Sunday, December 31, 2017

Henry Aveline Perkins

Perkins in 1943
Henry Aveline Perkins (b. Petropolis, Brazil, 22 April 1919; d. New York City, 20 July 1999)

Henry Aveline Perkins was the second son of British parents, F.W. Perkins and his wife Winifred. (His brother Frederick F. Perkins was five years older.) Though born in Brazil, he soon moved with his family to England. He attended the Charterhouse school near Godalming.  He began his writing career with the Daily Mirror of London, after which he wrote advertising copy. Later he returned to Brazil to settle private business, and he worked on the staff of the News of Rio de Janeiro. He came to New York from Rio, arriving in December 1939.  He worked under Dorothy McIlwraith as "Associate Editor" of Weird Tales, and Short Stories, from the May 1940 issue of Weird Tales through the September 1942 one.  Initially he is credited as "H.A.  Perkins," later "H. Aveline Perkins" and finally with his full name. He was sometimes called Henry, and other times Harry. In later years, he used Lynn as his first name, shortened from his middle name Aveline. While working at Weird Tales and Short Stories, Perkins also began to write prolifically for the comics market, though much of this work is unsigned, including some stories for Superman and Batman. One of the characters he invented was "The Weeper," a character who is convinced that life is sad and it's criminal for people to be happy. "The Weeper" was his entree to Fawcett Comics, and re-appeared a number of times.

Perkins is profiled in the April 1943 issue of Writers' Journal for his role as associate editor of the Fawcett Comics Group, whose comics told the stories of such personalities as Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, Mary Marvel, Mr. Scarlet, Bulletman, Don Winslow of the Navy, Spy Smasher, and Captain Midnight. Perkins revealed that while he worked at Weird Tales and Short Stories, he had at any time several hundred acceptable stories to choose from, and that writers, however well known, had no guarantee of acceptance. At Fawcett Comics, he had on his desk only scripts that have been ordered.  Thus, "the comics script-writer, then, is never faced with the gloomy prospect of finished and efficient work being rejectedthe pulp writer's greatest dread." Perkins continued: "Because of the close personal association between editor and writer, once a plot idea (which often comes from the editor) has been accepted (and often planned for a specific issue) and the idea developed through discussion, the story itself—if it turns out okay—is virtually certain of acceptance before it's written!"

Perkins was self-evidently promoting his role in comics, but it is interesting to read his views on the pulps and comics writers:
"To write  comics," he declares, "you need a certain piece of creative mechanism which is lacking from the minds of most writers. That piece of mental machinery is visualization. For while most writers see pictures then they writethey do not write stories in terms of pictures

"They don't do this because they don't have to. Their skill in handling picture words conjures up for the reader the necessary pictures. A pulp writer's story comes out in the magazine essentially as he wrote it on the typewriter. 

"But a comic script is not published—any more than a moviegoer pays to see a scenario. A comic script is handed to an artist, who draws the pictures which have been visualized for him by the script writer. The writer's dialogue and captions are then added to the art work. Color is provided by the engraver, and the finished picture story finally reaches the public.

"Essentially," says Perkins, "a really effective picture-fiction scenario is produced by a writer who has conjured up a really thrilling and very pictorial mental movie—run it off in the projection room of his own imagination—then cut it up into the most dramatic stills. With the story cut up into these stills, the author then describes each still for the artist, adding the appropriate dialogue and captions where these are called for.

"As a matter of fact, the similarity between comics writing and movie writing is quite amazing! 

"For writing a comics script is the closest thing to writing a movie script outside the movies. Neither technique is, essentially, writing. It's devising. Both demand co-operation with, and knowledge of, other skills and minds. The movie writer must have an understanding of actors, directors and camera techniques. The comics script writer must understand the possibilities and the limitations of the artist who is going to 'produce' his script. [. . . ] The story must be very simple, and be pictorially conceived. In other words, the basic plot idea must lead to pictorial sequences when the script gets to the stage of being drawn up. The usual pulp plot is of no use whatsoever.

"For instance, among the many basic plot ideas which I've dreamt up and then passed on to writers was the notion that it'd make swell pictures and a novel story if surrealist pictures were brought into play.

"Accordingly, the writer and I cooked up a yarn where poltergeists get into a surrealistic picture exhibit and animate the artists' nightmares. Amusing and convincingly realistic sub-characters were injected, and an amusing, novel and very pictorial story was the result. 

"Again, I thought up a story, for 'Captain Marvel,' about the world of the immediate and forseeable future. The gadgets, inventions and miracles of this amazing world that most of us will see, and which certainly all children will live in and enjoy, turned into a very glamorous, very graphic story. It was titles 'The World of Your Tomorrow.'

"Or take this character story. An example of this is a story I worked out for 'Lance O'Casey,' a roving, swashbuckling happy-go-lucky type of adventuring hero. A pirate tale always makes good pictures, but the theme is worn out and hackneyed. Most pirates are blood-thirsty monsters. So I thought up 'The Pirate Who Hated Blood.' It made a very entertaining and novel yarn.

[. . .] "The search for novel and different plot angles is endless. And in the searching, a writer automatically learns a vast amount about plotting. 

"For instance, although I was a pulp magazine editor and read many thousands of scripts, and although I could judge where plots lived and where they died, I was never much of a hand at creating plots myself until I started to write comic scripts.

"My plotting ability continually improved as a comic writer. And later, when I came to edit comic magazines as a full-time job, I found that the faculty for dreaming up all kinds of ideas and angles grew even greater, and continues to grow.

[...] "Writing for the comics guarantees economic security and a greatly increased income, and work that is forever fresh and fascinating. Comics offer, also, to the ambitious writer, a chance to grow creatively—and to gain a working preview of the future.

"For, with the promise of television and other miracles of amusement, comics are truly the shape of things to come in publishing and entertainment!" 

Perkins seems to have left Fawcett Comics not long after this profile appeared, and he is believed to have worked for another firm for a couple of years before leaving the field. The few people in comics who remembered him felt he was quirky and hard to get along with, though he apparently had good editorial sense. In 1945, Perkins went out to Hollywood, where he worked as co-writer on four original screenplays for serials from Republic Pictures, including The Purple Monster Strikes (August 1945), The Phantom Rider (January 1946), King of the Forest Rangers (April 1946) and Daughter of Don Q (July 1946). A shortened version of The Purple Monster Strikes (a science fiction story of a Martian crash-landing on earth in prelude to an invasion*) was released for television in 1966 under the title D-Day on Mars. Perkins stayed in Hollywood through at least 1951 (when he became a Naturalized U.S. citizen), but by 1954 he was back in New York, with his wife Alice, who was three years younger than himself. In the 1970s he was working in public relations. Perkins died in New York City in 1999. 

An article covering Perkins's comics work much more thoroughly than it is covered here, "The Stan Lee of 1943" by Will Murray, appeared in the Comic Book Marketplace (no. 120, March 2005). 

 NB: A special thanks to John D. Rateliff for help on this entry. 

* See also the entry on this serial in Thomas Kent Miller's Mars in the Movies (2016), pp. 32-33. 

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