Christmas in July Special: Emshwiller, Bunch and ‘A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia’

Ed Emshwiller—known affectionately as Emsh—is one of those names that only fans of classic science fiction and fantasy will probably be familiar with, but within that community the artist held some prestige.  He is most known for doing pulp magazine covers and interior art, particularly for Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  When one thinks of sci-fi art of the 50s and early 60s, it is probably Emshwiller’s style that comes most readily to mind.

David R. Bunch was a science fiction and satirical writer who is best known for a series of short stories set on Moderan, an Earth analogue world where everything has become largely mechanized, including the people of Moderan themselves, and those people live inside giant computerized structures called Strongholds which are at perpetual war with each other.  Bunch wrote dozens of these stories, most of which have been collected in the Moderan volume and in various science fiction anthologies.  One of these stories, A Little Girl’s Xmas in Moderan, was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (though it was retitled A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia, probably due to some copyright conflict with the name Moderan).  It became the cover story for that issue, with cover art from Emshwiller.

It is a strange story told from the point-of-view of a kindergarten-age girl—known only as Little Sister in the story—one of the few citizens of Moderan who hasn’t yet become a cyborg and thus retains her full humanity.  Bunch contrasts her nicely against her father, who is almost entirely machine at this point and, although fully sentient, has essentially lost touch with what made him human in the first place, including being a father to his two children.  The entire family—father, mother, son and daughter—each live in their own house with robot servants to attend their every need.

The Moderan series was an early representative of the New Wave of science fiction, which completely revolutionized the genre, but today Bunch and his Moderan stories have mostly been forgotten.  One interesting aspect of Little Sister is that she spends much of the story completely naked, even in though it is the dead of winter.  I suspect this is to remind the reader that she is, indeed, fully human.  Like artists who use nudity symbolically to communicate the child’s vulnerability, Bunch utilizes Little Sister’s nudity to show that human beings are vulnerable, even emotionally, and yet, in comparison to being fully mechanized, this vulnerability may be preferable, because at least it is still human.

I am including here both the magazine cover and the original illustration.  Unfortunately, the latter is not quite as high quality as the former, but it should be sufficient.

Ed Emshwiller - The Mag of Fantasy & Sci-Fi (cover)

Ed Emshwiller – The Mag of Fantasy & Sci-Fi (cover)

Ed Emshwiller - The Mag of Fantasy & Sci-Fi (cover) (detail)

Ed Emshwiller – The Mag of Fantasy & Sci-Fi (cover) (detail)

Ed Emshwiller - A Little Girl's Xmas in Modernia

Ed Emshwiller – A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia

Apparently there are other Moderan stories which feature these characters, including one called A Little Girl’s Spring Day in Moderan (which, unfortunately, is not included in the Moderan collection).  As a treat for you all, I am going to include the full text of the story in this post!  Enjoy!


A Little Girl’s Xmas in Moderan

by David R. Bunch

It was in Jingle-Bell weather that Little Sister came across the white yard, the snow between her toes all gray and packed and starting to ball up like the beginnings of two snowmen. For clothing she had nothing, her tiny rump sticking out red-cold, and blue-cold, and her little-jewel knees white almost as bones. She stuck up ten stiff fingers, and she said, “Daddy! Something is wrong at my place! Come see!” She lisped a little perhaps and did not say it all as precisely as grownups, because she was just past four.

He turned like a man in the bottom third of bad dreaming; he pointed two bored eyes at her. Damn the kid, he thought. “What the hell deal has Mox got us into now?” he said. And he sang the little rhyme that made the door come open. Then as she stepped toward him he saw the snowballs on her feet. They were melting now, making deep furrows in the green rug spread across his spacious thinking room. The tall nap, like flooded grass now along little canals bending away from her feet, was speckled white here and there with crumpled paper balls. His trial plans and formulas peeped out like golf balls.

Coming back across the iron fields of nightmare that always rose to confront him at such times, he struggled to make the present’s puzzling moments into sense. Damn the kid, he thought, didn’t wipe her feet. All flesh, as yet – her own – and bone and blood, and didn’t wipe her feet. The snow melts!

He motioned her to him. “Little Sister,” he began in that tired dull-tinny voice that was his now, and must be his, because his larynx was worked all in gold against cancer, “tell me slowly, Little Sister. Why don’t you stay in your plastic place more? Why don’t you use the iron Mox more? Why do you bother me at all? Tell me slowly.”

“Daddy!” she cried and started to jig up and down in the fits that he hated so, “come over to my place, you old boogie. Something needs fixing.”

So they went across the big white yard to her place, past Mother’s place, with her snow-hurt limping and naked, and him lumbering in strange stiff-jointedness, but snug in a fire-red snuggie suit of fine insulation with good black leather space high-tops. Arrived at her place he whistled at the door the three sharp notes. The door moved into the wall and Mox the iron one stood sliding the iron sections of his arms up into one another until he had only hands hanging from shoulders. It was his greeting way. He ogled with bulb eyes and flashed his greeting code.

“What would you have done,” her father said, “if I had not come with you? You brought no whistle for the door.” Three sharp notes sprang at him from the normal holes of her head, and the heavy door rolled softly out of the wall until it shut them in the gay red-carpeted room with a Xmas tree – the father, the naked little girl and the iron Mox. And she was impishly holding the whistle between her teeth, grinning up at him. “I had it all along,” she said and dropped the whistle into the tall red grass of her room’s carpet.

She wiped the waning snowballs from her feet and sidled her icy-cold rump over toward the slits where the heat came through the wall, soft and perfumed like an island summer. Her knees turned knee-color again and her rump became no longer vari-colored cold. It became the nicest of baby-pink little-girl rumps, and she stood there a health-champion of a little miss, all flesh and bone and blood – as yet – pointing at an angle toward the ceiling. “The star!” she said. “The star has fallen down.” And he noticed that she was pointing toward the tree.

“What star?” he started to say, across the fog that always smelled like metal in his mind these last few years, and then he thought, Oh hell, she means the Xmas star. “You came across all that yard,” he asked incredulously, “to annoy me with a thing like that, when Mox – ?”

“Mox wouldn’t,” she broke in. “I asked him and asked him, but he wouldn’t. It’s been down since the fifteenth. You remember when those dumb students went home in their jets early and fast and broke the rules and shook the houses down. BOOM! and the star fell down. Just like that. Well, he’d just do silly when I asked him, like you just now saw him, just shake his arms up into his shoulders and ogle. Pretty darn dumb, if you ask me.”

“But what about your mother?”

“I asked her when I was over to her place, over a week ago. But she’s been too busy and tired. You know how Mama is, always having that plastic guy rubbing parts of her, that she says hurt, and jumping on the bed at any little thing. Sometimes I think that guy’s in love with Mama. What’s love?”

What?! What’s love? Should I tell you, did I know? Love is – is not an iron ceiling on a plastic . . . But – oh, never mind! Hell! – How’s her star?”

Twinkle twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a mama in the sky. Heard that on the programs advertising diamonds.”

“Just answer the questions. How’s her star?”

“Up real shiny, last I saw. But heck, Mama probably never even looks at her star, because that plastic guy – ”

“And Little Brother’s star?”

“Humph, Little Brother! Beat his star up about a week after we put ’em up. Said it was just what he needed for the rear end of his space tube. You know how Little Brother is about space.”

“And so yours is the only star that has fallen. Mother’s is still up, though she doesn’t have time to look at it, you think. Little Brother took his down in the interest of space. Yours just fell.”

“Daddy, where is your star, Daddy?”

He looked at her, and he thought, Damn these little girls. Always so much sentiment. And so schemy, too. He said, “I had Nugall store my star away. It’s somewhere with the tree, in a box. It interfered with my deep thinking. I’ve got to have entirely a bare room, so far as Xmas trees are concerned, for my deep thinking, if you don’t mind.”

For just a moment he thought she was going to get the sniffles. She looked at him, float-eyed, her face ready to buckle and twist into tearful complaint. But she held and stared at him more sternly, and he said, “Sure, I’ll fix the damned star for you. Drag me a chair over. And then I must rush right back to my place.” (Dangerous, this being together so much. And so old-fashioned. And besides, he had been really cooking on a formula when she burst in.) So he stood on the chair she dragged to him, and he fixed the frosti-glass star to its hook in the iron ceiling and he adjusted the star until it was almost impossible to tell that it wasn’t attached to the green plastic tree. Then he whistled at the door.

Just as he was passing through the opening, leaving, he felt something tug at a leg of the fire-red suit. Damn! It was she again. “What now?” he asked.

“Daddy!” she piped, “you know what, Daddy? I thought, what if we’d go over to Mother’s and Little Brother’s places, since it’s Xmas. And you’ve got on your red suit. Isn’t this a very special day? I’ve been hearing on the programs – ”

“No,” he said, “it isn’t a very special day. But if you want to – and you’d probably do a fit about it if you didn’t get to – come on.” So after she had put on a green snow suit, they trudged across the white yard, a strange study in old Xmas colors, and they stopped first at Little Brother’s place, who was just past five.

Dressed in a pressure suit and sturdy beyond all sense, from the weight lifting and vitamin taking and breakfast-of-champions eating, he wanted to know what the hell all the nonsense of a visit was about so early. And he let them know that Nogoff, his iron man, was taking care of everything at his place very well, thank you. Then he strode about in his muscles, sturdy beyond all meaning, and he showed them the new jet tube part he had hammered out of the star, and they left pretty soon from his surliness. On the way over to Mother’s place Little Sister suggested that she thought Little Brother thought too much about rockets and jets and space. Didn’t Father think so? Father agreed dully that maybe he did, he didn’t know, but really, could one ever think too much about rockets and jets and space?

As they walked along, over the yard to Mother’s place, she kicked up snow and chortled and laughed and told off-color jokes – she had heard them on the programs – almost like a normal little girl should. Father tracked dourly through the unmarked snow under the featureless gray sky and thought only how all this nonsense of walking so early was making the silver parts of his joints hurt, and before he’d had his morning bracer, too. Yes indeed, Father, for the most part, was flesh only in those portions that they had not found ways to replace safely. He held on grimly, walking hard, and wished he were back in his hip-snuggie thinking chair where he worked on Universal Deep Problems.

At Mother’s place they found her having one of her plasto-rubs from the plastic man, who did truly act a little odd about Mother. Do you suppose he wasn’t really all machine but was a man who had been replaced part by part until it was impossible now to tell where the man left off and the robot plastic began? Father worried about it for half a second and then dismissed it. So what if he was? What could he do to Mother? And what if he did, what would it matter? Mother – new alloys now in almost all the places.

Little sister yelled MERRY XMAS! at the top of her good flesh lungs, and Mother turned through the waist only, as though on a swivel in that portion, and Father coughed dry in the metal of his embarrassment.

“’Twas Little Sister’s idea,” he mumbled. “So sorry, Marblene. I guess Mox hasn’t been watching her programs right, her insisting on Xmas trees and all this year, and now the idea of a visit among the folks of the family. I’m sorry, Marblene.” He coughed again. “So out of date.”

Mother blazed at him from her very plain blue eyes that were almost all ‘replaced’ now. It was clear that she wished to continue her rub with the plastic man as soon as possible. “Well?” she demanded.

“That’s all,” he mumbled, “if Little Sister’s ready.” Then for some silly reason – he couldn’t explain it afterwards, unless it was because he wasn’t all ‘replaced’ yet – he said a silly thing, something that would obligate him months hence. “Do you – I mean, would you – I mean, could I,” he stammered, “could I see you a couple of minutes, maybe at Easter? Our places are just across the yard from each other, you know. Maybe when I’m all ‘replaced’ I won’t be able to walk.” He hated himself for pleading.

She airily tossed her left hand, and fluttered those fabulous ‘replaced’ plastic fingers, and great rays of light shot and quavered and streamed from rings of ‘moderne’ diamond. “Why not?” she said resignedly. “What’s to lose? If Jon’s through in time – ” Jon was her plastic man – “we’ll talk a bit on Easter.”

And so it was done, and over, and soon they were again outside in the yard. “I guess I won’t have to walk you back will I? You have your whistle, don’t you?” he said.

“No,” she said. “I dropped it in the red rug. I just remember I did. I heard it. It squished down in the wet. While the snowballs were melting. Maybe I could come to your place!”

Damn these little girls, he thought. So tricky. Always scheming. He’d have to start having her ‘replaced’ as soon as he could after Xmas.

“There’s nothing of interest at my place,” he hastened to say. “Just my hip seat and my thinking space and Nugall.” He didn’t see any use to tell her about Nig-Nag, the statue woman who wasn’t quite all metal, that he kept under the bed until he needed her so much that he had to . . . there were some things that you just didn’t tell a daughter, not until she was much older or well on the road toward being all ‘replaced.’ “Tell you what we’ll do,” he said. “I’ll walk you back to your place and I’ll whistle at the door and you can go in to Mox. Your star’s all fixed and everything. You’ve had quite a Xmas!”

So they walked back through the iron-cold snow to her place, under a sky that was rapidly thickening in a day turning black. And as her door glided open he felt so relieved that he stooped and kissed her on top of the head, and he tapped her playfully a little on her good flesh buttocks as she passed through the plastic entrance. When she was gone he stood there thinking a little while outside her house. Like an old man in the starting third of a good dreaming, he stood nodding, prompted perhaps by things from a time before the time of ‘replacements,’ wondering maybe if he had not paid some uncalculated and enormous price for his iron durability.

While he stood thus idly musing, a light high and wee came up suddenly – from eastward, from toward the coast airports – and moved fast down the murky sky toward him, gaining speed. Soon the countryside all around recoiled from a giant blow as the barrier burst. He heard Little Sister behind him scream and beg for him to come back, and he knew without looking that her star was off its iron hook again. Like some frightened monster eager to gain its lair he dug in harder with his metal feet and lumbered off across the yard to his place, anxious to rest again in his hip-snuggie chair, desirous to think further on Universal Deep Problems.

The light, unswerving, went on down the sky, high and wee, like a fleeing piece of star, like something for somewhere else in a great hurry.




Control Freak: François Gillet

I was delighted to learn that François Gillet has established his own website and I have updated most of these images for better fidelity.  There are also a lot of images I had not seen before—and may have never been published—on his site under the heading of “Childhood”.  He offers some interesting background on his experiences working with children and his concerns about being type-cast.  Take a look.

I know this does not sound like a flattering title for an artist, but to tell you the truth, this is one of my favorite photographers of all time. I bought one of the artist’s early books—L’album de François Gillet published by Zoom-Paris/Landmark Book Co. (1981)—because I was told it contained some of the most charming images of children. Indeed it did, but the first half contained a number of his still-lifes and I was mesmerized. When I really looked at the images, I recognized the astonishing level of control he must have had over the scene. I just loved the simple sublimeness of a torn loaf of bread, a row of shiny fish or a carefully arranged cornucopia. Viewers should be aware that these effects come from his complete control of the frame and are never retouched. Many younger viewers today initially assume he accomplishes this with some clever use of Photoshop. The first image is a kind of ode to the mysteries of salt and the idea of salt as an artistic medium in its own right.

François Gillet - (Untitled) (1970s)

François Gillet – (Untitled) (1970s)

François Gillet was born in 1949 in France and is now based in Stockholm. His aspiration as a child was to paint, but by his twenties, the compelling way photographs serve as a mirror to nature drew him in. He studied photography at the Arts University College at Bournemouth and graduated in 1971. His work has been published in international magazines and companies from all over the world have commissioned his work for advertising campaigns: Fuji (Japan), Silk-cut (UK), Korean airlines, Brown Brothers Wineries (Australia), Bonne Maman (France) and Orrefors (Sweden). He received a number of awards for his distinctive work from 1979 to 1998 and has exhibited his work in numerous venues since 1984.

When it comes to control, conventional wisdom has it that the challenges to be avoided are children, animals and water. So it is even more remarkable when Gillet became a doting father—of a daughter, Melinda—he would be captivated by her charm and include her in his compositions. Naturally, there are family photos, but this photo is the first time she was a deliberate part of one of his artistic scenes. Instead of proper titles, most accompanying texts are more like descriptions.

When she got older, he shot this more sophisticated version of dressup. This image appeared on the cover of ZOOM (Issue 87, March 1981).

François Gillet – Girl in Mummy’s shoes (1974)

François Gillet – Girl in Mummy’s shoes (1974)

François Gillet – Girl with black stocking (1981)

François Gillet – Girl with black stocking (1981)

Perhaps the most joyous images of his little girl are from this photo shoot. The more saturated image appears on the cover of ZOOM (Issue 97, April 1982). The only full image I had was this one which was lit differently and so is not nearly as color-saturated.

François Gillet - Girl hanging upside-down (1982)

François Gillet – Girl hanging upside-down (1982)

François Gillet - Girl hanging upside-down (1982) (detail)

François Gillet – Girl hanging upside-down (1982) (detail)

Gillet is clearly well-versed in formal art and mythic motifs like The Four Seasons.

François Gillet – Lisa: 4 seasons (1978)

François Gillet – Lisa: 4 seasons (1978)

And he is also knowledgeable about the history of more commercial imagery—whether it be an idyllic image of the joys of car ownership, shooting an ad in the style of Pear’s Soap or observing Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) convention of dressing up children in an exotic tableau vivant. This image—part of an ad campaign for Barnängen, a Swedish cosmetics company—appeared on the cover of ZOOM (Issue 61, April 1979) along with an piece featuring the artist.

François Gillet – The flying carpet (1977)

François Gillet – The flying carpet (1977)

He also enlisted the participation of a number of neighborhood children for a series of images—with the assistance of Kristina Lannmark—which was published in Le Petit Théatre (1982). There was a European version published by Publicness and a Japanese version produced in a smaller format. The accompanying texts were in French and Japanese.  Since the playfulness of the original poetry can be lost in translation, I offer both the original French followed by an English translation.

J’ai une idée!
Si on jouait avec elle à la fête foraine?
On va lui faire les montagnes russes!
— Oh oui! Le tobogan et la grande roue!
— Les radios cars et la traine fantôme!
— Ah dites-donc, devinez ce que je vois?
— Tais-toi,
ne montre pas du doigt!


I’ve got an idea!

How about playing with her at the amusement park?
We can get her to go on the roller coaster!
Oh yes! The slide and the ferris wheel!
The remote-controlled cars and the funhouse!
Hey there, guess what I can see?
don’t point!

François Gillet – (Untitled from Le Petit Théatre) (1980) (1)

François Gillet – (Untitled from Le Petit Théatre) (1980) (1)

Pas question de mettre un pantalon
quand on trouve de si beaux cotillons.
Les Lapons ont des caleçons longs.
Les Indiens ont trois fois rien.
Nous, nous montrons nos jupons,
tout en dentelle,
comme la tour Eiffel,
en dentelle


There’s no way I’ll put on pants
when I’ve got such pretty petticoats.
The Lapplanders have longjohns.
The Indians have absolutely nothing.
But us, we show our petticoats,
made completely of lace,
like an Eiffel tour,
made of lace from Alençon.

François Gillet – (Untitled from Le Petit Théatre) (1980) (2)

François Gillet – (Untitled from Le Petit Théatre) (1980) (2)

It is natural to ask in what way Gillet’s vision may have been compromised by doing commercial work. In this sense, he is perhaps one of the most fortunate artists. His way of taking what most people would call mundane and helping the viewer see its unnoticed beauty and character is exactly how he approaches commercial projects. Indeed, his point seems to be that nothing in the world is truly banal to an alert eye. And as marketers have come to recognize, he was perhaps ahead of his time in using imagery, not to tell us about a product, but to tell us how to feel about it.

“…so successfully has he blurred any notional fine line between the two categories. For some decades now he has been surreptitiously insinuating the same sublime purity of vision that he brings to his personal work into the usually prosaic commercial world of advertising.” -Ian Talbot (2010)

His methodology is to build a set in three dimensions, careful to pay attention to every detail of the subjects, the background and the organization of empty space. Because of his obsession with rendering detail, he chose the 8×10 large-format camera. He himself has used the word “control” to describe the process, “in an attempt to be in control of every square inch in the frame”. Only when he believes he has reached the highest level of beauteous perfection does he shoot the scene.

“The definition of illusion as something untrue, as the opposite to reality has always repelled me for how can one live without illusions?…For the last few decades I have explored both the real and fantasy worlds; even with my commissioned work…”

“There is a beauty in making the picture exist in reality before recording it. Somehow it becomes the proof of one’s own existence.”

Despite his seemingly perfectionist style, Gillet continues to evolve—another sign of a great artist. Because of his habit of arranging objects in a frame, he already had a knack for noticing and collecting things. His latest project amps up this visual impact in two major ways. He traveled to Australia to take advantage of its other-worldly landscapes and he no longer offers the viewer just a single shot, but arranges them in a series to form a collage and introducing a higher order of composition. You can see some examples of this on a video produced by Henrik Thomé.

Francois Gillet (official website)

Gillet put together a flipbook of a grown-up Melinda which can be seen here.  I am told she is now an oriental dancer.

RanXerox: An Idea Whose Time Has . . . Gone

The late ’70s and early ’80s were a paradoxical time.  Crime rates, including violent crime, peaked in the United States, and films had become notably darker and more violent, as well as more sexually daring in some ways.  They had even started to address child and adolescent sexuality and child sexual abuse much more directly (and, it should be said, quite often controversially here in the states).  Pretty Baby (1978), You Are Not Alone (1978), The Tin Drum (1979), Beau Pere (1981) and Pixote (1981) had all come out in this period.  As you’ll note, all but one of these were foreign releases, and the exception, Pretty Baby, had a foreign director.

Meanwhile, the precedent for America’s treatment of these themes had been set by 1976’s Taxi Driver, it seems (ironically, a film about a psychotic man who is unable to process his own attraction to a 13-year-old prostitute–played by a young Jodie Foster—and consequently goes on a violent shooting spree.)  This film, perhaps more than any other, I think encapsulates the American mindset with regard to child sexuality.  In a very real sense America is Travis Bickle, and it isn’t surprising that Jodie Foster’s character from the film eventually inspired a very real Bicklesque lunatic, John Hinckley, Jr., to make an assassination attempt on President Reagan’s life.

But film wasn’t the only medium in which Europeans explored underage sexuality.  There were also a few European comics working in this territory.   Of course, they often came with about a metric crap-ton of qualifiers and subterfuge, so as to get around censors.  Although comics are really a much better medium for addressing this topic than live-action film (given the fact that no real children need be involved), in some ways it has been even more subject to taboo than film has.  This may be because comics had traditionally been thought of as a kids’ medium, which only began to shift after the Underground Comix revolution of the late ’60s.  It was also in the late ’70s—1978 to be specific—that Europe gave birth to one of the most outrageous examples of comics dealing with underage sex, Tamburini and Liberatore’s RanXerox.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (pg. 15 - splash)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (pg. 15 – splash)

I have already mentioned how these explorations often used subterfuge to get around the censors, and RanXerox is the perfect example, for, although certain female protagonists of the series—including one of the main characters, Lubna—claimed to be 18 years old, it is visibly obvious that they are in fact much younger.  Not that there aren’t extremely tiny, nearly flat-chested 18-year-olds in real life, but what are the odds that two of them would be friends?  What’s clear here is that Stefano Tamburini and Gaetano “Tanino” Liberatore were conspiring to pull a fast one over on their readership, and for the most part they succeeded.

RanXerox got it’s start in a small Italian publication called Cannibale in 1978, but it really didn’t become well-known until the American sci-fi and erotica magazine Heavy Metal picked it up in June of 1983.  Right from the get-go the series was controversial, not only because of its blatant sexual transgression and graphic violence but also because its original title, Rank Xerox, was a dead rip-off of a very real business entity.  Eventually the title was shortened to RanXerox of course, but again, this was just a sly way to get around what was actually intended by its creators.

The story is set sometime in the future and revolves around RanXerox himself, an ultra-violent, snub-nosed musclebound cyborg constructed from parts of a copier machine (hence the name) and his precocious drug addicted girlfriend, the aforementioned Lubna.  RanXerox is a Punk Age monster, a force of unchecked violence and rage, yet he is often mistreated by his young girlfriend, the only person he loves.  She is therefore the only one who can actually tame his violent tendencies, though mostly she exploits his talents to clear obstacles from her own path.  Richard Corben, another Heavy Metal alumnus, says it best:

RanXerox is a punk, futuristic Frankenstein monster, and with the under-aged Lubna, they are a bizarre Beauty and the Beast. This artist and writer team have turned a dark mirror to the depths of our Id and we see reflected the base part of ourselves that would take what it wants with no compromise, no apology – and woe to the person who would cross us. But it is all done with a black, wry, satirical sense of humor.

But why has Corben suggested that Lubna is underage?  After all, by the third page in the very first story arc in HM we are told that Lubna has recently turned 18.  One at first wonders why it was necessary to make this fact known so soon.  But the creators didn’t stop there; there are references to both Lubna’s age and the age of her friend Martine (who sleeps with Ranx after Lubna is separated from him for a time) throughout.  It’s possible the creators were overcompensating for their own insecurities about the youthful appearance of these characters, but it’s more likely some editor or publisher insisted on it.  Ironically, the constant references to the girls’ ages only serves to draw attention to the fact that physically they are nowhere near 18, and appear to be more in the neighborhood of 12 or 13, which was obviously Tamburini’s intended age for them.

But their youth isn’t simply gratuitous.  The point was to show a future based on projections of the social and criminal trends of the time, a future in which ever-younger kids fell prey to the corrupting lure of the drugs, casual sex and general misanthropy that dominated youth culture in the late ’70s.  To reinforce this point, an even younger girl—a child no older than 3 or 4—is often seen on the street corner that Lubna and her friends haunt; she wears outfits that expose her tiny undeveloped breasts and makes obnoxious comments to Lubna and others.  She’s a little Lubna in training, another sign of the growing inverse relationship between the age and worldliness of the characters in the RanXerox universe.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 17, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 17, panel 4)

The story begins with Lubna on the prowl for another fix of “plasma” in her home city of Rome, Italy, as she begins to feel the ache of withdrawal.  They eventually wind up in the home of the wealthy, psychic (and psychotic) painter Rainier, who gets her high and then tricks her into shutting down her robotic lover and protector.  Afterwards, he and his compatriot dump Ranx’s inanimate body near the Colosseum and kidnap Lubna for purposes unknown.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 20, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 4 (July, 1983) (page 20, panel 4)

As it turns out, Rainier has plans for both Ranx and Lubna, using the former (after tampering with Ranx’s head) to kill an entire club full of people, though the real target is an art critic Rainier despises who happens to be at the club at the time.  But there’s a notable scene just before the massacre where a small girl offers a rose for sale to Ranx, only to be met with a particularly brutal response from the still-malfunctioning robot, whose impulse control has been compromised.  It’s scenes like these that earned RanXerox its notoriety.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 51, panel 8)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 51, panel 8)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 52, panel 1)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 5 (August, 1983) (page 52, panel 1)

It’s eventually revealed that Rainier has the notion to use Lubna as part of an art piece to be titled Cadaver of a Young Drug Addict.  But of course, Ranx comes smashing into his apartment and breaks his neck, even though Lubna isn’t there.  It’s striking that the first major villain of the initial story arc is a pretentious modern artist who makes ridiculous amounts of money off his meaningless art, and Liberatore, a mere comics artist in many people’s eyes, no doubt relished seeing Rainier meet his end at the hands of his and Tamburini’s creation.

With Lubna now missing and Ranx still hunting for her, he temporarily hooks up with Lubna’s friend Martine, who appears to be about the same age as Lubna.  They have sex at Martine’s place, and the girl, a student of Bioelectronics, at last repairs his busted brain.  It’s noteworthy that in some reprints of these stories this scene was heavily censored.  Particularly bothersome to the censors was the appearance of Ranx’s penis.  Their tryst is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of Martine’s insanely jealous and abusive boyfriend outside her door, but Ranx makes short work of him with a single well-placed punch . . . through the door.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 22)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 22)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 23)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 23)

Later, as Martine is changing the battery in Ranx’s back, a group of street thugs make a particularly conspicuous comment about her age, with one of them mistaking her for a 12-year-old and another correcting him.  Later the group plans to gang rape the girl, with one of them commenting, “I bet she’s got an ass on her as tender as a filet.”  Ranx, of course, doesn’t go for that.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 25, panel 5)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 6 (September, 1983) (page 25, panel 5)

After several violent episodes and a lot of traveling around the city, Ranx eventually finds that Lubna is being held prisoner by a wealthy, leather mask-wearing man named Volare and goes after her, only to be captured by Volare, who intends to use the robot to stage a Fred Astaire routine as part of a retrospective on the famous dancing actor.  His speech to Ranx amusingly references Heavy Metal, the very magazine the story is running in.  It seems Tamburini was doing meta before meta was cool.  Meanwhile, Lubna is watching a cartoon with a bird character who proclaims, “Goddamn it!”  A quite prescient observation when one considers the popularity of shows like Family Guy, South Park and American Dad today.  (Remember, this series was published in the early ’80s.)  Here it’s just another sign of the decadence and social decline of the future.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 57, panels 1 & 2)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 57, panels 1 & 2)

By now Lubna has bought into Volare’s promises of wealth and fame and blatantly manipulates Ranx by appealing to his love for her (not to mention giving him a hand-job) as they fly to New York in Volare’s private plane!

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 58)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 58)

Ranx agrees to this as long as Lubna can stay with him, but Lubna betrays her robot mate by remaining with Volare while Ranx is training, ostensibly so as not to distract him but more likely because she is attracted to Volare’s wealth and power.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 59, panels 5 & 6)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 59, panels 5 & 6)

After 24 hours, which is all Ranx’s electronic brain needs to memorize Astaire’s entire song-and-dance oeuvre, Ranx and Lubna are at last reunited, with Lubna ironically behaving very much like a child.  Observant readers will note that she is listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 60, panel 4)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (November, 1983) (page 60, panel 4)

In the final issue of the first story arc, Lubna seems to have age-regressed not only behaviorally but even physically.  She may be attracted to Volare, though more than likely it’s just the drugs talking.  While Ranx is performing in the show, she attempts to seduce her abductor in a scene that is likely to send shudders down the spines of anti-abuse and anti-human trafficking advocates everywhere.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 35)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 December, 1983) (page 35)

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December, 1983) (page 36)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December, 1983) (page 36)

While Ranx is performing, Lubna attempts to seduce Volare; unfortunately for her, Ranx notices.  He stops the show and smashes his way to Volare’s balcony box.  Violence ensues.  The object of his hatred is destroyed, yet Ranx is profoundly affected by this last and worst of Lubna’s many betrayals and, atypically for him, stands up to her abuse in a humorously inappropriate way that symbolically acknowledges her true age: he gives her a bare behind spanking.

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox - Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 39)

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox – Heavy Metal, Vol. 7 No. 9 (December, 1983) (page 39)

For something so controversial, RanXerox has had its influence on other creators, most notably manifest in a surreal French fantasy film called La Cité des enfants perdus (The City of Lost Children), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, which really deserves its own article on Pigtails in Paint.  The physical resemblance of One and Miette to Ranx and Lubna cannot be overstated.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro - Ron Perlman and Judith Vittet in 'The City of Lost Children' (1995)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro – Ron Perlman and Judith Vittet in ‘The City of Lost Children’ (1995)

RanXerox is a role that was made for Ron Perlman, if it could ever be filmed.  Of course, it can’t.  Indeed, the environment is such today that even a comics magazine like Heavy Metal likely wouldn’t dare repeat it.  It’s a concept whose time has gone.  Or has it?  There have been sexually precocious minors in comics since RanXerox‘s time, though, to my knowledge, rarely without some built-in moral consequence, where bad things befall the child and/or the adult involved with them, or they are clearly the product of sexual abuse.  Yet, in its way, RanXerox may be the most moral story of all of these, for I imagine few people can read it without being repulsed by the characters’ behavior somewhere down the line.  These are not people we would likely ever want to meet, and that may be Tamburini’s point.  When you imagine a future filled with these blatantly immoral folks, you can see that Ranx and Lubna’s world is a true dystopia, one created not by government oppression but by gradual desensitization and moral erosion of the populace.

Tamburini might’ve believed this was where we were headed as a society.  Of course, he was wrong.  Reality never follows so straight a path.  As for Tamburini himself, only three short years after the first run of RanXerox in Heavy Metal (1986) his lifeless body was discovered in his apartment in Rome.  He had apparently died from a heroin overdose.  He was 30 years old at the time of death.

In addition to the HM runs, this series has been collected into books (three major volumes) and translated into several languages.  Here is the cover for one of them, RanXerox 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna.

Tanino Liberatore - Ranx 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna (cover)

Tanino Liberatore – Ranx 2: Happy Birthday, Lubna (cover)

And a cover for the Spanish comics magazine El Víbora (The Viper), featuring Ranx, Lubna, Martine, the toddler girl from the street corner (who Lubna sometimes babysits and whose name I do not know), and another girl I don’t recognize.

Tanino Liberatore - El Víbora, No. 47 (cover)

Tanino Liberatore – El Víbora, No. 47 (cover)

An unidentified image of Lubna working on Ranx:

Tanino Liberatore - RanXerox

Tanino Liberatore – RanXerox

And just for the hell of it, let’s throw in an illustration of these characters by Paul Pope.  You’ll note that Pope also did a tribute illustration to Moebius’s short story The Apple Pie.

Paul Pope - Ranxerox and Lubna

Paul Pope – Ranxerox and Lubna

You can read the entire first story arc and a handful of the other RanXerox issues (as well as most of the early issues of Heavy Metal) at this site.  The first story arc runs from issue v07 #04 (July 1983) through issue v07 #09 (December 1983); there’s also a great interview with Liberatore in that December ’83 issue.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: RanXerox

URBAN ASPIRINES: RANXEROX: By Tanino Liberatore and Stefano Tamburini

Comic Vine: RanXerox (Character)

And I Bring You . . . Falles

Catholicism is not without its raucous holidays and celebrations, with quite a few of them being largely local affairs.  The most prominent one in the U.S. is Mardi Gras, which has an analog in Brazil’s Carnaval.  Both are festivals of decadence and indulgence leading up to the weeks of fasting and austerity called Lent, and there are similar events throughout the realms of Catholicism.  Although celebrated around the same time, the Valencian holiday of Falles, which officially begins on March 15th (that’s right, it starts in only a few days) and ends on March 19th, is not associated with this cycle.

Basically, Falles (a Valencian word meaning ‘torches’) is a five-day-long outdoor party held in honor of St. Joseph in which each successive day is given over to progressively bigger and more involved pyrotechnic displays, culminating on the last evening, the Night of Fire, with La Cremà.  This final spectacle is where the holiday gets its name, for during La Cremà immense wood, paper, wire and paint constructions–the falles themselves–are set alight in the streets and squares of Valencia.  What makes this so fascinating, I think, is that the falles aren’t the sloppily built towers of cheap wood you would expect them to be; no, they are in fact elaborately and carefully crafted sculptures planned, designed and constructed for months prior to Falles.  In fact, the appreciation of these disposable artworks has become an affair unto itself, with the casal fallers competing to be recognized for the best falla.

These sculptures are more often than not satirical or humorous in nature, sometimes even bawdy.  Nudity is not unusual, nor is ripping off famous or distinguished sources, which is where the satire comes in.  Keep in mind that, although there are toned-down versions of these for small children, called falles infantil, which are burnt earlier in the evening, children attend the burning of the falles major as well.

In 2013 one of the falles submitted for judgment was created by artist Manuel Algarra; it was titled Futuro a la vista! (Future in Sight!) and was a giant sculpture-in-the-round featuring toddlers engaged in a variety of occupations.  Although it was never identified as the inspiration for the piece, I immediately recognized one of the toddler figures as based on a J.C. Leyendecker-illustrated cover for the Saturday Evening Post.

J.C. Leyendecker - Saturday Evening Post - January 4, 1936 (cover)

J.C. Leyendecker – Saturday Evening Post – January 4, 1936 (cover)

I have since encountered another cover with one of the other babies–the boy with the cuckoo clock–as the central figure, and I discern, based on the consistency of their style, that all of them are actually based on Leyendecker’s work.  The final falles design can be seen in a flat conceptual form (I couldn’t find a larger version of this image, so if anyone out there has this just a bit bigger, it would be appreciated):

Manuel Algarra; J.C. Leyendecker - Futuro a la vista!

Manuel Algarra; J.C. Leyendecker – Futuro a la vista!

And here are photographs of the actual falles taken from a variety of angles:

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (1)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (1)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (2)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (2)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (3)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (3)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (4)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (4)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (5)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (5)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (6)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (6)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (7)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (7)

Although the following image focuses on a boy, I am sharing it because it really demonstrates the amount of detail that goes into the creation of these pieces.

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (8)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (8)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (9)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (9)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (10)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (10)

One can see in the background of this next photo, just behind the rocking horse, the standing pigtailed girl.  I tried to find a close-up image showing her from the front but was unable to locate one on the web.

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (11)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (11)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (12)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (12)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (13)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (13)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (14)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (14)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (15)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (15)

Happy New Year!


Alexander Gulyaev – New Year

Andre Henri Dargelas - New Year's Day

Andre Henri Dargelas – New Year’s Day

Cherri Wood - Happy New Year

Cherri Wood – Happy New Year

Cherri Darling (Cherri Wood’s blog – it features a LOT of her art.)

Corwin Corax - New Year's Firefly

Corwin Corax – New Year’s Firefly

Elizabeth Bem - Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Bem – Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

Sergei Dunchev - On New Year

Sergei Dunchev – On New Year

Tatiana Deriy - New Year's Fairy Tale

Tatiana Deriy – New Year’s Fairy Tale

ArtRussia: Tatyana Deriy

Walter Molino - New Year Begins

Walter Molino – New Year Begins

And the best for last . . . Illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, like his contemporary Norman Rockwell, was best known for his numerous covers for the Saturday Evening Post. While Rockwell may be the more famous of the two (though I’d say not by much), I personally prefer Leyendecker’s work to Rockwell’s. He did several of the new year’s covers which always featured Baby New Year in some amusing vignette that frequently referenced events of the time. A few of these even broke from the tradition of portraying Baby New Year as a boy, and so these are apropos to this blog:

J.C. Leyendecker - Cover for The Saturday Evening Post, December 30th, 1911

J.C. Leyendecker – Cover for The Saturday Evening Post, December 30th, 1911

J.C. Leyendecker - Cover for The Saturday Evening Post, January 1st, 1916

J.C. Leyendecker – Cover for The Saturday Evening Post, January 1st, 1916

Wikipedia: J.C. Leyendecker

American Art Archives: J.C. Leyendecker