The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Children’s Card Games (228)

November 27th, 2016 · No Comments


We have another “Authors” deck, rather battered, as you can see. It’s incomplete, with no indication of date or publisher. The Winston Churchill pictured here is not the British one who became Prime Minister, but an American writer, who retired in 1919.

The deck has an unusual pantheon. In addition to Winston, we have William Dean Howells, Cyrus Townsend Brady, James Bryce, Mark Twain, Booth Tarkington, Ernest Thompson Seton, Sam Walter Foss, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Jack London.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Double Over: Blackcattish Stories

November 20th, 2016 · 2 Comments


Black Scat Books is proud to serve up the master absurdist’s inaugural collection,  containing his hand-picked favorites from the pages of Le Chat Noir, the bohemian journal that amused and scandalized Paris. Here you’ll find Allais in the first flush of his comic genius, spinning out elegant and hilarious gems of black humor on suicide, murder, obsession, and adultery. You will meet the philosophical cuckold, the young lady in love with a pig, the inventor of the Tumultoscope, and Ferdinand, the most resourceful duck in literature. Among the highlights is Allais’s most famous story, “A Thoroughly Parisian Drama,” a favorite of André Breton and Umberto Eco. This is the book’s first publication in English, and features seven additional stories from Le Chat Noir, as well as a sublime introduction, notes on the text, and drawings by Doug Skinner.

276 delicious pages!

Pick up a copy on Amazon! Visit Black Scat Books!

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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The First Parody of Shakespeare

November 16th, 2016 · No Comments

The three Parnassus plays – The Pilgrimage to Parnassus and the two parts of The Return from Parnassus – were written from 1598 to 1601, and performed at St. John’s College at Cambridge as, as the plays themselves say, “Christmas toys.” All three follow the adventures of two students, Philomusus and Studioso, as they face the economic realities of life after graduation. The author is unknown. The third play was printed in 1606, but the first two were only discovered in 1886, by a certain William Macray, who promptly published them.

The plays are not read much. They’re a lot of fun, though, riffing cynically on the eternal poverty of the scholarly life, as our two heroes struggle to find work: “The partiall heavens doe favoure eche rude boore, / Mackes droviers riche, and makes each scholler poore.” The plays are enlivened considerably by the character Ingenioso, a university wit who has turned to writing pamphlets and satires to make a living. He seems to be based on Thomas Nashe, a St. John’s alumnus, and has much of Nashe’s verbal extravagance and gift for invective.

When the Parnassus plays are mentioned at all, it’s because they contain many early references to Shakespeare. In the third play, the two scholars even audition for his company, only to be turned down by Richard Burbage and Will Kemp, who observe that university men have trouble walking and talking at the same time, and quote Ovid too much in their plays. Shakespeare is mocked repeatedly throughout the second and third plays, as a sentimental poet who appeals only to the uneducated.

And in the second play appears what must be the earliest surviving parody of Shakespeare. In a desperate attempt to earn money, Ingenioso agrees to write some love poetry for the fatuous blowhard Gullio. Gullio adores Shakespeare, to the point of putting a copy of Venus and Adonis under his pillow. Ingenioso offers verses in the style of Chaucer and Spenser, but it’s only the Shakespearean idiom that Gullio wants. So, Ingenioso provides the following lines, in “Mr. Shakspeare’s veyne”:

Faire Venus, queene of beutie and of love,
Thy red doth stayne the blushinge of the morne,
Thy snowie necke shameth the milkwhite dove,
Thy presence doth this naked world adorne;
Gazinge on thee all other nymphes I scorne.
When ere thou dyest slow shine that Satterday,
Beutie and grace must sleepe with thee for aye!

Gullio approves, prompting Ingenio, once his sucker is out of earshot, to dismiss him as “this post put into a sattin sute, this haberdasher of lyes, this bracchidochio, this ladyemunger, this meere rapier and dagger, this cringer, this foretopp.” The author, and, probably, his audience, obviously preferred the Nashean esthetic.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Political Playing Cards (1)

October 30th, 2016 · 1 Comment


The “Kennedy Kards,” published in 1963 by Humor House, depicted members of the Kennedy family on the court cards. Shown here is Sargent Shriver, founder and director of the Peace Corps. Also included were Jack (twice), Joe, Teddy, Bobby, Rose, Joan, Jackie, Ethel, Peter Lawford, and LBJ. I suppose LBJ made the cut because they ran out of Kennedys.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Bulletin (37)

September 25th, 2016 · 3 Comments

Black Scat Books will soon publish my translation of Alphonse Allais’s first book, Double Over: Blackcattish Stories (A se tordre: histoires chatnoiresques), embellished with my introduction, notes, and illustrations, as well as seven extra stories.

I’ve almost finished a translation of The Cocktail Hour, a 1927 guide to cocktails and cocktail etiquette by Marcel Requien and Lucien Farnoux, in collaboration with Gaylor Olivier, of the Corpse Reviver Press in Paris. Watch for it!

Jon B. Cooke is working on a book on R. Crumb’s comic magazine Weirdo; since I contributed a cartoon to it once, I’ll have a few remarks in it.

A new and reportedly large magazine, Dagger, edited by Don Jolly and Matt James, will have a few pages of my comics in it.

Black Scat Books will soon be coming out with a short PDF journal, Le Scat Noir, which will also contain some of my cartoons.

Plans are afoot for me to give my talk on music attributed to fairies, aliens, and other non-humans at Lily Dale next summer.

Black Scat Books is in the middle of a fundraiser. Give them money!

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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The Epilogue to “Dr. Arnoldi”

September 18th, 2016 · 3 Comments

Tiffany Thayer, founder of the Fortean Society, was often criticized for his novels, which tended to the trashy. Nobody could say, however, that he couldn’t bring one to a glorious close.

His Dr. Arnoldi (1934) is a memorably disgusting piece of science fiction about what happens when people stop dying. The terminally ill remain ill but alive, criminals are executed but survive, the used book business suffers because there are no estate sales… it’s a horrifying picture. By the end, the earth has become so overpopulated that man covers it “like a solid sphere of maggots.”

Thayer follows this with an Epilogue:



(Posted by Doug Skinner)


→ 3 CommentsTags: Forteana · Literature

Children’s Card Games (227)

August 29th, 2016 · 2 Comments


Thieving Tom can be found in another Old Maid deck, our 32nd. There’s no date, but it seems to come from Milton Bradley, unless it’s in the wrong box. The other pairs are Hasty Horace, Mrs. Biggs, Boo! (a boy frightening an old man), Mistah White (I’m afraid so), A Phool, Mike Angelo, Susie Sweet, Mrs. Boss, Peter Pig, Mrs. Peach, Bill Bowery, Bertie Booke, and Henry Hooker (a boy stealing jam).

And here’s the Old Maid:


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Memorable Magazines (6): Grump

August 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments


Roger Price led a curious career in the ’50s and ’60s. He contributed humor pieces to such magazines as Playboy and Mad, and put out several books of Droodles, simple sketches with droll titles. In 1958, he and Leonard Stern invented Mad Libs (actually a twist on such old amusements as Peter Coddle or Dr. Quack), and formed Price Stern Sloan (with Larry Sloan) to sell them.

In 1965, he published his own magazine, Grump, subtitled “For people who are against all the DUMB THINGS going on.” It was a tabloid on thick paper, 16 pages in two colors, with no advertising. Price contributed his own material, like an article on pet clams, a parody of bullfighting (which involved kicking dogs), or a piece on “skull diving” (a new sport in which players jumped out of windows with springs on their heads). He also included Droodles and Mad Libs, and readers sent in “Grumps” (pet peeves) and “Nagonnas” (“I’m NAGONNA spend 30c on bus fare in order to lug all my old magazines downtown in a big carton and sell them to a second hand bookstore for 30c.”). There were many short articles and cartoons, mostly more satirical than Price, mostly from a decidedly Greenwich Village perspective.

One of the hallmarks of Grump was the number of women who contributed. Among the regulars were Susan Sands (later active in NOW), Judith Rascoe (later a screenwriter, here a cartoonist), and Jeanne Sakol (who later founded the anti-feminist Pussycat League).


Grump lasted 12 issues, I think, and later attracted writers like Jean Shepherd, Henry Morgan, and Don Adams. I think it also eventually switched to a magazine format.

I bought a couple of issues when I was 11, probably attracted by the Droodles. My parents disapproved; I think they found articles like “The Inept Seducer” or “The Secret Service Orgy Guide” too dirty for my impressionable mind. I still have those copies, and now find Grump an entertaining ’60s mix of Price silliness, sharper satire, and Village attitude, mixed in with more serious squibs (like Jacques Barzun criticizing the surfeit of art).

An excerpt from Susan Sands:


From a strip by Don Silverstein:


And one of Price’s “Allegories for the Alienated”:



(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Children’s Card Games (226)

August 14th, 2016 · No Comments


The “Home History Game for Boys and Girls” was issued by Milton Bradley in 1909. It contains 105 cards, printed with events from history. Players try to collect cards from the same day of the week.

The choice of historical incidents is idiosyncratic, as the above card shows. Most are from the 19th century, and most from the US. Deaths and battles predominate. Here are a few more from Wednesday.


The box is a fine example of 1909 design, with a detailed illustration, and hand lettering outlined in gold (please click to enlarge). My copy is remarkably pristine, so perhaps the kids didn’t think it was much fun.


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Memorable Magazines (5): Fillers

August 1st, 2016 · 2 Comments

Fillers was a small (3 1/2″ x 5″) magazine, edited by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. It had a cover story, usually of prurient interest, and pages of filler: jokes, quotations, brief articles on current events. Most of the fillers reflected Haldeman-Julius’s own brands of atheism and socialism.

Issues of Fillers were also Little Blue Books, and were numbered accordingly. The October, 1947 issue, for example, is Vol. 1, No. 10, and also LBB 1853. I don’t know if this odd double system helped sales. It apparently debuted in 1947, and changed its title to The Critic and Guide the next year. I don’t know how long it lasted.

Below are three covers, and two sample spreads. Please click on the spreads to read them.






(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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