On this day in 1909 Chester Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri.
“It seemed so illogical to punish some poor criminal for doing something that civilization taught him how to do so he could have something that civilization taught him how to want. It seemed to him as wrong as if they had hung the gun that shot the man.”
― Chester Himes, Yesterday Will Make You Cry
Chester (Bomar) Himes began his writing career while serving in the Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery from 1929 - 1936. His account of the horrific 1930 Penitentiary fire that killed over three hundred men appeared in Esquire in 1932 and from this Himes was able to get other work published. From his first novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), Himes dealt with the social and psychological repercussions of being black in a white-dominated society. Beginning in 1953, Himes moved to Europe, where he lived as an expatriate in France and Spain. There, he met and was strongly influenced by Richard Wright. It was in France that he began his best-known series of crime novels—-including Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) and Run Man Run (1966)—-featuring two Harlem policemen Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. As with Himes’s earlier work, the series is characterized by violence and grisly, sardonic humor.
Action Comics vol.1 #78 - Cover date November 1944
In this very unusual story - scripted by Alvin Schwartz, a writer of whom it might also fairly be said was an unusual man - Superman befriends the owner of a diner in the bohemian part of Metropolis, a colorful Russian character named Sergei who trades sandwiches and soup for artwork from his eccentric clientele, charges on a sliding scale, and deliberately keeps customers out so he never has to rush his cooking. We have similar places here in Seattle.
Alvin Schwartz was an important figure in Superman’s history - a prolific contributor, he wrote Superman and Batman’s first teamup in World’s Finest and the first adult Bizarro story (Bizarro had debuted in an Otto Binder story for Superboy) complete with now-trademark speech patterns. Conflicts with editor Mort Weisinger drove Schwartz away from comics.
A deeply intelligent man, Schwartz had a temperament which made him an excellent fit for superhero comics - he was profoundly interested in Jungian psychoanalysis, Eastern mysticism, Wilhelm Reich’s theories of Orgone Energy, to name only a few of his many sidelines.
Following his departure from the comics, Schwartz claimed to have “met” Superman - or the tulpa of Superman, the idea of the character given physical form - in the very quotidian environment of a New York taxi cab.
Schwartz’s book about meeting his Superman tulpa, An Unlikely Prophet, is really interesting.
“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure - the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. But this? Using scissors to cut off the tip of a slice of pizza? I don’t know what this is. ”
A pretty boss cover for a Scandinavian translation of The Last Good Kiss, except that in that book C.W. Sughrue drives an El Camino.