Jan 16, 2008

The great, long, red-legged Scisssorman.

The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb

One day, Mamma said, "Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
Don't suck your thumb while I'm away.
The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys that suck their thumbs.
And ere they dream what he's about
He takes his great sharp scissors
And cuts their thumbs clean off, - and then
You know, they never grow again."

Mamma had scarcely turn'd her back,
The thumb was in, alack! alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor's come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out - Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.

Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;
"Ah!" said Mamma "I knew he'd come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb."

That little bit of nastiness is from an old German children's book called Der Struwwelpeter from 1845. Nice, huh? And you thought they only made weird porn. Why am I posting about it? OK, I may lose some of you here.

I first became aware of this nightmare of a children's story back in 1989 when I was nearing the height of my comic-book collecting. Grant Morrison had just taking over the creative direction of a book called The Doom Patrol. Never heard of them? Not hard to believe. They were a rag-tag bunch of misfit superheroes led by an enigmatic man in a wheelchair, and they were introduced way back in 1963. No, not the X-Men. They didn't show up for another few months that year. Coincidence? Some think not.

Anyway, Morrison was a part of the "British Invasion" in American Comics of the late 80's that came in the wake of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing. And Thank God for that! Along with Morrison's work on Animal Man and Doom Patrol we enjoyed Jamie Delano's work on Hellblazer, Peter Milligan's work on Shade, the Changing Man and Neil Gaiman's work on Sandman. I was a huge fan of all those books. Especially Doom Patrol, for some reason. It was just so insane at a time when superhero stuff (besides Batman) wasn't doing it for me.

Morrison's first story was called "Crawling From the Wreckage", and it dealt with the aftermath of some major tragedies that affected the team including the deaths of a couple of members. Cliff Steele aka Robotman, has gone crazy and been sent to an asylum to deal with his issues. He meets another patient named Jane (later Crazy Jane) who has multiple-personality disorder. Oh, and each one of her personalities has it's own meta-ability. She's 64 superheroes in one body. (My favorite is Black Annis, a creature right out of English folklore with great, big claws. When Robotman first sees "her" tear apart an opponent he exclaims "Oh, God!" She whips around and hisses "There is no God. I killed him!" Pretty freaky stuff for a comic-book if you ask me - Earl) The team is re-formed and the first villains they must tackle are the Scissormen.

Morrison references Der Struwwelpeter as the inspiration for his creation, even using the first illustration that I showed above to confirm. His Scissormen are nonsense-muttering, faceless, red and black clad monsters who "snip" people out of reality to send them to the fictional city of Orqwith. I know, heady stuff. But the Scissormen were truly terrifying. They are a variant on the classic bogeyman of yore. Appearing out of nowhere to take away all you've ever had. Not killing you, but sending you to a place so upside-down that you wish you were dead. The stuff of nightmares.

So a few weeks ago, when we all got together to watch The Big Lebowski, I got to thinking about the Scissormen again. In the second dream sequence, the Dude is being chased by the Nihilists who are all dressed up in tight red outfits wielding giant scissors. They were going to cut of his Johnson, you see. Here is the only pic I could find showing what they looked like:

Obviously, that isn't from the film. It's just a bunch of guys dressed up like characters at some festival, I guess. Anyway, I got to thinking. Had the Coen Brothers read Der Struwwelpeter? How about Doom Patrol? Neither would surprise me, frankly. Those guys are nothing if not well read. I've done some exhaustive research on the matter, but I haven't been able to find any connection. And when I say "exhaustive research" I really mean a 15-minute Google search, but anything longer than that on this topic would be exhaustive.

Still, I wonder. Is there a connection between mid 19th Century German children's books, late 20th Century comic books and The Dude? Far out, man!

Note - Got yelled at from some website for posting that first pic, so I re-posted with the same pic from a different site. But now the font size has changed in part of the post and I can't change it back. Fucking Blogger!


i am the diva said...

i remember, once, sitting down cross legged on the floor at my grandmas with her HUGE book of Grimms Fairy Tales and shortly after realizing that almost every one ended in horrible horrible tragedy. i was about 8.

Verdant Earl said...

Diva - the Hoffman tales from Der Struwwelpeter aren't as long or elaborate as the Grimm's stories, but just as nasty in some cases. What the hell is wrong with the Germans?

Bruce Johnson said...

The story about little suck-a-thumb is really mind bending. I bet Hitler's mother probably read it to him as a child and the rest is history......

Slyde said...

you lent me those doom patrols once.. i really didnt care too much for them.. i guess im still just a marvel fanboy at heart.

anyway, to the person who yelled at you for linking, tell em to go fuck themself....

or better yet, tell me their site and i'll do it..

FourLeafClover said...

I know Doom Patrol and it's horrible reincarnation with negative woman and whatshername... Celsius? I should dig out my DC's Who's Whos. I was introduced to the DM through Teen Titans, which I love. Cyborg and Robotman always got along smashingly.

Verdant Earl said...

Lotus - I knew there was a reason.

Slyde - it wasn't actually someone yelling at me. The pic I posted was replaced with a "Please don't post from whatever.website.com" message. But thanks for having my back.

4Leaf - I didn't really mind the Paul Kupperberg version of the DP with Celsius, but Morrison had her and her and Negative Woman killed off prior to his taking over creative control. Negative woman/man became a hemaphrodite being under Morrison's watch. Teen Titans and DP were always close because of each one's affiliation with Beast Boy (introduced in DP way back in the late 60's).

jiggs said...

give us the money lebowski. ya. give us the fucking money!

Elise said...

I've seen the musical Shock-Headed-Peter! Its crazy. The whole thing was about the death of children. It was so cleverly put together, all the poems and songs. Nobody I've spoken to has ever heard of it. I'm so glad you have! xx

Verdant Earl said...

Jiggs - Fucking Nihilists!

Elise - I've heard of the musical, but haven't seen it. You're the only person I know who has seen it.

Kat said...

Was this about comics?
That first bit reminds me of another German book called Pretty stories and Funny pictures for children. Of course there wasn't much pretty or funny about the story of the little girl who set herself ablaze when playing with matches. Cute!

Verdant Earl said...

The middle part was about comics.

There was a story in Der Struwwelpeter like that called "The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches". Probably an English translation of the same book.