When one gets offered a free review copy of a new book, one never knows what to expect. Especially if the author isn’t a known quantity. Happens all the time. I try to keep things in perspective and am genuinely impressed that these folks have managed to get a book published one way or another!
Thus it comes as a most pleasant and welcome surprise when said book turns out to be much more than you were expecting. This was the case with Tiger Moody’s INDUCTION OF THE SYCOPHANT. I had never heard of the author nor the book nor even the publisher, Kicks Books, which turns out to be a division of the wonderfully psychotronic Norton Records. The unnecessary periods after both title and author on the cover had me dreading chapter after chapter of poorly—or at least oddly—punctuated prose.
And what about that cover? From what I understand, Mr. Moody himself did the art and while it is not the most appealing or enticing cover I’ve ever seen, it does, at least, make some sense by the end of the story. Symbolically anyway.
The story. Here’s where it gets good. Comics fans will undoubtedly recognize the title, INDUCTION OF THE SYCOPHANT’s, vague echoing of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. The late Doctor himself, name intact, plays a major role throughout the story. Other characters are also folks a comics fan would know, although with most other names changed to allow for more “poetic license” with their characters.
Some of the folks whose literary doppelgangers you’ll find in INDUCTION are Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Bob Wood, Bill Gaines, Wallace Wood, Mort Meskin, and most importantly, Jack Cole. In the story, despite some obvious changes in situations, they all behave and talk pretty much the way they behaved and talked in real life. They do not all come off in the best light, though.
In fact, part of the fun of the story—spot illustrated with PD comics panels from the period—is being able to recognize the lovingly accurate details Moody gives his people such as Wood’s interest in singing, Cole’s insecurities, Eisner’s gentrified airs, Meskin’s mental health issues, and Kirby’s boorishness.
The actual plot these people whirl around in is a pretty dark one, based around their varying reactions to the real-life mid-1950s Keafauver hearings on Juvenile Delinquency. In fact, while I haven’t checked, I’m pretty sure most if not all of Wertham’s testimony here is, verbatim, his actual Congressional testimony. Ditto for Gaines.
Cole is the closest thing to a POV character and, as in real life, his story is ultimately tragic, although here far from that reality. There are other, more original characters as well, including Leonard, the small African-American boy on the cover, and red-headed Archie Andrews, a profane vet with a couple of low-rent girlfriends. (He’s more like Harvey Kurtzman’s Starchie.) At the unexpected if not quite shocking climax, many of the book’s diverse elements come together, but the ending itself just sort of peters out in that way that life, in spite of everything, just keeps on keepin’ on.
Moody’s rich characterizations pull no punches, showing us warts and all for some of our artistic heroes. Some I knew about, others he may have just made up. That’s presumably why the names were changed after all.
The author’s writing style is almost purposely reminiscent of Burroughs (William, not ERB) but he pulls it off so it doesn’t really feel like an affectation. He genuinely captures the feel of his 60 years gone urban setting, complete with all that meant for women and other minorities. Unlike the fantasy perfect world older politicians keep saying they want to take us back to, there was discrimination, deceit, hiding, cheating, backstabbing, murder, and, of course, all those comics-reading juvenile delinquents Dr. Wertham kept warning everyone about! At the end of the day, it’s Wertham himself who comes off as perhaps the book’s most sympathetic character!
Although moments of humor pop up consistently, this is not a parody. Explicit, dark, violent, disturbing, and a real downer in very many ways, INDUCTION OF THE SYCOPHANT is certainly not for everyone. If you don’t know comics history (see THE 10 CENT PLAGUE), then there’s simply no way you’ll get out of this everything the author has put into it. But if you ARE familiar with comic books and the players in their history, you’ll easily appreciate that Moody is, too.
If you’re open-minded, INDUCTION is a quick trip through Tiger Moody’s noir-ish alternate history of the men behind the comics in their darkest hours. He’s now an author I plan to watch.