PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Comics

Of Mermaids Falling from the Moon: Ancient Comicbooks from Before the Flood

Richard Shaver called the rocks that he found "Rock Books". Within them he saw both stories and pictures from the ancient past. They were the world's first comicbooks -- comicbooks from before the flood.

The history of the comicbook has been written. Superman is part of that story; likewise Funnies on Parade. Before that, there were newspaper comic strips; and before that, single panel drawings with word balloons. Hogarth's illustrations were preceded by illustrated Bibles. Greek friezes followed Egyptian hieroglyphics. Cave paintings.

Richard Shaver claimed that there was something older still . . . art and stories from the most ancient of days, from before the flood, from the time of the first moon-fall when the Mer-folk swam in the waters of Tehom.

Shaver is mostly forgotten now, nearly lost to time in the way the Mer-folk and the Titans of Atlan are lost: forgotten, overlooked, dead and buried in some deep, subterranean cavern. At one time he was famous, or nearly so. In June of 1947, the best-selling pulp science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, dedicated an entire issue to Shaver's work, to his curious blend of fiction and non-fiction, of fantasy and truth and madness.

Shaver believed that behind the world that we think we know, the world that we think we understand, is a world ignored by scientists and overlooked by historians: a Hidden World.

He was tormented by disembodied voices that came to him unbidden, voices that claimed to come from caverns under the surface of the earth, caverns inhabited by the horrifying monstrosities known as the Dero -- or Detrimental Robots -- degenerate creatures left behind when the ancient race of Titans fled our damaged planet for the stars. These voices revealed to Shaver an ancient and cosmic drama of extraterrestrial civilizations and of long forgotten technology; they revealed to him a debauched world under our feet, where the Dero operate decaying machinery to manipulate events on the surface of our planet and to torment us with wicked desires and terrifying visions -- desires and visions Shaver knew oh so well. Opposing them were the Tero, the angels of mercy who battled their fallen cousins for the soul of the surface world.

Shaver -- with the help of Ray Palmer, his collaborator, friend and editor -- told the (true) stories of the ancient races and their malevolent subterranean offspring in the pages of Amazing Stories. The Shaver Mystery, as it was called, intrigued the masses and captured the attention of readers for a brief time between the end of World War II and the birth of the flying saucer craze. The fame did not last. Science fiction fandom turned on Shaver and Palmer and their claims that the wild fantasies they wrote about could be true. Palmer left Amazing Stories for the world of flying saucers and conspiracy theories. Shaver mostly disappeared, along with the pulp sci-fi magazines in which he played such a central part. The Mystery that he revealed was forgotten, itself now a part of the Hidden World.

Hidden, but not completely lost. Gone underground, for sure, but flowing still, like the subterranean streams that rise to the surface from time to time, that flow on and on, unrecognized, to the sea.

And so, the water from Shaver's underground stream flows into George Lucas' Star Wars, where, like some evil Dero, Jabba the Hutt drools over Princess Leia in chains. It washes through Erich von Däniken's and Zecharia Sitchin's ancient astronaut theories. And it surfaces, time and time again, in the world of comicbook superheroes and space operas. Otto Binder and Julius Schwartz nourished Clark Kent as Superman, Barry Allen as the Flash, and Ray Palmer (yes, Ray Palmer!) as the Atom with water from Shaver's well. Shaver's Titans live on in Marvel's Kree and Celestials; his Dero and Tero in the Deviants and the Eternals. Shaver's cosmic rays transformed the Titans before Kirby's and Lee's transformed the Fantastic Four. Shaver's heroes battled evil underground forces before the Mole Man ever reared his ugly face.

With his wife Dorothy, Shaver moved to Marion County, Arkansas, a place of hills and hollers, a place of caverns and caves. With the voices still in his ears, he trolled the rocky fields searching for more information about the world that was, searching for pictures that told the stories of the past. He found them.

Shaver came to believe that, in the ancient and forgotten days before the Moon-Fall, the Earth was inhabited by a race of Mer-folk, denizens of the deep waters, pre-Atlan Atlanteans who swam and breathed with the freedom of fish, like some ancient and true Aquaman, like some Old Earth Submariner. Shaver believed that he had found the record of their glorious and vibrant civilization in the rocks that were everywhere under his feet.

Inexplicable to all rational thought, Shaver began sawing through the Arkansas stones looking for images, attempting to free stories and pictures that had been trapped there, hidden there for millennia.

Shaver called the rocks that he found Rock Books. To Shaver they were picture books; they were stories told through illustration; they were graphic novels; they were, I suppose, comicbooks – the world's first comicbooks, from before the flood, from before the flight of the ancient ones to the stars, from before the rise of our fallen world.

Just as he heard voices that no one else could hear, so Shaver saw pictures that no else could see. When he discovered that others could not discern what he could make out so clearly, he began to do again what he had done before. Once, he had written down what the voices told him, recounted the ancient tales and, with Ray Palmer, published them for the world to read. Now he painted the pictures that he saw, transferring his visions to the rough construction paper, cardboard and wood materials that were at his disposal. He painted for the same reason that he wrote, I suppose, to make plain the hidden, to reveal the mystery.

Shaver's technique, which he called "rokfogo", was unorthodox. He would project an image of the Rock Book slice onto a wet canvas. Then he would sift wax and dry glue down onto it, believing that the light rays from the projector would guide the falling materials into their proper place. He would ask the Tero to help him and bang on the floor with his shoe when they didn't. Then he would trace with pencil the images that were revealed, and color them with paint. The final product was a deeply textured surface, itself resembling the stone from which it came, that contained the once hidden images, now visible to the world.

But, before the world could be persuaded of the truth of what he saw, Shaver was carried away forever, taken underground by the Dero for his foolhardy refusal to keep the secrets of the Hidden World. Or, perhaps, he was transformed, finally and forever, into something stronger and better, into a fitter form, into something that was itself both hidden and true, transformed for life among the lovely Tero, those who soothed his fevered brain when the tamper rays of the enemy were at their strongest. Shaver died, and his paintings, his Rock Books, became once again a part of the Hidden World.

But underground streams do surface and that which is hidden is sometimes revealed.

Richard Toronto has brought Shaver's paintings to light, giving them a bit of the attention that they deserve. This is sacred ground for Toronto, who founded the Shaver fanzine, "Shavertron", way back in the days of mimeograph machines and continues it today at Shavertron.com. (Your Only Source of Post-Deluge Shaverania!) His War Over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction (MacFarland, 2013) is itself an indispensable resource for anyone interested in Shaver, Palmer, the Shaver Mystery, or the history of sci-fi fandom. Toronto is the curator of all things Shaver, the keeper of the flame. I don't know if he hears voices from the caverns or if he sees pictures in rocks, but it is clear that he hears and sees something in the life and work of Richard Shaver, something hidden that should be revealed.

And now, in addition to his marvelous book about the Shaver Mystery, Toronto has produced the first of two volumes dedicated to Shaver's Rock Book art: Rokfogo: The Mysterious Pre-Deluge Art of Richard S. Shaver. (Shavertron Press, 2014) It is a wonder to behold, filled with images that Shaver believed were from the distant past, with notes from Shaver and others on the processes and meaning of rokfogo, and with a long and meandering introduction by Toronto that itself plumbs the depths of esoteric and occult caverns. The Mer-folk are here, and Amazons too.

Shaver's images are layered on top of one another, melting and bleeding together, the result, Shaver believed, of the imprecise nature of his cuts. The pages of these ancient comicbooks became stuck together over time, like the layers of ancient sediment under our feet, so Shaver's paintings reveal more than one page at once, reveal panel stacked on top of panel.

There are red lips and shapely women; heads adorned with crowns and golden curls; things with fangs and with claws; faces, lost faces from the past; disembodied features from out of time.

My favorite image is the cover image: "Amazons Defending Against the Attack of the Ape Bats." It leaves me wondering: Did these creatures have the minds of apes, brains quick enough to develop strategies, to be angry and malicious and mean? Was the Amazonian defense only the drawn knife, the sharpened nail, the biting jaw? It must have been a grand battle, grand and bloody. Indeed, it must have been a grand story that was told in this comicbook from the days of the Mer-folk and the Titans, as grand as any tale of the Avengers or the Justice League.

The Hidden World of Richard Shaver is, perhaps, not for everyone. It is dark; it is bizarre; it is mad. It is also, for those with eyes to see and with ears to hear, wondrous, thrilling, magical. His stories and his pictures reflect what he heard and what he saw, and they reveal, if not the Hidden World that is underneath our feet and buried in our past, then at least the Hidden World of this remarkably creative man.

Toronto put it best: "What Shaver saw in the rocks mirrored Shaver. He found a world of gods and goddesses, of princes and princesses, of Amazons, and of mermaids falling from the Moon."

— — —

Credits:

Rokfogo: The Mysterious Pre-Deluge Art of Richard S. Shaver. vol. 1, by Richard Toronto and published by Shavertron Press, was released September 2014 and is available on Amazon.

First Insert: "Amazons Defending against the Attack of the Ape Bats." Enlarge.

Second Insert: Richard Shaver

Third Insert: "untitled", courtesy of Brian Emrich

Splash: a detail of "untitled 2", Enlarge.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.