together all the sequels that you want without just collecting the full run.

Fortunately, Altus Press has remedied that by reprinting the first three Semi Dual stories from 1912 in a trade paperback, the first of a series. With these in hand, and Robert Sampson’s examination of the character in vol. 2 of Yesterday’s Faces: Strange Days, I feel I have enough to finally move ahead.

Semi Dual is unique (frustratingly so) in many ways. His real name is Prince Abdul Omar, a Persian prince, son of  a Persian prince and a Russian noblewoman. It goes without saying that he’s powerfully built, master of all relevant skills, and incredibly wealthy. He is a pulp hero, after all. He reveals in the third story, “The Wistaria Scarf,” that he is several hundred years old, kept alive by his sheer will until his soul-mate comes back around on the wheel of Reincarnation. This news is accepted with surprising calmness by his associate, Gordon Glace, so much so that the idea is apparently never broached again in the course of the series.

Although he has an elaborate palace in Persia, he has made his home in the United States on the roof of the Urania Hotel (the finest in the city), building a splendid and beautiful and likely impossible garden and a tower  from which he works to advance good and redress evil in the world, to lead mankind to that next step of evolution in mind thought and deed. The  interior rooms are adorned with Persian rugs, tapestries, pillows, statuary and an occasional desk. His valet, a Japanese skilled in the martial arts, attends his every need.

 

The name Semi Dual has at least two explanations. Robert Sampson relates the most common one: the prince’s solutions to crimes have two aspects, the real and the spiritual and they are often at odds with one another. Except for the fact that none of the three novels in this collection bears this out, it is as good an excuse as any.

In The Significance of the High ‘D’, the second story in the book, another explanation is offered by Gordon Glace, the reporter-turned-investigator who does most of the leg-work in the series:

“You see, his father was a high-caste Persian and his mother a Russian princess, or something like that, I believe, but Abdul didn’t like his name. Said it attracted too much attention to his oriental blood, so he dropped the ‘b’, shuffled the ‘a’ around a little bit, and got Dual as a result.

“His first name,Semi,  he took because, as he explained, he was only half Abdul to begin with, his mother being of a different race, and there you’ve got the whole thing.”

Perhaps more plausible; definitely ridiculous.

Even with the other issues that we’ll get to, it’s hard to take seriously a man who has chosen an essentially meaningless name. It’s not the the term doesn’t exist. For instance, Semi-duality is a part of Socionics, a kind of personality typing;

Relations of semi-duality are similar to relations of duality. Semi-duality occurs between partners who lead (by leading function) each other’s dual-seeking (5th) functions but lack each other’s creative functions (to assist their mobilizing functions). As a result, both partners often perceive elements of duality from the relationship but feel the other partner is misplacing the correct emphasis; as semi-duals will be able to help their partners with their dual seeking functions but both have the least confidence in the same area of the psyche (thinking, feeling, sensing, or intuition).

Relationships of semi-duality can become very close for moderate periods of time until correspondence is broken indefinitely. These relationships often begin, or rekindle because of mutual interests or friends held in common.

To which I say, “huh?”

If we break the name down into its parts, we create other issues. “Semi” refers to a ratio of 1 to 2, or ½. A semi-monthly magazine comes out twice a month. That ratio is the essence of the Sampson explanation. “Dual” in math means “a notion of paired concepts that mirror one another; if the dual of A is B, then the dual of B is A.”

But wait, there’s more, It denotes a reference to two, as in “consisting of two parts or elements or having two like parts” as well as “having a twofold, or double, character or nature.”

So does that mean there are two meanings to the cases every other time?

And did I mention he is several hundred years old?

Telepathy is one of his primary tools; he’s always ordering Gordon Gace, the active protagonist of the series, to come to the tower. In fact, Dual (or Semi, or Semi Dual) is a benign manipulator to an almost offensive degree. However, this power is never used on the bad guys.

There’s a spot of that instant hypnosis so favored of popular fiction magicians, where a wave of the hand causes elephants to appear or threatening foes to think they are in another place altogether. Again, it is under utilized for such a powerful weapon.

Primarily, though, Dual is an astrologer. His position atop the Urania allows for instense study of the stars, city lights not withstanding. Unlike the newspaper horoscopes, Dual’s are 100% accurate, unerringly picking ut the villain and the various parts of the coming adventure—provided he has the proper birth dates and relevant other information. Yet all too often, he waits until late in the case to reveal that he knew it all along.

Remember, these first stories are from 1912. At this time there were only a small handful of pulp magazines; the dime novels were still the dominant delivery system for cheap popular fiction. If the writing style of these early stories is a few steps above the dime novel standard –but only just—the characterization is less so, and the plot, with all its coincidences and amazement at the most obvious of clues would be a comfortable fit for Nick Carter or Old King Brady. “Simplistic” is an overstatemt. Clues conveniently manifest themselves at convenient moments –a strand of hair seen from across the room, handwriting on a scrap of paper found by accident years ago and filed away, and, of course,the influence of the stars. The reader, however, can’t help but feel superior to Dual, as it is obvious from the first page who the villains and what their motives are.  Poor Dual might have to wait until page 15 or so to get all the information he needs.

Ultimately the undoing of Semi Dual as an occult detective is that the crimes he solves, except possibly for a brief cycle of stories in the 1930s, are mundane kidnappings, forgeries and murders. There is nothing occult about them beyond a few flourishes with a star chart or a mind reading trick here and there.

The Significance of the High ‘D’ provides the best example. Though the set-up is Giesy peoples favorite 19171010 Occult Detectives, pt. 20   Semi Dualconvoluted, the story is clear: young bank teller loves a young woman who has a ne’er-do-well younger brother. Young bank teller also has a flamboyant entrepeneurial older brother who makes and loses fortunes on a regular basis. A forged check drawn on the older brother’s name is cashed at the bank, and certain convenient coincidences place the focus on the Young bank teller. The solution involves a trip west for Gordon Glace, working undercover. But the key to the mystery is the handwriting on the forged check, in particular the peculiar way the writer makes his (or her) ‘d’ higher than other letters. Seeing this check in person is one of the few objects able to draw Semi Dual out of his white and purple robes into a snappy suit, and out of his roof-top paradise to the world below.

Dual, among his many other interests, is fascinated by handwriting. So much so, in fact, that he routinely files away any unusual examples he comes across. Fortunately for the bank teller, Dual had once had mining interests out west, in the very town that all the key players are from. While there, he found a scrap of paper on the street, a fragment of handwriting, one with a peculiar high “d.” It was filed away, forgotten, until Dual saw the check. He immediately calls the scrap to mind, and though much moving and shaking must be done to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion, Dual knows the true villain almost at once.

The last story, The Wistaria Scarf, is a break from the formula that is already apparent in the first two stories. The bank teller-young woman-older brother team returns, headed for Europe on a honeymoon/vacation. Dual has a bad feeling about all this. Sure enough, he soon gets a telegram that the young woman has disappeared. When last seen, she was in the company of  another Persian prince…who just happens to be Semi Dual’s arch enemy.

Eventually, Dual concludes that the girl has been kidnapped and all is feared lost. That is, until Dual spots a tiny strand of thread from a rare scarf he had given the young woman as a wedding present. Then, it’s game on. Dual suddenly morphs into, if not doc Savage, then at least JimGrim. He and Glace head for Persia, where Dual tracks his enemy to various large palaces and cave complexes before finally rescuing the girl and saving the day.

So there’s not much occult, the stories are weak; is there anything to Dual as a character that would account for his longevity in the land of the pulps? None that I can find. He is smooth, I’ll grant you, but know-it-alls are always unpleasant to be around, and one who willfully manipulates his friends is not bad enough to be an anti-hero, and not good enough to be a hero hero. In Persia, Dual treats his servants as the wretched curs he feels them to be. I can’t help thinking that his  calm air of superiority is just the same attitude toward his American co-workers refined for a “more civilized society.

Of all the occult detectives we’ve covered in this ongoing series, Semi Dual is the first I would say doesn’t even belong in this company. I’m glad his adventures are coming back into print, but I won’t be buying them. I’m sure the reasons are buried in my horoscope somewhere.

 

For those interested, here is a complete list of all the Semi Dual stories and series:

 

Screen Shot 2013 10 03 at 11.44.41 PM Occult Detectives, pt. 20   Semi DualScreen Shot 2013 10 03 at 11.44.48 PM Occult Detectives, pt. 20   Semi Dual

 

 

Weekly Shtufff 2-7-2014

There have been a lot of interesting links this last two weeks that are related to Lovecraftian concepts without being in themselves Lovecraftian. But the old gentleman’s notions about time and space and creepy things seems to be validated by modern science. Here are my favorites:

Ancient structures built with advanced technology.

A theory that we are all just mathematical constructs.

This is older, but one of the best. A new kind of photography can take pictures of a photon packet bouncing around inside a coke bottle and see around corners. And they have film to prove it.

Alien life may be far older than we think.

A few of the more obscure advanced civilizations from the past.

Creepy bugs with unsettling abilities.

A possible new planet beyond Pluto.

This next week I’ll have another Occult Detectives entry, taking a look at Semi-Dual.

Have a good weekend.

Tracking Jack, Pt. 4 – Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfuls

The Spring Heeled Jack Library

Aldine Publishing Co., 1904

The covers of the 1904 Aldine series, especially that of issue number 2, are the most common on the net. In fact, they are usually coupled with information on either the earlier versions or with rehashes of the urban legend.

In a way, it’s fitting that this is the best known image of Spring-Heeled Jack, because it’s far and away the best story of the lot.  As mentioned last week, the 1878, 1885 and this 1904 version were ostensibly the work of one man, Alfred Sherrington Burrage.  John Adcock at Yesterday’s Papers disputes this. And though I wouldn’t have known any of the history John narrates, I have SHJ 08 Tracking Jack, Pt. 4   Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfulsto agree simply on the evidence of the writing style. Although going into a stylistic analysis is not the intent of this series, it seems really clear to me that at least the story in The Boys’ Standard and the one in the Aldine series were written by two different people, the first being an inferior writer.

The Spring Heeled Jack Library is advanced in style even over its American contemporaries, almost but not quite reaching the level of decent pulp writing. Coincidence is still prevalent, but the manner in which the story unfolds is far more sophisticated than one would expect from 1904 popular fiction.

It also has a more modern pace. The whole conflict is set up in the first two pages. Bertram Wraydon has recently come into his father’s estate; he is leaving to return to his post during the Napoleonic Wars*. His cousin, Henry Sedgefield, stands to inherit the estate should Bertram be killed. At that same moment, Col. Manfred arrives with a squad of policeman. He has found evidence that Bertram has been spying for the French. Despite his protestations, Bertram is taken to jail and sentenced to hang. Only the intervention of his lawyer, Philbrick, allows Bertram to escape.

Sedgefield settles in comfortably at the Wraydon estate. All believe Bertram dead, but rumors soon start to circulate that he has been seen in the villages nearby. And in the forests, travelers are beset by a mysterious phantom who leaps from the shadows then disappears again.

Here’s where the author really distinguishes himself from the preceding authors. The dark figure is never seen directly, only in shadow and mist, or caught moving away from a window. He doesn’t make a clear physical appearance until halfway  through the first issue. This oblique approach builds tension and anticipation for what is to come.

As his laughter rings out through the night:

“Laughter! I call it a howl. It’s some animal as has got out of it’s cage.”

As he is glimpsed in the fog:

A form, dark and shadowy, coming from where no one could tell, just topped a wheel and flew over the coach, alighting with a curious spring sound on the other side.

A military man, Tench, who is an associate of Col. Manfred, is on one such coach.Jack’s appearance startles the horses and as they run away, Tench loses his valise.

The runaway coach horses are stopped by a mysterious gentleman in black, who joins the party. Later, when Tench returns to the scene to look for the valise, the stranger accompanies him. As Tench’s back is turned, the gentleman whirls around, and Tench turns to see someone…else:

His eyes were no longer soft and kind but gleaming with a fierce light. His face had become fiendish with painted eyebrows and stiff bristling mustache. His hands had grown larger and the nails of his fingers were long and hooked.

He also has bat-like wings. Rather than kill Tench, he carves the letter ‘S’ into the soldier’s forehead.

Within pages, the whole vista comes into view. Bertram Wraydon has indeed returned, along with his friend, Denis Stocks, whom he rescued on the battlefield. David is the inventor of the two and has developed a bullet proof vest as well as the spring heeled shoes. They make their headquarters in a crumbling churchyard, from which they sally forth not only to avenge the wrong done to Wraydon and restore his fortune, but to fight against the French espionage ring that headed my Manfred and Sedgefield.

More so than any previous version, this Spring Heeled Jack is clearly an early prototype for a thousand heroes to follow. A great personal wrong, a strong sens of justice, a costume, a secret identity, a secret headquarters, a calling card, unique gadgets (including a flaming gas grenade)… and he strikes fear into the hearts of evil doers (and everybody else.) What more could you ask for in Batman or the Spider or the Shadow?

The author doesn’t stop there. He introduces subplots and new characters deftly, building a larger world. Soon Townsend, the top detective of his day, is on Jack’s trail, and closing in. Manfred’s loyalty to the French cause comes under suspicion and Sedgefield seeks to do away with him. An old friend of Wraydon’s is blackmailed into carrying papers to the French, and in saving him, Wraydon is forced to undertake the journey himself. New allies are made, new enemies are discovered.

Spring-Heeled Jack is not above killing people, giving him a little glimmer of Richard Wentworth. Astonishingly, in issue 10, he actually kills his nemesis, Sedgefield, in cold blood, cutting the man’s throat with a knife. By this time, though, there are new villains in the guise of Beau Brummel (!) and Sir Whitaker Wedge. It’s clear that Aldine intended this to be a long running series, not a serial. They couldn’t continue to tread water in the same story forever.

The author doesn’t shortchange the atmosphere, either.

Night had fallen over London….In those days the safety of London was left principally to the decrepit old men who went wheezing and coughing, swinging a lantern in one hand and thumping a staff with the other.

________

A strange, lopsided looking man entered the room, crab-like, with his arms hanging straight at his sides.

________

 

Sadly, just as the new story arc was getting underway, the magazine ceased publication. Although four more issues were announced, number 12 was the last one that made it to the stands. Why is anybody’s guess, but what intrigues me is that if they got as far as announcing the next four issues, it’s likely that one or two of those stories were actually written. Where are they? Finding them would not only be an amazing piece of popular fiction history, but might actually solve the riddle of who wrote the series.

Weekly Shtuff1-31-2014

I stuck my head in the sand, only to find that the sand was a sentient creature and had no intention of ever letting me g. Even now it is slowly decaying my head with various acidic excretions. There is no hope.

That’s at least how it feels sometimes. I know there has to be more going on out there in the world to blog about, but if I can just get my comic page up, I’m happy (more or less.)

Next week, the final part of the Spring Heeled Jack series. I have to tell you, the confusion about these various versions have bugged me for thirty years, so I’m glad to get this out there on the internet.Although none of the stories are particularly rewarding, the character obviously has a lot of appeal. Maybe someone will do something with him one of these days that is truly memorable.

 

Have a good weekend.

 

Tracking Jack, Pt. 3 – Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfuls

SPRING-HEEL’D JACK: THE TERROR OF LONDON

The Boys’ Standard, 1st Series, vol. 5, April, 1878 (reprinted, 1885). London: Charles Fox.

SPRING-HEEL’D JACK: THE TERROR OF LONDON

48 penny parts, 1886 (reprinted 1889)  London: Charles Fox.

Collected in hardcover by Fox’s Hogarth House

 

The original real-life Jack was considered by his contemporaries to be nothing more than a prankster, though a particularly irritating one. His description, culled from various period newspapers, seems to change with every report, indicating either a high degree of invention or the possibility that Jack used multiple costumes. He was dressed as a gentleman, or in a close-fitting oilskin suit; he wore helmet, or a mask, or both; his eyes glowed a fiery red and/or he breathed blue flames. And he had metal claws. Sometimes. Even the jumping is not as precisely indicated as you might think. Oh, he jumps and bounds and runs very fast, but the idea of spring-powered leaps seems more of an invention of the media. (Even in 1838 you couldn’t believe what you read in the papers.)

Last week, we saw that the unknown author of the first Spring-Heeled Jack penny dreadful (1863) worked most of those elements into his story, with about the same consistency as we find in the newspaper reports.

In the early 1870s, according to newspaper reports, the urban myth Spring-Heeled Jack made a re-appearance, or several of them, all around England, though north and west of London. There were intermittent sightings (of, may I add, dubious nature) through 1877.

We have to suppose that Charles Fox, successful publisher of The Boys’ Standard storypaper among other things, recognized a sales gimmick when he saw one. Thus, in April, 1878, he commissioned a new, original Spring Heeled Jack story as a short serial for said paper. Also titled Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London, this was a completely different story than the earlier version, and the first(of three!)  to be written by Alfred Burrage. Appearing  in four parts in the back of the paper, lacking

SHJ 25 654x1024 Tracking Jack, Pt. 3   Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfuls

This issue is currently available on eBay …for $290.00

illustrations, one wonders if there was much enthusiasm for the story, or whether it was filler.

As in the 1863 series, the new story starts out with a summary of the historical Jack’s exploits.  Burrage directly addresses the notion that the Marquis of Waterford –the only real contender for the prankster of 1838–and concludes that he could not possibly have been the real Spring-Heeled Jack. His proof is a long anecdote detailing a drunken lark of the Marquis’, in which he was booked on an assault charge, on a date that the “apparition”  reportedly appeared to many witnesses.

Additionally, Burrage uses what must have been a trope even at this early date: this story is based on Jack’s “Journal” or “Confessions,” supplied by his descendants under the promise of not revealing their true names.

And just to add that air of casual confidence, Burrage pauses to wonder what might ensue if all the readers of the Boy’s Standard were able to purchase boots like Jack’s. (The. Greatest. Premium. Ever.)

Jack’s appearance is tied down in this section of the story:

His dress was most striking.

It consisted of a tight-fitting garment, which covered him from his neck to his feet.

The garment was of a blood red color.

One foot was encased in a high-heeled,pointed shoe, while the other was hidden in a peculiar affair, something like a cow’s hoof, in imitation, no doubt, of the “cloven-hoof” of Satan. It was generally supposed that the “springing” mechanism was contained in that hoof.

He wore a very small black cap on his head in which was fastened one bright crimson feather.

The upper part of his face was covered with black domino. (sic)

When not in action the whole was concealed by an enormous black cloak, with one hood, and which literally covered him from head to foot.

He did not always confine himself to this dress though, for sometimes he would place the head of an animal, constructed out of paper and plaster, over his own, and make changes in his attire.

Aside from the boot mechanism, the costume tallies well with descriptions in the records and the 1863 series.

Whereas the earlier serial was aimed at a broad audience, the new story is clearly aimed at juveniles; this Jack, Jack Dacre, is barely fifteen when he is cheated out of his inheritance by an evil cousin, Michael. Instead of the rambling narrative and unfocused characterization of the 1863 story, Burrage  firmly commits to the heir-cheated-out-of-his-inheritance plot, often said to be THE dominant plot of gothic and/or Victorian fiction.

The story gets quickly underway after this summation, recapping Sidney Dacre making his fortune in India, his secretive marriage (oh, if he only knew how much trouble that was going to cause!) and the birth of his son, Jack. Some years later, upon the death of his father and brothers, Sydney books passage back to England.

A terrible storm upsets that plan, as the ship sinks and Sidney and his wife perish. Only  the efforts of Ned Chump, a “jolly sailor,” saves young Jack Dacre from a like fate. Once upon shore, they make for Dacre Hall to claim Jack’s inheritance.

(Let me pause to tell you that these events happen almost as fast in the story as I’m relating them here; there is much to tell, but dawdling is not acceptable in pulp literature. And this is a far shorter story than the previous one.)

Surprise! Wily cousin Michael has usurped Jack’s place. Jack has no proof of his identity, but is sure he can send to India for it. Only, unknown to him, the sole witness to Sydney’s marriage is Alfred Morgan, the agent for the Dacre holdings in India. And he and Michael have formed an alliance to deprive Jack of his inheritance by way of a few falsified documents and a lie (and a bit of an assist from a hired ruffian named Black Ralph.)

A struggle ensues and young Jack leaps wildly from a balcony; his cousin dubs him Spring-Heeled Jack. This is something he will regret.

Shorn of his inheritance, Jack and Ned fall back to make plans. Jack, being wise (and strong and quick-witted beyond his years) has one in mind.

“Some year or two ago I had for a tutor and old Moonshee, who had formerly been connected with a troop of conjurors–and you must have heard how clever the Indian conjurors are.”

“Well, this Moonshee taught me the mechanism of a boot which one member of his band had constructed and which boot enabled him to spring fifteen or twenty feet up in the air, and from thirty to forty feet in a horizontal direction.”

….

“I’ll make the boot, and then startle the world with a novel highwayman. My cousin twitted me about my spring into the moat and my nimble heels. I’ll hunt him down and keep him in a perpetual state of deadly torment under the style and title of Spring-Heeled Jack.”

“I shall not call myself a thief,” Jack said proudly. “The world may dub me so if it likes. I shall take little but what belongs to me. I shall confine my depredations as much as possible to assisting my cousin in collecting my rents.”

Securing the boot, Jack and Ned head to Dorking, to collect the rent from one Farmer Brown, but collecting rents turns out not to be as simple as one might think.

It was said that his (Farmer Brown’s) niece, Selina Brown, who was the rightful owner of the farm, was kept a prisoner somewhere with the walls of the solitary farmhouse.

Rumour also added that she was a maniac.

Say it ain’t so!

Jack’s sense of justice will not let him overlook this affront to decency; needless to say, the girl is restored as rightful owner. Interestingly, this “side-mission” echoes one from the 1863 series, moving the setting to the countryside from town, but otherwise similar in detail.

It’s only a matter of time before Sir Michael Dacre gets it in his head to go collect his rents himself. Young Jack lays in wait for the returning coach, and leaps out in front of it with a cry of, “Hand out all your money and your jewelry–I am SPRING-HEELED JACK!”

–but then he lets everyone but Sir Michael and the unfaithful agent Morgan pick up their valuables and leave.

Pointing a long, claw-like finger at the would be baronet, Jack said, in the most sepulchral tone he could assume–

“Beware, Michael Dacre; your cousin’s last words to you shall be brought home to you with full force. From this day forth until you render up possession of the title and estates you have usurped, you shall not know one hour’s peace of mind by reason of the dread you will feel at the appearance of Spring-Heeled Jack!”

Sir Michael makes his claim for World’s Stupidest Villain as he declares–

“It is..certain that this stalwart man who can spring over the top of a mail coach, horses, passengers and all, cannot be that puny lad who laid claim to the Dacre title and lands.”

The rest of the story–we’re about halfway through at this point, adds a love interest for young Jack (his wife, once he had regained his place, of course.)

To bring matters to a head, Spring-Heeled Jack steals proof of his heritage from Morgan, who kills himself to escape shame and the gallows. Upon receiving this news, Sir Michael proves a paper tiger, and gives up without a fight.

Thus ends the “authentic story of Spring-Heeled Jack”, although “many scamps and ruffians played the part of Spring-Heeled Jack in various garbs in and around London.”

Short, sweet, and to the point, The Boys’ Standard serial is, unfortunately, a stock boy’s adventure tale.  It reads more smoothly than the earlier tale, but this may have as much to do with its short length and the fact that the author would know just how many pages he had to fill from the beginning. Though many of the same incidents occur, this version doesn’t quite have that proto-costumed hero air that makes the original so interesting.

Despite its weaknesses, the story must have had some success, at least when it was reprinted eight years later. Something had to persuade Fox that there were possibilities in yet another version of the story. So, with the same author, using the same title, London was thrilled for 48 weeks (more or less) by the presence of the spring-heeled one.

SHJ ad Tracking Jack, Pt. 3   Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfuls

This ad from the Boys’ Standard is for the Fox Penny dreadful series of 1886, not the serial from 1878.

I was not able to get a copy of this story, though I did find detail enough (courtesy Mr. Justin Gilbert) to compare it with the other two stories. It’s a shame because all indications point to this being the best Jack yet. The prose is tighter, there is a real story, and then there are those covers…

It’s the covers I am most interested in. Here we have the most unusual visualization of Spring-Heeled Jack, and in this guise I can readily believe he might be the terror of London. I’ve scrounged up as many covers as I could find on the internet (some of them are at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum, for which thanks.) This is definitely a different Jack: Demon head, tail, bat-wings, not to mention no sight of anything that could even metaphorically called “spring-heeled.”

The story is again the heir-cheated-out-of-his-inheritance plot, this time pitting the betrayed Ralph Ashton against the usurper, Roland Ashton. Their final confrontation gives us a vivid picture of Jack as an avenger to be feared:

Spring-Heeled Jack’s peculiar dress had sometimes been red, and at others white, but  now it assumed a dull black hue, as if some other garb were worn under it.

His frame had a more bulky appearance, and Sir Roland noticed that he did not seem to be so tall by several inches.

Again, Spring-Heeled Jack smiled as he beheld Sir Roland’s discomfiture, but there was more of sadness than of mirth in the expression. —————

“Halt!” cried Spring-Heeled Jack. “It is here that you must atone for the past, Sir Roland.”

“Atone to whom?”

“To outraged Heaven and to me!”

“Ralph Ashton tod me I had to answer to him.”

At that moment came a metallic sound.

Spring-Heeled Jack’s appearance began to alter..

His dress, as it were, crumpled up, and fell loosely ipon the floor, and Ralph Ashton stood face to face with his deadly foe.        ————————————————–

(Sir Roland) gazed in wonder at the skin-like dress, which though now harmless and inactive, had something demoniac (sic) in its appearance.                                  

The ghastly headpiece still seemed to mock and gibe, and its huge mouth gaped even wider than of yore.

There is some real drama here, and though the climactic swordfight that puts Sir Roland out of our misery is brief, it feels satisfying. Later, on the same page, more detail about the costume is given.

The hideous dresses in which Ralph Ashton personated so extraordinary a character were marvels of mechanism.

They had been the labour of many months and he had worked at them in secret through many a long night.

The dressed were two in number, and composed of chamois leather–one dyed a blood red color, and the other bleached snow-white.

From the hips to the ankles ran steel bars, so joined as to work freely with the limbs, and these were attached to a number of springs forming the soles and toes of the false feet, upon which Ralph’s own rested.

When stooping for a leap, the steel bars gave a tremendous force to the springs, pressing them down and sending him forward with a bound.

Free to return to his proper place, Ralph marries his lady love (whose husband Spring-Heeled Jack had evidently taken care of earlier), adopts her two children and settles down for a nice long life of leisure. In a move reminiscent of so many serials, the identity of Spring-Heeled Jack is  put away forever..or perhaps, until he is needed again.

And it all ends with Christmas greetings!

We’re clearly back to the proto-costumed hero motif. Ralph is wronged, he spends a great deal of time working out his costume, he rights wrongs even as he fights to regain his birthright.  And when there is no more need for the avenger, he quietly retires. The details of the costume, while still a little vague, shows that a lot more thought was put into making the outfit credible than in previous outings.

A word about the publication itself. There are 48 parts BUT, several were double numbers, meaning that some issues carried twice the page count AND had both numbers on the cover. You can see this for yourself in the gallery. I haven’t been able to establish just how many of these double numbers there were, but let’s say there were four. That would mean forty-eight parts BUT only forty-four actual issues. I hope to settle this confusion soon.

We’re still not done with Spring-Heeled Jack, though. Nor is Alfred Burrage. Next week we’ll look at the 1904 Aldine series, probably the best known of the stories, at least as far as the covers go.

Weekly Shtuff 1-24-2014

Don’t have anything really relevant today except to flog next week’s Spring Heeled Jack post. I’ll be looking at the circa 1880s versions –well, the two main ones; there are other, lesser lights. And the following week I’ll finish the series up with a look at the 1904 version. One of the odd things about these three stories is that they are all completely different from one another, but apparently written by the same man.

Here’s a little oddity that some of you may have seen on the LIM Facbook page. For my own portfolio I do 3D models. This one is of Frank Reade’s Steam Man. I grabbed the background image off the internet, so my apologies (or thanks?) to whomever I ripped off (don’t worry, I’m not selling prints; I was just experimenting.) The model and lighting were done in Maya, the steam effects and compositing in Photoshop.

steam man prairie 400x291 Weekly Shtuff 1 24 2014

 

 

Have a good weekend.

Tracking Jack, Pt. 2 – Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfuls

SPRING-HEEL’D JACK: THE TERROR OF LONDON

News Agents Publishing Company 1863/1869, 40 issues

When I first saw that ad for Spring-Heel’d Jack: the Terror of London, back in 1967 (curiously enough, 100 years after its last publication) I wanted a copy so bad I would have traded all my Marvel comics of the time for one. But penny dreadfuls weren’t so common in Oklahoma back in those days. That’s still true, actually, but now I can include the whole world. As I mentioned last week, there is only one “complete” copy of this entire serial, and even it is missing issue 14. It’s held in the British Museum. I never dreamed the day would come when I would get a complete .pdf of the entire thing. To say I was excited is like saying Moby Dick is about a whale.

Over the years, one of the most confusing elements regarding the spring-heeled one was that there were so many different illustrations of him, but none tied securely to any specific publication. John Adock, whose website, Yesterday’s Papers, is a must-read, and Justin Gilbert, plus the .pdf, solved a big part of that when I saw clearly that Jack had several different faces in the Newsagent Publishing Co. version. You can follow his visual evolution in the gallery of covers, all 39 of those available, that accompany this post. In the story, Jack is possessed of several masks for differing purposes: one is “hideous and repulsive,” one is a “demon,” and the last, a skull. The hideous and repulsive one is sometimes interchangeable with the demon,who is usually identified as the devil but sometimes isn’t. Consistency has never been a hallmark of pulp fiction, regardless of age.

I think it’s a given that anything you anticipate for 45 years is going to be a disappointment, and Spring Heel’d Jack, The Terror of London admirably supports my thesis. If you’ll just scan through the covers, you’ll note how his costume evolves from a proto-Snidely whiplash, to Mephistopheles, to a goofy, leering clown in a devil mask and a top-hat. It’s hard to put one’s mind in the place of a reader of 1863. Did they really find this terrifying? It sure looks like Punch & Judy to me.

The story, I’m afraid, isn’t any better. I read a lot of pulp fiction and a lot of 19th century pulp fiction, so I can make allowances for the fact that this is not a contemporary novel, and that it was written on the cheap. But given the reputation of the penny dreadfuls, aka, the penny bloods, I was expecting….more blood, more dread. Old King Brady regularly deals with cut-up bodies, sadistic torturers, and murderous criminals. Nick Carter’s arch enemy is Dr. Quartz whose sole pleasure in life is vivisection on young women. Live ones.

So I think I’m on fair ground in finding the action in this 300+ page soap opera a bit tepid. And soap opera is largely what it is.  There are two main storylines, both of which deal with lecherous libertines seeking to bed particular innocent young women through manipulation and deceit. A third follows the story of another young woman forced into poverty, struggling to stay out of prostitution by doing piece work for a stereotypical Jewish merchant. Many pages are devoted to playing out these conflicts in the most repetitious possible manner. I mean repetitious on the same page, and often in the same paragraph, rather than the expected repetition that is part of any serial. This is a rough paraphrase, but I believe a true representation of the numerous confrontations:

“I have you now.”

“You say!”

“I do! You must see that.”

“I do not see it!”

“Nevertheless, I have you. And you will do my bidding.”

“Your bidding!?”

“Yes. You cannot get out of it, you must admit.”

“Can’t I?”

“It is impossible. I have you and you will do my bidding.”

“Never.”

“Oh, yes, you will.”

“Perhaps you are right, then.”

“I am indeed.”

“Have mercy on me!”

“Mercy! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

 

At other times, the author’s struggle to drag the story out (and to earn his penny a line for the week) becomes so obvious that I would have expected readers to revolt, en masse. After all, Dickens wrote his novels the same way, in penny parts, so it’s not like there was no choice in reading matter.

(Let me remind you all that penny dreadfuls were spun out as long as they were selling; when sales dipped, plots would be wound up in a hurry. An author might well have an end in mind, but he had to dollop his plot out carefully and tread water so as to be able to keep it going or bring his story to a conclusion on short notice.)

The story opens with a reference to the 1837-1838 sightings:

It is now a little over a quarter of a century since the inhabitants of London were kept in a continual state of terror by a man who, under various disguises, and in different shapes and forms, would suddenly appear before the unsuspecting pedestrian and, after having nearly frightened the traveler out of his or her senses,, would as suddenly disappear, with terrific bounds, from his side, leaving for a time the impression upon hos affrighted victim that his Satanic Majesty had paid a visit to the earth and especially favored them with his presence.

Evening was generally the time chosen by this eccentric character for his strange conduct; and doubtless there were many living who can recollect–but not without a shudder–the pang of fear which shot through their hearts when, leaping from some dark corner, out of a doorway, or over thickset hedge, he stood before them.

What his true object could be none have able to conjecture. Certain it is that robbery was not the cause, for he was never known to take a single coin from his victims even when fright had rendered them almost insensible; nor did he ever practice any other degree of cruelty beyond affrighting them.

But this was bad enough–so bad that in some cases the victims of his eccentricities never thoroughly recovered the shock their nerves sustained; and indeed, in one or two instances, death was ultimately the result.

This sets up the unintentional (probably) dichotomy that weighs the story down. ‘Terror’ might well have had a different definition at the time; if not, then it is hard to reconcile the description with Jack’s “crimes,” even though he himself references his vague bad behavior.

Jack wanders in and out of these stories, always to aid of the young women n the nick of time, though he is fairly ineffectual. He stops one dastardly deed, first by scaring the perpetrator, and when that fades, by issuing threats of punishment at his hands. He believes these threats to be sufficient , but he is repeatedly wrong, completely underestimating the driving lust of the villains.Ultimately,  he is really only a means to thread these stories together. He has no real story arc, nothing at stake other  than being caught.

Jack also has various, smaller “side missions” that occupy his time, some of which are petty, others of which are just mean spirited. Our Jack is the hero of the tale, no doubt, but he has some Borderline Personality issues. He is introduced as more of a prankster than anything else. In fact, his first adventure is to trick two louts into a field, get the drop on them and then make them disrobe down to their presumably long tailed undershirts and sending them back onto the main road to suffer the embarrassment. When he accidentally kills a man while defending the honor of a young woman–Jack knocks him down and the fellow hits his head on the pavement– Jack is distraught and flees, seeking some good deed to redeem himself. Coincidence being what it is, he finds a young woman about to commit suicide. She actually does leap into the cold river, but Jack, mask, cloak and all, dives in after her, and after a battle with the current, gets her safely home.

As a character, the spring-heel’d one is a bit of a conundrum. As I said last week, he is definitely a proto-costumed hero. He is a wealthy man, addicted to adventure. He is, for the most part, highly moral, and seeks to help the afflicted, whether by gifts of cash or fisticuffs with a ruffian. He wears a mask –actuay, one of several: a demon, the Devil and a skeleton– and a cape, though why is a bit vague since so many people, including at least one of the villains,  are perfectly clear as to who he is, even though he still wears his mask in front of them.

The cloak is evidently changeable, white when confronting someone as Spring-Heel’d Jack, black when wandering around London in pursuit of adventure. And it must be of some special material, as he wears it leaping into the Thames; fully soaked, the cloak still doesn’t hamper his movements with its weight. He has some sort of vague, claw-like gloves and, onone occasion, appears with phosphorous for a glow effect. The claws and glow are part of the original description of the urban legend.

Oddly, he gets some of his best effects not simply from his mask(s) but by putting on his mask in front of other people; people react as if he has supernaturally changed in front of them.  Despite the obvious danger it entails, Jack doesn’t seem to particularly mind this, though he always shushes them before they can say his name aloud. That name is always, “the mar—.” At the very start of the story, reference is made to the incidents of 1837 and though not stated so explicitly, these are meant to be the adventures of that individual. One of the primary suspects of those original peccadilloes was the Marquess of Waterford, a well-known carouser and practical joker.

So we have our basic costumed hero set-up. One might even argue that the nastier sides of Jack’s character are the harbingers of the Marvel style, wherein our heroes have real life issues. When a coachman falls asleep while waiting for Jack, Jack is put off by the man’s lack of attention to his (the coachman’s) business. Jack leaps into the driver’s box and sets the horse galloping along the roads, driving crazily so as to make the real driver think he is in a runaway coach. To make things worse, and to avenge another slight, Jack has attached a rope from the coach to the shabby wooden stall of a coffee seller. The runaway coach pulls the stall away after it, making an enormous racket as the sticks bounce along behind the cab. When Jack thinks the driver has had enough, he pulls the coach into a pond and tricks the driver into stepping out, and falling face first into the water. The driver flails around for a bit until he realizes the water is shallow. When he gets up, he sees Jack sitting on the driver’s box, smoking a cigar. Jack promptly chastises him for putting his passengers in danger, and admonishment the coachman accepts, totally befuddled by what has just happened. He doesn’t even recognize what part of town he’s in. Jack chooses this time to bound away, but all is well, at least in his mind, because he left ample payment for his fare and any damage in the coachman’s pocket. He had also tossed a packet of coins to the coffee seller to help him move up in the world. Has Marvel done a benevolent sociopath yet?

Oddly, given the way the dreadfuls were reportedly written, the story seems to tighten up in the last third, as a fourth story arc is introduced. (I imagine that the writer had some idea of his plot in advance, and perhaps even wrote some of the last issues earlier on, knowing that the story would end someday.) A young impoverished wretch, Thomas, is struggling to get back to London to see his dying mother one last time.

But mother is not what she seems, and she is agony, hoping to unburden her conscience before she dies by revealing that Thomas is a changeling. As is Robert Clavering, the wealthy, debauched playboy who has sought to trick a young ballet dancer (who is nonetheless virginal) into a fake marriage, solely because he has a jones for her. Mom, in her younger days, was the nurse for the real Clavering heir…and the elder Clavering’s mistress. She switched her baby for the real thing, as much out of spite as for the good of her illegitimate child. Thus, Robert grew up in the luxury that was rightfully Richard’s (Thomas.)

If you’ve read much nineteenth century popular fiction, you’ll know that this is the quintessential Victorian plot. We’ll see more of it in the Spring Heeled Jacks Yet to Come.

The impact of this revelation leads inexorably to the conclusion, not so much in terms of writing but in terms of cliché.

The second story arc has spun around James Slater’s unfortunate forging of a check on his employer’s account. He kept this from his beloved and innocent wife, Jane, up to the moment that his boss, Grasper, discovered the forgery. Grasper tried to use this leverage to coerce Jane into a night or two of that fate-worse-than-death stuff. She swings wildly, wanting to keep her husband out of jail, yet bound by her virtue and morals. Grasper kept the pressure up, despite several stern admonishments from Jack, until James couldn’t take it any longer. He killed himself. By the graveside–at a crossroads, suicides not being allowed in holy ground– Jane went insane, and at first turnsed to Grasper as a friend,ultimately believing that Grasper WAS James. Grasper seized the moment, took her to a rotting apartment and left  her in the care of the alcoholic occupant there, to keep her safe until Grasper could return at midnight to have his way.

By coincidence, Jack, wandering around, seeking adventure, finds out about this. Need I tell you, he saves Jane.

Through come convoluted events, including the death of Robert Clavering, Richard Clavering and the widowed Jane Slater fall in love, and all is resolved in a happy and just manner. All because of the Terror of London.

However, Jack’s unspecified “crimes” have drawn desperate measures from the Crown, and he decides the wise choice is to leave for Spain on the first boat available.

At waterside, he sends a man out in a rowboat to the vessel in the bay, to see if the captain will grant him passage. While awaiting a reply,

“..Jack leisurely strolled up on to the rocks that rose in weird and picturesque masses on all  sides.

In the beuaty of the scene before him–for the moon had risen and was tinting the waves with silver–he did not observe the approach of three men, who were stealing cautiously over the rocks toward him;  nor was it till one of  them exclaimed in a loud tone, “On, lads! ’tis Spring-heeled Jack!” did he know of their presence.

Jack started round at the mention of hi name, and that one look assured him they were officers.

“Spring-heeled Jack, we arrest you in the name of the sovereign!” cried the man who had before spoken.

Jack cast an anxious look towards the sea and saw the boat returning quickly to the beach.

“In the name of the law we call on you to surrender! You have taken your last leap, Jack!” cried the man, springing towards him.

In England, for some time I have, my friend,” said Jack. “Good bye! Give my respects to all I leave behind.

And as the man was about to lay his hand on his shoulder, Jack sprang out over the rock into the glistening sea.

Whether Jack died or not is open to question, as the last few paragraphs indicate that Richard Clavering and his soon-to-be bride, Jane Slater look to a time when they might welcome back the man who had done so much for them. But this ending of Jack’s career has a poignancy satisfying but all out of proportion to the rest of the book.

We never do find out Jacks true identity. Just paragraphs before the quoted passage, there is one last repetition of someone who starts to exclaim, “The Mar—” but Jacks knocks him out.

It’s not a story I would read again, but, in the end, I can’t say I’m sorry I read it. There is an appeal in the character that transcends the clumsy writing, and moments of charm and humor from the high melodrama of the action, dialogue and motivations of the characters. When you take into account that this character and his urban legend background were still quite well-known at the time, it’s easy to see the appeal.