While the management of Alum Falls has made every effort to keep its content within the bounds of ordinary decency and good taste, it has been found necessary, in order to render truthfully the idiosyncracies of teenage male behavior in the middle part of the 20th century, to occasionally stray from what might be considered commonly accepted standards of propriety. It is sincerely regretted if anyone is disappointed, inoconvenienced, or otherwise discombobulated by this material in zones scolaires.
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;
persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished;
persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."
(Mark Twain, Epigraph to Huckleberry Finn)
Everyone is in the best seat. (John Cage)
Snavely’s Journal…Late-night narratives
A Fire on State Street…Crime and punishment
There Goes My Baby…Trials of love
Snavely@…Future Snavely tales
Holly will be widely missed
the Russians continue to win the race
of the superpower struggle for supremacy
In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson
down the mighty Mississip
Castro’s army reached Camp Columbia, Batista’s stronghold
like him I am doubtful
that your love is true
C.B. DE MILLE
DEAD AT 77
NASA picks elite astronaut squad
NASA announced the test pilots who have been
chosen to participate in Project Mercury
the manned space project
MOB KEPT AT BAY AS BLACKS
GO TO SCHOOL IN LITTLE ROCK
but if you decide to call on me
call me mister blue
the makers also claim that a transistor portable
could run on the same batteries for a year and that the new technology
improves both tone and volume
rocket Lunik II launched at moon
one-third of 15-year-old boys now smokers
LUMUMBA ARREST IN CONGO
I ain’t askin much of you
just a biga biga biga hunka love
Rockefeller will not run,
Last night’s Los Angeles banquet for the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khruschev, turned sour. He was angry even before the meal began because he was refused a visit to the Disneyland amusement park for security reasons. When Norris Poulson, the Los Angeles mayor, then made a hostile speech recalling Khruschev’s famous “We will bury you” remark, he exploded and threatened to take the next plane home. The chill continued this morning when Mr. Poulson did not turn up at the station to
I got a wishbone in my pocket
got a rabbit’s foot around my wrist
and I’d a have everything
my lucky charms could bring
if ya gimme just one sweet kiss
dark side of moon filmed
Errol Flynn buckles last swash
The Dalai Lama has reached safety in India from his
Chinese pursuers. He crossed the border into Assam
yesterday and today 7,000 Tibetans
by John Snavely
In high school in the late fifties I began reading popular adult fiction as a way, I suppose, of learning about being a “grown-up.” I amassed a collection of paperbacks, most of which were lost over the years after I left home. Around my 40th birthday I began picking up old copies of the paperbacks that had meant so much to me - at thrift shops, garage sales, and used book stores. Now I’m a confirmed, if amateur, small collector of vintage paperbacks, which combine my interest in illustration and literature, not to mention good, old-fashioned sleaze.
Here are a few of my favorites. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the covers.
Some Came Running by James Jones
Signet 1959 (Abridged).
This 1959 edition is my all-time favorite paperback.
I read it as a freshman in high school and Jones’ portrayal of small-town midwestern life knocked my socks off. His long-awaited second novel after the hugely acclaimed From Here to Eternity, it was panned pretty universally by critics. I still think it’s a great example of mid-century “mainstream American male realism.”
At the time (age 15) I was occasionally dating a girl who was my first fairly consistent romantic interest. I was very interested in “making out” but was too scared to try anything. The young lady was equally shy. In the fine generosity of spirit common to some boys of that age, I blamed her for our lack of intimacy. I had been reading Some Came Running in which the hero unsuccessfully tries to score with a woman who appears to be frigid. He decides in a sudden (mistaken) revelation that she is avoiding him because she is actually a nymphomaniac. I was a bit unclear on all this, and one day when my mother said, “I see you haven’t been dating Stella lately,” I retorted, “Oh, her, she’s a nymphomaniac.”
So much for learning about “real life” from fiction. My mother’s response is not recorded.
The Signet edition was abridged (the hardback was 1266 pages), released to coincide with the movie version, illustrated on the back cover. It was directed by Vincent Minelli and starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley Maclaine in an early role - her association with the Rat Pack probably dates from this film.
Knock On Any Door by Willard Motley
When as a teenager I bought (or stole) paperback books, I had missed the golden age of mass market paperbacks, generally considered to have run from the late thirties to the fifties. This site is a tribute to Signet’s editions from around 1950 to 1960.
Signet brought out several fat 75-cent novels in the late fifties, which I devoured. They were to me the hottest thing in fiction, often war novels, or tough slum kid coming-of-age novels. Knock On Any Door was the first of the latter that I found and, again, it absolutely enthralled me. I read it five or six times - the story of Nick Romano who wanted to “Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse.” Interestingly enough the author, Willard Motley, was black, though his Italian-American anti-hero did not reflect it.
Though I was unaware of it then, these “Signet 75’s” were new editions of the earlier Signet Double Volumes (50 cents), which were printed with a double spine, presumably to give the impression of a hell of a bargain. Here is the 1950 edition of “Knock On Any Door” with a great James Avati cover - in every way superior to its later reprint.
The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
Another block-buster of popular realism that I inhaled, re-reading it several times. My first experience of a “big” war novel, to be echoed by many others. So many of my notions about life were formed by such fiction, for better and often for worse! I don’t think Shaw holds up today as well as James Jones for sheer intensity.
The top book is the later edition that I read as a kid, with the earlier Double Volume below it. Also made into a great movie with Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin (was he in all these movies?).
The Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell.
Signet, 1958 (with a new introduction by the author)
Great coming-of-age epic of a Chicago street punk, originally written as three novels in the early thirties. It’s a biting critique of the young Studs’ shallow, self-obscessed character and his inevitable, chilling decline. I never actually finished Studs but read parts of it many times and was very impressed by it.
Farrell was one of the giants of American Depression realism in the thirties and beyond. Signet published many of his titles over the years, always with covers by James Avati. Here is the first Signet edition of the first volume of the Studs trilogy, Young Lonigan, from around 1949.
Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac
Avon Books, 1959
This is a paperback original of a sweet coming-of-age novel, set in Kerouac’s home-town of Lowell, Massachusetts. The manic idiocy of the young male characters roaming the streets of Lowell was completely infectious. Kerouac’s rendition of the French Candian slang of the time and place included a frequently repeated epithet: “Zeet!” My friends and I parroted it in our small Ohio town, chirping “Zeet! Zeet! Zeet!” as often as it occurred to us to do so, and also adapting it into our own terms, such as “You stupid zeet!” or “You zeety sonofabitch!”
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I absorbed the excesses of Kerouac’s On the Road whole hog, as only a sheltered, repressed surburban teen could do - in his imagination. Beat culture had been commodified by this time. We snuck out at night to go to coffee houses (The Low Spot, a basement joint near the Ohio State campus, was one) and wore boat-neck shirts. Jane Carber and I went to a 1959 Halloween party, both dressed as beatniks. Little did I know that the vaguely imagined indulgences of beat literature - “kicks,” “free” love, dope - would dog my tracks for over a decade, providing me (and millions of other non-conformists) a way of trying to deny my middle-class upbringing. Zeet!
To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck
Dell, with a Map Back
In collecting paperbacks nothing delights me more than finding a popular edition of a work of “literary merit,” sporting a lurid cover. This one is blue-chip.
Dell’s Map Backs were famous on the back covers of their mystery novels. Steinbeck’s story here is not what you’d call a mystery, but why not stretch a point?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
First paperback edition of a classic. The Adam and Eve motif is a good excuse for nudity.
Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara
This is a nice edition of another of my favorite “adult” novelists when I was a teenager. By the fifties O’Hara was writing block-buster novels about the upper classes of the northeast, complete with steamy (for the time) sex. It was an O’Hara novel (From the Terrace) that gave me the notion to apply to an Ivy League college. The hero of the novel, Alfred Eaton, went to Princeton, so of course that was my first choice. I was sorry to be turned down by Princeton, but relieved at my acceptance to second-choice Yale. Come to find out years later in an O’Hara biography that he was disappointed to the end of his life that he hadn’t attended Yale. Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. O’Hara!
The Applegreen Cat by Frances Crane
Popular Library, cover by Rudolph Belarski
No display of vintage paperbacks would be complete without Rudolph Belarski, the great pulp cover artist. The pulps of the thirties and forties depicted only two kinds of women - (1) beautiful and about commit mayhem, and (2) beautiful and about to have mayhem committed upon. Or, as in this case, both.
In 1959 underwear is white, at least for males. For females pastels are optional. Early in adolesence, Jane’s first bra would have been a “training” bra, though what is being trained would not be specified. Snavely is bare-chested here since T-shirts are now outerwear, no long called under-shirts.
Snavely’s shorts are of the type called “briefs,” which he unconsciously associates with rabbits, since recently reading this passage in “Rabbit Run” by John Updike:
As he (“Rabbit” Angstrom) comes back across the room Ruth laughs from the bed. He asks, “What’s the joke?”
“In those damned underclothes you do look kind of like a rabbit. I thought only kids wore those elastic kind of pants.”
Old-fashioned masculine boxer shorts give way to tight briefs, somehow suggestive of girls’ underpants. Or little boys’ undies. Another step in the slide toward unisex.
Every week in the fifties Ricky Nelson along with big brother Dave grew up right on television on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” a real-life family in electronic black and white. After Elvis got drafted in 1958 rock ‘n’ roller Ricky replaced him as America’s number one teen idol. He and the King were the only two performers that could tour as stand-alone acts.
On May 8, 1940 Ozzie’s band was playing Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater while Harriet, his singer and wife, birthed Eric Hilliard Nelson in Teaneck, New Jersey. When Ricky was one Ozzie and Harriet played the Palace in San Francisco and Harriet’s mom watched Rick at home in San Rafael across the Golden Gate Bridge. Red Skelton’s scouts offered the Nelsons a spot on the Red Skelton Show and in no time they were living in the Hollywood Hills and a radio career was launched. Ricky developed asthma at age two and slept with an oxygen inhaler till he was ten.
By the time Skelton was drafted in 1944 (Ozzie had connections that kept him out of the service) they were tapped for their own radio show, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” Ricky and David were played by actors on the radio show from the start, Ricky by a 13-year-old named Henry Blair. Ozzie didn’t want his boys to be caught up in a showbiz life. On a Christmas broadcast featuring Bing Crosby and his sons, the boys, eight and twelve, demanded to be included. “People just ate it up,” Ricky said. Harriet said, “They got such a tremendous reaction that we dismissed the actors and the boys took over. When an actor gets his first laugh, he’s hooked. It’s as if he’s tasted blood.”
Ricky and David started earning $500 a week. On the show Ozzie was director first, father second. He gave them $5 a week, not wanting them to become spoiled Hollywood rich kids. He and Harriet took home $4000 a week. Harriet never cooked much when the couple was on the road with the band and now, contrary to her housewife image on the show, they had servants and cooks.
On the show Ricky was the cute wise-ass little kid:
Ricky: Can I borrow some money, Pop? I want to buy some comic books."
Ozzie: OK, here’s your allowance, but I wish you’d raise your literary standards.
Ricky: I wish you’d raise my allowance.
When TV came along the show made the transition without a hitch. Ozzie Nelson was laid back and slightly befuddled on the show, but he was in reality a shrewd, hard-driving, technically adventurous TV producer/director. Dissatisfied with the flat look of TV of the day, Ozzie hired an accomplished cinematographer and soon had a crew that delivered production values as fine as a major Hollywood movie. Expecting any day the advent of wide-screen TV (it never came), he shot all the episodes in wide-screen format.
Hi… John Snavely here. This is me working on a comic strip in 1994, using real pen and ink. Many of the comics on the Alum Falls website are scanned from my old black-and-white strips and colored on the computer. Now I do just about everything from scratch right on the computer. Maybe I’ll go back to pen and ink. Sometimes I get to yearning for the old tactile process with lots of tedious cross-hatching.
I should make a disclaimer. You can’t actually email me, because I’m a fictional character. The closest you can come to conversing with me is to email the true author of Alum Falls. You can find the link on the Alum Falls home page.
Why would an otherwise sane adult put his entire life into a comic strip on the Web? Not only is it incredibly egotistical, but it’s damn time-consuming too. A few months in 1959 has taken me a couple of years. At this rate in 20 years I’ll get as far as 1964!
In his essay, “Distractions of a Fiction-Writer” Saul Bellow has some words to say that may apply:
It occurs to a man that he is a writer. He doesn’t obtain a certificate, like a doctor, or take the bar examination, like a lawyer; nor does he apprentice himself like a tool-and-die maker or get into a union like a bricklayer. A novel is written by a man who thinks of himself as a novelist. Unless he makes such an assumption about himself he simply can’t do it. The thing is impossible. He has to encounter the world in a particular way. He goes within a sort of tissue which floats about the mind when he is well or collapses upon it when he isn’t. It’s hard to say exactly where this tissue comes from or what it is, but it is a sign of his autonomy.
Let’s say that I, John Snavely, have developed that sense of autonomy and seem to be able to exercise it only by rendering a life, mine, in the form of a Web comic strip. I am not a novelist (though I have long wanted to be one) but rather make my living as a commercial artist, no doubt more akin to Bellow’s tool-and-die maker than to a professional fiction-writer. For me the comic strip is a happy wedding of words and pictures, a back door into the world of the novelist. Then, why a comic strip of my own life?
Again Bellow is helpful:
I don’t say the novelist knows what order is; but he relies upon the imagination to lead him toward it. In a work of art the imagination is the sole source of order. There are critics who assume that you must begin with order if you are to end with it. Not so. A novelist begins with disorder and disharmony, and he goes toward order by an unknown process of the imagination.
There it is! By casting my disorganized, haphazard, willy-nilly life into an autobiographical work of art, order emerges!
Joseph Campbell said that as you age and look back on your life it more and more resembles a novel, with dominant recurring themes and symbols. And so it does.
Carl Jung tells us that the second half of life has, or should have, a different goal than the first half. Perhaps the goal of the second half of life is to transform the first half into a novel!
One last note: I mentioned above that there is behind the scenes a “true” flesh-and-blood author of my fictive self and the entire world of Alum Falls. I feel it incumbent on me to point out that even this bones-and-sinew individual has a major fictional component. For what is the visible part of his self, but a persona carefully if mostly unconsciously crafted to get him through life in a more or less tolerable manner? He too brings order from the chaos of his experience and presents it to the world as a somewhat coherent identity. So, let us all join in the brother(or sister)hood of legendary, mythologized, fictionalized individualities.