The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Memorable Magazines (7): Proceedings

January 8th, 2017 · 1 Comment

The Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom was edited and published by George Van Tassel, one of the livelier contactees of the 1950s. He and his wife Eva settled in Yucca Valley, near a large boulder called Giant Rock; there they held meetings for the Ministry of Universal Wisdom (originally the Brotherhood of Cosmic Christ), hosted UFO conventions, and ran a cafe. They also built the Integratron, a large white domed building intended as a rejuvenation chamber and time travel portal. Van Tassel claimed to be in communication with “space people,” who passed along prophecies and scientific information.

The Proceedings was the “official outlet” for his activities. This issue, from 1957, is 16 pages long; it contains a couple of UFO photos, a statement about the College’s purpose (among other things, to research “the memory span of atoms, the polarity interchange of vortices, and the generation of a ‘time field'”), season’s greetings, an article on the National Investigation Committee for Aerial Phenomena and its attitude toward contactees, an editorial urging less foreign aid and more money for science, an article on fallout, and praise of Van Tassel from one of his followers. The Proceedings, if I’m not mistaken, continued until Van Tassel’s death in 1978.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)


→ 1 CommentTags: Ephemera

Music Down Through the Ages

December 18th, 2016 · No Comments

From the pages of Life, July 9, 1925 (this is of course the old humorous Life, not the later news magazine), John Held Jr. illustrates the popularity of musical instruments among “college chaps.” The uke, mandolin, and guitar are still going strong, the others less so. (Please click to enlarge.)

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

→ No CommentsTags: Cartoons · Ukulele

Political Playing Cards (2)

December 12th, 2016 · No Comments

This curious deck rejoices in the name of “Political Satire Playing Deck 1,” and was published in 1975 by the Spanish company Heraclio Fournier. The drawings are credited to Ortuño. The politicians are an international bunch; shown here is Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka. Besides playing the usual card games, you can also play “The Political Satire Game,” in which players compete using seven characteristics: Numerical Card Value, Name of the Person, Name of Country, Area in Square Miles, Population, Capital City, and Monetary Unit. The rules are complicated. You can also play “The United Nations International Party Game,” in which a card is pinned on each player’s back, and he or she has to guess who it is.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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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)

→ 2 CommentsTags: Alphonse Allais

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)

→ No CommentsTags: Literature

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)

→ 1 CommentTags: Card Games

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)

→ 3 CommentsTags: Bulletins

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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