Archive for September, 2012

King Clown

Posted in Forteana with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by David N. Brown

Here’s another entry on “phantom clowns” and my project on same.  First off, here’s a concept sketch of the “leader” of the phantom clown circus:

The face and headdress are pretty much as they have always been envisioned, and previously sketched.  The horizontal stripes are a new decision, influenced in part by review of Hopi Pueblo clowns which were considered as models when I first thought of this project.

Also, here’s a little bibliography of online articles on “phantom clowns”:

Phantom Clowns Are Back!

A 2008 piece by Loren Coleman, probably the first writer to bring the phenomenon to people’s attention.

Those Elusive Phantom Clowns

A brutal critique of a “skeptical” article on phantom clowns published by Fortean Times, which also offers a good deal of information and further observations and analysis.  Unfortunately, this insightful author doesn’t seem to have followed up with any further content at the blog.

Phantom Clowns, Bogus Social Workers and Men in Black

A mix of Fortean and pop culture material, including some details on another phenomenon, the “phantom social worker”.

The Anomaly Wore Plaid

An interesting piece on one of the more obscure Fortean memes, mysterious characters wearing “checkered” clothing.  I have personally contemplated subtle parallels between the appearance of these entities and a clown costume.

Phantoms, Daemons and Finders

This could be considered “off the deep end” even for “phantom clown” studies, but still insightful.  Of most interest, the author places particular emphasis on parallels between “clown flaps” and the much higher-profile  “Satanic panic”  abuse allegations of the 1980s, in the process taking the very lonely view that the latter should be regarded as at least possibly something more than mass hysteria and urban legends.

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

HY From Hell! Part 3

Posted in Cars with tags , , , , , on September 19, 2012 by David N. Brown

In planning this feature, I made a decision to use, as much as possible, only HY variants I could find pictures of.  This has imposed some constraints, because there is no shortage of designs that are either openly fictional, or represented only in miniatures that may or may not correspond to vehicles that were actually built.  But I decided at least one was too good to leave out:

In case it’s not completely clear, the back of this model is… the front of an HY!
At this time, I can find no documentation on the history of a vehicle matching this description, but it appears to be based on the same concept as the Cogolin, a well-known variant of Citroen 2CV.  The Cogolin was commissioned by fire departments, who found that some roads in the French countryside were too narrow for a vehicle to turn around in.  The proposed solution was to combine the cabs of two 2CVs into a single vehicle.  The resulting contraption had two engines and two complete steering columns, and therefore could reverse direction simply by putting another engine in gear.  It was possible to run both engines simultaneously, with the “rear” one in reverse gear, for a form of four-wheel drive.  With coordination between two drivers, it was also capable of unusual maneuvers, including the vaguely disconcerting ability to move diagonally.

While a number of replica Cogolins have appeared in museums and car shows, I have found no record of a surviving original fire department vehicle.  (Given the relative ease with which known replicas have been produced from the reasonably abundant supplies of 2CV wrecks and spare parts, any report of such a vehicle would have to be taken with more than a grain of salt.)  From what can be known of the originals, they saw long service in their intended role, and it is safe to assume that the vast majority were simply used as long as they could be kept in working order and then scrapped.  Thus, unfortunately, if a “Cogolin” HY variant was built at all, the chances of finding one now are dim indeed.

Photo courtesy

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

HY From Hell! Part 2

Posted in Balkans pop, Cars with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2012 by David N. Brown

Here’s one of my favorites from my file of pictures of the (in)famous HY van, from Serbia, no less:

The HY, best known in the UK and the Netherlands, appears to have been introduced to the former Yugoslavia in a venture between Citroen and the Slovene manufacturer Tomos, best known for its mopeds.  In the early 1970s, this collaboration was officially dubbed Cimos.  Cimos is best known for its version of the 2CV, known locally as the “Spacek” (Frog).  Construction of a “Cimos Building” in Zagreb, Croatia was begun in 1988, only to be abandoned during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Rather than being manufactured in Yugoslav factories, Tomos/Cimos vehicles were shipped incomplete from Citroen to Slovenia, where local plants provided additional parts, completed assembly and painted the vehicles.  Evidently, the final products were uneven at best:  Egist Zagoricnik reports that these vehicles commonly suffer from engine problems due to substandard assembly, as well as “premature rust” due to subpar paint jobs.

Cimos HYs appear to have been very few in number, and documentation of Yugoslav production is not readily accessible.  Surviving HYs in former Yugoslavia are, by all indications, very few:  According to a Croatian participant the forum where the above photo was posted, there were only 6 in Croatia as of 2005, and another 6 in Slovenia.  Figures for Serbia and other ex-Yugoslav republics are unavailable, and probably even smaller.

Meanwhile, the Cimos Building is  still standing; a 2010 photo documents creative reuse of at least one face of the hulk as a very oversized billboard. It is, surely, a fitting companion to any decrepit, angular HYs still lurking in the Balkan landscape.

Photo and other information courtesy


David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

The Albanian “Easter Egg” Hunt

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 11, 2012 by David N. Brown

“It looks like we’ve found that lost consignment of Easter eggs. Yes, sir, pretty sure… Well, sir, it would be good news, except that the eggs have hatched.”

Return of the Living Dead (Courtesy IMDB)

While Yugoslavia self-destructed violently with front-page coverage, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania went through first the fall of communism in 1991 and then an even more dramatic implosion in 1997, when a proliferation of pyramid schemes destroyed Albania’s economy and any semblance of government and social order followed suit, with minimal attention from the wider world. This may be owed, in large part, to the preceding government of Enver Hoxha (pronounced “Ho-Ja”). Where Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito was a virtual cosmopolitan, opening his country wide open even to the capitalist west, Enver Hoxha’s radicalism and paranoia made Albania increasingly isolated even from other communist states. Thus, it is fair to say that, by the 1990s, the wider world was used to ignoring Albania. It is also noteworthy that contemporary coverage took a very different tone than for the Yugoslav wars: Where Bosnia and Kosovo were covered as the humanitarian crises they certainly were, Albania’s collapse was treated almost light-heartedly, as in humorist P.J. O’rourke’s account of his visit in Eat the Rich. Even more tellingly, the coverage from “serious” venues gave a disproportionate amount of attention to just one aspect of the collapse: the massive looting of guns from Albania’s large military stockpiles.

The gist of the story is this: Depending on estimates, somewhere between 600,000 and 1 million weapons were looted from Albania’s military arsenals during the 1997 collapse. Street prices for AK47s reportedly dropped as low as twenty American dollars (which, under the circumstances, was probably a fortune to the Albanians). As of September 2000, CNN reported that half a million were believed to remain in civilian hands. The horror!

A number of considerations have rarely been mentioned. First, the by all accounts, looting occurred on a massive scale throughout Albania. P.J. O’Rourke at least went to the trouble noting more examples, up to and including the theft of a railroad: That is, not a robbery or hijacking of a train, but the wholesale plundering of the very components of the tracks. Second, personal ownership of weapons is greatly valued in Albanian culture, including the profoundly influential traditions known as the Kanun of Lek Dukaigjin. In Kosovo: A Short History, Noel Malcolm goes so far as to note that “the history of Kosovo and North Albania are punctuated by a series of revolts caused by ill-starred official attempts to disarm the population.”

Third, the stolen weapons were not, by any appraisal, particularly good weapons: Typical specimens, if not the actual majority, were Chinese copies of the AK47, an iconic weapon best known for phenomenal durability and marginal accuracy, most likely manufactured in the 1970s if not earlier. Factor in the variables of storage and maintenance, and it seems likely that quite a few had approached or exceeded even the AK47’s legendary tolerances for neglect and abuse. While fears were aired early on (as in a 1997 Chicago Tribune piece) that stolen Albanian weapons would be spread to other conflict zones, in 20/20 hindsight, the Albanians’ arsenal would offer little that the war zones of the rest of the world did not already have in abundance. Indeed, even far more formidable hardware from Hoxha’s arsenals proved hard to market: According to a 2002 BBC report, when the Albanian army tried to sell its tanks as legitimate “surplus”, they met with complete failure. According to a cited Albanian representative, “No one has shown interest in the tanks and at least 500 of them will end up as scrap.”

Curiously, the same report mentions that the military was considering selling assault rifles to their own populace as “hunting” weapons. This begs an interesting question: If the military saw any possibility of interest, than what had happened to all the weapons stolen in 1997? Quite possibly, many of the thieves had followed the presumable example of the looters who plundered the raw materials of the railroad, and simply had “their” weapons melted down for scrap!

That brings us to the likely end of the saga of Albania’s stolen guns. But then, in the new century, a whole new situation emerged. Here are relevant excerpts of the story as told in 2005 by The Washington Post:


Near the end of his 40 years in power, Enver Hoxha prepared his tiny country for an invasion he warned was sure to come. The Marxist dictator built 750,000 concrete bunkers in the 1970s and 1980s and imported large quantities of weapons to repel an expected attack… But his most prized weapons acquisition was a state secret known only to the Albanian leader and his closest advisers — a secret that only now is coming fully to light.

In the mid-1970s, U.S. and Albanian officials now believe, Hoxha arranged the purchase of several hundred canisters of lethal military chemicals to be used in weapons against invading armies… This deadly stockpile was hidden in one of Hoxha’s bunkers, then forgotten after Hoxha died in 1985… The current Albanian government’s surprise discovery of the canisters, acknowledged to U.S. and U.N. officials several months ago… Albanian officials recently allowed a reporter from The Washington Post to view the stockpile…

Inside the building are row after row of containers and bottles of various colors and sizes. Most are red cylinders roughly the size of a propane tank. Numerals and, in some cases, Chinese characters are clearly visible on the outer casing. The Chinese writing identifies the contents of each container but not the origin. Altogether, the bunkers hold nearly 600 vessels containing about 16 tons of what is known in military jargon as “bulk agent.”…

Albanian defense officials, who now are preparing to destroy the (chemical weapons) with help from U.S. and U.N. agencies, say they are confident that all of Hoxha’s canisters are safely locked away.

“We have searched everywhere, and I can declare to you that Albania has no more such weapons,” said Albanian Lt. Col. Muharrim Alba, a senior arms control specialist with the Albanian Defense Ministry.

But Alba also acknowledged that Albania had been unable to find a shred of documentation describing the original purchase by Hoxha three decades ago. The investigation has turned up no letters, receipts or inventories, or even a single officer of the former government who is willing or able to recall how the chemicals were obtained.


Reading between the lines, the “arsenal” is far from a high-tech terror threat. The main chemical mentioned, sulfur mustard or yperite, is the same substance used as “mustard gas” in World War 1. Thus, if vintage is used as a measure, Enver Hoxha’s WMDs make his arsenal of rusty Kalashnikovs look state-of-the-art. But then, like the “mediocre” AK47 that can sling lead just as indifferently after being run over by a truck, what mustard gas lacks in sophistication can be made up for in shelf life. Where “advanced” sarin gas has a shelf life of no more than a few months, recently recovered mustard gas shells from World War 2 have been reckoned still dangerous.

“Easter eggs”, indeed…

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

Militarized subcompact

Posted in Balkans pop, Cars with tags , , , , on September 10, 2012 by David N. Brown

While the Zastava Jugo 45 (aka the Yugo) is the most famous automobile produced in the former Yugoslavia, it was not the most numerous or long-lived.  That distinction goes to the Zastava 750, aka the Fica (pronounced “Feecha”), an East Bloc clone of the famous (at least in Europe) Fiat 600.  Zastava is credited with producing the 750 for more than 20 years, for a total of more than 900,000 units before production ended in November 1985.  Exactly when the 750 entered production is unfortunately unclear from what can be learned online, with the wikipedia page for Zastava Automobiles giving both 1955 (the same year Fiat itself put the 600 in production) and 1962 (specifically for a copy of the Fiat 600D).  What is indisputable is that there are many 750s still around in the former Yugoslavia, including some unusual aftermarket “mutations”.  And they get much more unusual than this:

Apparently, this vehicle is a combination of the 600D/750 body with the chassis of a Jeep Wrangler.  The “KFOR” letters indicate that the vehicle belongs to the “Kosovo Force”, the UN-NATO peacekeepers of the former Yugoslav autonomous province of Kosovo, which throws a rather dark light on this reincarnation of the one-time icon of united Yugoslavia.


David  N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

HY From Hell! Part 1

Posted in Cars with tags , , , , , on September 6, 2012 by David N. Brown

Here’s one more post for today, starting a possible series on one of the most, um, remarkable vehicles I have heard of, the Citroen HY van.  This particular photo is a configuration I decided HAD to be featured in an Exotroopers story.  It finally got in as one of the vehicles of the “phantom clown” circus:

In the exotroopers series, I have tried very hard for a “post-apocalyptic” look even in the absence of a conventional apocalyptic catastrophe, to go with a semi-humorous philosophical question first raised in Cyborg Vs. EXOTROOPERS!: “What if the world ended and nobody noticed?”  I can’t think of a better representation of “post-apoc without the apocalypse” than the image of a beat-up HY “wearing” the cut-up hulk of another Citroen on the roof!

David  N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

The faces of evil clowns

Posted in Forteana with tags , , , , , on September 6, 2012 by David N. Brown

As the next installment in covering my “phantom clown” sketches, here’s a couple concept sketches.

I consider this the best of my sketches.  It’s patterned after  a 19th-century German “peasant”.  The face paint is meant to be flesh tones, which have been used historically by clowns.  In the story, there are an indeterminate number of these guys, indistinguishable from each other and acting as helpers to a smaller number of clowns who each have their own costumes.  What I like about this design is that the costume is just “normal” enough that they could stand on the street without attracting immediate attention… sort of an “undercover” clown.

Now this sketch got very favorable responses from those who have seen it.  He’s called the Puppeteer, and I still haven’t decided how much he should be featured in the story.  The costume is actually modelled on garb worn by Medieval and Renaissance physicians.  An underlying idea in my story is that there is a connection between clowns and the costumed priesthoods of the ancient pagan times.  The Medieval “bird mask” presented an especially striking illustration of the idea.

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona