The wild, all-naked JOHN CARTER comic Disney does not want you to see (NSFW)

In a few short hours, I’ll be doing something I’ve dreamed about my whole life—going to see a movie about John Carter of Mars. Yes, I am one of those rare Barsoomian enthusiasts, like director Andrew Stanton, for whom this movie has been a pipedream many times thwarted. I’ve always been a pulp lover, and the whole 11 book series was a parade of oddities—Gheks and Kaldanes, Tara and Gahan, Tur is Tur, Ras Thavas, green white and red Martians, the hurtling moons of Mars—it’s all corny and pulpy and imaginative as hell. Like his contemporary, L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs had an interior life full of the grotesque and heroic in equal measure, and crazy ideas poured from their pens in an unstoppable rush. (Baum was older then Burroughs, and his literary heyday didn’t overlap Burroughs by much, but it’s safe to say that early Hollywood was obsessed with both of them, and they wereamong the first authors to succeed in every medium of the day.)

I could write a lot about my own perception of Carter’s Mars, but what I’m here to do today is introduce you to the boldest, most audacious adaptation of the book, one that is incredibly UN-Disney and very very NSFW.

I speak of James Killian Spratt’s word-for-word comics adaptation of A PRINCESS OF MARS.
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Now this panel is about the only one from this stunningly earthy work that I can even put on here. For you see, when everyone points out that in the books all the Martians are naked, Spratt is one of the few artists who actually went along with that interpretation.

(Original panels are visible by clicking on the thumbnails.)

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Oh man, are they ever naked.
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We declare this the most dingus-tastic comic of all time.

There are but a few panels chosen at random from hundreds. Spratt posts the drawings along with the text of the book, and if you like pulpish, archaic writing, you can see another reason why these books are such cult items:

Further cruelties would result in 
Sarkoja’s sudden and painful demise. . . 
My threat was unfortunate –  
men do not kill women on Mars, nor women men. 
She gave me an ugly look and departed to hatch up deviltries against us.


Or:
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A colossal apelike creature
held me pinioned by one huge foot 
while it jabbered and 
gesticulated to another, 
evidently its mate, 
which bore a mighty stone cudgel –


I happened on this site while I was googling for some other Carter information a while ago. I’ve shown the site to a few people since then and the common reaction is jaw dropping. Who is this guy?
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James Killian Spratt we’re told, is a Master Sculptor who lives in North Carolina. He is blind in one eye and is an expert in all things Martian, including Jetan, the game of Martian chess that a few people have actually played in the last 100 years. Spratt has made actual Jetan sets:
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As well as some nice animal sculpture:
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Here’s more on his work:

At this point in his life, Spratt is again devoting almost full time to ERB. His typical day consists of waking early, working until he drops, and sleeping until he wakes again. . .  often with new ideas dreamed up while asleep. He began in 1995 with an  18-inch version of Dejah Thoris, which he says is just a warm-up. . . she can be obtained in cast marble for about $150, subject to some small modifications. After a hiatus during which he lost his right eye, he's now back at it, hard, and has created a Jetan set consisting of six-inch, detailed figures depicting two opposing teams with different skin color, but identical trappings. The first sets he has hand-made so far have been carefully and colorfully painted and, depending on demand, he'll see if he can't offer the pieces as raw castings for others to paint. . .  to keep the price down. After all, there are forty separate figures and a number of different princesses (to keep things interesting) for serious play or just for love.


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Of his comics version, which despite some drafting awkwardness displays a vigor and imagination to match Burroughs himself, Spratt writes:

Since I was drawing initially for my own amusement, with no thought of publishing, I pulled all the normal stops and drew the way I imagined the classic story to be written.  The characters are highly underclad, yet oblivious to it; it’s their normal way, and they don’t see much naughty or titillating about it.  The men are men and the women are women and blood is red and scary.  I set out to be honest with the nudity and violence, and the devil take Pollyanna, she needs to grow up anyway.   A lifetime would be required, in full-sized oils of five thousand panels to truly do justice to the story.  I can’t spare that, but I hope you will find the little scenes that I have captured to be at least somewhat rewarding and enjoyable.  You may notice that the captions are paraphrased in places for the sake of brevity, clarity and fluidity, and hope no one minds me taking this small additional liberty.  I hope you enjoy it, and thank you. 


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Spratt doesn’t mention Richard Corben, but were guessing that he might have seen his work at a formative age. Unlike other interpretations, his female Tharks have breasts—oh boy do they—and other external female genitalia. Luckily, the images on the ERBzine site are a little too small to allow us to see exactly how much they resemble humans, and many many other details.

Spratt’s PRINCESS OF MARS is hosted on ERBzine, a GeoCities-era kludging dinosaur of a website that one could explore for days, like Hugo Cabret’s clock towers. Surely the Burroughs family is aware of this version, and they haven’t seen fit to sue. So maybe they are okay with it. It is certainly reverential and respectful of the Burroughs work and very true to its vivid, vulgar spirit.

Is it too much to wish that some indie publisher might be able to bring forth a print version of this minor masterpiece? It belongs on the shelf alongside KRAMERS ERGOT, not tucked away on a cobweb of the internet.

Until that moment, here’s my brief tribute to something crazy and kind of wonderful.

PS: I’ve almost certainly missed a few peepees and woowoos in my “Il Braghettone” efforts because there are just so darned many of them!

Comments

  1. James Van Hise says:

    In the 1960s, British artist James Cawthorn received official permission from ERB Inc to do a comic book adaptation of A Princess of Mars (I’ve seen a copy of the letter). Jim only did about 20 pages over the years for his own amusement, but he used ERB’s descriptions in that John Carter arrived on Mars naked and remained so for a time, as was Dejah Thoris. Unfortunately Jim died in 2008 with the project far from finished. 4 pages were published in the fanzine ERBANIA years ago but more of it may see print there in the future.

  2. “In a few short hours, I’ll be doing something I’ve dreamed about my whole life—going to see a movie about John Carter of Mars.”

    That’s what it’s all about.

  3. Funny — before reading this story, I just sent off an email to a friend saying “24 hours til John Carter of Mars!!!”

  4. jacob lyon goddard says:

    That was delightful!
    thanks for spreading the word around!

  5. This reminds me a little of Jack Katz’s First Kingdom (of which I have the first collected volume, but have never seen the rest). It’s amazing! Thanks for sharing it, Heidi, and enjoy the movie.

  6. Got to agree with Dylan, it’s a lot like FIRST KINGDOM in it’s boldness and willingness to capture the enormous scale and oddity of Burroughs in respectful but individual manner. Thanks, Heidi! As a fellow Barsoom fan, and a lover of fan art in general, this might just be the most exciting thing I’ve seen in weeks. It makes all of the potential disappointments tomorrow so much more bearable to know that there are still artist-fans out there like this.

  7. DaMacGuy says:

    A Princess of Mars fell out of copyright a few years ago. Burroughs family couldn’t do anything about this comic if they wanted to.

    But this is just like Disney, to take a public domain work, re-fashion it (to much arresting and financial success). But then cry when their own works near the end of copyright.

  8. patrick ford says:

    I mail-ordered the first three books from Ballentine in 1969 when I was eleven, and faked being sick so I could stay home and read.
    I’ve got zero interest in the movie, but this adaptation is just great, thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    I agree Picture Box or someone should publish a print edition.

  9. Dylan: I believe there’s a second volume of First Kingdom, but I think that’s all that’s been published.

  10. Disney and Pixar got full rights from the estate, and director Andrew Stanton pitched all his ideas for the proposed trilogy to Danton Burroughs and got his blessing before he died.

    http://www.aintitcool.com/node/53561

    it’s a ways in the article.

  11. Wow… thanks much for sharing this mind-blowing work, Heidi. I sure hope someone gives Mr. Spratt a big pile of money to print it all up as a book.

  12. The ironic thing is, Princess of Mars was originally going to be the first animated movie. The concept was hatched in 1931 – 6 years before Snow White was released! If that had happened, the American Animation Ghetto would be a very different looking place nowadays.

  13. DeBT: That theory is definitely interesting… I don’t really know how it would have borne out over the long run, as The Code really would have put down any sort of future “naked martian” movies. I also don’t think that time period was ripe for animated features to move much beyond the kids’ fare that they eventually devolved into. Still… it would have been interesting if it were so.

    Did anyone else think that those martian booties looked like they had been drawn by Robert Crumb?

    “We declare this the most dingus-tastic comic of all time.” Man, that made me laugh! Yes, I think this was probably more dingus-tastic than even The First Kingdom.

  14. primal.

  15. It looks like almost like William Blake drew it. I’m happy to see a version that is so respectful to its source.

  16. Some Guy says:

    Did anyone else notice that he completely made up those weird hermaphrodite horse things in the arena? I just reread that chapter and those things are all his.

  17. First to Heidi MacDonald–I sent you a THANK YOU earlier, but am not sure you got it–, so again, THANK YOU for your nice comments on my version of A PRINCESS OF MARS. And to the rest of you who have said nice things about it, THANK YOU, too.
    I’m still working on it, and yes, I’ll finish it–I see daylight at the end of the tunnel now. You guys are a help, my best to all of you.

  18. No, the Burrough Estate is not content with the John Carter nudity content. Read this article:
    http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/scifi/edgar-rice-burroughs-family-fights-disney-censor-john-carter.html
    So they probably have an issue with art genius Pratt as well. Nasty greedy hypocrites.
    Kudoos of course for anyone who blogs about comic enfant terrible Pratt, but the huge censoring blocks here make me cringe… fortunately I have the weblog opportunity to go the original way. There is already enough condemnation of nudity on internet as it is.
    I’ll contact Mr Spratt about it.

  19. Thanks, Willem. “Art Genius” is worth a nickel, at least!
    If y’all will note, PMI is being posted on ERB, Inc.’s official website, and they don’t have an issue with it because it is “fan art,” and their disclaimer says that it doesn’t necessarily agree with company policy, but they’re open-minded enough to humor it anyway. Early on, Bill Hillman, their Webmaster,and Danton Burroughs had doubts about the nudity, so we agreed to pixellate the naughty bits, but some of the viewers complained so he unpixellated them. When Paramount got the contract for making the movie based on APOM, Danton and I discussed it and he told me, after some deep thoughts, to go ahead with it and “have fun” with it, so here we are, continuing in the original nude form.

  20. James, wold you be up for an interview about this project here on the Beat?

  21. Okay, shoot.

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