When I was a kid, probably in the fourth or fifth grade, I read a really cool book called Strangely Enough by C.B. Colby, a volume filled with stories of ghosts, U.F.O.s, and all manner of odd phenomena from throughout recorded history. I didn’t know it at the time, but that book would spark in me a lifetime love of the unexplained.

Now bear in mind that I’m not numbered among the easily gulled; I find the ghost hunting shows on TV to be complete crap, and I’m not remotely surprised that all but one episode of The History Channel’s Monsterquest came up a complete bust. But I do believe there are things science can’t (yet) explain: I’ve lived in three haunted houses (including my present home), I’ve been employed in a couple of haunted places, and I’ve seen with my own eyes in broad daylight and at close range an airborne vehicle that I don’t believe was of terrestrial origin. As far as cryptozoology is concerned, I keep an open mind. I believe it’s entirely possible that sasquatches lived in the far west as late as the end of the nineteenth century (although I believe them to be extinct today), and I’m a big fan of the original chupacabra – the badass bipedal winged monkey-like creature from Florida, the one that lurks up on your roof and waits for you to come outside so it can leap down on you and tear your throat out, not that skinny slinking mangy coyote from Texas that everybody’s been talking about lately. If the one from Florida is real, I want one for a pet. You think your pit bull is tough? Let me introduce you to Sparky…just don’t let your doggie get too close to his cage.

One of the many interesting things I first read about in Strangely Enough was the story of a wave of U.F.O. sightings that swept the American midwest in the late 1800’s. That’s right – the late 1800’s. It was pretty well documented in numerous newspapers of the time. A big aircraft, often described as cigar-shaped, was making the rounds in Ohio and points west. Once in a while it would land and the occupants (who were just regular people like you and I) would get out, stretch their legs, and shoot the breeze with the locals. Bear in mind that this was more than a decade before those bicycle boys made their big flight at Kitty Hawk. So what was the story here? We’ll likely never know; my guess is that two or three guys were testing a prop-driven dirigible, made several long range test flights throughout the Midwest, died in a crash before they could publicize their invention, and wound up anonymous and (mostly) forgotten – but they left behind an amazingly cool story.

I used to avidly collect that kind of stuff (before the book market became oversaturated with fabricated and misleading material), and I still find stories like that of the Victorian airship endlessly fascinating. Colby’s book started me down that path at a very early age and, unbeknownst to me at the time, the collection, documentation, and investigation of that kind of material actually has a name: it’s called Fortean science.

It’s named for a guy who made a career out of collecting information on unexplained esoterica, one Charles H. Fort, who lived from the 1870’s into the 1930’s and wrote several books on strange phenomena such as unidentified airships, freak meteorological events (such as odd-colored rain or showers of living creatures [frogs, fish, etc.]), unknown animals, and the like. He was the Robert Ripley of his day, and the collection of Forteana (as unexplained phenomena have come to be known) continues in his name today. I subscribed to The Fortean Times for a few years in the early 1990’s; that highly entertaining magazine is still being published.

Charles Fort is often viewed as either a visionary or a crackpot, said view often depends on which side of the “skeptic” fence he’s viewed from. Oddly, Fort considered himself a skeptic, but an open-minded one – he was willing to at least consider a possibility even if it at first seemed to go against established science. Take, for example, that Victorian airship; even today, most people would refuse to even consider the possibility of a pre-Wright powered flight – after all, “if it’s not in the history books it couldn’t have happened”. However, Fort (like myself) would consider the possibility of such an event. It’s completely feasible by the technology of the time, and the people in all of those far-flung Midwest communities damn sure saw something in the sky in the late 1800’s.

Fort’s reputation, however, was not helped by his books. The phrase “rambling screed” seems tailor made for Fort’s writing; his books are, for the most part, unreadable. The concepts of sentence and paragraph structure were completely alien to Fort. His first volume, The Book of the Damned, is in the public domain and can be downloaded from Google Books. Go ahead, try to read it. I dare you. I double dare you. Unless you have a tremendous reserve of patience, you won’t be able to do it. I tried reading both The Book of the Damned and Strange Lands the other day and I gave up on each after just a few pages. I felt just as I had when, as a young man, I’d tried to read Immanuel Velikovsky and wound up tossing the book across the room in frustration – you know there’s some interesting stuff in there, but it’s just so damned hard to get to it!

Some of Fort’s theories were pretty bizarre, and the fact that some present-day occultists embrace him as “the father of the supernatural” doesn’t much help his reputation either. Fort considered himself a scientist who sometimes investigated occult phenomena; he was not remotely an “occultist”. But he sometimes let his imagination get the best of him, so he’s generally considered “one of those guys” by the present-day scientific community.

So what does this have to do with Golden Age comics? The other day I was reading a pretty dreadful series of stories about a character named Captain Wizard, a guy with a magic cape which allows him to do pretty much anything he can dream up. He made three appearances in three separate titles in the mid-1940’s. the last of which was his own book (which ran just a single issue in 1946). The first page of that final Captain Wizard story immediately caught my attention:

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

The first thing I thought was, “Hey, Charles Fort would love this!” Then I got a big surprise about halfway through page two:

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Yep – they name check Fort right there on the second page.

At that point I laughed, thinking of William Shatner screaming about a man outside on the wing of the plane. Too bad the scientist in this story didn’t do the same, as it would have made a far more entertaining story.

The rest of this tale is so desperately stupid that even I, curmudgeonly as I am, can’t bring myself to make fun of it. So I’ll just present it without any interruption:

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Captain Wizard Comics #1 (1946)

Pee-yew, what a stinker! Man, that story was so bad, it makes Charles Fort’s writing look great by comparison. No wonder the Captain Wizard feature died a (ahem) dog’s death after this tale!

Thanks to The Digital Comic Museum for the magazine!

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

Advertisements