Note: the following Article, which includes some Corrections and Updates, was originally
written in 1996 for Skin Two (magazine) which Declined to publish it!
A REVIEW OF
THE [IN]COMPLETE REPRINT OF
JOHN WILLIE’S BIZARRE
[NOT] EDITED BY ERIC KROLL
COLOGNE (GERMANY): BENEDIKT TASCHEN VERLAG, 1995
2 Volumes; Approximately 1,500 pp
The Dictionary defines ‘Complete' as: “having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; entire; whole; finished; ended; concluded; thorough”.
Unfortunately, Taschen has misrepresented this photo-facsilime reprint of the Twenty-Six (26) Issues (not “Volumes,” as it was an irregular serial publication) of John Willie’s periodical (1946–59 — not “1948–59”), as being “Complete” — which is incorrectly stated in three different places — because it is not!
This reprint reproduces the “First’ Editions of Issues #3 (1946), #5 (1946), and #8 (1952), instead of the Revised and/or Enlarged ‘Second’ Editions (1953, 1952 and 1954-56, respectively), which contain a substantial amount of additional and/or different material (Illustrations & Photographs). The publisher has also failed to reproduce the Back Covers to Issues #1, #2, #4, #5 and #15/16 (a small point), although space (Blank Pages) is available to do so! In addition, Taschen has incorrectly placed the (Inner & Outer) Back Cover of Issue #9 at the beginning of Issue #10 (before the Contents Page). Four pages of Photographs (pp 85-88, unnumbered) are reproduced out-of-order in Issue #15/16 and some Text is missing from a Letter (to the Editor) in Issue #19 (p 49). And this “Complete Reprint” also lacks the Six ‘Supplementary Illustrations’ (1) that J.W. made for The Magic Island: A Tale from a Bottle (Issues #4, #8 & #10), as well as the Three (2) he made for From Girl to Pony (Issue #11). [1/2: Those Illustrations were not reproduced in the magazine; they were sold separately, and were available only via Mail Order.]
In the year 2000 Taschen distributed a Second Printing of Bizarre (3) — that not only failed to correct any of the errors note above (and below) — but actually contains an additional blunder: the Cover Illustration of Issue #6 is missing(!), both in the ‘Bizarre Gallery’ (p ) where it should appear in Color, as well as from the Black & White version (later in Volume I), where the Issue Number has been moved from the center to the right. [3: The Second Printing which is not designated as such by the publisher, was made in Italy — the First was done in the Czech Republic — is on a lighter, brighter, more opaque stock than the former that, unfortunately, is more absorbent of the ink, further diminishing the reproduction quality of the Half-Tone Illustrations (Paintings & Photographs), which is only fair in the previous printing.]
It appears that the publisher was more concerned with proclaiming that this reprint is “Complete” — which appears Thirteen times!: Box, Covers & Front Matter — than it was with the actual contents. Taschen has regrettably squeezed Bizarre into one of its standard formats (Klutz series), which is certainly economical. Unfortunately, it is inappropriate, as it has resulted in inadequate margins for the Text & Illustrations! In other words, the Contents have been forced to fit into the Box, instead of the Box being made to hold the Contents! This has resulted in at least Sixty instances of callous and careless cropping of Illustrations and Photographs, to the extent that some visual information and/or accompanying Text has been lopped-off!
To add insult injury, Taschen has chosen to package this reprint in a vulgar manner, that makes it more suitable for display in Porno & Sex Shops, which indicates a lack of respect for John Willie and his work.
But — Not to Worry — it gets Worse!
The Dictionary defines “edit” as: to supervise or direct…, to collect, prepare and arrange for publication; to revise and correct”.
The Title-Pages of this reprint state: “Edited by Eric Kroll”, which is bizarre, indeed! Wasn’t Bizarre Edited by John Willie? In fact, it does not appear the Eric Kroll has actually “Edited” anything. But, if he had, perhaps E.K. was responsible for the deletions, errors and misrepresentations that are noted above?
What Kroll has contributed is an easy — “John Willie is Bizarre” — in which the writer talks more about Himself than about either John Willie or Bizarre! In this article E.K. proceeds to relate a lot of misinformation, inaccuracies and lies about J.W., and even manages to introduce some new fiction about the man! The only information about J.W. that Kroll relates here — aside from the report of the “drinking problem” (which came from me) — that can be taken at face value, are the Dates of the artist’s Birth and Death (from the same source)!
Here are some specifics (countrary to E.K.):
• John Willie was not a member of “a wealthy merchant banking family” (e.g., the ‘Coutts Bank’); his wife, Holly, did not move to New York City with him in the mid-1940s (she remained in Sydney, Australia), nor were they ever “divorced” (p 6); and J.W. did not die “penniless” (p 7).
• The story related by “Sir James” (p 8) is certainly the product of his own imagination. (It is Fiction!) John Willie did not, as a rule, do “nude bondage” photography to draw from, although, on occasion, he did; nor did he ever “hog-tie” or “suspend” Betty (Bettie) Page (either fully-clothed or nude). It didn’t happen, and they never even met each other!
• Betty (Bettie) Page lived on (West) 46th Street in N.Y.C., not on “47th” (p 9).
• The pseudonym of “John Willie” was most likely intended as a double-entendre. While it is British slang for the male sex organ, it's also a colloquialism (in England) for a “small boy” (p 11).
• Sweet Gwendoline (Cartoon Serial) ran in Wink from June 1947 through February 1950, when it ended abruptly and unfinished, not just in the (two) 1949 issues that E.K. mentions (p 11).
• Bizarre was sold by Willie to a close friend — R.E.B. — and not to “Mahlon Blaine" (p 11).
• J. W. did not keep “several residential apartments in New York City to shoot [photographs] in and produce his magazine” (pp 12-13). He was barely able to keep a roof over his own head, but, on occasion, he did some photography and work in the homes of close friends.
• Judy Ann Dull was not “the third victim of Harvey Glatman”. She was the first (1 August 1957). The model who was involved in capturing that pervert, Lorraine Vigil — not “Virgil" — was not a model of J.W.’s (although J.A.D. was) and the Court records were “Sealed” by the Judge in the case (p 13). [For those who may be interested, there is a book about Glatman, who was executed on 18 September 1959, Rope: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Harvey Glatman by Michael Newton (Pocket Books, 1998)]
Those fabrications are followed by twenty-six pages of “Bizarre Highlights,” also authored by Eric Kroll (perhaps this is the “Edited” part?), which is nothing more than an arbitrary and sophomoric tour though the contents of the reprint, as if the reader actually needs to be shown what to look at and to have it explained! The commentary, at best, is often uninformed, subjective and even, at times, ignorant. For example, how does E.K. know the length of the heels on the shoes in Issue #1 (p 12) and #3 (p 32), which he describes as being “12” and ”24” inches, respectively?
Kroll also states that numerous Interior Illustrations (by J.W.) in Bizarre are “watercolors”, which is Incorrect. The artist’s work for those (Interiors) was almost always in Black & White (Pen & Ink, Brush & Ink Washes, with some opaque White & Grey added at times, and/or Gouache). Interestingly enough, E.K., specifically, refers to the misplaced Inside-Rear-Cover of Issue #9 as being the [Front] Cover of Issue #10 (p 62). So, maybe, he is responsible for this mess!
Keeping these Caveats in mind, this reprint does contain all Twenty-Six Issues of Bizarre, is reasonably well-printed on decent paper — although the insufficient margins are a Problem — and has all of the Covers in Color (in the First Volume as part of the “Bizarre Highlights”), although they are in Black & White in the remainder of the set. And since the Retail Price is somewhat less than one would probably have to pay for just one Issue of the Original in the “Collector’s Market’ (see the P.S. below), it is also a bargain, and is herewith recommended.
One can only hope that a proper, integral reprint of Bizarre will one day appear, but Don’t hold your breath for that to happen, as the Taschen reprint has seriously diminished the potential audience for such an undertaking. For now, this all we have — which is better than nothing — but, to paraphrase the Bard: Something Stinks in Cologne!
— J. B. Rund