Jonah Hex, Oscar Wilde and H.P. Lovecraft: Riding On The Worm of a Literate Comic
Decoding DC – Part VIII
Extremites, I want to take a moment and say ‘Hey! and Howdy’ to the esteemed Joe R. Lansdale: the fearless writer behind both Two Gun-Mojo and Riders of the Worm and Such. He sought this blog out to call the articles on his work misguided and pretentious.
To Joe: Yes, my last article on your work, may have been a tad pretentious. Like I do with Steven Moffat, I try to give you the benefit of the doubt.
I tried to decipher an artistic reason behind the shoddy and stilted dialogue present in that issue.
I used too much conjecture to inform the reason. I should have just said ‘this was crap dialogue’ and left it at that. For this, I am sorry, and will take my hat firmly in my hand and crush it.
Joe, this issue, the topic of today’s article, is miles ahead better than the last one.
Hear me out here. I know he was a racist. Let’s look at the influence of his body of work and not the man.
I just finished reading Stephen King’s memoir: On Writing. In it, Steve extols Lovecraft’s style; from his prose to his mythos. King says that without Lovecraft there would be no Stephen King.
Further to this anecdote, I have come across his name time and time again in my research of comics. It seems everyone from Mignola to Lee draws upon his work for inspiration.
Lovecraft’s influence is obvious in Riders of The Worm And Such, for the worms are Cthuloid in both look and culture. Their crawling, muling, tentacles scream ‘old God.’
For non-Lovecraftians, an ‘Old God’ is a being, created by Lovecraft starting with his story The Call of Cthulhu, who existed in an ancient world that time and humanity has forgotten. Since humans have stopped praying to them, they have gone away; but this does not mean they no longer exist. On the contrary, Cthulhu (the destroyer god) could still return to consume the world if given the chance.
Read Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. It will change your life and give you a better appreciation of the brilliance of the film Cabin in the Woods and countless other Horror, Sci-Fi, comics, and books.
You can see H.P. Lovecraft in every image of drawn by Sam Glanzman and Tim Truman.
Lovecraft ‘Old God’ mythos drips from the panels.
Take a look at the backstory:
The worms, according to the rancher Graves, lived in prehistoric times as sentient creatures that required sacrifice by the ancient people. One day, Ancient Man rose up and forced the creatures under ground. No longer figures of reverence. They were now foodstuff of myths. That was until they returned, craving for the old days, to wrest the land back by raping a horrible Wild West farmer’s wife.
I don’t like how Tim Truman, Glanzman and Lansdale portray women as monsters. This is a far to often trope in their work. I love, however, the idea of revenge through crossbreeding. It would have been a more powerful image if she was beautiful and corrupted by evil. Something is lost if she is already a monster.
The byproduct of this unholy union is a pair of men that look like the Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari mixed with roustabouts from the Django films. The Autumn Brothers, the surviving byproduct, are the most sinister pair since Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.
Lovecraft is not the only literary force felt in this issue. Another classic author makes a cameo. Oscar Wilde, wit of Victorian England — a man who represents the elocution and genius that is that age— not only makes a cameo but even throws a couple punches.
If you’ve followed my assessment of Riders you are no doubt aware of Graves. Graves is an important presence in this story because of his intent to bring culture to the brutal West that has led him to conflict with the worms. He’s not unlike a British version of Calvin Candy, from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, except without the genocidal tendencies. Graves is an allusion to a very real and hilarious historical event. His presence alludes to Oscar Wilde’s whimsical tour to the American West.
The United States had a fascination for the closeted and puritan people of foggy Victorian London. The US represented a cultural freedom. A freedom not hampered by tight lipped moralism which flooded 19th century British culture. Oscar Wilde was critical of this moral tyranny and thought it a a grand idea to venture out to the American bastion of liberty.
In 1882, Wilde set off for New York. However, it was not his intention to stick to the high society experience of the Eastern cities. He wanted to see ‘Aesthetic America.’’ He traveled the annals of the US for a year. During that year, Oscar saw the dusty states of the Wild West at its most authentic.
Wilde, aside from being a satirist, was an accomplished philosopher. His fascination lay in aesthetics which is the study of sensory experience and how humans interpret these experiences. Oscar focused on a branch of aesthetics that tries to define the motive and method behind the creation of art. Wilde defined this motive as causation for its own sake. ‘Art’ exists for its own sake.
Some historians have later claimed that this tour was influenced more by a search for notoriety then a search for philosophical meaning. Joe R. Lansdale uses this issue to add his two cents on this idea.
I gotta say Joe, if you are reading, I love you for it.
The reason why I love you is you take both views, that it was a journey of self discovery and that it was a journey to solidify his fame, and married them together.
When we meet Oscar, in Graves’ story, Oscar is delivering a lecture on the merits of Art for Art’s sake. Confusing the word ‘art’ with the name ‘Art,’ some philistine Americans storm the stage and start a fight with the author. Oscar, who in real life was said to be a bit of bruiser despite his rather effete charm, right hooks a marauding audience member. Graves jumps into defend the “great man,” and so the bright light of culture is both crushed and revelled in.
Wilde’s mantra ‘Art for art’s sake’ gives both credence and amplification for the existence of comics in the first place.
Joe you were right when you said that my former article is pretentious. I now see that you are a Wildean and create works for their own sake. I see that your work, and the others who worked with you on this project, exists just to exist. You accept that and I applaud you for it.
One quibble, though.
The sense of humour in this issue is still juvenile. Every time the word ‘art’ is mentioned throughout the story, another character asks the question: “who’s Art?” This is funny the first time, but the next three or so times that it happens, it is just repetitive and uninventive.
This issue is an improvement on the last and sets up what will be a wonderful showdown. I look forward to it.
I applaud you Joe, Mr.Glanzman, and Mr. Truman for creating such a literate comic.
And with that, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “Chapter 3: Big Worm” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #3 May 1995)
Rating: 3 1/2 out 5
Pros: The Literate Allusions, The worms’ plot, Oscar Wilde’s Cameo, and the philosophical importance of the whole story.
Cons: Juvenile dialogue, reductivism of women, overuse of one joke, the general exposition of the whole issue.
Previous Review: “Chapter 2: Wilde’s West” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #2 Apr. 1995)
Upcoming Review: “Chapter 4: Autumns of Our Discontent” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4 June. 1995)
Posted on March 18, 2014, in DC, Jonah Hex and tagged American Frontier, Cthulhu, H. P. Lovecraft, Joe R. Lansdale, Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Glanzman, Stephen King, United States. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.