Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who really wrote "The Octopus"

Went to the comic store yesterday, they were having a big sale on trades and miscellaneous items. I was actually looking to pick up a Spectrum3, a fantasy art magazine. Instead, found a spiral bound book titled Keys to Other Doors by John DeWalt, with a nice picture of the Spider taken from the interior art of one of his pulps. And, half off too.

The book is a handy collection of lists concerning pulp characters, mostly from the lines of Thrilling (known in comic circles as Standard, Better, Nedor, etc) and Popular (the Spider, G-8, Captain Satan), both original publications and reprints, as of the publishing of the book in 1995. Included is also publication histories of some of the work of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the character Zorro. Over all, a very handy volume for easy reference.

Also nice, it lists the authors of the pulps as best can be determined. Many of the hero/character pulps were published under names such as Kenneth Robeson, Maxwell Grant, Brant House, Grant Stockbridge, etc. Robert Hogan may be about the only one to write a major character series, G-8 and his Battle Aces, under his own name.

When I reviewed the pulp The Octopus, I credited it to Norvell Page. The old reprint I have by Robert Weinberg lists him as the writer behind the house name of Randolph Craig. The most recent reprint of the story is in a nice volume of a couple of Spider tales credited to Norvell Page. Thus, I was surprised to see the list here to place the writers as being a duo named Edith and Eljer Jacobson. A quick web search revealed a famous psychoanalyst named Edith Jacobson but nothing of anyone named "Eljer" nor any collections of stories or books by them. I posted the question at the yahoo group Cover_Ups which focuses on the pulps and was pleased to get information directly from a couple of pulp scholars in short order.

Apparently, in researching the authorship of the pulp, the payment checks from the company were found concerning the story and it was signed by both the couple Edith and Eljer and Norvell Page. Edith and Eljer were a husband and wife team normally writing weird menace stories for the pulps. The school of thought seems to be that the Jacobsons wrote the original story and then it was re-tooled/re-written by Page to make the hero fit more of the Spider mold. This would explain why the story in places seems typical of Norvell Page's work and at times even more grotesque, and horrific, the prose more purple without quite the polish of his Spider work.

I'll have to be sure to keep a lookout for their name on other stories for comparison's sake in style. It's a shame that the most recent reprint doesn't credit their involvement implying Norvell Page was the sole author.


rich said...

Someone commented that Norvell Page did not write The Octopus, told me that it had been disproven. Joel Frieman, the copyright owner, probably listed Page as the author just to include the story in the first Baen Books reprint of THE SPIDER. The selection of stories was probably chosen just to forward his assertion that Marvel and DC stole from Popular Publications.

In all liklihood, the couple may have been in Page's neck od the woods, and he endorsed the check so that they could cash it. I've read that people believed that Ted Tinsley ghosted some SPIDER novels -- Page was in Florida, or someplace, and Tinsley merely endorsed the check so that Page could cash it.

cash_gorman said...

For some reason, I always thought that Robert Weinberg was behind Argosy which renewed all of the copyrights from Popular Publications.

As I noted, aspects of the novel does read much like a Spider novel, so I could see Page's influence in it somehow.

And, comic companies did lift some things from the pulps. The first Hugo Strange appearance in Batman has marked similarities to the Doc Savage adventure "The Monsters" down to the title. Jack Cole ripped off the Avenger story "The Airwalker", creating a new character called the Defender. Doctor Mid-Nite and Two-Face stole directly from the Black Bat's origin though took them in different directions. The source of Batman's inspiration is almost word for word of that of the minor pulp hero The Bat, making it the most likely contender for where the character really came from.

But, I don't think simply using the same name is stealing from the pulps, especially names that are fairly generic as Batman and Iron Man. And, the Octopus is even less obvious. It's a real stretch to claim that he was a direct inspiration, this was hardly the sole occurrence of the animal being used as a symbol of crime. More likely they all drew from the same well of man's collective subconscious fear and distrust of creatures with more than four limbs and the octopus who is both fascinatingly ugly and mysterious and graceful in his movements.