Monday, January 15, 2007

Swamp Thing Shit

Ya, I know, I'm supposed to be en route to Middlebury. Due to the first winter storm of the winter, we powwowed last night and rescheduled my guest lecture visit to a kinder day of the week, weather-wise. Marge is much appreciative, and thanks, Cole (Odell, Middlebury College comics class instructor extraordinaire), for being flexible.

Having ensured Marge sleeps in this morning (she's off from work today), allow me to indulge my nightmares for the pinch-hit blog post for this Martin Luthor King's Day I expected not to be posting...

For those who don't note the comments on this blog, Bob Heer has been posting links from
  • Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin,
  • steering me to Mike's postings on the worst of all the early 1990s Swamp Thing merchandizing crap.

    I have all this mind-boggling drizzle in my own collection -- now, and forever, housed for all to see at
  • the Stephen R. Bissette Collection at HUIE Library and Henderson State University.
  • Special Collections librarian and amazing HUIE Goddess Lea Ann Alexander in fact had the HUIE Library glass display cases brimming with this insane Swamp Thing pop debris back in November of 2005, when Marge and I made our pilgrimage out there for the opening of the Collection.

    We've got those photos... around... here... somewhere, but until we can unpack them and I can post them, I'll give you my personal choice of the lamest Swamp Thing merchandise ever (using photos from
  • Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin,
  • which I urge you to visit if you want to see more!)

    Special thanks, then, to Bob Heer for navigating me there, and to Mike Sterling ("The Most Dangerous Man Alive Since 1969" -- only in California) for harboring such loopy delights online.

    Now, Bob maintains that this admittedly crap Swampy item is the single most absurd of all the Swamp Thing merchandizing to date, and he's got a point. It is singularly bizarre; here's what Mike Sterling had to say about his eBay acquisition:

    "This piece of merchandise boldly tells you, the consumer, just what exactly you're getting. "I'M CHALK!" exclaims the package, and by God, chalk is exactly what you get. Chalk carved in the general likeness of Swamp Thing and colored green, perhaps, but that, my friends, is Washable, Dustless chalk in its purest form. According to the back of the package, some of the suggested uses for Swamp Thing chalk are "Do Your Homework," "Play Games," and "Draw Funny Pictures" - yes, Swamp Thing chalk can cover the full spectrum of life. Also, according to the package, the Swamp Thing chalk "works great on chalk boards" which must come as great relief to someone.

    Okay, seriously, I'm sure the "I'M CHALK!" legend on the front is some kind of warning that this item isn't candy, just in case having "CHALK" in orange letters on the front, and having pictures of kids drawing things with chalk on the back, weren't clue enough."

    (Image and quote from
  • Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, Monday, September 20, 2004 post; scroll down to read the original Sterling post.)

  • In the same September 20th, 2004 posting, Mike also unveiled the likewise silly-ass Swamp Thing Bop Bag -- also high on the "What the fuck?" list of Swampy merchandise -- but at least one can cite 1960s movie monster bop bags as precursors, thus reducing the absurdity component of the Swampy bop bag to near nil.

    As the attentive comics and Swamp Thing fans likely can make out from Mike's posted photo, here, the artist of note on these merchandizing miracles was none other than Alfredo Alcala -- or, I should say, those are definitely Alfredo's inks, perhaps working over some uncredited penciller. You may recall that it was John Totleben who first suggested Alfredo as the best fill-in inker on Saga of the Swamp Thing (during the tag-team collaborative effort editor Karen Berger orchestrated on the title around the buildup to Alan Moore's ambitious Swamp Thing Annual #2 script, "Down Amongst the Dead Men," which necessitated some fancy footwork on SOTST #30 and #31 to buy me time to pencil the Annual without a break: it was double-page-count, natch, and we were starting behind the deadline eightball -- where we'd been, like, forever). Anyhoot, it was John T who suggested Alfredo as the best alternative to his own inks, an astute call given John's and Alfredo's shared roots in Franklin Booth's pen-and-ink aesthetic. This was so that Rick Veitch and John could collaborate on #30 while I pencilled (the tightest pencils of my career) for Alfredo to ink on #31, allowing John and I to collaborate on the Annual (with a couple of pages of pencil assist from Rick Veitch). So that's how Alfredo was brought into the fold -- leading, ultimately, to his becoming the regular inker on Rick Veitch's Swamp Thing run (as penciller with Alan scripting, and later with Rick writing and pencilling), culminating in these ST merchandizing monstrosities.

    A long road to China, indeed.

    Well, OK, so now you know Bob Heer's choice of most absurd Swamp Thing merchandizing item ever. Though Mike Sterling doesn't indulge such nominations, he does bring special personal history to this gem, which also rank pretty high in my personal choice for most absurd Swamp Thing merchandizing ever -- the Swamp Thing Pencil Sharpeners!

    I have 'em all -- again, now in the HUIE Library Bissette Collection archives (thank God, I didn't have to move them again!) -- and there are indeed three different designs, as shown on the back of the packaging (below). Mike's original post reads:

    "This is one of the very first things I'd ever bought on eBay, over six years ago now. In fact, I think this may be the very item that inspired me to get an eBay account in the first place. Let me distract you from that highly embarrassing and very sad bit of personal information and draw your attention to the ballyhooing of "ACTION! Movable arms" blurbed on the package. While, yes, the arms do appear to move, I would have had a hard time attributing any kind of exciting "action" to that. Maybe you could pretend to move his arms around as if he were writhing in pain as you jab a pencil into his hip...."

    Now, I have no such history. I bought these damnable things at local toy stores (in Keene, NH and down in Massachusetts) as they surfaced in the blow-out sale bins. I've been harboring these in my archives for nigh on 13 years now. Thankfully, I didn't have to suffer the public humiliation of bidding for them on eBay! That might have prompted a Heidi MacDonald column or something, Bissette bidding on Swamp Thing shit on eBay. No, I just put up with my kids saying, "Dad, why are you buying that? It's not for me, is it?", with relief beaming from their wet little eyes (brown for Maia, baby blue for Danny, like his Poppa) when I told them it was for (choke) me. "Oh, good," they said.

    My misguided affection for these pencil sharpeners, though, lies in the fact that you're using a tiny Swamp Thing idol to further carve/maim a wood product already mechanically sculpted from ravaged trees -- a pencil, natch -- thus using a replica of DC's protector of the trees, the Plant Elemental incarnate, to, like, sharpen pencils. Among tree-huggers, this isn't only misapplication of a false idol, it's ideologically abhorrent in the extreme on so many levels, one can't comprehend them all. And that, I love.

    (Images and quote from
  • Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, Monday, September 20, 2004 post; scroll down to read the original complete Sterling post.)

  • But for me, the nadir of the Plant Elemental's false idols, the ultimate absurdity of all the 1992 Swamp Thing merchandizing, the most perverse and brain-wrenching of all these misbegotten horrors, that-which-should-never-have-been-made, much less worn and adorned, are these little wonders:

    Beastie booties for wee feet! Yep, they're bright green fuzzy kid's slippers with the dumbest little bright green hollow plastic Swampy heads imaginable perched (well, actually, glued) atop the isky-li'l toes of the tots who tottered around in 'em.

    Of course, licensed merchandizing isn't licensed merchandizing until you've slapped the official registered trademark logo on the damned things, so there 'tis, Swamp Thing, on the sides of the slippers, adding elegance and grace to these hideous mass-production nightmares.

    That's it, the point at which I concede that those who once held all rights, save comics rights, to Swamp Thing did their utmost to exploit every conceivable niche market abomination the human mind could concoct.

    The slippers, the slippers -- Marge catches me some nights, muttering that in my sleep as I lay, slavering and glistening with cold sweat, in the grip of some dreadful recollection of what once lurked in my own home.

    (Images from
  • Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, Saturday, January 13, 2007 post.)

  • And that, my friends, is all I can stomach of that.

    Again, all this -- and more! -- is forever sheltered and selectively showcased in
  • the Bissette Collection at HUIE Library/ Henderson State University.
  • Thankfully, this is only a tiny fraction of the collection, which houses much more interesting and invaluable things, including Alan Moore scripts, Bissette art, and all manner of matter from my 30+ years in comics.

    But oh, baby, those slippers!

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