Saturday, 23 April 2011

Well Well Wellman

For stories for the longest time, I've wanted to read some stories featuring Silver John aka John the Balladeer by writer Manly Wade Wellman (I'm not sure if Manly was a given name or a nickname!). I don't know why, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I've always been aware of John but dunno why. Wellman was a prolific writer of novels, short stories and even comics: although the primary Aquaman writer throughout the 1940s and a collaborator with Will Eisner on the Spirit, Wellman's most notable contribution to the comic field was the creation of the Phantom Stranger, even though he never wrote the character himself.

After I read Mike Mignola and Richard Corben's Hellboy: The Crooked Man, a direct homage to the Silver John stories, I thought it time to track down some Silver John material. There were five St John novels but the character originated in and most frequently appeared in short stories. Luckily, a new collection of the short stories had been released under the title Who Fears The Devil? This wasn't the first collection to use the title but was the first comprehensive John collection, featuring every short story in one volume.

Inspired by a young Johnny Cash, John is a Korean War veteran who has returned to his home region of the Appalachian mountains. Similar to a wandering minstrel, John is a simple man who basically travels searching for new songs to learn. He owns only the clothes he wears, his camping pack and his prized possession, a guitar strung with silver strings. This small supply of silver, allied with John's inherent decent nature, come in handy for in John's search for the truth behind the songs he learns, he often comes into conflict with ancient and evil forces. These are sometimes from Appalachian folklore, sometimes new creations of Wellman's but the distinction is never clear.

The stories are short but drip with atmosphere, narrated by John in his Good Ol' Boy twang and bringing the most fantastic events down to earth and making them feel totally believable. I've not read much fiction in the past few years, as time and lack of concentration has limited my attention, but this book was a very comfortable read.

I'm left with a fondness for the character and actually plan to adapt some of the stories into comics. Some of the stories are short enough that I've laid them out and can fit them into one or two page strips. I hope to draw. The short strips will be enough to ease me back into sequentials before adapting longer stories and moving on to other stuff I want to draw. There was a (reputedly awful) 70s movie adaptation of the Silver John material but I have settled on Nathan Fillion as the model for my John: he has the look and tone of John so I'll visualise him when I hit the drawing board...


Rol said...

You've got me intrigued, I might hunt down a copy of this myself.

Nige Lowrey said...

There's cheapies on Amazon: I'd lend you mine but that'd make it hard to refer to if I get around to adapting! :)

Nige Lowrey said...

There's a link to one of the stories, here: