Monday, October 31, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 31: "Skeleton"

Welcome to the final day of a month with Ray Bradbury!

To close my look at adaptation of Bradbury's stories in other mediums than prose, I'm turning to one of his earlier horror stories, "Skeleton" from 1945. It's an odd little tale about a man who is afraid of his own skeleton and fears his very bones are plotting against him. It's kind of wonderful and kind of disgusting. Perhaps the best passage comes from a fat man whom the lead character idolizes:

"'Layer by layer,' said the fat man, 'twenty years, man and boy, I built this.' He held his vast stomach like a globe of the world, teaching his audience its gastronomical geography. 'It was no overnight circus. The tent was not raised before dawn on the wonders installed within. I have cultivated my inner organs as if they were thoroughbred dogs, cats, and other animals. My stomach is a fat pink Persian tom slumbering, rousing at intervals to purr, meow, growl, and cry for chocolate tidbits. I feed it well, it will 'most sit up for me. And, my dear fellow, my intestines are the rarest pure-bred Indian anacondas you ever viewed in the sleekest, coiled, fine and ruddy health. Keep 'em in prime, I do, all my pets. For fear of something? Perhaps.'"

In 1988 The Ray Bradbury Theater presented "Skeleton" as one of their best adaptations with Eugene Levy as the protagonist. Levy truly sells the concept - you believe he would be afraid of his skeleton. And the inexplicable oddness of the story remains faithfully weird with the "jellyfish" done as best as a television budget could permit.

It's a shame EC comics never adapted "Skeleton" - it was very much in their wheelhouse. However, Topps brought it to the comics format in 1994 by John Carnell & Anthony Williams. Again, a very faithful adaptation and the climax depicted just right.

Thank you, dear reader, for indulging me in this personal journey through the stories of Ray Bradbury and their adaptations. Have a very happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 30: "The Emissary"

"The Emissary" is a Ray Bradbury short story which combines the love he had for learning, knowledge and experiencing life all through his writing with the twisted, weird, supernatural horror he was also known for. First appearing in 1947, it tells of a bed-ridden boy whose dog brings the outside world to him through the scents caught in its fur. The dog even brings a teacher to the boy to expand his comprehension of existence, but the woman dies; then, the dog fetches her once again.

Al Feldstein & Jack Kamen once wrote an unofficial adaptation of this story for EC Comics in 1952 titled "What the Dog Dragged In," back before the authorized versions of Brabdury's stories began appearing in their publications. This version diverges significantly from the text which is kind of a shame as the story already had all the elements for a good EC horror yarn. In 1988 a reasonably faithful version of "The Emissary" appeared on The Ray Bradbury Theater but it kind of fudges the climax - it keeps a consistent tone throughout its retelling and that's kind of a problem when the story as Bradbury told it is wonder and whimsy for the first 75% and horror for the last 25%. Shame.

Tomorrow: I draw Ray Bradbury month to a close!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 29: "Trapdoor"

Although most of Ray Bradbury's scary stories were written early in his career it wasn't something he ever entirely stepped away from. Take, for instance, the 1985 story "Trapdoor." It's the tale of a woman who suddenly notices a trapdoor in the ceiling of her home and strange noises coming from above. She tries to have the noise dealt with and, obviously, brings about something horrifying.

"Trapdoor" is a very simple horror story and told well. It received a comics adaptation by artist Ross MacDonald for Topps Comics in 1993. MacDonald's thick lines added just enough shadow to the tale, as even brightly-lit rooms carry an underlying menace.

I'll be back with more fire, brimstone and Bradbury tomorrow!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 28: "The Whole Town's Sleeping"

"The Whole Town's Sleeping" is one of Ray Bradbury's most nightmarish tales. It first appeared in print in 1950 as a short story but was later adapted into his novel Dandelion Wine. However, a few things changed to fit the novel; it's the story of a woman who goes for a walk through a ravine on her way home late at night and she fears a serial killer may be lurking in the shadows. For the novel, Bradbury tacked on a fairly happy ending which is nowhere near as impactful as the original tale.

In 1955, the great radio show Suspense did a masterful job of adapting the story with a very chilling ending. You can hear it for yourself at archive.org here.

In 1984 the radio show Bradbury 13 adapted the story as "The Ravine" but used the version found in Dandelion Wine; you can hear it at Youtube here. A television version debuted on The Ray Bradbury Theater in 1992 as "The Lonely One" but I'm not sure the story works well on television; the bulk of the story goes on inside the mind of the protagonist as all her fears are intensified; the objective lens of a camera can't accurately depict what's going through her mind. A comic book version would be great, but there hasn't been one yet.

More macabre Bradbury tomorrow!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 27: "The Crowd"

"The Crowd" is one of the short stories Ray Bradbury wrote during his early "weird tales" phase, debuting in 1943. It's the story of how the same people always seem to appear in photographs of accidents and one man's growing belief that this is a supernatural phenomenon.

Throughout this month when comparing adaptations from radio to those of the TV show The Ray Bradbury Theater I've come down hard on the side of radio, finding the TV version inferior. Here's where I reverse that trend! In 1950 Ray Bradbury was hot thanks to the mainstream success of The Martian Chronicles. He had sold original stories such as The Screaming Woman and Riabouchinska to Suspense; now Suspense bought up one of his early tales. The problem was that while Suspense sometimes flirted with the supernatural, they seldom delved into full-on horror; seemingly-supernatural events on that program were frequently debunked by the half-hour's end. Thus, their version of "The Crowd" takes a story of the supernatural and makes it just another crime story. It's okay, but if you like the short story I doubt you'll flip for it; I certainly don't. Make up your own mind: here's a link to the episode at archive.org.

But then in 1985 The Ray Bradbury Theater performed a faithful adaptation, which was always that program's particular strength. It sometimes muffed the endings to Bradbury's tales, but this episode featured good performances and didn't shy from the weirdness of Bradbury's tale; it's one of the good ones.

Another Halloween-ready Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 26: "Zero Hour"

As with yesterday's entry, we have a story in which adults are betrayed by their own brood. Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour" was printed first in 1947 at the dawn of the Cold War and I can only imagine it must have been a reflection of the anxieties of the time. In this story, Martian invaders gather intelligence and aid in their invasion from Earth children; the children's scheming is believed to be mere playing by their unconcerned parents until the titular Zero Hour arrives.

It's been adapted to radio a few times - on Dimension X in 1950 as a double-feature with "There Will Come Soft Rains" (listen to it at archive.org here), on Escape in 1953 (listen to it at archive.org here) and on Suspense in 1955 (listen to it at archive.org here). They're all very good, but I feel the Dimension X version hits the climax with the most force.

In 1953, Al Feldstein and Jack Kamen adapted the tale for EC Comics and did a pretty great job. In 1992 it was adapted for television's Ray Bradbury Theater, but I can't really recommend this version. The acting is not only inferior compared to the radio versions, it's just not very good, full stop. The terrifying climax is particularly underwhelming, considering the potency of the radio adaptations.

More horror from Bradbury tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 25: "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!"

Well then; this is Ray Bradbury's story about mushrooms conquering the world. And yet, despite the hokey premise, it first appeared on the rather grounded program Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled "Sepcial Delivery." It's also known as "Come into My Cellar," but "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!" is just the most fun title. It concerns precisely what the title indicates as boys raise mushrooms and soon the people who consume them are part of an alien plot. The story contains a quote from Macbeth which points to the title of another Bradbury work: "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The Hitchcock adaptation is perfectly creepy.

In 1989 it returned to television under the "Boys!" title via The Ray Bradbury Theater, but I'm not particularly fond of that version - it plays the idea for laughs. I mean, it is a rather laughable idea, but so are many horror stories - played straight, it's effective. Of course, in the era of the Red Scare the concept of children turning on their parents was a more insidious one; by 1989, the Cold War was being served its pink slip.

Fortunately, another great adaptation was on its way; Topps comics enlisted the one and only Dave Gibbons to draw an adaptation (as "Come into My Cellar") in 1992. Gibbons' legendary mastery of pages with plenty of panels was used to good effect in this version, as seen above with the tightened focus perfectly representing the sense of agitation and indescribable fear. It's one of the best of the Topps comics.

More spooky Bradbury tomorrow!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 24: "The Small Assassin"

There are only eight more days until Halloween and I'll be featuring a Ray Bradbury story which is season-appropriate up 'til then! How about "The Small Assassin," a story best summed up as "killer baby." Bradbury published it in 1946 and it's perhaps the most primordial example of Bradbury's recurring "children are terrible" theme. You can't go much further back than infancy! Now, some people will tell you a child only a few months old couldn't possibly plot murder against it's own parents. Well, I kinda like the story's explanation:
"What is more at peace, more dreamfully content, at ease, at rest, fed, comforted, unbothered, than an unborn child? Nothing. It floats in a sleepy, timeless wonder of nourishment and silence. Then, suddenly, it is asked to give up its berth, is forced to vacate, rushed out into a noisy, uncaring, selfish world where it is asked to shift for itself, to hunt, to feed from the hunting, to seek after a vanishing love that once was its unquestionable right, to meet confusion instead of inner silence and conservative slumber! And the child resents it! Resents the cold air, the huge spaces, the sudden departure from familiar things. And in the tiny filament of brain the only thing the child knows is selfishness and hatred because the spell has been ruddely shattered. Who is responsible for this disenchantment, this rude breaking of the spell? The mother. So here the new child has someone to hate with all its unreasoning mind. The mother has cast it out, rejected it. And the father is no better, kill him, too! He's responsible in his way!"

This was a popular tale to imitate; I've certainly found a few imitators in Atlas Comics of the 1950s such as John Romita's "It!" in Strange Tales #4. EC Comics used their relationship with Bradbury to print an authorized version by Al Feldstein & George Evans and did it expertly, in my opinion.

The first place I heard of "The Small Assassin" was actually the television adaptation on The Ray Bradbury Theater. It was dramatized pretty well, and while I've complained that this series frequently spoiled the conclusions of horror stories, this time they did it just right. "A scalpel."

Another ghoulish Ray Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 23: "The Jar"

"The Jar" is from the "weird" era of Ray Bradbury's writing career, appearing in short story form in 1944. It's not entirely a horror story, though the climax certainly points the way. The tale concerns a man who buys a jar from a carnival. No two people can agree on what's inside the jar and he becomes a leading member of the community as folks gather and speculate. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour adapted "The Jar" in 1964 and although the hour-long format didn't usually suit the show, "The Jar" is one of those tales which absolutely works.

In 1992 The Ray Bradbury Theater took a jab at the jar. Although the half-hour format seems better for a short story, especially one as simple as "The Jar," but this episode is a bit of a misfire. It futzes the climax just a tad by making the contents of the jar too obvious. If you're interested in seeing the tale adapted, stick with the Hitch.

Another Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 22: "Frost and Fire"

"Frost and Fire" is a 1946 short story by Ray Bradbury which is set on a planet where time seems to pass rapidly. The humans who live there have evolved to telepathically transmit memory to their young as their lifespans run out within eight days. One newborn man tries to find a way to save his people from this fate.

This is a high-concept sci-fi tale which is not exactly what Bradbury's best-known for - a little more Heinlein or De Camp than his usual fare. In 1985 it was adapted by Klaus Janson into a graphic novel as part of DC Comics' short-lived line of science fiction graphic novels edited by Julius Schwartz, who had worked in the sci-fi publishing biz back in the 40s and previously been Bradbury's agent. Although the book has a handsome cover by Sienkiewicz and Janson - best-known as an inker rather than a penciler - does a good enough job at rendering the world, the ending is a tremendous let-down as it swerves away from the happy ending of Bradbury's story into something ambiguous and unsatisfying.

A better Bradbury adaptation tomorrow, promise!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 21: "Usher II"

Here's one last look at The Martian Chronicles and the tale "Usher II." It's been frequently omitted from later editions of the work and probably should be left out (you won't find it in adaptations such as the Dennis Calero graphic novel or the TV movie). First called "Carnival of Madness" in 1950

In 1990, The Ray Bradbury Theater adapted the story to television with Patrick MacNee in the lead. This version is as darkly humourous as the original work. Tapping into ideas he also featured in his novel Fahrenheit 451 and short story "The Exiles," this tells of a future where civilization has banned books. One book-loving man (who has retreated to Mars to justify its inclusion in the novel) constructs an elaborate death trap for the agents enforcing the ban and appropriately draws from literature in order to gruesomely kill them all - but, most deliciously, do it in a way so they'll watch their friends die and not even realize it's happening.

Finally, in 1993 Topps comics had writer James Van Hise and artist Ron Wilber adapt the tale into comic book form. Like most of the Topps works, it's very faithful, although the horror side of the story is a little lost due to Wilber's nice clean art; man, I'd love to see someone like Bill Sienkiewicz take a crack at this one!

More from Ray Bradbury tomorrow!

October 21: Canadian Library Workers Day

I had no clear path before me as high school came to an end. I struggled to socialize with others and my self-esteem was horribly low. I had given no thought to my post-secondary education, much less a career I would be suited to.

One day my mother encouraged me to take an aptitude test and the results gave me a sudden surge of self-confidence; I would never have been believed the results if another person had said them to me, but the impartial nature of a standardized test reassured me. The test informed me I had a strong organizational mind; "Hm, yes, I do have a strong organizational mind," I realized. What careers were recommended for me? Among them was to work in a library. Yes, that sounded right.

It took a great deal of time and effort. I had to struggle at becoming a better student to earn my degree as a library technician, but I worked harder than I had through my high school years because I finally knew what I was building towards. I had to learn to trust people. I had to learn to trust myself. I had to persevere when there were no opportunities in my field.

Yet, here I am; today is Canadian Library Workers Day and I have been employed in that field for 10 years & 11 months. I found work and challenges which motivate me - more than that, I found purpose as one of many people working to preserve and provide information to the world. I am proud to be a Canadian library worker.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 20: "The Earthmen"

One more time, let's look at a Ray Bradbury short story which appeared in The Martian Chronicles. 1948's "The Earthmen" is frequently omitted from adaptations of the novel, wasn't adapted by EC Comics or Dimension X and isn't in the TV movie version of the book.

Now, it does appear in Dennis Calero's graphic novel adaptation, but it's also been adapted in an unusual place - Escape, a radio show which wasn't really a sci-fi show, occasionally dabbled there. In 1951 they adapted "The Earthmen" and you can hear their version at Youtube here. In this tale, an expedition to Mars is somewhat hampered because as Martians can assume any form, they aren't convinced the humans are real - leading to tragedy.

In 1992 The Ray Bradbury Theater adapted the story to television and did it well. I enjoy this tale because it begins from an absurd premise - the first men on Mars are beset by Martian bureaucracy - but it leads to such a horrific and melancholic conclusion. It may not be among the best-known of The Martian Chronicles tales, but it's definitely a favourite of mine.

I'll be back with more Ray Bradbury tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 19: "There Will Come Soft Rains"

Yet again, I'm looking back on a Ray Bradbury short story which is best-known for comprising part of The Martian Chronicles. "There Will Come Soft Rains" debuted on its own in 1950 just ahead of the book itself. It is a very well-regarded Bradbury tale; I have one friend who a great fan of science fiction throughout the 20th century and while he's not much of a Bradbury fan, he believes this story is among sci-fi's finest.

In 1950 the radio show Dimension X adapted the story as a double feature alongside Bradbury's "Zero Hour" - a rather different tale of Mars. The computer voice in this version has a staccato rhythm which really sticks in the memory ("Today is October 6, 2026..."). You can listen to the show at archive.org here.

Al Feldstein and Wally Wood adapted it to EC comics in 1953 and did a fine job. Comic book versions also include the 1992 Topps version by Lebbeus Woods (which was published side-by-side with a reprint of the Feldstein/Wood version) and as part of Dennis Calero's The Martian Chronicles graphic novel. It is also one of the rare Bradbury tales to be animated; the animated version was made in 1984 by a Soviet animation studio and it is, if anything, more grim than Bradbury's text. In all, "There Will Come Soft Rains" is a fine representation of nuclear anxiety, the fear of the cataclysmic effects nuclear war would have on civilian populations. "Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, if mankind perished utterly; and spring herself as she woke at dawn would scarcely know that we were gone - that we were gone - that we were gone - that we were gone..."

Another Ray Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 18: "And the Moon Be Still As Bright"

Once again, I'm looking a story which was contained within The Martian Chronicles. "And the Moon Be Still As Bright" was likewise a 1948 short story and has been adapted in other version of The Martian Chronicles such as the TV movie and the Dennis Calero graphic novel.

This, too, was adapted for radio's Dimension X in 1950 (you can listen to it at archive.org here). It's a somber tale of an expedition to Mars in which it is found the Martians were all wiped out by chicken pox (H. G. Wells might have warned them!). One member of the expedition is outraged by this as he can foresee how human culture will supplant all which remains of Mars; he vows to become a Martian himself and wage a one-man war against humanity.

In 1990, The Ray Bradbury Theater made a fine adaptation for television. What comes through in all of these versions is the sadness at watching a culture diminish and die, left as little more than a memory as a stronger culture takes its place. And yet, Earth's own presence on Mars within The Martian Chronicles proves fleeting. Something to think about before we grow too pleased at the civilization we ourselves have built.

There will be another Ray Bradbury story tomorrow!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 17: "Mars Is Heaven!"

Ah, here we go. "Mars Is Heaven!" is one my personal favourite Ray Bradbury stories. Although it was first printed as a short story in 1948, it's best known for appearing as a chapter of The Martian Chronicles and has also been adapted there, both in the TV movie and the Dennis Calero comic book version.

1950 was a hot year for Bradbury; The Martian Chronicles became renowned, granting him prestige he'd previously lacked. Radio loved Bradbury and they adapted "Mars Is Heaven!" twice that year on different network programs: Escape (listen to it at archive.org here) and Dimension X (at archive.org here). The two versions are rather different, with Escape being very faithful. Both tell the story of a human expedition to Mars which discovers a homey U.S. town (from Illinois because it's Bradbury) transplanted to Mars and all the beloved dead ones of the crew residing there. In the climax, the ship's captain realizes the "loved ones" are actually Martians in human form.

Although I normally like adaptations to be as close to the original text as possible, the Dimension X adaptation adds something which I rather like; a new character is added to the crew - a physician who had survived the Dachau concentration camp. A lonely and traumatized man who can no longer recall his family, he finds no one on Mars waiting for him amongst the "dead" - and thus he comes to the realization of what the people truly are.

In other adaptations, such as the 1953 EC comic by Al Feldstein & Wally Wood, the captain comes to the conclusion of the Martians' identity on his own, which renders it something of a solliloquy. The revelation of the Martians' identity is followed by a macabre scene in which the Martians bury the dead humans, which EC and the Escape version kept.

However, the 1989 Ray Bradbury Theater version ends at the moment of the captain realizing what the Martians are. That program had a distinct problem with depicting action - so many episodes would climax at the very moment of the twist, rather than playing any of it out (namely, the death of the captain).

Show up tomorrow for another look at Ray Bradbury!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 16: "The Pedestrian"

Ray Bradbury wrote what he knew. Perhaps not so much where dinosaurs, time travel and Mars were concerned, but he wrote from personal experience (hence the many Irish stories inspired by his time in Ireland) and personal observation. Not being a driver, he relied on his own two feet to get him around much of the time. This led to the incident which inspired his 1951 short story "The Pedestrian." A policeman once stopped Bradbury to question him, as though his walking around made him suspicious. Although nothing came of it, Bradbury was outraged by that slight on his standing as a good citizen.

I can relate; like Bradbury, I don't drive. On two occasions, I have been stopped by the police while out walking and asked to justify where I had come from and where I was going. Like Bradbury, nothing came of it. In "The Pedestrian," however, Bradbury imagines a future dystopia not unlike Fahrenheit 451 where people are confined at night by curfew; one man who breaks curfew is arrested for that crime. The 1989 Ray Bradbury Theater adaptation expanded it somewhat with David Ogden Stiers as the pedestrian, but in this case he invites another person to join him as he walks, to broaden his friend's horizon by showing him the world outside. Bradbury looked at a world where people longed to be indoors, watching their televisions and being told what to think; he much preferred to be outside, to be thinking and feeling about the world around us.

Another Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 15: "The Lake"

"The Lake" comes from the early part of Bradbury's career, the time in which he became a teller of weird tales (often for Weird Tales), the time of shocking climaxes and malevolent forces of horror. However, even in that period he was telling personal, poignant tales of loss; such a tale is 1944's "The Lake," the story of a little girl's death and its haunting after effect.

In 1953 Al Feldstein & Joe Orlando adapted it perfectly for EC Comics. The imagery of that adaptation is burned into my recollections of this story, particularly the image of the lifeguard carrying the girl's body and of the man building a sandcastle.

In 1989, The Ray Bradbury Theater produced its own adaptation and did a fine job with the morose material. On the occasion of Ray Bradbury's death when I wondered how to put into words my sense of loss - losing an author whose work meant so much to me - I was instantly drawn back to "The Lake," a story of those who have gone and what they have left behind for us.

Tomorrow: Somewhat less morose Bradbury!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 14: "The Toynbee Convector"

Ray Bradbury is most renowned for the stories he wrote from the 1940s to the 1960s. Beyond that point there are many tales which fans (such as I) admire, but not a great deal of wider cultural awareness. Perhaps the best-known later-period Bradbury tale is the 1988 short story "The Toynbee Convector." It's a wonderful tale about deception and optimism: a time traveler helped change the world with tales of the world he saw in the future, but as the time of his visit to the future arrives in the present he confesses - there is no time machine.

In 1990, The Ray Bradbury Theater produced a nice television adaptation of the story, although the limited budget they worked with prevented them from demonstrating the vistas Bradbury implied (or those seen on the cover of the paperback collection of the same name).

In 1992, Topps Comics produced a comic book version with artist Chuck Roblin. Comic books, of course, have no particular budget restrictions; like the prose Bradbury himself worked within, they are limited only by the faculties and imaginations of their creators.

Tomorrow: More Bradbury!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 13: "Marionettes, Inc."

"Marionettes, Inc." has boasted a number of adaptation since its debut in 1949. The concept of the series - a company which manufactures lifelike robots - was one Bradbury revisited in a few other tales, most notably "Punishment Without Crime." In this introductory tale, a man who has tired of his wife buys a robot double so he won't have to make time for her any longer. The problem is, the doubles have ambitions of their own.

In 1951, Dimension X adapted the story to radio. Although subsequent adaptations would be very close to Bradbury's text, this version is rather different as it continues past the point of the short story's climax and gets into the "master plan" of Marionettes, Inc. It's an interesting expansion but makes it a little more typical of 50s sci-fi than what Bradbury originally wrote; Bradbury imagined machines who felt as humans do; the radio version imagines machines as conquerors. You can listen to the version for yourself here.

In 1958 Alfred Hitchcock Presents brought the story to televion as "Design for Loving." It was an unusual choice for that program as Hitchcock preferred stories of mystery and crime, not sci-fi. And yet, for all his credentials Bradbury had significant trouble selling his sci-fi stories to The Twilight Zone (even though his philosophies and Rod Serling's seem very similar to me) so kudos to Hitch's staff for knowing a good story when they heard it, regardless of genre.

In 1985 another television version appeared via The Ray Bradbury Theater. It's a pretty good adaptation, with Leslie Nielsen as the head of Marionettes, Inc. The Ray Bradbury Theater did a great job of casting fine Canadian actors, even amongst those who'd spent most of their careers down south.

Lastly, there's a comic book adaptation from 1992 courtesy of Topps, who brought in Wally Wood's one-time assistant Ralph Reese to pencil it. Reese was an inspired choice, considering how many Bradbury tales Wood drew in the 1950s and he certainly brought a Woodish charm to the adaptation.

Another visit from Bradbury tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 12: "And So Died Riabouchinska"

There are many great tales about ventriloquist's dummies, usually involving the ventriloquist grappling with his own identity. There's the great horror film Dead of Night and William Goldman's novel Magic (also made into a film). A rather unusual one is Ray Bradbury's short story "And So Died Riabouchinska," about a murder investigation which involves a famous ventriloquist.

Bradbury's story was the first sale he ever made to the radio program Suspense, which is where the story was first released in 1947 (the print version would arrive in 1953). What with the tradition Edgar Bergen had started with ventriloquism on the radio, it's appropriate for "Riabouchinska" to debut there. You can listen to the episode yourself at archive.org here. In 1956, the story was adapted during the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with the great Claude Rains as ventriloquist John Fabian.

In 1988, TV's Ray Bradbury Theater created another adaptation with a disconcertingly uncanny ventriloquist's dummy. As the series was produced in Canada in those years, they changed the setting to Canada rather than try to disguise the filming locations. It's all right, but in my opinion doesn't hold up to the Suspense and Hitchcock versions.

Another Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 11: Fahrenheit 451

Reading Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 was, in retrospect, an important moment in my development as a reader. There was a copy lying in the "free reading" bin of my grade 5 English class and when I gave it a try, I didn't know anything about that Bradbury fella. But here was a reading experience in which the act of reading was itself lionized, a tale of a book burning society and the one "fireman" who develops a fondness for books and rebels against the status quo. Bradbury visited similar ideas throughout his career in short stories such as "The Exiles" and "Usher II."

In 1966, director Fran├žois Truffaut adapted the picture to a film; I likewise have very fond memories of watching it on the Sci-Fi Channel. The film was not entirely faithful - it omitted the advanced technology of the book and the ending was much more somber than the novel. Still, I think most people consider it the best film adaptation of Bradbury's work.

In 2009, Fahrenheit 451 became the first of Bradbury's works to be adapted to comics format by publisher Hill & Wang (I've already referred to The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, the other two). Adapted by artist Tim Hamilton, it set the series off on a very promising start as Hamilton made a faithful adaptation (including elements such as the robot dogs) but also one with a lot of style. Hamilton made the world of Fahrenheit 451 feel whole and it is the best full-length adaptation of Bradbury's work.

Let's talk about Bradbury again tomorrow, how about it?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 10: "A Sound of Thunder"

Perhaps of all Ray Bradbury's fiction, there is no tale which has been better absorbed into popular culture than "A Sound of Thunder," the tale of a time travel safari agency wher men go back in time to hunt dinosaurs and how stepping on a single insect alters the course of history. Although the Butterfly Effect was conceived of indepdently, it is frequently explained through the prism of Bradbury's earlier 1952 story.

In 1954, Al Feldstein and Al Williamson adapted the story with EC Comics. Al Williamson was one of the greatest photorealistic artists in all of comics (the best, by my money) and he could draw a mean-lookin' dinosaur. The one element from the short story which was not maintained in this adaptation was the titular "sound of thunder" - the gunshot which concludes the story. Once again, we see EC exercising restraint. They printed more than just stories about baseball games with human organs, kids!

Although many Bradbury tales were adapted to the 1950s radio program X Minus One, "A Sound of Thunder" wasn't one of them. However, fellow sci-fi author L. Sprague DeCamp wrote a response to Bradbury's tale (as he didn't entirely like it) called "A Gun for Dinosaur" which was adapted to X Minus One, but that tale has fallen into obscurity. "A Sound of Thunder" even spawned its own official spin-off series with the "Ray Bradbury Presents" moniker.

In 1984 Bradbury 13 faithfully adapted the story to radio (listen to it at Youtube here). The television series Ray Bradbury Theater adapted it in 1989. As the TV show did not have a large budget it usually kept away from elaborate special effects. The dinosaur in that episode is clearly a puppet, but I think it's a convincing puppet; man, give me monster puppets every day instead of those drab CGI things.

Topps comics created a more faithful comic adaptation of "A Sound of Thunder" in 1993 with the great Richard Corben adapting. I would normally choose Williamson over just about every comics artist imaginable, but as Corben has the more faithful adaptation, I have to give him props; while Williamson mastered realism, Corben has a gift for starting out from a realistic perspective, then branching into utterly mad, wild imagery. Happily, Topps chose to reprint the Williamson story in the same issue as the new Corben version so everyone can choose their favourite.

Lastly, I am required by law to mention the 2005 film adaptation. That should do. Go read the Agony Booth review.

...Well... no, I have more to say than that.

It's a disaster; if you want a bad, cheesy sci-fi flick with lousy special effects and miserable performances, this is your baby. The story of the film's making is one of those great Hollywood disasters where studios are toppled and careers ruined. Edward Burns gives a bland lead performance while Sir Ben Kingsley, always a pro, hams it up and, as usual, makes you question his career choices. Bradbury's simple tale is expanded into feature length by discarding most of the short story itself, which is an odd way to expand the concept. In this version, time travelers don't return to the present to find everything changed - instead, time begins to slowly alter itself. For some reason, rather than history being changed so that the English language and political results are altered, these changes are somehow wiping out all of humanity (to raise the stakes) and reverting the Earth to a semi-prehistoric state (???). The film's would-be setpiece, the baboon-saurus is one of the lamest yet funniest movie monsters in all of cinema. They don't appear until very late in the film but if you can last that far, you'll be rewarded with some belly laughs.

More Bradbury tomorrow!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 9: "The Veldt"

Ray Bradbury has a reputation for being warm and nostalgic about childhood for his stories about children's innocence and sense of wonder. However, he has about as many stories about how nasty children are - their wickedness, capriciousness and remorseless behaviour, how easily they can betray friends and families on a whim, how hostile they can be to strangers. His 1950 short story "The Veldt" is one of his most notorious "wicked children" tales. It tells of a futuristic home in which the children's nursery can fashion anything they desire; what the children desire most is to fashion an African veldt with wild lions, much to their parents' concern.

The year after first publication, "The Veldt" appeared on the radio program Dimension X in a very faithful and terrifying adaptation; you can listen to it on archive.org here. Four years later it was adapted on Dimension X's successor program X Minus One with the same script, only with a new framing sequence. This framing sequence is an utter betrayal of Bradbury's story, a prime example of the censorship which he himself so detested; instead of the tale ending with the parents devoured by lions while the children watch with no concern, this is how the tale ends in the words of the family's psychiatrist:

"There were no lions, of course, not in a physical sense. Lydia and George were devoured, however, almost as surely as if there had been lions. Their personalities were devoured by the mechanistic marvels which had usurped their role as parents. All four members of the family are under intensive therapy now and are doing as well as can be expected."

There is something in there which Bradbury would have liked - the idea the playroom had "usurped" their roles. Bradbury was very much against the idea of machines taking away tasks and desires which make up our human experience. However, suggesting the children were not murderous and that their family troubles can be solved through psychiatry is not a Bradbury concept. It is a very 1950s concept and one can see the culture of 1955 being very pro-family, pro-parental authority and even pro-psychiatry. To this day, there is the idea that psychiatry could cure all our ills; that doesn't interest Bradbury - remorseless, unexplainable evil was more fascinating to him as an author. You can hear the betrayal for yourself at archive.org here.

Later adaptations of "The Veldt" restored the original gory details; these include the 1969 motion picture The Illustrated Man, which does not have a stellar reputation. The individual stories adapted in the film work well enough, I think, it's only as a movie that the picture falters (but such is the case with so many portmanteau anthology films). It was also adapted faithfully for the radio on Bradbury 13 in 1984; you can listen to it at Youtube here. It also figured in a 1989 episode of TV's The Ray Bradbury Theater; the acting is a little lacking, but the story holds up.

Finally, a very faithful adaptation appeared in a 1992 comic from Topps, featuring some spectacular work by artist Tim Truman (best known for his work on Grimjack). None of the salient details are lost on Truman - along with the Dimension X adaptation, it is one of the best versions of "The Veldt."

Tomorrow: Bradbury! Bradbury! Bradbury!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 8: "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl"

First published in 1948, "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" is an interesting short story by Ray Bradbury first printed as "Touch and Go." In this tale, a man commits a crime of passion, angrily killing his rival. Desperate to keep himself from being connected with the murder, the killer begins obsessively cleaning everything he touched in the house - but quickly loses track of what he did or did not touch.

As "Touch and Go" it was published in EC Comics' Crime SuspenStories by Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig; Craig did an excellent job of depicting the killer's confusion and madness. Under the story's later title, "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl," it appeared on a 1988 episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater with Michael Ironside as the killer. Ironside is an actor beloved by film buffs but not exactly renowned; in this program he's absolutely riveting as the rattled killer. It's one of the best episodes of that series and a very fine adaptation.

Tomorrow: another Ray Bradbury tale!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 7: The Martian Chronicles

Published in 1950, The Martian Chronicles was the first of several books by Ray Bradbury where he compiled various short stories of his into a novel, fashioning bridging material between chapters, revising various details and creating new chapters entirely. It welded together many of the short stories he had written about Mars through the 1940s, developing from it an engaging tale of how humanity would colonize Mars. It was (and is) a celebrated novel with a radio adaptation appearing the same year on Dimension X. Naturally they had to condense many of the details to fit a half-hour, but some of the best moments of the book can be found there; listen to it yourself at archive.org by clicking here.

In 1980 The Martian Chronicles became a made-for-TV movie starring Rock Hudson, likely getting off the ground because of the fascination with science fiction following the success of Star Wars in 1977. Bradbury didn't think too highly of this adaptation but I found it serviceable; it's probably the only attempt at telling the whole book through live action media I'll see in my lifetime. Anyway, the Martian costumes looked unique.

In 2011, Ray Bradbury authorized a full-colour full-length comic book adaptation by artist Dennis Calero. It omitted various tales which had been dropped from The Martian Chronicles reprints over the decades (such as "Usher II") but otherwise, everything is there; and yet, it's not entirely satisfying. Calero is capable of fine work, but the entire book feels rushed. The colors lack subtlety and instead make Calero's lines look simple and half-finished, as though it were produced in MS Paint. It tells the story accurately - that's the best thing I can say about it. If only the cover matched the interior!

I'll visit more stories from The Martian Chronicles as the month continues. There will be more Ray Bradbury tomorrow!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 6: "It Burns Me Up!"

"It Burns Me Up!" is one of those Ray Bradbury short stories which doesn't quite fit the usual genres he's pinned to - it isn't horror, fantasy or science fiction. It does have a somewhat unusual storytelling device in that it's narrated by a dead man, but even that's not unheard of in literature. First printed in 1944, I suppose you could call it a crime story as the plot involves investigators looking into the murdered man's death while the narrating dead man complains about their shoddy work.

Although it's not one of Bradbury's best-known works, it too has been adapted, via Topps Comics in 1993. Topps had a knack for bringing in some of comics' all-time greatest creators for their Bradbury adaptations and in this instance, the adaptation came from Harvey Kurtzman, best-known for his work at EC Comics, who were, of course, boosters of Bradbury's in the 1950s. As Kurtzman wasn't involved in the 50s adaptation it certainly seems right for him to adapt one of Bradbury's tales; as his work was rather sketchy, Matt Wagner (a legend in his own right) came in to finish it up; Wagner explains the process through a series of articles here. It's a very neat look at Kurtzman's work with his geometric characters appearing almost 3-dimensional on the page. Seek it out!

Tomorrow: More Ray Bradbury!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 5: "The Fog Horn"

The Ray Bradbury story we know of as "The Fog Horn" first appeared in 1951 under the title "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms." The 1953 motion picture of that name was being developed at the time the short story was printed and a deal was struck between the filmmakers and Bradbury to use elements from his story in the movie. "The Fog Horn" tells of a lonely prehistoric creature which is drawn toward a lighthouse by a fog horn, thinking it has found one of its own kind. The film Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which represents one of the first film works to draw from Bradbury's imagination. Although the film took very little from his story, the scene where the creature enacts the events of "The Fog Horn" is easily the most poignant moment. Of course, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms became immensely important in the lore of movie monsters as it led to a certain Japanese lizard by the name Godzilla.

In 1993 Topps Comics had artist Wayne D. Barlowe paint an adaptation of "The Fog Horn." Barlowe's adaptation is not entirely comics - it reads like an illustrated text story - but it's very beautiful art. In this tale, rather than a four-footed land creature, the lonely dinosuar is rendered after that of a pleisiosaur, inviting friendly thoughts of the Loch Ness Monster.

Tomorrow: More Bradbury!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 4: "The October Game"

To some eyes, Ray Bradbury stories mean something warm, heartfelt and nostalgic; the wonders of childhood, the simplicity of rural living, the vistas of the imagination. Of course, he could also write stories which were just plain demented. Such a tale was 1948's short story "The October Game." It plays on a familiar Halloween game where children are gathered in a dark room and handed what their host claims are the body parts of a dead witch. Except in Bradbury's tale...

In 1953, Al Feldstein and Jack Kamen adapted the story for EC Comics' Shock SuspenStories. Although EC had a reputation for grim, terrifying images, I've presented the finale of their adaptation above - and as you can see, it's gore-free. Even in the supposed-unrestrained ranks of EC, they understood restraint; Bradbury's own tale leaves the final horror up to the reader's imagination. In fact, there are some Bradbury fans who disagree as to what the final line of the story means. Good on Feldstein & Kamen for understanding the story's strengths!

Tomorrow: More Bradbury!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 3: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury's 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes was not entirely original; elements of the book were drawn from his earlier horror story "The Black Ferris" (which was itself adapted into EC Comics and the Ray Bradbury Theater). The novel is a wonderful example of Bradbury's dark fantasy storytelling - the story of two boys who visit a strange traveling carnival and realize its owner is wielding malevolent magic against the people of the town.

As Bradbury originally conceived of the novel as a movie screenplay, it's appropriate that it finally came to the screen in 1983. The film is not perfect but some of the weirdness of the novel is captured perfectly, especially Jonathan Pryce's turn as the villainous Mr. Dark. The fates of various townsfolk were changed - particularly that of the lightning rod salesman, who is much more significant in the film version.

A comic book adaptation finally arrived in 2011 from publisher Hill & Wang, authorized by Bradbury himself. However, it's Something Disappointing This Way Comes. It appears as though artist Ron Wimberly prepared his adaptation for full colour (as Hill & Wang's Fahrenheit 451 & The Martian Chronicles were), but the pages were printed in black & white. Tones which may have looked sharp in full colour appear muddy in the black & white treatment. The story itself is there and faithfully retold - simply less than great production values mar the occasion.

Tomorrow: More Bradbury!