Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Definitely a Troll Shaman

My grandpa gave me a copy of this story that was printed in the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society newsletter. The man interviewed, Ernie Lantto, was my great-grandfather:

A Miracle Man? A Shaman?

Old John Saari was a man onto himself. Many a stories have been told about this man with unusual powers. In 1983, after interviewing several people from the French Lake area, Batson, a writer from the Minneapolis Tribune published this story. A condensed version follows:

John Saari came from Finland. He lived in Cokato before moving to French Lake Township. Ernie Lantto, whose father, Abraham, bought the French Lake store 74 years ago knew Saari from boyhood. "I helped him move into his last cave," Lantto said, "he dug it himself." Saari slept under a cowhide with the horns and tail still attached. He possessed a magical tablecloth with which he controlled the weather by positioning it in different ways to bring rain when needed or sunshine at haying time. One summer Saari was hired to dig a ditch. It turned dry and stayed that way. When people asked why he didn't bring rain he said, "Be done digging in three days. Then you'll get your rain." And this is when it rained, reported Pat Pajari, one of the French Lake people interviewed.

In an article written by Ralph Andrist as part of a WPA project in 1939 he describes Saari as a hermit, living in several caves scattered throughout the area. He worked for various farmers as the desire struck him. If he didn't want to work, he would just say he had no time as he had to "ripen the grain." One could not miss him coming down the road. He was dressed like none other. His hair and beard were long and he wore a Scotchman's cap with a hole in the top, through which he pulled a thick lock of long hair. Sometimes he wore a cap made of calfskin with a calf's tail hanging down the side. He had a wide belt of squirrel fur with tails hanging down all around. He called this his power belt. He also claimed he got his power from his hair and beard, which he never cut.

The Batson article tells of his strength. "No question, his strength was awesome. Even as an old man, Saari easily lifted barn timbers that the strongest men of the township couldn't budge." Melvin Erickson used to tell of the great tug of war between French Lake and Albion. These contests took place at the annual creamery picnic. French Lake enjoyed a string of triumphs but its team was getting old and Albion had recruited a bunch of young giants. French Lake turned to John Saari and said they needed his help. John agreed and the battle was on. John wrapped the end of the rope around his belly, lifting his beard out of the way. He planted his feet and grasped the rope, declaring "This rope will only move one direction today." And that was the way it was. Albion's finest could not budge Old John Saari.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Creepy, Eerie, Frazetta, EC, and the CCA

Back in the 50s German Psychiatrist and epic douchelord Frederic Wertham helped establish the Comics Code Authority as part of his crusade against all things groovy. He wrote a book that stated comics were corrupting kids and causing them to become more violent and murderous; basically the same thing that people say about video games today and what protohumans probably said about cave drawings of boobs. Before Wertham came along comics companies could print anything they wanted on their covers. The 30s and 40s were when some of the most awesome covers were produced. Comics companies printed some pretty risqué stuff back then too, not just for the era either, some of the "Pre-Code" stuff would make Dan Savage Blush.

One of the biggest companies in the horror and crime genres was Entertaining Comics. Owned by Bill Gaines, EC produced a ton of famous titles like Tales From the Crypt and Mad Magazine. EC was the bane of the CCA, they'd censor and pare down EC stories until there was practically nothing left. One of the biggest scandals involves a story EC wrote about a black astronaut. Apparently judge Charles Murphy, the Comics Code Authority administrator was utterly opposed to the idea of children reading a story about a black astronaut. Gaines told him to stick it, but the damage done to EC by that point was irreversible. The CCA prohibited any comic with words like "horror," "shock," "crime," or "suspense" in the title. That pretty much spanned all of EC's repertoire.
Enter Warren Publishing. Warren created the Creepy title as a magazine-format newsstand publication, and thus it didn't require the Comics Code Authority's approval. Originally, Creepy was published quarterly, but by the end of the first year it was published bimonthly. After the initial success of Creepy, Warren came out with Eerie and Vampirella. Warren had some major names working on their covers and storyboards. Alex Toth, Gray Morrow, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and of course, Frank Frazetta. These guys created some awesome work for the Warren publications. In addition to his Conan stuff, the Creepy and Eerie covers are some of my favorite work done by Frazetta. Anyway, here's some of my favorite covers: