Posts Tagged ‘‘The Stainless Steel Rat’’

Cartoonist Kayfabe on the US Army’s Guide to Cartooning

September 7, 2021

Face front, true believers, as Stan ‘the Man’ Lee used to say at Marvel. Here’s a bit of fun I found on the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel on YouTube. In it, comics creators Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look at a little curiosity from the past. Back in the middle of World War II, the US army produced a booklet intended to teach squaddies the basics of cartooning.

The booklet was part of a series of such manuals intended to teach basic craft skills to wounded and shell-shocked troopers when they were recovering in hospital. It was also to give them skills that would help them find a job when they were finally demobilised. These booklets weren’t long. They were deliberately made short enough so that a trooper could have one in a pocket or in his kit bag. Other manuals in the series included leatherwork, knot-making and carpentry.

Although short, the booklet does cover all the basics of cartooning, such as proportion, perspectives, drawing action, the need to observe the wrinkles in clothes and so on, including tips on drawing noses and ears. Unfortunately, it also contains a section on ‘racial symbols’ – basically drawing national stereotypes, which includes two racist caricatures. One of these is of a Jew, which is especially distasteful given the nature of the regimes the US and its allies were fighting at the time.

The booklet’s own artwork is very fine and is stylistically similar to many of the great comics’ artists who were emerging at the time. The two speculate whether it was done by Art Spiegelman, the creator of Maus, a metaphor about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, or Stan Lee. Although both were in the army at the time, both were actually occupied on other projects. In the case of Lee, it was working on pamphlets about the VD. The pair also note that the booklet doesn’t say anything about sequential storytelling. It’s intended to teach single panel cartooning, the type published in newspapers at the time and which was massively popular.

I’ve got a feeling it was US army course on cartooning that produced the great American SF novelist, Harry Harrison. I think he trained as a cartoonist and started working in comics and from there found his way into writing SF short stories and novels. Harrison is probably best known for his comic SF novel, The Stainless Steel Rat, about a reformed criminal, ‘Slippery’ Jim diGriz, who works for a galactic detective bureau staffed with similar ex-crims to catch the villains, tyrants, murderers and general menaces to society that the ordinary police can’t. One of his other novels is Bill the Galactic Hero, which is a satire on the army and militarism, as well as spoofing Asimov and some of the other leading SF authors of the time. It was written, along with a number of other novels by various SF writers, as a reply to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and its glorification of war and the armed forces. In the book, the captains of the space navy aren’t the six-foot good-looking guys that appear in the films. Those are all actors. They’re members of the galactic aristocracy, and so are terribly inbred with low IQs. The aliens they are fighting against aren’t the aggressors as portrayed in the army’s propaganda, but are an otherwise peaceful race, the victims of human attack. When Bill finally meets one, who explains this to him shortly before it escapes, he asks it why they’re fighting them then. The alien replies that it doesn’t know, but ‘we think you like it’. When Bill is finally allowed some leave, he travels down to the nearest planet with a group of other squaddies. One of them is a man, who has had half of his face shot away and replaced with cybernetics. Another man wires himself into a saline drip that feeds him a mixture of alcohol and glucose so he can be flat out unconscious drunk for the duration. And at the end of the book Bill meets the Biblical Cain, here described as the first soldier, who gives him tips on how to be successful and survive as a squaddie.

Bill the Galactic Hero isn’t biting satire. It’s tone, like the Stainless Steel Rat, is largely light. But that doesn’t stop it making some very serious points about the lunacy of the armed forces and the hell of war amongst the jokes. I think it’s significant that Harrison had served in the war, while Heinlein was rejected as unfit for active service. It’s been said that the people who are least likely to start a war are those, who have actually fought in one.

And if Harrison did come into literature through the US’ army training on cartooning, there’s an irony in that it launched the career of one of SF’s great satirists of the military, along with just about everything else.

Cartoon: Mock Movie Poster for ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’

March 18, 2020

Here’s something that I hope will cheer you all up, or at least the SF fans among you. It’s another of my cartoons, though this time it’s not satire, but a mock movie poster for one of my favourite SF novels, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Harrison was a serious SF writer. One of his novels was Make Room, Make Room!, which was filmed in the 1970s as the dystopian thriller Soylent Green with Charlton Heston. However, he’s probably best known for his series of humorous SF novels, beginning with the Stainless Steel Rat, about the galactic archcriminal, Slippery Jim DiGriz. They’re set in the far future, when humanity has spread across the Galaxy, and living conditions, society and psychology/ social services have all advanced so that crime is all but unknown. All but. Slippery Jim, the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ of the title, is a career criminal who does it simply for the joy of outwitting the authorities. The interstellar police, however, eventually catch up with him, and he’s forcibly recruited into their ranks. And he’s shocked to find that they’re all former criminals. His boss, Inskip, was a notorious thief who robbed a spaceliner in mid-flight. It’s done on the principle of ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. And his first assignment is to capture a stunningly beautiful woman, who’s murdering her way across space. Spoilers: he finally catches her, she’s given psychiatric treatment to rehabilitate her, she’s also recruited by the space rozzers. Di Griz marries her, and the two then become a team, whose adventures are then told in the succeeding books as they, and their sons with them, travel across the universe solving crimes, overthrowing dictators and stopping wars with alien races.

I was wondering who I’d cast as the heroes, and have as director and the scriptwriter adapting it for cinema. The text on the cartoon shows who I decided upon. It reads

A Terry Gilliam film. From the book by Harry Harrison. Adapted by Douglas Adams.

Jacqueline Pearce David Tennant Don Warrington.

It’s definitely fantasy, because Adams and Pearce have sadly passed away, as has Harrison himself. Tennant would be the Stainless Steel Rat, Pearce, who you will remember was Servalan in the epic Blake’s 7, would be the murderess, Angelina, and Don Warrington would be the police chief, Inskip. Yes, I am thinking of his character in Death in Paradise, so it would be a bit of type casting. But he has done humorous SF before. He appeared in an episode of Red Dwarf in the ’90s as one of the members of a spaceship crew of Holograms, all of whom had massive intellects and egos to match. His character appeared on board Red Dwarf and promptly started making sneering remarks about Kryten and Lister. Kryten was described as nearly burnt out, while he described Lister as some kind of subhuman creature, that could in time perhaps be taught some tricks. Until Lister parodied him with a mock report of his own, in which he informed him that he had a sturdy holowhip in the ship’s armoury and was going to use it on his backside pronto if he didn’t leave. At which point Warrington’s arrogant spaceman vanished. And with a threat like that hanging over him, who could blame him?

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you like it and it give you a chuckle in these grim times and keep your chin up! The Coronavirus won’t last forever.

A Real ‘Steampunk’ Toy: Pre-World War I Clockwork Monorail Train

August 13, 2017

A little while ago I put up a series of posts about real, 19th century inventions, which now seem like the weird machines of Steampunk Science Fiction. This is a subgenre, which imagines what the world would have been like, if the Victorians had invented spacecraft, time travel, interdimensional travel and other elements of Science Fiction, or had completed and fully developed real inventions like Babbage’s mechanical computer, the Difference Engine, steam carriages and dirigible aircraft, like that flown by the French aviator Giffard in 1854.

One of these real Steampunk inventions was the monorail. A steam-driven monorail system was designed by an American inventor and entrepreneur. This astonished me, as I always associated the monorail train with the technological optimism of the 1960s and ’70s. It was an invention for a technological age that never happened. After writing the article, a reader posted a comment on the piece kindly pointing out that a steam monorail system had been built in Eire. the track and its train have been restored, and are now a tourist attraction. The commenter included a link, and if you go to that website, you’ll see the train in question. It is very definitely an Irish train, as its been decorated very patriotically in green.

This hasn’t been the only example of such trains I’ve found. They even existed as miniature toys. Looking through the book Mechanical Toys: How Old Toys Work by Athelstan and Kathleen Silhaus, with photos by Nelson McClary (New York: Crown Publishers 1989) I came across the illustration below of a toy monorail train, stabilized with a gyroscope and powered by a single wheel. It was produced by the Ely Cycle Co., of Britain, in 1912. It was first patented in Britain in 1908, and then in Germany in 1911, where it was also manufactured by Suskind. The text notes that it was stabilized by a gyroscope long before Sperry used it in aircraft and ocean liners.

The use of a single wheel is also like the various Science Fictional vehicles that similarly have only one of these, like the monocycles in Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat. This toy, and others like it, show a whole world of Victorian and Edwardian invention that seemed to anticipate a technological future that never quite happened, as well as the immense inventiveness of the manufacturers.